Tomato Basil Loaf

2016 Food Blog February-0424N. and I first discovered Panera when we were living in Eugene. This seems a bit counterintuitive, since Eugene doesn’t have any Paneras. But on a visit or two with my parents, and N.’s parents, it became an easy place to pick up lunch, or a dinner for a sunset hike, and I was quickly sold on their vegetarian sandwich, not just because it came layered with pickled red peppers and fresh greens and spicy spread and crumbled feta, but because the bread it used – a fluffy tomato and basil flavored loaf with an intriguing, slightly sweet streusel across the top crust – was addicting. When we could, N. and I started buying a whole loaf of the bread on our last day in California, to take home to Eugene with us.

2016 Food Blog February-0378Now that we are in Los Angeles, there are Paneras everywhere (in fact, I just checked: there are at least five within a 5 mile radius of our house). Despite that proximity, though, we don’t go there very often. There are several reasons for this, but mostly, if I’m going to spend my money on restaurant fare, I’m going to explore what Los Angeles has to offer rather than a national chain. Regardless, the tomato basil bread, with that intriguing streusel, remains a favorite of mine, and when “red” was declared as February’s Twelve Loaves theme, I decided this was the right time to try a little re-creation attempt.

2016 Food Blog February-0370My bread combines lush, densely flavored scarlet tomato paste with a generous dusting of dried basil. The loaf itself is moistened and sweetened with buttermilk and molasses, and though it does bake up more orange than red, it makes perfect sandwich slices for cucumber and mozzarella, or pesto chicken, or just well-buttered toast.

2016 Food Blog February-0375The challenge here was the streusel. There are a number of “copycat” recipes out there for Panera’s loaf, but few of them make any attempt at the dark, sweet, sticky crumble adorning the top crust. I finally found a suggestion for a glaze made from tomato paste and brown sugar, thinned with a little water, and brushed over the top of the loaf. Since my first attempt was a little heavy on the tomato paste in the dough itself, reserving some for the top seemed like a smart adjustment. It did look a bit distressingly like a meatloaf with the traditional ketchup coating when I first applied the glaze, but the flavor of the finished product was strikingly similar to my inspiration.

2016 Food Blog February-03832016 Food Blog February-03892016 Food Blog February-0394Panera’s loaf is scored straight down the center so that the top crust puffs and pulls away from itself in two fat rounds, leaving the top of a slice looking almost heart shaped. I decided I wanted to try something new, so I went for a twist instead, separating my dough into two sluggish, sticky logs and wrapping them around each other before depositing into a loaf pan.

2016 Food Blog February-04042016 Food Blog February-0406A second rise, a glaze, and a quick 40 minutes in the oven, and I was rewarded with a loaf that, despite not being truly red, may be as close to the original as I’ll ever get. The interior is tender and chewy and springy, and the glaze hardened into gleaming sticky shellac (though it loses its crustiness as it sits). The tomato and basil flavor are both easily discernible, and the combination of tomato paste and brown sugar burnishing the top crust is just the right toasty sweetness, since despite the molasses, the bread itself is fairly savory.

2016 Food Blog February-0416Because the dough is pretty sticky, the loaf is moist and tender, which also means it’s a bit delicate. Take care when slicing into it, and be sure to give it at least half an hour to cool before attempting a slice at all. Conveniently, we found we liked the flavor better once the bread had cooled completely. As noted above, the glaze resorts to stickiness after a few hours, but it is still quite tasty, and will “crisp” up again just slightly after a trip through the toaster. Slicked with salted butter, it makes a perfect accompaniment to lesson-planning on a blustery afternoon.

2016 Food Blog February-0430

Tomato Basil Loaf
Makes 1 large sandwich loaf
4-4½ hours, including rising and baking time
1 cup cold buttermilk
⅓ cup boiling water + more to thin the glaze
3 tablespoons molasses
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 ¾ cups bread flour (you may not use all of it) + additional flour to dust the board
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon dried basil
½ cup tomato paste, divided
3 tablespoons brown sugar

 

  • In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, combine the cold buttermilk and the boiling water. This creates a yeast-friendly temperature without having to wait for the buttermilk to warm up. Stir in the molasses and the yeast, and let sit for 5-10 minutes until the surface of the mixture foams up and it smells bready.
  • While the yeast is working, combine 3 cups of the flour with the salt and basil in a large bowl. I use the bowl of my stand mixer. After the yeast has had a chance to wake up and is foamy, add the liquid slowly to the flour mixture and mix on low with the paddle attachment (or with a wooden spoon) to combine. Scrape in the tomato paste and again, mix just to combine.
  • Now, if you are using a stand mixer, switch to the dough hook. If you are not using a stand mixer, turn out onto a well-floured board. Knead at medium speed for 5-7 minutes, adding in more flour if needed ¼ cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and takes on the consistency of soft, sticky play-dough.
  • Oil the inside of your work bowl (I use a non-stick spray), turn the ball of dough over inside a few times to coat it evenly, and then cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and stow in a slightly warm spot for 1½-2 hours, until almost doubled.
  • Once the dough has risen adequately, punch it down by gently depressing your fist into the center to release the air, then let rest about ten minutes to get its breath back. Meanwhile, spray or butter a standard loaf pan.
  • Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and divide it into two equal portions. Roll each half out into a pudgy log about 9 inches long. Pinch one end of each log together tightly to connect, then create a twist by lifting the left strand over the right, then repeating (because now what was the right strand will be the left one) until you come to the other end of each log. Pinch these remaining ends together tightly, then tuck underneath the twist you’ve created and gently place it in the prepared loaf pan. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and set aside to rise again for 45-60 minutes.
  • About 30 minutes before you put the dough into the oven, preheat to 350F, and make the glaze by combining the remaining 2 tablespoons of tomato paste, 3 tablespoons of brown sugar, and 1-2 tablespoons of hot water to thin to a barely pourable glaze. When ready to bake, remove the plastic wrap, brush the glaze over the top of the loaf in a thin layer, and gently slide it into the preheated oven. Bake 35-40 minutes, or until the interior tests 180-200F on an instant read thermometer.
  • Cool at least 10 minutes in the loaf pan, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool at least 20 minutes more before slicing and eating. We found the flavor was better once the bread had completely cooled.

 

#TwelveLoaves is a monthly bread baking party created by Lora from Cake Duchess and run with the help of Heather of All Roads Lead to the Kitchen, which runs smoothly with the help of our bakers.

This month we’ll be baking breads with a RED theme in honor of National Heart Month, Valentine’s Day, and the Oscars (red carpet) – any red ingredient goes! For more bread recipes, visit the #TwelveLoaves Pinterest board, or check out last month’s mouthwatering selection of #TwelveLoaves enter last month’s breads featuring a “new to you” type of flour!

If you’d like to bake along with us this month, share your “RED” themed bread using hashtag #TwelveLoaves!

Los Feliz Biscuits and Gravy: poblano and white cheddar biscuits with chorizo gravy

Food blog July 2015-1117According to adage, breakfast is “the most important meal of the day,” and while the heavy, sweet or savory, sometimes grease-laden offerings that make up a truly excellent breakfast are some of my favorite meal options out there, if I eat them first thing in the morning I’m going to feel ill. Give me a bowl of bran flakes or a slice or two of toast in the morning, then move to the eggs, the bacon, the biscuits, the sausage, the waffles, as the day eases on. That’s why I get so excited, and wax eloquent so often here, about breakfast-for-dinner.

Food blog July 2015-1100But for a 30-something living in an urban area like Los Angeles, breakfast food of this ilk means something else: brunch. Food that is fatty and greasy in the best possible way washed down with a mimosa or three to compensate for the previous night’s revelry – this is the true calling of a large plate of breakfast meats, scrambles, and toasted, syrup-bearing stacks. And here, at least, walking into a restaurant for brunch entails working your way through a crowd of plaid and maxi skirts, tilted fedoras, gladiator sandals, and the occasional waxed mustache. So, you know, hipsters.

Food blog July 2015-1104A few months ago, N. and I wandered through a little enclave called Los Feliz just south of Griffith Park after a failed attempt to visit Griffith Observatory (on a temperate weekend, with clear skies, there’s zero chance of finding parking there more than half an hour after it opens. What fools, we). On our way to a local bookshop, we ran into one of his coworkers and her wife having brunch, and it suddenly seemed like exactly the right thing to do. We unofficially added “eat brunch at every restaurant in Los Feliz” to our LA-to-do list.

Food blog July 2015-1109Brunch in Los Feliz – like many places east of Hollywood as highway 101 cuts south toward downtown – means hipster paradise with a heavy dose of East LA flavor: huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, chorizo folded into a thick, fluffy omelet. The Mexican and Latin influence on that side of the city makes for a glorious contribution to any brunch (or, as my sister put it, a meal that is perfect for “a Sunday at 11AM or any night at 8PM or later”).

Food blog July 2015-1106Our first entrée (haha) into the Los Feliz brunch scene was late on a Sunday morning, seated outside, as you always should be, so you can watch the show walk past: rompers and sundresses, stilettos surely too high and too spiky for church, bowties and converse all-stars worn un-ironically on the same person. Some passersby are accompanied by their pit bulls and chihuahuas, who often sport their own wardrobes, and pause to jangle their collars against the metal water bowls left outside for them by many of the businesses along the main drag. But once our food came, I don’t think we noticed another single pedestrian. N. had huevos rancheros, and we agreed they were a good representation – the black beans were meaty and savory and well-seasoned, and the fresh salsa was good – but my dish was the real star: poblano and white cheddar biscuits with scrambled eggs and a chorizo gravy. Flaky, cheesy mounds draped in a bright orange, lightly spicy sauce that, even though we’d promised to share, made me reluctant to relinquish my plate. Think classic biscuits and sausage gravy, but with neighborhood flavor.

Food blog July 2015-1107A dish like that only means one thing: restaurant recreation. Even as we asked for the check, I was already considering how I would make this at home. I wanted cheesier biscuits, more roasted poblano, and a stronger chorizo presence in the gravy. This resulted, in my version, in a gravy stronger in flavor but a bit less rich, and biscuits to rejoice over – flaky, crisp and golden on top, aggressively cheese-laden with obvious hits of smoky poblano inside. Plus, once punched out the biscuits freeze perfectly, so it makes sense to bake just what you need and save the rest for another lazy morning. It’s a brunch (or lunch, or dinner) option that will remain permanently on our rotation.

Food blog July 2015-1112Brunch in Los Feliz was, then, a successful voyage in many ways, and clearly our real challenge will not be exploring the area for its brunch options, but convincing ourselves to order something different every time, because once you’ve found an option as fulfilling as this, trying something new is a gamble I’m sometimes unwilling to take.

Food blog July 2015-1113Serving suggestions: because the restaurant’s offering was pretty perfect as it was, I copied their addition of scrambled eggs between the biscuit and the gravy, but the eggs are really just an extra luxury. You could also easily pair this with a pile of crispy hash browns or homefried potatoes, which would be an excellent match for the gravy. Though I don’t have much experience with soy-based sausages, a good soyrizo or chipotle field roast sausage would likely make an excellent vegetarian sub for the chorizo, if you want to go meatless. You might have to add a little extra fat to the pan, though, when you cook them.

Food blog July 2015-1114This dish is best, of course, the first day. The biscuits are never as crunchy and warm after that, and the gravy does tend to do that thing gravy does where it gets thicker but also separates overnight in the fridge. But I think, with four diners round the table and ten biscuits to share between you, the last drippings of gravy won’t be long for this world.

Food blog July 2015-1124

Los Feliz biscuits and gravy
Serves 4
For biscuits:
1 poblano pepper (¼ – ⅓ cup, when chopped)
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into chunks
6 ounces buttermilk (about ¾ cup)
1 cup extra sharp white cheddar cheese, grated or in small cubes
For chorizo gravy:
9 ounces chorizo
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk, warm or at room temperature
salt and pepper to taste (depends on your chorizo – mine didn’t need any)
To serve:
softly scrambled eggs: 2 per person
2 tablespoons sour cream
1-2 teaspoons milk or cream
1-2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives or green onions, dark green part only

 

  • Roast poblano pepper over a grill or gas flame – about 10 minutes, turning when needed – until the skin is almost entirely blistered and black. Place in a glass bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let it steam for 20 minutes to loosen the skin and soften the flesh. After 20 minutes, remove the pepper from the bowl and use a paper towel, knife blade, or your hands to scrape off the skin (some illustrative photos here, if you need them). Remove stem and seeds as well, then dice finely for ¼ – ⅓ cup of roasted pepper bits. The pepper pieces should be room temperature when added to biscuit dough – plan accordingly.
  • Preheat the oven to 400F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. To make the biscuits, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder in a medium bowl. Blend in the cubes of cold butter using a pastry cutter or your fingertips. Butter bits should be the size of small peas. Add the cooled diced poblano and the cheese and use a fork to integrate, then pour in the buttermilk and, using a fork or your fingers, bring together into a ball of soft dough.
  • Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and use a floured rolling pin or the palms of your hands to roll or press the dough into a rectangle about ½ an inch thick. Fold the dough into thirds, then roll out again. Repeat, again folding the dough into thirds and then rolling it out; this creates more flaky layers. If the dough sticks to your board, use the flat blade of a butter knife or a pastry scraper to help you lift it free.
  • After you’ve rolled and folded, rolled and folded, and rolled once more (so you’ll have done a total of six folds), use a round cutter (or the lip of a glass) to punch out biscuits. Push the cutter straight down through the dough; don’t twist until you are all the way through the dough, or you’ll crush the flaky layers! Repeat, placing the biscuit rounds on your parchment lined baking sheet, until you can’t punch out any more rounds. Re-roll the dough scraps and repeat – with ½ inch thick dough, using a 3-inch cutter, you should be able to make about 10 biscuits.
  • Bake biscuits at 400F for 20 minutes, until their tops are golden and some cheese has oozed out to make lacey crisps around their edges.
  • While the biscuits bake, make the chorizo gravy: in a medium skillet, cook the chorizo over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it is cooked through and nicely browned. This is difficult to see on some chorizos, because they are quite wet and reddish orange in color; look for a textural difference to determine that it is cooked.
  • When the chorizo is cooked through with brown bits and lightly crusty, chewy bits, sprinkle the flour over it and stir through to combine. Cook the flour with the chorizo for 1-2 minutes, then slowly begin adding the milk, whisking constantly as you do so. I like to pour in about ¼ cup at a time, whisk until the mixture is homogenous again, then add the next installment of milk.
  • With all the milk added, continue to whisk slowly until the mixture comes to a simmer. You will notice it thicken as it warms, but it won’t reach its final viscosity until it comes to a boil. At that point, lower the heat to a simmer, taste for seasoning, and add additional salt and pepper if your taste buds require it.
  • To serve, combine 2 tablespoons sour cream and 1-2 teaspoons milk or cream in a small dish or in a squeeze bottle. Place two biscuits on each plate, top with scrambled eggs, ladle on some gravy, and squirt or drizzle the sour cream sauce on top. Sprinkle with chopped chives or green onion, and serve immediately.

Cabbage and Celery Seed Slaw

Food Blog April 2014-3715All too often, it seems, I find myself either ahead or behind the curve. Last week I was offering you Easter bread the day after Easter. This week, I’ve got a slaw recipe that really merits a space on your Memorial Day table, but May is still barely on the horizon. I can’t really blame anyone for this – not even me (at least that’s what tell myself). The fact is, summer is now so close – I have a mere three weeks of classes left to teach – and, if we’re honest, it’s been such summery weather in Los Angeles for so many weeks now, that the divide between what might be summer and what could have been spring is so dubious it barely existed.
Food Blog April 2014-3703While I wait for real summer, I content myself with small pleasures. Sitting on my patio out back, with the afternoon breeze just strong enough to keep the sun from being too hot. Remembering why I assigned that novel to my morning classes as I gasp my way through Margaret Atwood’s bewildering narrative in its relentless, sharp prose. Devouring, lest you think me too romantic, an entire package of chocolate-dipped marshmallow peeps I found in a clearance Easter candy bin. I know. They were so good, though, tiny milk chocolate eyeballs and all.
Food Blog April 2014-3705Despite my inability to work “in a timely fashion,” I think you should keep this simple little slaw recipe around. It’s a tangle of cabbage so bright, so fresh, with not a speck of mayonnaise in sight. It would be equally welcome piled high as a side dish for sausages or barbecued anything as it would squashed between soft brioche halves on a pulled pork sandwich. If we’re going to get really dreamy, it could likely sit quite comfortably atop a lobster roll for a man-I-wish-I-were-on-a-beach-somewhere lunch fantasy.
Food Blog April 2014-3706The inspiration for this slaw comes from a side dish N. had with a plate of fish and chips at Mud Hen Tavern in Hollywood, celebrity chef Susan Feniger’s newest venture. I tasted the humble pile of cabbage shreds and became instantly intrigued by the nutty, savory herbal notes that I couldn’t quite place. I don’t often do this, but I asked a server, and was soon speaking to one of Feniger’s cooks, who told me his secret ingredient was celery seed. He gave me a few instructions about how they make it, and from there it was just a matter of playing with quantities.
Food Blog April 2014-3704Celery seed is a funny little spice – tiny, musty smelling seeds, but with a distinct sharpness. Crushed raw and solo between your teeth they are too strong: a bitter kick with the aftertaste of raw celery stalks. Toasted, though, or crushed and lightly simmered in olive oil until their flavor blooms, they add a deeply savory note, a mix of umami and something almost floral, that I’m now totally obsessed with and want to add to everything.
Food Blog April 2014-3712This slaw is so simple, provided you’re willing to start the process a few minutes in advance. Celery seed, pepper, and, in my variation, a smashed garlic clove, get simmered in olive oil to infuse their flavors. Once it’s cool, the oil, with some of the celery seed dust (it imparts a lovely speckled look and an extra hit of flavor), gets tossed through a jungle of green cabbage threads along with a sprinkle of sugar, a pinch or two of salt, and a hint of vinegar. That’s it. You can let it sit for a while to allow for integration and mellowing of flavors, or you can eat it immediately, savoring every crisp bite.
Food Blog April 2014-3708Food Blog April 2014-3709Substitutions or alternatives: for a different kind of tang, you could swap out the sort of vinegar you use. Red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, or, for a salivary inducing sweet brightness, even rice vinegar, would also be lovely. Let your main dish steer you in the right direction. As for the celery seeds, I wouldn’t exchange them for anything. If you must, though, I suppose you could crunch a few mustard seeds or coriander and infuse those into the oil instead. Crushed coriander in the oil and a few judiciously torn cilantro leaves mixed in with the cabbage, for example, might make for a beguiling crunch atop a fish taco…

Food Blog April 2014-3713

Cabbage and Celery Seed Slaw
Makes 4-6 side dish servings
⅓ cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled
3 whole peppercorns, or about 10 grinds of black pepper
1 teaspoon celery seeds
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 lb. cabbage, cut into fine strands with a sharp knife (or use your food processor, or a 16 ounce bag of pre-sliced)

 

  • In a small pot or saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat. While it heats, prepare the seasonings: use the flat blade of a knife to push down gently on the garlic clove and then the peppercorns, crushing them to allow more efficient release of flavor.
  • Using the same flat blade of the knife, crush the celery seeds. Because they are tiny, just pushing down on them as you did with the garlic and peppercorns won’t do much. Instead, spread them out a bit, and then draw the flat of the knife across them, pushing down as you go. Repeat a few times, until at least half of the seeds are smashed almost to a powder.
  • When the spices are adequately crushed, add them to the oil and turn the heat down to its lowest setting. After a sudden sizzle, you want a slow, gentle poach. The oil should just barely fizz around the edges of the garlic clove.
  • Simmer on this low, low, lowest of low heat for 15 minutes, until the garlic clove is evenly browned and soft, and the oil smells incredibly aromatic. Remove from heat and let cool.
  • While the oil cools, prepare the cabbage. I had a 2 pound head of cabbage. To prepare it, slice it in half straight through the core. Then, cut that half in half, again through the core, so you have two quarters. You can then remove the core easily with one diagonal slice for each quarter. To create thin strands, as in the photo above, slice across the quarters perpendicular to the previous cut, creating twin sets of cabbage strings.
  • Once the oil has cooled to room temperature, strain it through a fine mesh strainer straight into your serving dish. You may not need the full ⅓ cup. I would start with 3 or 4 tablespoons and see where that takes you. Some of the celery seed dust will seep through the strainer, but that’s okay. It gives a lovely speckled look and lets you know what flavors to anticipate.
  • Add the salt, sugar, and vinegar to the oil in the bowl and whisk it up a bit with a fork. Add the cabbage, toss well to coat evenly, and then taste for seasoning and moisture. I found I wanted a breath of extra salt. You may want a bit more oil, or additional vinegar, to suit your liking.
  • Serve immediately, or let sit for 10-15 minutes to let the cabbage soften slightly and the flavors meld.

Cheesy Brussels and Bacon Mashed Potato Cakes

Generally speaking, N. and I are boring restaurant attendees. One drink apiece, no appetizers, an entrée for each, and by then we are too full for dessert. The most exciting thing we do (hold your breath, folks) is to share plates, particularly when we are torn between what we want to order. This is likely borne out of graduate school poverty, though in a world of extravagant portion size it seems like a reasonable practice to continue.

Food Blog January 2014-3026But once in a while, an appetizer or a side dish sounds so luscious, or so interesting, or so, I don’t know, good (are we still allowed to use that word?), that we can’t resist it. At one of our more favorite haunts a week or two before the holidays, we were enticed by just such a side – a craggy mass of mashed potatoes threaded with strands of Brussels sprouts and bacon, a suggestion of cheddar, and broiled until the top was smattered with crusty dark bits. It sounded like a dream. It was… fine.

Food Blog January 2014-3014Photo Friday 2013-2940Food Blog January 2014-3015As I ate it, I couldn’t help but feel that the flavors could have been stronger. More cheese. More bacon. More crunch. It needed to be, perhaps not a heap of mash subjected to broiling, but shaped into tender cakes and fried in a pan. Yes, cheesy patties shot through with ribbons of Brussels sprouts and chunks of bacon, fried up in the very bacon grease the meaty bits had expelled as they cooked. Crunchy, creamy, melting, with enough green that a very imaginative person could just barely declare them virtuous.

Food Blog January 2014-3016What I ended up with was a marriage of that classic British leftovers dish bubble and squeak (though certainly in a modern reinterpretation), and a latke so unkosher that we might as well have piled shrimp on top and called it a day.

Food Blog January 2014-3052Yukon gold potatoes have quickly become my standard for mash (I could even call them the “gold” standard, but you might groan at that, eh?), and this dish is no exception. Their flavor is terrific – hearty and rich – and they whip into lovely buttery fluff. And here, where texture is intentional, there is no need to peel them. The tissue-thin skins shred into the mix and echo the ribbons of Brussels sprouts. Chewy crisp hunks of bacon stud the cake with smoky saltiness, and do yourself a favor and use the sharpest cheddar cheese you can find – it needs to be saliva-inducing to stand up to the other flavors here. A single egg, lightly beaten and worked in, holds the cakes together, and then it’s just a question of heating up your cast iron skillet and frying them to order. I can imagine scarfing these for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and I’m admitting nothing, but they are even acceptable stolen cold out of the fridge.

Food Blog January 2014-3053*A note about bacon grease: I found, as I fried these, that bacon grease lends terrific flavor, but because it can be shot through with remnants of browned bits from frying the bacon, it can make the exterior of the cakes quite dark. To prevent this, as in the directions below, I recommend that you pour out the grease, reserving only a tablespoon or two. If you’re feeling particularly fussy, you can strain this reserved portion, but I wouldn’t be too worried about that. Discard the rest (or save for some other application) and wipe out your pan in between frying the bacon and frying the cakes. When it is time to fry again, combine the reserved bacon grease with some olive oil. You’ll still get the smoky, unctuous flavor, but the olive oil raises the smoke point and will produce a golden, rather than an almost-black, crust.

Food Blog January 2014-3054Cheesy Brussels and Bacon Mashed Potato Cakes
Makes 12-14 cakes of 3-inch diameter
4 medium Yukon gold potatoes (about 1 pound), each cut into large chunks of roughly equal size
2 tablespoons milk
Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste
8 ounces Brussels sprouts (about 12 large), stemmed and stripped of any discolored or damaged outer leaves
8 ounces bacon, diced
4 ounces shredded cheddar cheese, the sharpest you can find
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons bacon grease reserved from frying the bacon
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • Deposit potato chunks in a pot of salted water, bring to a boil, and cook until they are fork tender but not mush. This should take, depending on the size of your potato chunks, 7-10 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Drain and cool potatoes completely.
  • While potatoes are cooling, fry the bacon pieces in a skillet (my preference is cast iron) over medium heat until they are golden, almost crispy, and cooked through. Fish them out with a slotted spoon and set aside on a plate lined with paper towels. Reserve 1-2 tablespoons of the grease, discard the rest, and wipe out the pan to clear any bacon bits residue (see note above).
  • Using the slicer disc on a food processor (or a very steady hand and a sharp knife), shred up the Brussels sprouts into a mixture of ribbons and wafer-thin slices.
  • Shred the cheddar cheese.
  • By this time, your potatoes should be just about cool! When they are at room temperature, place them in a large mixing bowl and add the milk, salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Whiz them up with an electric mixer until more or less evenly combined. It won’t be a completely smooth mixture, because we’ve left the skins on, but it will come together into a buttery golden mash.
  • Add the cheese, Brussels sprouts shreds, and bacon pieces to the potatoes and mix well. I started out using a rubber spatula for this, but quickly switched to my hands, which did a much more thorough job. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper, and garlic powder if needed.
  • Add the lightly beaten egg and mix to combine.
  • Using your hands, shape the potato cakes. Gently form rounds slightly bigger than a golf ball, then flatten them into patties about 3 inches in diameter. As you finish each patty, set it aside on a plate.
  • When your patties are formed, heat the olive oil and the reserved bacon grease in your skillet (to save on dishes you can, and should, use the same skillet you cooked the bacon in) over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the cakes. Don’t crowd them, though. Each one should have space around it – they shouldn’t touch one another. In my 9 inch cast iron skillet, 4 at a time was perfect.
  • Once you have placed the cakes, don’t mess with them. Leave them alone for 4-5 minutes (4 minutes and 30 seconds was perfect for me) before flipping. You will need to do this with deliberation. Slide a thin spatula under each one quickly and firmly, then flip and leave alone for another 4-5 minutes. Disrupting the cakes too early, or fussing with them too much, will result in sticking, smashing, and general disintegration. They need time to form a stiff crust on each side before they will consent to flip cleanly.
  • Continue, frying 4-5 patties at a time for 4-5 minutes on each side, until all cakes have been cooked. You may need another dollop of olive oil after a few batches to re-slick the skillet. If the oil starts to smoke or the cakes are frying up darker than you like, turn the heat down to medium.
  • As you finish each batch, serve them immediately, or to hold them until all are cooked, stow on a cookie sheet lined with a wire rack in a 200 degree oven.
  • As with all fritter-type beasts, these are best consumed as soon after taking them out of the oil as possible.

Smoked Salmon Ravioli with Leek Pesto Cream

Call it my literary background, but I love a good origin story. When random thoughts occur, I like to trace them back through my train of thought to see what the sequence was (why did I just think of that bartender in Eugene? I was considering more efficient ways to load the dishwasher just a few seconds ago!). Ask me sometime about one of my nicknames for our dog. You’ll see what I mean. This spills over into my cooking as well. I suppose if I were a real writer, I’d resist or deny the question “where do you get your ideas?” as so many of them do (although some do answer the question, in wonderful and terrifying ways).

Food Blog November 2013-2776So I like to take you back where I came from. In this case, we’re going back to a tired, tired late afternoon in August. N. and Lucy and I had started the day in Brookings, OR, wound our way down the beautiful stretch of Highway 101, twisting through dusty redwoods, pastoral dreamland, and ragged juts of ocean cliffs. In the parking lot of a grocery store in Fort Bragg, we decided enough was enough. We just weren’t going to make it to the Bay Area that night. It was time to call the driving day finished.

Food Blog November 2013-2764Food Blog November 2013-2767Food Blog November 2013-2768We found ourselves a restaurant with a view of the ocean and ordered what sounded like amazing entrees. At the ha-ha-we-got-you-you-tourist prices, they should have been amazing. They were… fine. N.’s dinner, which is of most import here, was a plate of smoked salmon ravioli, dull and a bit tough, sputtering and drowning in a heavy, almost alfredo-style sauce. I had to fix them. (I had, in case you’re wondering, a hunk of unevenly crusted halibut, teetering over a tangle of roasted, balsamic drenched vegetables. It has promise as well… consider it in progress…)

Food Blog November 2013-2771This, then, is what resulted. A mundane, heavy plate of pasta became a rich, vibrant, tangy blend of smoked salmon, dill, and cream cheese sealed in won ton wrappers (I’m all for from scratch, but in a weekend when at least two dozen papers had to get graded, I decided I was okay with using a shortcut stand-in for homemade pasta dough). To replace the thick, gloppy alfredo of the summer, I spooned on a tangy, barely creamy sauce overloaded with herbs and sautéed leeks, that fell somewhere between a pesto and the kind of white wine and cream sauce you’d toss with spaghetti and clams. (Note to self: spaghetti and clams would be spectacular here!)

Food Blog November 2013-2772I stopped at 24 ravioli, each one loaded with a spare ½ tablespoon of filling, but had enough smoked salmon mixture left that I could have easily made 36. I figured we would each eat 12, but they were so rich and lovely that, particularly with a piece of garlic rubbed toast on the side, you could probably get away with serving 8 to each diner. You will have enough sauce for the full 36, if not more.

Food Blog November 2013-2775This dish is, perhaps, better suited for spring, bursting as it is with fresh herbs and buttery leeks and the pinks and greens of new growth. But it’s so good, so perfectly silky and creamy and fresh and tangy, that I think you should make it anyway.

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Smoked Salmon Ravioli with Leek Pesto Cream
Serves 4-6
For ravioli:
⅓ cup finely diced shallot (about 1 medium)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces smoked salmon
8 ounces (1 cup) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon heavy cream
Won ton wrappers, round or square (twice as many as the number of raviolis you want) or fresh pasta dough
¼ cup or so warm water, for sealing the ravioli

 

For sauce:
1 large leek
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup dry white wine (be sure you like the flavor – you will definitely taste it)
¼ cup fresh parsley
¼ cup fresh dill
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove
¼ cup pine nuts, toasted if you wish
½ cup heavy cream

 

  • To make the raviolis, heat 2 tablespoons of butter in a small pan over medium heat. When it has melted, add the shallot and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until they become translucent. You don’t want them to brown, you just want to sweat them gently to remove the rawness. When they are tender, turn the heat off and let them cool.
  • While the shallots and garlic cool, mix together the cream cheese, smoked salmon, 1 tablespoon dill, egg, and 1 tablespoon heavy cream in a mixing bowl. A fork or a spatula works well. Combine into a fairly homogenized mixture, though you will still have chunks of salmon, which is fine. Once the shallots and garlic have cooled, add them to the salmon mixture.
  • To form the raviolis, set up an assembly line: salmon mixture on one end, then won ton wrappers on a cutting board, then a small bowl of warm water, and finally a cookie sheet dusted lightly with flour.
  • Top one won ton wrapper with a scant ½ tablespoon of salmon mixture right in the center. Using your fingertip, dampen the outer edge of the wrapper with the warm water, then place a second won top wrapper on top. Press the edges to seal with your thumbs and forefingers, working air bubbles out so you just have a solid lump of filling in the center. I like to match up the poles of each wrapper – the very top and very bottom – so they are flush, then press together the sides simultaneously, one with each thumb and forefinger pair. As you complete each ravioli, place in a single layer on the floured cookie sheet.
  • When you have a full tray (I wouldn’t put too many more than a dozen on each sheet; you want them all touching the flour and not touching each other too much, or they will stick), refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  • Once the raviolis have had at least 30 minutes in the fridge, all that remains is to heat a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and drop them in. They are done when they float to the top, which only takes 3 or 4 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon (they are too delicate to pour into a colander) and add them to the sauce.
  • While the ravioli are chilling, make the sauce. Cut off the root end and the dark green leaves of the leek. Slice the remaining log lengthwise, leaving two long rounded planks as in the photo above. Run these planks under running water, flipping through the layers with your thumbs, to release dirt. Then cut each plank in half lengthwise again, and slice horizontally across into thin ribbons.
  • In the same pan you used to cook the shallot and garlic, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Once it has melted, add the leeks and cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring frequently, until the leeks are tender and smell garlicky and sweet.
  • Add the wine and simmer 3-5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and turn off the heat, letting the leek and wine mixture cool slightly.
  • While the leeks and wine cool, add the parsley, dill, basil, garlic clove, and pine nuts to a food processor. Pulse in 2 second bursts 5 or 6 times, or until everything is finely chopped and paste-like. Add the cooled wine and leek mixture and process until only very fine pieces remain.
  • As soon as you drop the raviolis into the boiling water, warm the cream in the pan you used for the leeks and wine. When it reaches a bare simmer, add the leek and wine mixture back into the pan and stir to combine with the cream. Heat through. Season to taste, if needed, with salt and pepper.
  • To serve, swirl the raviolis gently with the sauce. If the sauce is too thick for your liking, add a ladle of pasta water to thin it just a touch.

Smoked Salmon Burgers and Not-Ciabatta

In 2009, as N. and I were working through the Oral Examination phase of our graduate program – one of the most difficult aspects, as far as I’m concerned – a little restaurant opened on the south side of town.  Sharing space with a small bakery called the Humble Bagel, and run by the bagel shop owners’ daughter Anni and her husband Ari, the Humble Beagle quickly became our favorite restaurant in Eugene.  The feel is an intriguing blend: casual neighborhood gastropub, seasonal local food, layered with Israeli influence.  Macaroni and cheese, Caesar salad with amazingly lemony dressing, or penne with fresh pesto share menu space with shakshuka, house made pita, and lamb pizza dolloped with labneh.  In the summer, weekly specials are determined by what is producing best in Ari and Anni’s backyard garden.  In the winter, Ari makes his own pastrami and quick pickled cabbage for their take on a reuben.  The beers on tap are mostly from Oregon, and even the soft drink selection is carefully chosen for its local, natural ingredients.  The check comes with homemade, sugar dusted shortbread cookies.  It’s a pretty good example of the slow food movement in delicious action.  If you want a quick meal, don’t bother.  You’ll be there at least two hours.  If you want a place to bring your sixteen unannounced relatives, don’t show up without reservations.  This is a small, local pub, not a diner or high volume chain.  If you want tasty, thoughtful, belly-warming food at a relaxed pace, get in your car right now.  For a while, as N. and I neared the dates of our respective exams, we were going to the Beagle every Friday evening for dinner.  Almost without exception, I got the Fisherman’s Stew, a lovely collection of shellfish and moist, flaky halibut in a tomato and fennel broth with garlic aioli melting achingly over the top.  We could barely afford the luxury of these weekly visits, but we also couldn’t stay away.

The Beagle entertained us for the next three years.  We went there for birthdays – N.’s 30th, when Ari let me bring a cake I’d made at home, gave me the biggest chef’s knife I’ve ever seen to slice and serve it, and then took a leftover piece back to the kitchen where he shared it with the cooks.  We went there for the yearly day-after-Thanksgiving meal with my family.  One year, fifteen minutes into the meal we were the only patrons, and it was like our own private restaurant.  Ari came out and told us stories about his family’s holiday, and we were suddenly not in a restaurant anymore, but in the home of our friend.  We went there for dinner after my dissertation defense too, and even though we ended up being an annoying group – people arriving late and leaving early, special menu substitutions and requests, perhaps slightly-too-boisterous behavior – our server said it was okay, and that Ari had told him we were royalty.

On their Summer 2010 menu, the Beagle introduced an item I was instantly drawn to and still haven’t gotten enough of: the Smoked Chinook Patty.  This was a salmon burger on fresh ciabatta (made in the bakery next door), but what pulled me in was its blend of fresh and smoked salmon.  It’s immediately richer, deeper, brinier than any other salmon patty I’ve tasted.

This week, needing both a new dough challenge and a taste of that chilly, rain-soaked, allergen-laden city I still think of as home, I decided a recreation was in order.

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The Beagle’s patty comes on freshly made, perfectly crusted, well-toasted ciabatta rolls.  Looking in Ruhlman’s Ratio this week, I noted that the only difference he gives between ciabatta and a standard baguette or boule is the shape and cooking time.  This seemed promising and so, despite my claims last week about fear and being unready, I decided to dive in.  What else is a Thursday morning for?

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I dutifully mixed, then kneaded, bread flour, water, yeast, and salt.  I tore off a chunk to perform the windowpane test, and I cuddled my ball of smooth, elastic dough in an oiled bowl to rest and rise.

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Ruhlman doesn’t give any suggestion of how long to bake individual ciabatta rolls, only a full loaf, so I went to the internet for help.  I quickly discovered that what I was making wasn’t going to be the bread I’d had in mind: the tremendous bubbles that bake into cavernous holes, the flour-dusted, almost gravely crunch of the crust, and the soft, perfectly chewy texture of the interior are achieved through a slightly different ratio of ingredients, and a more involved process, as this article on The Kitchn depicts.  Since I was starting on the day of baking and didn’t have a biga waiting in the wings, I was just going to have to work with my mix.

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Ultimately, though what resulted was more like a super crunchy, slightly flat mini boule, it was crisp and buttery golden delicious and an excellent vehicle for the smoky/briny/rich/tastes-like-home burger it enclosed.

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Not-Ciabatta

10 ounces bread flour (or 2 cups)

6 ounces warm water

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon active dry yeast

Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water and set it aside for five minutes or so to come back to life.

While you wait, whisk flour and salt in a mixing bowl.  Make a little well in the center and pour in the yeasted water.  If using a stand mixer, beat with the paddle attachment just until things come together, then switch to the dough hook and knead at medium speed for 10 minutes.  I had never executed this switch between tools before, but it worked really well.

After 10 minutes, the dough should be stretchy and lovely and firm, and all traces of unincorporated flour on the sides of the bowl will be gone.  Do the windowpane test to see if the bread is ready.  If it’s not, continue kneading.  If it is, transfer the ball of dough to a lightly oiled bowl and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise.  I like to put it in an oven that’s been warmed for five minutes, then turned off for five minutes.

Let the dough rise until doubled in size – mine took 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Punch down the dough gently and then knead it on a floured board for a minute or two to deflate it a bit.

Let it rest for 15 minutes.

At this point, divide the dough, shape it into the bun shapes you want, and let it rise on an oiled baking sheet for another 1½ – 2 hours.  I ended up with seven mismatched, homely little balls, but I lovingly covered them with a clean kitchen towel and went about my business.  (I think I went about my business a bit too long – 2 hours became almost 3½, and the resulting buns didn’t puff much during baking because they’d expended so much of their rising power as they sat on my counter.)

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When the buns have risen again, drizzle them with olive oil and bake in a preheated 450F oven for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 375F and continue baking for another 20 minutes, or until golden brown and done in the center (with a full-size loaf you can thump the bottom and if it sounds hollow it’s done, but I suspect these are too small to yield satisfying results with this method.  Since I had 7, I just tore into one to see if it was done, and when it was, I ate it.  No one else has to know).

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Set aside to cool while you make the salmon patties.

 

Smoked Salmon Burgers

These are robust in flavor but, especially if you are using canned salmon, must be handled with some delicacy to prevent breakage.  They are, I think, a perfect blend: rich, fatty salmon, salty smoky deepness, and the sour zesty bite of capers and lemon.  If you don’t want to bother with the buns, you could certainly encase these in crisp leaves of butter lettuce.

15 oz. canned salmon, picked through and bones removed, or about 1 lb. fresh, finely chopped

4-6 oz. smoked salmon, flaked with a fork

2 cloves garlic, *pasted with salt or grated

3 green onions, finely diced

1 TB capers, minced

1 TB fresh dill, minced

1 tsp each lemon zest and lemon juice

Pepper to taste

1 egg, lightly beaten

If you are using canned salmon, combine all ingredients except the egg and taste for seasoning.  That way your mixture is perfectly seasoned before adding raw egg to the party.  You will likely not need any additional salt, because the smoked salmon and capers are briny already, and if you paste your garlic you will already be adding salt to the mixture.

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If you are using fresh salmon, combine all ingredients, mix well, and then fry about a tablespoon of the mixture until cooked through to taste for seasoning.

*To paste the garlic, mince cloves, then sprinkle with salt.  Using firm pressure, draw the blade of your knife across the garlic on the board several times.  It will begin to lose its integrity as the salt breaks it down, until you are left with a paste that is much easier to incorporate into your salmon mixture.

When it is seasoned to your liking, quarter the mixture and form four equal sized patties of 3-4 inches in diameter.  Pop these in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to let them firm up and meld – they will hold together in the pan much better this way.

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Before cooking, let your refrigerated patties stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes, just to take the chill off.

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Warm olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and gently fry the patties.  They should take 5-8 minutes per side.  Cooking time will depend upon whether you have used canned or fresh salmon and how plump your patties are.

To serve, enclose in buns lovingly with some spring mix and your choice of condiments.  I suggest horseradish or wasabi mayonnaise.  If you had homemade mayonnaise that would be a lovely splurge here.

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We had ours with paprika spiced kale chips, but to really get the Beagle experience you would need to serve with garlic French fries.

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