Zucchini “Baba Ghanoush”

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“This looks rather like a volcanic eruption, in the best possible sense,” states Yotam Ottolenghi about this zucchini baba ghanoush recipe in his cookbook, Plenty More.

Indeed, it’s not the prettiest dip, but it caught my attention for a few reasons. Firstly, my husband won’t eat eggplant, so I thought that the zucchini substitute could work.

Secondly, I had a hummus years ago that had butter-sautéed pine nuts on it, as does this dip, and it was exquisite.

Thirdly, this “baba ghanoush” so resembled nothing I’ve ever made, that i just had to try it!

I was mostly excited that there are no garbanzo beans or tahini in this dip!

Here’s the recipe from the cookbook.

Zucchini “Baba Ghanoush”

5 large zucchini, about 2 3/4 pounds
1/3 cup goat’s milk yogurt
2 tablespoons grated Roquefort
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon Urfa chile flakes, I used Aleppo flakes
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon za’atar, to finish
Salt
Pepper

Preheat the broiler. Place the zucchini on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and broil for about 45 minutes, turning once or twice during the cooking, until the skin crisps and browns nicely.

Remove from the oven and, once cool enough to handle, peel off the zucchini skin, discard it, and set the flesh aside in a colander to drain; you can also scoop out the flesh with a spoon.

Put the yogurt in a small saucepan with the Roquefort and egg. Heat very gently for about 3 minutes, stirring often. You want the yogurt to heat through but not quite reach the simmering point. Set aside and keep warm.

Melt the butter in a small sauté pan with the pine nuts over low heat and cook, stirring often, for 3 – 4 minutes, until the nuts turn golden brown. Stir in the chile flakes and lemon juice and set aside.

To serve, put the zucchini in a bowl and add the garlic, a scant 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a good grind of black pepper.

Gently mash everything together with a fork and then spread the mixture out on a large serving platter.

Spoon the warm yogurt sauce on top, followed by a drizzle of the warm chile butter and pine nuts.

Finish with a sprinkle of za’atar and serve at once.

This dip is better than incredible.

I served it with flatbread triangles.

The zucchini makes a nice base for the toppings.

It won’t be long until I make this again!

Full disclosure: I used goat cheese in this recipe instead of blue, only because there was blue cheese in another dish I served to friends the evening I served a variety of hors d’oeuvres.

 

 

 

 

Cast-Iron Grilled Chicken

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The name of this recipe isn’t terribly exciting, or unique for that matter, but when you find out where I got this recipe, I think you’ll be intrigued.

The book is Anthony Bourdain’s “Appetites: A Cookbook,” published in October of 2016.

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I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a fan for a long time, originally because of his non-fiction book about the restaurant business, called “Kitchen Confidential.” “Medium Raw” was also terribly enjoyable.

His first cookbook was the “Les Halles Cookbook,” from the famed NYC restaurant where Mr. Bourdain was the chef.

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And then there are also his television shows that continue to take us with him around the world, from crazy-busy food markets or remote deserts. We’ve witnessed him drunk, hungover, chain smoking, but mostly, enjoying every strange bit of food and drink offered to him. That’s the Anthony Bourdain I think most people know and love.

He’s opinionated, maniacal, and open to adventure. I’m not sure his tv fans were aware he was an actual chef when he became popular on tv.

There have been many different shows over the years, although they have the same theme. Some of my favorite episodes are when his good friend, Eric Ripert, goes along. Talk about two opposite ends of the spectrum! I would so love to hang out with the two of them. It makes me giggle just to think of them together.

And speaking of Eric Ripert, his pretty French face is featured in Appetites amongst the interesting array of photographs. There’s one photo where I’m not sure if he’s about to laugh or cry. He’s definitely a good sport.

So what’s Appetites about? It’s about what Anthony Bourdain loves – what he likes to cook for himself, for his family, for his friends. Although I did spot a few hard-to-come-by ingredients like truffles, the food in this cookbook is not frilly and fancy. I guess the premise is, even though you’re a chef, at home you’re a home cook, doing home cooking.

So why did I pick this cast-iron grilled chicken recipe as the first to try from Anthony Bourdain’s cookbook? Well, the reason behind it is that in NYC, according to Mr. Bourdain, “outdoor grills and the space to operate them safely, are tough to come by… but anyone can use a cast-iron grill pan to get real char on their food.”

I don’t have limitations with outside grilling space, but for much of the summer it’s just too darn hot to stand outside and watch meat cook. Even with cold beer.

So for this yogurt-marinated chicken recipe, the chicken is seared on the stove, and finished in the oven, just like one would do with really thick steaks. I’ve never thought to “finish” chicken in the oven!

Mr. Bourdain doesn’t give any insight into the yogurt marinade, which is disappointing, because it’s sort of Indian, but not really.

Here’s the recipe.

Cast-Iron Grilled Chicken

1 1/2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon ground cumin
15 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 to 2 1/2 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1-2 tablespoons canola or grape seed oil
Salt to taste
Hot sauce, optional

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the yogurt, olive oil, cumin, cardamom, oregano, and pepper.

Place the chicken in a plastic zip-seal bad and pour the yogurt mixture over, making sure each piece of chicken is evenly coated on all sides. Seal and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes.

Rub a grill pan with 1-2 tablespoons of oil, depending on its size. This is the grill pan I used. It has nice sharp edges, even though most of the time I don’t get the char stripes. It’s a Le Creuset.

Begin to heat the grill pan over high heat; you’ll know it’s ready to go when you can see waves of heat shimmering off it. This would be a good time to turn on your kitchen vent and turn any other fans on.

Remove the chicken from the marinade, letting any excess drip off. Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and season it liberally with salt.

Place on the hot grill pan and let cook, undisturbed, for 6 to 7 minutes, so that is is distinctly grill marked.

Using tongs, turn the chicken to cook on the other side for about 5 minutes.

As you can tell, there are no char stripes. However, I did forget to remove the skin on the thighs.

I “grilled” the thighs in two batches. Transfer the chicken, still on the grill pan, to the hot oven to finish cooking for about 10 minutes. The internal temperature should be 150 degrees F at the thickest part.

Remove from the oven, let rest for a few minutes, then serve, sliced or whole, with hot sauce if desired. The flavor of the chicken is fantastic. The cardamom, cumin, and oregano really worked together.

So in the future I think I’ll stick with my cast-iron skillet, and not worry about grill marks.

The whole concept of charring/searing the chicken on the stove, then finishing it in the oven is brilliant. And it worked beautifully. I will certainly be using this technique in the future.

Oh, and adding hot sauce? Brilliant!!!

Strawberry Tiramisu

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Many years ago, my girlfriend Gabriella made a strawberry tiramisu, and I’ve never forgotten it. It was made in the same manner as a traditional tiramisu, but without the coffee element. Instead, it had layers of beautiful spring strawberries.

So I wanted to finally make this twist of the popular Italian dessert using traditional ingredients like Savoirdi biscuits and marscapone, plus strawberries. However, I pondered upon what liquid to use in which to dip the biscuits.

A million years ago, approximately, my husband and I went to a Food and Wine Tasting in Aspen, Colorado. It was the same week that O. J. Simpson “allegedly” killed two people. I remember the actual day that he was followed along highway 101 in the white Bronco because it was my younger daughter’s birthday – June 12th.

In any case, the festival itself was a bit crazy. I think they sold too many tickets! Being short, I was always being elbowed by tall men who’d obviously never tasted wine or food before. Even if I was in front of a vendor table, people were reaching past me, around me, and over me. Of course, it doesn’t help that I’m not much of a crowd lover, so it was a bit stressful and painful for me. The good parts were having Stephen Pyles sign my cookbook, even though I was accused of stealing it (I had already purchased the cookbook in Denver before heading to Aspen), seeing a demonstration with Patricia Wells, and then attending a demonstration with Julia Child. Even my husband really appreciated that.

So why am I bringing this all up? There was a new winery at the festival – Quady Winery. The representatives were serving small scoops of vanilla ice cream topped with a drizzle of Essencia, made from orange muscat grapes. It was fabulous. I personally think there’s a proper place for sweet and dessert wines, and these have since become award-winning wines.


There’s Electra as well, which is made from a black muscat grape. If you ever see them, give one a try. I actually have used both in making sangria, to replace the brandy element that’s too strong for me.

So back to the tiramisu. I thought an orange element, from the Essencia and from oranges themselves, along with the strawberries would create a perfectly delicious spring dessert! Here’s what I did.


Strawberry Tiramisu

16 ounces Marscapone, at room temperature
16 ounces plain Greek yogurt
1/3 cup powdered/confectioner’s sugar
3 oranges, juice and zest used
Strawberries, picked over, rinsed and dried
2 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
Essencia
1 – 7 ounce box Savoirdi biscuits (I only used half)
Pearl sugar, optional

Begin by placing the marcapone and yogurt in a medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth. Add the powdered sugar.


Add the zest of three oranges, and beat again until well distributed.

Set aside the marscapone mixture, and begin with the berries. I had hoped to use my own garden strawberries in this dessert, but they’ve been attacked by some kind of creepy crawly.

Slice the strawberries into even slices; mine were approximately 1/4″ thick. Place in a medium bowl. Add the sugar, and the juice of 1/2 an orange.


Toss well and set aside.

Using a square baking dish 8″ in diameter, begin by placing a layer of half of the marscapone mixture onto the bottom of the dish. Using a spatula, spread smooth.
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Pour approximately 1 1/2 cups of Essencia into a flat baking dish. Add the juice of one orange and stir well. Taste the mixture. If you want it sweeter, add a little honey or agave syrup.

Place the biscuits in the wine mixture, then turn over. You don’t want them to fall apart, but you do want them softened. Work with only a few at a time.

Place them over the marscapone in the baking dish. Make them fit however you have to!
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Add half the strawberries, then cover with the remaining marscapone, and top it with the remaining strawberries. There is only one layer of the softened biscuits.
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Cover the dish tightly with foil and refrigerate overnight.

Slice and serve. I had mine still chilled with an espresso for breakfast!

But of course it’s perfect for dessert, warmed to room temperature, and served with Essencia or another dessert wine.


I put a few sprinkles of pearl sugar on the top for fun! It adds a sweet crunch.


This recipe doesn’t touch the traditional version of tiramisu, see note below, but it’s still really fun and highlights the sweet spring strawberries!


note: Traditional Italian tiramisu is typically made with a sabayon. My version is simpler, but not better. The sabayon makes the marscapone layer much lighter. Also, lady fingers and savoirdi biscuits have a similar shape, but that’s all they have in common. Lady fingers are light and soft, while savoirdi biscuits are hard and crisp. They should not be confused.

Yogurt and Chèvre Cheesecake

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Before you get too excited, I must warn you that this cheesecake is not for dessert! I have made sweet cheesecakes with chèvre before, and they’re fabulous, but this one is classified as a savory first course – perfect for a holiday meal.

I had a recipe once for something similar, but for the life of me I can’t find it anywhere. I’d made it for a party I catered, and it really confused people. They just weren’t too sure what to do with it, even though I’d sliced it up into thin wedges, which I thought made it obvious. Some people stuck crackers in it, treating it like a dip, and I can’t remember what else occurred. I’ve probably blocked it for psychological reasons. Sometimes it’s an anthropological study watching people eat at parties. Which reminds me, I’m really glad I don’t cater any longer.

But back to this cheesecake. I was inspired by Chobani’s #MadeWithChobani project to create a yogurt-based recipe. And immediately this recipe came to mind, although I ended up creating one out of thin air.

As with all yogurt with which I want to cook or bake, even Greek yogurt, I first placed the 32 ounces of yogurt into a paper towel-lined colander placed in a large bowl.
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I then let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, or about 8 hours. About 1/2 cup of whey came out of the yogurt, which you can keep to use in cooking. Yogurt can certainly be used as is, but I prefer the more yogurt cheese-like texture for cooking and baking.

This cheesecake “batter” can be mixed with basil pesto or sun-dried tomato pesto for completely different flavors. In fact, they can be layered for a really Christmassy look. But I wanted the yogurt texture and the chèvre flavor to really shine in this simple, yet stunning appetizer.

There was no payment or any kind of compensation for my use of the Chobani yogurt. I’ve purchased it many times and it’s a quality product. And you can participate in this project as well!

Yogurt and Chèvre Cheesecake

2 tablespoons butter
Approximately 1/3 cup bread crumbs
12 ounces Chobani plain yogurt cheese (see above), at room temperature, made from Greek yogurt
8 ounces chèvre or other creamy goat cheese, at room temperature
1 egg
2 egg yolks
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

For this cheesecake, I used a shallow, oven-proof baking dish, with an 8″ base. I didn’t want a really thick cheesecake because they’re more challenging to bake properly, and a small slice is all you need for an this appetizer.

Start by melting the butter in the dish using the microwave.
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My bread crumbs were made by processing a piece of French bread, with the crusts mostly removed. I toasted them in a skillet just until golden.


Tilt the dish all around to get the butter all around the sides and bottom. Then add the bread crumbs and do the same. There should just be a light coating of crumbs; set aside.

Using an electric mixer, mix the yogurt cheese, the goat cheese, eggs, and salt until smooth.

Carefully place the yogurt cheese mixture into the dish, smoothing the top.

Bake for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 325 degrees and bake for another 15 minutes. At this point test the cheesecake to make sure it has baked thoroughly. If it needs a few more minutes, just turn off the oven and let it sit for about ten minutes more. It should be slightly firm, and not wiggle in the middle.
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Then remove the cheesecake from the oven and let cool slightly and set.
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When you’re ready to serve the cheesecake, carefully cut into wedges. I served this particular cheesecake with a salad of greens with blackberries and toasted walnuts. The dressing was orange oil and balsamic vinegar. I also added a generous sprinkling of salt.
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You will notice that this cheesecake has a slight mealiness to it. But unlike a poorly, overcooked cheesecake that becomes horribly mealy, this texture instead is from the yogurt cheese. It’s also still important not to overcook this version, just like all cheesecakes.

I hope you all enjoy this savory twist on a cheesecake, and from my family to yours, Merry Christmas!!!

Pineapple Gazpacho

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The first and only time I’ve had pineapple gazpacho was in St. Lucia in the Caribbean. It was the first course of a five-course meal provided by the chef of the hotel, as part of our farm to table adventure, part one and part two.

The whole meal was stunning, but the gazpacho was especially memorable. Maybe because we participated in picking the pineapple in the field.

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Or maybe because I got to play chef in the “cold” room of the hotel’s kitchen where the prep work is done. I actually put the gazpacho together without knowing any ratios. But I faked it pretty well because the chef approved when he tasted it… although he hinted I’d used too much hot sauce. And he was from Mexico!

Here I am in the kitchen prepping the gazpacho, having used a very dull knife, I must say. I chopped a peeled pineapple, core and all, along with a peeled cucumber, then added yogurt, hot sauce, oil, honey, and a little cherry vinegar, which is in my hand. There is white bread soaking in milk on my right.

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Then the chef put everything in a vitamix, and pureed everything well, without creating much heat. I think it was for this reason that he added ice cubes as well. Then, using a very large chinois, the soup was strained.

At that point we left the prep kitchen and moved into the main kitchen where the chef prepared some sashimi for us, and we watched him cut up the kingfish, which was to be our main. Eventually we were seated on the outside deck with a view of the ocean, crisp white wine in hand.

Then here came the pineapple gazpacho. Isn’t it beautiful!

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It was topped with chopped baby shrimp, cucumber, tomato and a few cilantro leaves, then drizzled with a little unknown oil.

So today I’m going to duplicate this gazpacho, if I can, although the tropical ambiance won’t be the same.

Pineapple Gazpacho

3 slices white bread with the crusts
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 medium-sized pineapple, peeled
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded
1/3 cup greek yogurt
Small bunch of cilantro leaves (the chef did not include cilantro in the gazpacho)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon salt

Soak the bread in the cream in a small bowl. I actually used about 6″ of a sourdough baguette.

Combine everything in a large bowl, including the soaked bread.

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Then transfer to a jar of a vitamix or blender and blend until very smooth.

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Pour the whole mixture into a sieve and strain well. The chef actually used a chinois.

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Refrigerate for at least two hours, then taste for seasoning.

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Just before serving, I topped the soup with a few baby shrimp and a cilantro leaf. The chef topped his with some chopped shrimp, tomato and cucumber, and a few sprigs of cilantro.

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Verdict: I wouldn’t change these ingredients at all, except maybe to replace the yogurt with sour cream or crème fraiche. I also used cilantro in the soup, which the chef didn’t, but it only enhances the other flavors. And it creates a prettier color. However, I would use a chinois next time. Mine was good, but I preferred the smoother texture created by the chinois. The chef’s presentation is much prettier than mine, but that’s not surprising. After all, he’s a chef. But my gazpacho tastes exactly like his!