Sunday, March 28, 2010

Gnocchi al Amore Mio

There's this little restaurant called Amore mio in Tel Aviv. As you probably guessed, it's all about Italian food. Nothing fancy and the food was alright by my book, but they had one dish that had me coming back every time. Unfortunately, the menu changed and it seems that particular dish didn't make it to the final... which is almost criminal if you ask me.

Just look at this...

Tender warm gnocchi, bite size fresh mozzarella, ripe cherry tomatoes and crunchy arugula, all tossed in a delicious garlicky pesto. 

That was a classic. 

Now, here's how it was made...

150 g of fresh basil (which is about 4 cups)
30 g of pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
25 g of Parmesan
120 ml of virgin olive oil
2 g (1/2 coffee spoon) of salt 

Put everything in a blender and mix for a couple of minutes until you have fine grained pesto. Don't over do it, or the pesto will start to warm up and the this will darken it's beautiful green color.

 Don't worry about leaving the stalk of the basil, they taste just fine!

1 kg of gnocchi (this is enough for 4 hungry people)
1 teaspoon of olive oil

Cook the gnocchi according to the instructions, unless you're making them from scratch, which is even better!  Drain and put back in the cooking pan. Drizzle with a little bit of olive oil to keep them moist and avoid them from sticking together.
Keep warm.
3 cups of cherry tomatoes
1 big bunch of arugula 
350 g of mini fresh mozzarella balls

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and wash and chop the arugula in half or even in three sections if the stems are really long. Remove any hard or fibrous parts. 
Drain the mozzarella.

Now, heat the gnocchi in the pan, gently. When they are nice and warm, pour in a large salad bowl and immediately add the cherry tomatoes, the mozzarella and the arugula. Pour half cup of pesto and toss the everything together. You might want to add more if you like.

Serve immediately in individual bowls and don't forget to have extra Parmesan and cracked pepper on the table, they are great additions to this light and simple dish.

 Cheers all! 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Three Way Salmon Chirashi Sushi

Chirashi sushi can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be, all depending on how much time you've got on your hands and pretty much what combination of ingredients appeals to you. I'm utterly crazy about salmon skin sushi, but the thought of preparing it can sometimes be a turn off. So why not just throw everything in a bowl, sprinkle a handful of roasted sesame seeds and drizzle with your favorite teriyaki sauce?

Here's my favorite way to do it.

Three Way Salmon Chirashi Sushi

Let's start with the basics. 

Sushi rice!

salmon chirashizushi with black sesameI hear a lot of people saying they can't get it right and the most common complaint is that the roll falls apart because the rice just won't stick. Here's my fail proof recipe and some tricks to turn out the perfect sushi rice!

This will make about 4 cups of cooked rice:

300 g of sushi rice (short grain)
400 ml of water

1. You need calrose rice or any Japanese rice meant for sushi. Don't try to cut corners and make it with basmati. Also, if you're new to this, don't be cocky, leave the brown rice for another time.
2. Wash your rice under cold running water and rub it gently between your fingers, without breaking the grains. Wash until the water nearly comes clean.

Wash gently to keep the grains intact...

3. Put the rice in a pan or in a rice cooker, add the water accordingly and let sit for 30 minutes. Start cooking and as soon as the water boils, cover your pan tightly, turn to minimum heat and let cook for 15 solid minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pan with a thick towel and let it sit again for about 10 minutes. If you have a rice cooker, you don't have to worry about a thing, just don't remove the lid up to 10 minutes after the cooking is finished. 

4. Meanwhile, prepare the seasoned vinegar:

40 ml of rice vinegar
20 g of sugar
pinch of salt

Mix until dissolved.

5. Pour your rice into a large bowl. If you have a wooden bowl, it's even better, it will absorb some extra moisture left in the rice. But this isn't critical. Add the seasoned rice vinegar and with a wide wooden spoon, pick the rice from under and fold it gently. You just want to blend in the vinegar without breaking the grains. Fold until the vinegar is completely absorbed. Cover the rice until you are ready to use it or it will dry out.

Hard part is over!

On to the toppings!

(For 2 large servings)

500 g of sushi grade salmon, skin on (if you can't find that, don't eat it raw)

By the way, I call this Three Way Salmon Chirashi because I actually cook my salmon in three different ways (one one them, not being cooked at all actually!).

Roasted Salmon Skin
Start by cutting out the skin from the salmon, leaving a little less than 1 cm of flesh on it. Sprinkle with a little salt on both sides.

Lay it on a nonstick pan, skin side down, turn up the heat and let it roast gently. It should take about 10 minutes to get a nice golden color without actually burning it. If you feel the need, add just a tiny little bit of oil to the pan. My salmon was quite fatty, so I didn't need to do that.
Keep checking on it and adjust the heat accordingly. When it's done, turn off the heat and flip the salmon to the fleshy side. It will finish cooking all by itself and without drying out (3 to 4 minutes).
Remove the skin from the pan, set aside.

Crunch crunch crunch

Tempura and Panko fried Salmon

For the tempura, you will need:

1 whole egg
2 tablespoons of flour
Cold water
1/2 cup of Panko breadcrumbs (for dredging)

In a small bowl, beat the egg with 2 tablespoons of flour and add enough cold water to get a  smooth pancake-like batter.
In another bowl, pour the panko bread crumbs.

Cut the raw salmon you have in half and slice one half into thick strips, cover them in batter and dredge them in panko, then fry until nice and golden. Remove and let it drain on a paper towel.

 Crispy panko covered salmon. 
You can go ahead and do some quality control! ;-)

Sashimi Salmon
This is pretty easy, just take the remaining salmon and cut it in bite size pieces. I usually keep the fattiest pieces for the sashimi (feel free to skip this part if you don't like raw fish, it's alright!)

 Look at those pretty stripes of fat!

 Now, let's put everything together!

You will need:
2 cucumbers, chopped coarsely
2 stalks of green onion, chopped coarsely
1 avocado, sliced 
Roasted Sesame (or black sesame)
Teriyaki or whichever sauce you like best!

Take two large serving bowls, add about 1/4 of the rice you made into each.
Top each bowl with half of the salmon (I usually leave the tempura for last), cucumbers, green-onion and avocado (I found out at the last moment that mine wasn't ripe enough). Give it a good sprinkling of roasted sesame seeds, drizzle with teriyaki and serve with panko covered salmon sticks on top.



Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Sugar Cookies Filled with Spiced Sweet Potato

I love sweet potatoes and there are plenty on the market at the moment. They are so tasty and the color is so amazing that it lends itself to all sorts of dishes, sweet and savory. 
Today, I was feeling pretty adventurous and so I tried making sugar cookies with a sweet potato filling. I also had this wild flower honey for some time and decided to completely substitute the granulated sugar for it. I added a good measure of cinnamon, a little bit of this and a little bit of that... 

Sugar Cookies with a Spiced 
Sweet Potato Filling

Cookie Dough
150 g butter
150 g of sugar
2 g of salt (1/4 teaspoon spoon)
1 whole egg
1/2 vanilla pod (grated) - or 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
230 g of flour

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter, sugar and salt until white and creamy. Add the seeds from the vanilla pod (or extract) and then the flour. Mix until the dough looks grainy. Add the egg and beat until the dough comes together. Put in a bowl, cover and let rest in the fridge while preparing the filling.

Spiced Sweet Potato Filling
300 g of cooked and mashed sweet potato
60 g of honey
3 g of cinnamon (1 teaspoon)
pinch of salt
zest from a whole lemon
20 g of quick oats
2 tablespoons of milk (for brushing)

Cook the sweet potato in the oven (30 minutes) or in the microwave (8-10 minutes). 

Look what's hiding under that ugly wrinkled potato skin!

Scrape the inside into a a blender, add the honey, cinnamon and salt. Pulse for just a few seconds to get rid of any fibers from the sweet potato.
Pour the mixture in a bowl and add the lemon zest and mix in the quick oats, which will give the filling a little more body.

Now, take your you cookie dough and on a well floured surface and work it gently for a couple of minutes, just enough to give it some strength. Make silly faces, it's fun! ^_^

 Soon, I will be put in a 180 degree oven. Bummer.

Roll it down to about 4 mm thickness, turning it often with the help of your rolling pin (just to make sure it's not sticking to the working table). Start cutting out circles with a 6 cm cookie cutter (or any other size or shape you fancy!). Drop a little coffee spoon of filling on half of the circles and cover with another half. Seal the edged by pressing. I went over again with the cookie cutter, just to make it look neat.

Place on a non-stick cookie sheet, brush with a little bit of milk and optionally sprinkle with a little bit of granulated sugar. 

Bake for 16 minutes at 180 degrees Celsius, or until the edges just start to brown.
Give it a good sprinkling of powdered sugar and serve with a hot cup of coffee...

And just because they turned out so ridiculously pretty, here's more of them... 

 Perfect fit for my coffee cup

Om nom nom nom... yummy moist filling

These cookies are even better after a few hours!

Cheers all!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Alex's Dixie Chicken Wings

Dixie in Tel Aviv has been a long time favorite and unlike many other restaurants, it has been standing the test of time in the Israeli food scene. Though I think it's menu lacks cohesion (too much foods from too many different places), it is nevertheless quite good and the atmosphere is classy, yet casual. For anyone who has ever been there, the chicken wings and the Caesar salad are a must. I tasted both, and surprisingly, I was more impressed with the salad than with the wings, which they are mostly known for. 
Now, for someone who cooks and is aware of food prices and confection methods, I felt a bit dishearten to pay so much money for about 8 chicken wings. Yes, they are good, but they are also highly reproducible. The moment I mentioned this, I was challenged to make them at home. And I did.

Alex's Dixie Chicken Wings

1 kg of chicken wings ( clean and divided in two at the joint)
1 cup Flour
Black pepper (to taste)
Frying oil

60 g of sweet chili thai sauce
100 g of sriracha hot sauce
100 g  of butter (cut in small pieces) - or butter flavored margarine
1 clove of garlic chopped finely (opt.)

Clean and pat dry your wings and cut any tips.
Mix the flour with the black pepper and coat the wings. Deep fry them in hot oil  or in a skillet., until golden brown (about 10 to 15 minutes).

 If you can, pick nice plump wings, like this one!

Flour coated wings, ready for the fryer

To prepare the sauce, mix the sweet chili sauce and the sriracha in a small pan. heat until it almost boils. Remove from heat and add in the butter and whisk energetically.  The sauce will turn creamy and lighter in color.

 Thai sriracha and sweet chili sauce

Transfer your chicken wings to a large bowl and pour the hot sauce. Toss until the wings are well coated. 
Serve warm.
Optionally, if you want to give it more zing, you can add finely chopped garlic to the sauce, at the same time you mixed the chili and sriracha sauce.
As a side note, this sauce also works wonderfully with other dishes, like deep fried fish, onion rings or even roasted potatoes.

You'll have people raving about it, I promise!

Have a great weekend all!

Enjoyed this post? Share it with your friends!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Semla - Because there's more to Sweden than Ikea, blondes and nice cars.

Jag åt kakan!
(subtitle: I ate the cake!)

King Adolf Frederick of Sweden was, according to history, a "bon vivant". He never had much trouble on his mind, liked making little snuff boxes and loved food, so much in fact, that he dropped dead after an hefty meal that was topped with not one, not two, but fourteen cream cakes! 
He became know as the man who ate himself to death and on a more happy note, it made many of us very curious about this Swedish pastry called semla.
Semla is a cardamom scented pastry filled with creamy almond paste and topped with a fabulous amount of freshly whipped cream. 
I don't think I ever ate or prepared any Swedish sweets, so I was feeling a bit unsure about this. The many pictures I googled seemed to indicate this was a simple brioche filled with whipped cream. I was obviously wrong. 
I was specially happy to read it was made with almond paste, which I had plenty of and not much to do with. Perfect.  

I found so many recipes for semla, I ended up creating an hybrid out of several recipes, including  one of mine. The cake itself is indeed similar to a brioche, but more bread like and less eggy... it's like the brioche's big brother, who happens to live in the mountains and chops his own wood. It's earthy.

The addition of cardamon gives the cake a surprising kick. Together with the almond flavor and the whipped cream, you'll be eating this treat with your eyes closed. And so the sake of history, go ahead and get yourself a warm bowl of milk. Fred would have said Ja!  

Semla - Swedish Cream Cakes

Pastry Dough
300 g of flour
12 g of instant yeast
40 g of sugar
4 g of salt
4 g of ground cardamom
 125 ml of milk
1 egg
 60 g of unsalted butter

1 egg white with a bit of milk (egg wash)

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl, except the butter.
Warm up the milk (lukewarm) whisk in the egg and add this to the flour mix.
Work the dough on medium speed for about 5 minutes.
Add the softened butter and mix until it is well blended into the dough (2 minutes).
Do not be tempted to add more flour at this point.

 The dough should be a bit sticky

Take the dough out, make a ball and put in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise for about 40 minutes (in a warm place).

Meanwhile, prepare the Crème pâtissière (pastry cream)

We only need a small amount of it, but I believe it's up to you how much you'll want to mix with your almond paste. I like to have a clear feel of the taste of almonds, but adding more pastry cream will soften that flavor and make the cream lighter, though less contrasting against the taste of the cardamom in the bun.

The pastry cream is very easy to make, specially in such a small amount, so don't let this turn you down!

240 ml of milk
1 coffee spoon of vanilla extract
15 g of cornstarch
60 g granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
1 egg
20 g of butter

Pour the milk in a small pan and start heating slowly.
Meanwhile, beat together the egg, sugar, vanilla, cornstarch and salt in a bowl.
Now, when the milk is nearly boiling, lower the heat, take your bowl and with a whisk ready, pour in the egg mix a tablespoon of hot milk and whisk quickly. Add another tablespoon of hot milk, and a couple more after, always whisking.
Now, add all your egg mixture to the remaining hot milk in the pan, whisk quickly, rise the heat a little bit and keep whisking until the mixture starts to thicken. It usually takes about 4 to 5 minutes. Mix in the butter.
That's it!
Ps: in the unlikely event that your cream curdles, stay calm. Just give it a good mix with the blender and it will be alright.

By the way, I happened to have made almond paste just some days ago, but you can just as well buy it.

Pastry cream and almond paste

So, take 100 g of almond paste, put it in a bowl and add a couple of tablespoons of pastry cream and whisk until the almond paste is dissolved. Add a couple more tablespoons, keep mixing until you get a texture similar to thick porridge. My almond paste was quite a bit sweet, so I decided not to add more pastry cream and mixed in a tablespoon of milk to soften the cream a little more.

Now is a good time to turn on your oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

Take you dough, work it a little bit and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a nice tight ball.
Place on a baking sheet, cover lightly and let it rise for 30 minutes in a warm place.

 Last rise

After this time, mix 1 egg white with a little milk. Brush the buns and bake for about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.
Let them cool on a rack.

 Right out of the oven

And the fun part! Take each bun and with a small sharp knife, cut out the top of the bun, any shape you like. I went the traditional way and did triangles. Remove the cap (try to keep it intact) and scrap all the bread that's right below the shape you cut out, meaning, don't scrap all the crumb!

 Haven't remove the crumb on this one yet

Take all those crumbs and crumble them with your hands over the bowl with the almond cream. Mix. At this point you will probably need to add a bit of milk if it's too thick. Again, it should be similar to porridge.

 I mixed in the bread crumb and added a little milk to soften

Fill your pastry up to the rim with the cream, making sure it reaches everywhere inside the bun.

Prepare your whipped cream:
250 ml of whipping cream (very cold)
2 tablespoon of vanilla sugar (avoid using liquid vanilla extract)

Whip the cream with the sugar to stiff peaks. Pour it into a pipping bag (or do it by hand, it will be just as good!) and pipe the cream on top of the bun (be generous). Put back the little lid on top of the whipped cream and give your buns a good sprinkling of powdered sugar.

 More whipped cream maybe? Probably. More filling wouldn't hurt either.

Try not to eat more than 2 in a day. Seriously.

Enjoyed this post? Share it with your friends!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Frittata with Oyster Mushrooms and garlic

8:00 a.m

To the horror of many of you, I'll say it. I love mornings! I wake up drowsy and, sometimes literally eyes closed, I march straight into the kitchen and mechanically press the espresso machine button. Everything is good.
I open the fridge. God it's packed. Must make same space. Quick scan. Eggs, oyster mushrooms, out.

I throw some butter into a skillet, add a couple of slivered garlic cloves. 
 Just when it starts to gain a little color, I add the oyster mushrooms and let it fry gently. Salt, pepper.

I beat 3 eggs with a pinch of salt, pour it over the mushrooms.

Lowered the heat and cook for about 8 minutes. As soon as the top isn't completely wobbly anymore, I put a plate upside down over the skillet, take the skillet and quickly flip it on the plate. Returned the frittata to the skillet, and gave it another 4 to 5 minutes for the other side to gain a pretty color.

Cut into large size quarters.
Served it over a nice warm toast, ripe tomatoes and freshly ground pepper on top. Added just a tiny pinch of kosher salt over the tomatoes and some drops of extra virgin olive oil. 


Wishing you all a great morning!

 Enjoyed this post? Share it with your friends!