Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Need to indulge? True Pound Cake to the rescue

It’s the scent that grabs hold of you first. 

Escaping through the nooks and crannies and crevices, seeking out a willing host, penetrating your nostrils as it races towards the memory center of your brain and suddenly, you’re 7 years old again, pulling out your very first cake from the red Easy Bake oven you got for Christmas just a few days earlier. 

You can’t help yourself. You need another hit. So you inhale deeply, taking in the scent again. 

And, oh! That scent! It fills your head until you’re weak in the knees.

Now you’re 14 years old, your mother’s big red Betty Crocker spiral-bound cookbook laid out before you while you cream butter and sugar together with the well used white Oster hand mixer your mother received as a wedding gift. Then you’re measuring out the flour, which despite your careful endeavors, winds up looking like snow all over the front of your favorite t-shirt. There's maybe even a little in your hair, too. Next comes the cracking of the eggs, and unconsciously you're biting your lip in concentration, praying no shell gets past you. And before you know it, there’s that scent again.

Oh, that scent! Rich. Nutty. Buttery. Sugary.

It smells like childhood.

It smells like home.

That Betty Crocker butter cake was the first from scratch cake I ever made. Sure, I’d been making cakes by myself a few years already before attempting it but those were from boxes. No, that butter cake? That started a life-long love affair. Not that I make them all that often. Good butter isn’t cheap. Plus, good butter cakes have no shortage of calories. 

But every once in a while, I find the need to go back to those moments in my youth where the biggest thing I had to worry about was not over-baking my creations. And this cake does that.

For years, I’ve thought about making a "true" pound cake. It's named pound cake for the simple to remember ingredients made up of typical pantry staples in the 1700’s: 1 pound butter, 1 pound sugar, 1 pound flour, 1 pound eggs. After reading stories of success and failure from various sources, I decided this past summer that it was time. 

This is not the light, delicate pound cake you pick up at your local grocer or baker that leaves your fingers just a little greasy. No. This pound cake is dense, rich, with a wonderful texture that slices cleanly and holds up to next day toasting and a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

Debates abound as to whether adding flavoring is allowed in a “true pound cake." I found references suggesting that later recipes from the mid-1800s did suggest rose water, brandy or essence of orange be incorporated if desired. I added vanilla. And a pinch of good sea salt to balance out the sweetness. And I’m still calling this a true pound cake. Even with my cheat or two. 

Ready to give this a try, too? Let’s bake. 

Since the butter is the main flavor in pound cake, buy the best you can afford. I've tried lots of different brands, and my favorite is Kerrygold, an Irish butter from grass fed cows. It's a European style butter, meaning that it's churned longer than your average American-made butter, resulting in less water and higher butterfat. For baking, this can help cakes rise higher and for pie making, less water and higher butterfat results in flakier crusts. Two other brands, also European style, that I love are Plugrá and Strauss.

Place room temperature butter in a bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Oh, and by the way, do not preheat the oven; this batter needs to go into a cold oven.

Beat the butter on high for three minutes. Scrape down sides of the bowl and beat for five full minutes on the highest setting. There is no leavener in the recipe; the lift comes from the air beaten into the butter. So don't rush it. 

Sift the powdered sugar, working out all the lumps. I find it much easier to sift over a large piece of parchment paper instead of into a bowl, especially if you're using a stand mixer. After sifting, you can easily pick up the parchment, fold it in half and carefully guide the sugar (or flour) into the stand mixer

Add half the sugar to the bowl of the stand mixer. Mix on low for 35 to 45 seconds, then beat on high for 3 minutes.

Repeat with the rest of the sugar. The batter should be super light and fluffy, like buttercream frosting.

Weigh out a pound of eggs.

It took 9 eggs for me to reach 1 pound. Your count might vary, depending on the size of the eggs, so be sure to use a kitchen scale.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium after each addition until the egg is just incorporated before adding the next egg. Once all of the eggs are beaten in, add the vanilla and beat just until incorporated, about 35 seconds on medium speed.

Ok, so here's a little cheat. All-purpose flour and cornstarch are two of my pantry staples. Cake flour is not. So, I used cornstarch and sifted the flour three times to lighten the flour a little instead of buying cake flour. Start by measuring out 1 pound of flour.

Remove 8 tablespoons (or ½ cup, leveled, I just found measuring spoons to make less of a mess).

Add 7-8 tablespoons of cornstarch or enough to bring the weight back up to 1 pound of flour.

Sift the flour. Pour the flour back into the sieve, and sift again. Pour the flour back into the sieve again, this time adding the fine sea salt (if using table salt, reduce the amount to ¼ teaspoon), and sift a third time. You've now basically made your own cake flour.

Switch out the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment. Add ⅓ of the flour to the butter mixture. Beat on medium just until incorporated. We don't want to over mix at this point as you risk deflating the butter and making the cake tough. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add another ⅓ of the flour and mix until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remaining flour. Beat again until just incorporated.

I don't know about you, but I have three different kinds of non-stick spray: olive oil, Pam, and baking spray. Baking spray has flour IN the oil so you save a step and you don't have pockets of dry flour in your finished baked goods. So, here, I've prepped two 9-inch loaf pans with baking spray.

Evenly divide the batter between the two pans. I like to dump most of the batter in the pans then place them on the scale and add the last bit of batter, weighing the pans to make sure they are equally filled.

Use a rubber spatula to smooth out the tops. Lift the cake off the counter a few inches and let drop to help dislodge any air bubbles. I forgot to do this so I had big holes in a few slices. Doesn't affect the taste, of course, but it isn't particularly pretty. Also, I didn't do here but if you want that telltale sign of pound cake – the crack down the center – after smoothing, run the spatula vertically about an inch deep down the center of the batter, essentially "cutting" the batter. This will encourage the splitting. Place the pans into a cold oven on the center rack. Set thermostat to 275 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 1 ½ hours or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean to nearly clean with just a crumb or two.

Set the cake on a cooling rack and let cool in the pan for 20 minutes.

Carefully turn out the cake and allow it to cool completely before storing. Personally, I find this part really hard. Warm pound cake. C'mon!

I'm not big on frosting so this cake hits all the right notes for me. I hope you enjoy my tips guys. And, of course, this cake. Until next time … xo, ani

print recipe

True Pound Cake
True pound cake, aka, the original pound cake recipe, has been traced back to the late 1700s. Use the best quality butter you can afford, preferably, European style (I like Kerrygold).
  • 1 pound butter, room temperature
  • 1 pound powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pound (8-10) large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 pound, minus 8 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 7-8 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
Beat butter on high for three minutes. Scrape down sides; beat for five full minutes, until butter is lighter in both color and nearly tripled in volume.Sift powdered sugar. Add half to butter and beat on low for 30 seconds then beat on high for 3 minutes. Scrape down sides. Repeat with remaining sugar. Add vanilla and beat on high for 30 seconds.Beat in eggs, one at a time on medium high, just until fully incorporated, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. To make homemade cake flour: measure out flour to 1 pound. Remove 8 tablespoons of flour. Add 7-8 tablespoons of cornstarch to bring flour back up to 1 pound. Sift flour onto a sheet of parchment paper. Repeat sifting two more times, adding the salt during the third sift.Add ⅓ of flour to butter, beat on medium just until incorporated. Scrape down sides. Repeat with next ⅓ of flour, beating on medium until just incorporated. Scrape down sides and repeat with remaining flour. Spray two 9-in loaf pans with baker's baking spray (baker's spray has flour added, if you use regular cooking spray, lightly dust the pan with flour after spraying). Divide batter between the two loaf pans, weighing them on a kitchen scale to ensure the batter is divided evenly. Place pans into a cold oven. Turn oven on to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 1 ½ hours or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan for 20 minutes. Carefully turn out cake out onto a cooling rack until completely cooled.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: Two 9" loaf pans

Monday, October 16, 2017

Is it real or fake? Learning about extra virgin olive oil with Cobram Estate + Olive Oil Tea Cookies with Rosemary & Lemon { #IFBC17 }

The extra virgin olive oil scandal continues but with a little knowledge, you can become an olive oil shopping expert. Read on to learn what to look for when shopping for your next bottle of EVOO.

One-year-old olive trees on Longview Ranch, one of the Yolo County growers partnered with Cobram Estate in California.
Cobram grows 14 varieties with an aim towards the high-end market.
An iPhone selfie I posted on Instagram on our second tractor bed hayride back to our tour bus.
That's Peter Hunter, Longview Ranch's owner, driving the tractor.
My ass was being poked like a pincushion.

When I first hopped onto the tractor bed, I placed myself so that I was sitting comfortably on one half of a bale of hay. But as the stragglers in our group searched for a place to sit, my bale mate and I created a little opening between us so they could step up to get to some spots behind us. Eyeing the sliver of an opening, a skinny gal decided it was an invitation to sit between us, forcing me to scoot over and straddle the crack between two bales of hay, one cheek higher than the other.

I felt like a teeter-totter rusted in one position.

This is Blanca, or so I was told. (^_~)

Once our party was seated, some more comfortably than others, the tractor roared to life, exhaling a pungent smell that mingled with the earthy scent emanating from the hay. Determined to ignore the poking going on as I struggled to maintain my balance, I removed the lens cap, and raised my camera to my eye. Everything often looks different when looking through the lens of my camera. I find solace there. And so, camera to eye, I took in my surroundings and breathed.

We were snaking our way through an olive tree grove on Longview Ranch in Winters, California, passing 1 year-old saplings around one bend and full grown trees around another, all the while listening to Adam Engelhardt of Cobram Estates – our emcee for the day’s excursion – explain the intricacies of olive tree farming.

Truth be told, and ass poking aside, I was in my happy place. Outside, sun warming my skin, the scent of the earth filling my nostrils, and sitting amongst my peeps as we lapped up information.

Welcome to the start of the International Food Bloggers Conference 2017 edition.

Making our way to the booze. Cuz, booze! 
Lovely spread. Food bloggers + booze + food = lotsa camera action and note-taking.
Adam Englehardt, left, holds court, explaining the ins and outs of olive tree growing. Very informative!

California EVOO vs. European EVOO
There’s been a lot of coverage lately on the lack of labeling standards for extra virgin olive oil coming into this country. Many EVOOs from European growers, including Spain, Greece and Italy, are failing random testing here in the U.S. for quality and purity.

Here’s the thing: Olives are at their peak in October and November. This is when the olives are just ripe and just beginning to change from green to a light violet.

However, those old groves in Europe are massive. Too massive to harvest by hand and nearly impossible to harvest by machine so they wait until the olives are black and so mature that a good hard shake of the tree will cause them to fall off, usually in January.

By this time, the olive’s acidity level is high and the oil produced from them is bitter, lacking the qualities that make extra virgin olive oil a healthy food. To make the oil palatable it's either very heated – becoming highly refined thus killing off any remaining health benefits – and/or cut with another highly refined oil, like safflower or canola oil, to cover the bitterness. The misleading outcome is that the label may say Extra Virgin Olive Oil but clearly, it no longer is.

Brady Whitlow, president of Corto Olive Company, gave a wonderful presentation to us during our tour of Cobram Estate's Mill. Here's a video produced by Corto where he explains the difference between California EVOO growers and most European growers:

Our Way Their Way 3 min version from Corto-Olive Co. on Vimeo.

Extra Virgin Watchdogs
California supplies 90% of the domestically grown and bottled extra virgin olive oil and it has the highest standards in the nation when it comes to EVOO labeling thanks largely to the efforts of the Olive Oil Commission of California (OOCC, a government agency under the California Department of Food and Agriculture) and the California Olive Oil Council (COOC, a trade association).

According to their website: the OOCC was created and is funded by California olive oil farmers who are striving to provide a better product for consumers and who wish to promote clear, simple and accurate labeling of California olive oil. All growers producing 5,000 gallons of oil a season must, by law, submit to the following:
  • A designated number of olive oil samples are collected by California Department of Food and Agriculture officials.
  • Samples are sent to an accredited third-party laboratory located in Australia* for sensory and chemical analysis.
  • Results of the third-party analysis are provided back to the producers.
  • In addition to the government sampling program, producers are responsible for having all of their remaining olive oil lots tested by a private laboratory.
  • The verified grade must be accurately reflected on product labels for California olive oil.
*The California standard is modeled after the national standard in Australia which has the highest standards in the world for EVOO labeling.

The COOC’s mission is to encourage the consumption of certified California extra virgin olive oil through education and outreach.

Buying tips: What to look for when shopping for extra virgin olive oil
According to the COOC, here are four tips to ensure you're buying the real deal:
  1. To ensure that you're getting the highest quality with the most health benefits, make sure the label says extra virgin olive oil.
  2. Look for a harvest date (or milling date) on the bottle. It should be within 12 to 18 months of the date you're shopping. 
  3. Look for either the OOCC or the COOC label on the bottle. These seals mean that the olive oil has been through California's stringent testing for quality and purity. 
  4. Olive oil degrades in light. Make sure the bottle you are buying is dark or is bottled in UV glass, tin or has some other kind of outer protection. Once you get your oil home, store in a cool, dry place away from heat sources (do not store on the counter and especially not next to the stove). Also, once you open your bottle, oxidation starts to occur (just like wine!) and the healthful properties start to degrade 6-8 weeks after opening so it's best to buy smaller bottles that can be consumed in that timeframe. Whether buying large or small bottles, be sure to consume within six months of opening.

Gloriously Unrefined Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Longview Ranch, our host grower for the day, is one of a couple dozen growers that Cobram Estate partners with. Cobram is unique in that they have groves in both hempheres: California and Australia. This gives them two harvest seasons a year. Harvesting their olives at their peak, the olives are sent to the mill, which they own, where they undergo sorting and crushing within 4-6 hours from harvest time in order to capture as much of the antioxidants and healthful properties of the olive.

Cobram Estate's chef, Kevin O'Connor, created these cute little noshes for us and of course, they utilize Cobram's award-winning EVOO. The mini carrot cakes were tender but the star was definitely the frosting. You can see in the photo that it's slightly green. It's an olive oil frosting. "Just EVOO and confectioner's sugar," said Kevin. And the cute little salads? I could have eaten all of them. So refreshing!

That's chef Kevin on the right. This cocktail he's making is an original recipe of his which, you guessed it, features Cobram's EVOO. It was one of the more unique cocktails I've had. Not that I've had many. I'm more of a wine gal myself. In case you're interested: The MacGavin -- To a shaker add 2 oz gin, 2 oz chartreuse, 1/2 oz Meyer lemon juice, 1 egg white, 1/2 oz Cobram Estate EVOO, 1/4 oz simple syrup, ice, basil leaf (smack it to release oils then add to shaker). Put top on shaker and shake vigorously until you no longer hear the ice rattling around and the mixture has become frothy. Serve immediately.

Unlike wine, olive oil doesn’t need to sit for months or years before bottling. Once crushed, the oil is separated from the pumice and is ready for bottling. Or in our case, tasting.

After our tour of the groove, we were driven about 20 minutes from Winters to Woodland, the home of Cobram Estate’s mill and bottling facilities in California where we were able to taste freshly milled olive oil, olive oil that had been sitting around a few weeks and one that was quite clearly an inferior oil.

The freshly milled was super strong, with a just cut grass smell and a slight tingling at the back of the throat (that, we were told, was the antioxidants; if your oil isn't causing that tingling in the back of your throat when you give it a sip, it's probably not very beneficial). I could clearly imagine myself dredging fresh focaccia through it.

The next had been open a few weeks; it was still rich, though, with slightly less of a freshly cut grass taste. The inferior oil, after the two better quality oils, tasted rancid.

I couldn’t even get a sip down.

Adam said that this rancid-tasting oil is what most consumers associate with olive oil and prefer because they don’t know any better. But once your palate gets accustomed to the taste of true EVOO with all it’s antioxidant power behind every taste, he added, it’s really hard to go back.

I have to agree. I’ve personally become a bit of an EVOO snob since my trip to Capay Valley last year.

Cobram Estate's state-of-the-art mill and bottling headquarters in Woodland, California.

Look at how green this freshly pressed EVOO is? And the smell when we swirled and warmed it in our palms?
Verdant! Like freshly cut grass after a light summer rain. Wonderful!

Cobram's success in producing unrefined, cold press extra virgin olive oil was a real strength for them in May of this year during the 2017 Health & Food Extra Virgin Olive Oil Awards Competition in Málaga Costa Del Sol, Spain. Cobram Estates California Mission Extra Virgin Olive Oil beat out top producers in Spain, Greece and Italy to be named the World's Healthiest Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

In San Diego, you can find Cobram Estate’s Extra Virgin Olive Oils at Albertsons, Bristol Farms, Gelson’s, Sprouts, Whole Foods, and Vons.

For more information

Find Cobram Estate on:

Buy Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Find more recipes featuring Cobram Estate's EVOO.

Baking with Cobram in my own kitchen
During our excursion to Longview, Cobram Estate’s chef Kevin O’Connor prepared mini carrot cake bites with EVOO frosting. They were delicious and got me thinking how I might be able to use the bottle we were sent home with in a baked treat.

I’m pretty well known for my shortbread and it’s many variations with different add-ins. I’d always wanted to try adding rosemary to it and decided this would be the perfect opportunity since rosemary, lemon and olive oil are such a natural pairing. 

Because butter is solid, with 80-83% fat and the rest buttermilk while olive oil is nearly 100% fat, some compensation is in order. So I blended egg yolks, water and olive oil together before adding them to my dry ingredients to simulate the composition of the one cup of butter I usually have in my shortbread. I got the idea for this here.

print recipe

Olive Oil Tea Cookies with Rosemary & Lemon
Barely sweet shortbread with a hint of lemon and rosemary pairs perfectly with a hot cup of tea. I prefer a white tea for this but a black tea will go just fine. The EVOO is the star here so be sure to use a good quality, preferably, Cobram Estate. For a sweeter cookie, reduce the flour by ¼ cup and increase the sugar to 1 ¼ cup.
  • 2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced fresh rosemary
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 ounce water
  • 6 ounces Cobram Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 2 teaspoons lemon extract
Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a ¼ sheet pan (9x13) with parchment paper so it hangs over the long sides by about two inches on each side (these will be used as “handles” to remove the cookies from the pan).Sift together the flour, sugar, and salt. Whisk in the rosemary; set aside. Add the yolks and water to a tall glass jar or to the blending cup that came with your immersion blender. Insert the blender and pulse a few times to break up the yolks. Run the blender on low while slowly pouring in the olive oil. Continue blending until it thickens slightly. Add the lemon extract and pulse to incorporate. Create a well in the dry ingredients and add the olive oil mixture. Mix the dough with a wooden spoon until dough just begins to form. Lightly dust your work surface with flour then turnout the dough onto your work surface. Using your hands, lightly need the dough for 30 seconds, just until the dough holds mostly together. Place the dough into the pan and using your hands or a small rolling pin, spread the dough evenly across the pan. Dough should be about ¼-inch thick.Take a sharp knife and cut your cookies into rectangles. Place the pan so the short side is facing you and start by making one cut down the middle towards you, then cut each side into thirds. Turn the pan so the long side is facing you; slice down the middle, then slice each side in half. Prick the cookies with a fork.Bake the cookies for 25 minutes for a light, soft cookie or up to 35 minutes for a crispier, slightly golden cookie. Let cookies cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then use the handles to pull the cookies out and let cool completely on a wire rack before storing in an airtight container.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 24 cookies

FTC notice: As a Citizen Blogger for the International Food Blogger Conference, I received a reduction in my registration fees in exchange for agreeing to write a minimum number of posts before, during or immediately following the conference, topic to be of my own choosing. This is the first of those posts. As always, photographs and opinions are wholly my own.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

{ in the kitchen with … } Jo's Grilled Soy Sauce Chicken
with Cold Sesame Noodles and Tofu Salad

Hanging out in the kitchen with my friend Joanna cooking up some easy Chinese food perfect for summer. Want an easy vegetarian meal? Skip the soy chicken–the sesame noodles along with the tofu salad make a great vegan meal.

Grilled Soy Sauce Chicken using Joanna's homemade teriyaki marinade.

It started with a text.

Jo: “Hi there! Are you free this weekend at all?”
Me: “Free-ish on Saturday and free Sunday."
Jo: "Should we make sesame noodles with soy sauce chicken on Sunday?"
Me: "That would be great. OK to shoot it and share it on the blog?”
Jo: “Sure! I'll show an easy way to make the chicken that doesn't use the oven – so good summer food. We can add a tofu salad if you want, too.”

Come Sunday morning, I packed up my lighting and camera gear, a few backgrounds, some foam core boards and new dishes I recently picked up on clearance at a local Asian market and headed out for the 30 minute drive to Joanna's new home in North San Diego County. 

We started our day together the way we do almost every visit: with a trip to a Mexican restaurant. Jo loves Mexican food as much as I do and inevitably we wind up chowing down on guacamole, enchiladas and chiles rellenos. Bellies satiated, we headed out to the market to pick up our groceries for the afternoon’s marathon meal making. 

how we met
In September of 2002 I was leading a workshop on using Photoshop for conceptual fine art and editorial illustration at the Women in Photojournalism conference sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association. San Diego was the host city for the conference and John, one of her oldest friends from childhood, who, at the time, was a staff photographer at the newspaper I work at, was one of the few males working the conference. At the end of the first day, all the conference presenters and the behind-the-scenes staff were treated to dinner. John took Jo as his dinner companion and we just happened to wind up sitting next to each other. After spending most of the evening chatting, she decided to attend my workshop the following day. From that moment on, we have been amazing friends. With a shared passion for creating, designing, cooking and learning new things, the friendship has weathered many life events including a short stint as roommates, relationships, deaths, and even cross-country distances when she moved back to her hometown of New York.

getting to know her
From day one, I have been in constant awe of Jo’s many talents and the longer I know her, the more I learn of her rich past. Here’s just a small sampling: 

  • She's a singer and musician and spent much of her youth in several New York rock bands
  • She started her own music fanzine reporting on the local rock and punk scenes as well as interviewing international bands like Bauhaus and Dead Kennedy's
  • Along with her best friend, designed a line of rock fashion
  • Worked as marketing and public relations rep for a prestigious graphic design studio in New York which was, among other projects, responsible for designing the MTV logo
  • Worked as a model and actor, appearing in MTV ads and music videos
  • Worked as a fashion writer and editor for the East Village Eye
  • Is an award-winning fine jewelry designer who counts Julia Roberts, Andie MacDowell, Annabella Sciora, Rita Wilson, Kelly Preston, Debra Wilson and Poppy Montgomery among some of her clientele 
  • Owned her own jewelry gallery in San Francisco
  • Has provided on-air commentary on gems and jewelry for ShopNBC domestically and on HSE (Home Shopping Europe) in Germany, Austria and Switzerland
  • Helped a New York fashion house launch a line of bridal jewelry
  • And in the cooking department, has catered large multi-course dinner parties cooking her signature Chinese dishes

As I like to do when sharing the kitchen with a friend for this space, I asked Jo a few questions about her culinary journey. I love that even though I've known her for 15 years, I still couldn't have guessed these answers. I’m so excited to introduce you to her. Now that she's living in San Diego again, she and her recipes will be making many more appearances and I know you’re going to love her recipes as much as I do!

With a restrained hand on the sesame oil, these noodles don't suffer from the typical takeout problem of being a one-note dish. They're even better the next day, too. 

What is your earliest culinary memory?
I first remember my grandmother cooking fried chicken. We loved fried chicken! And helping my mother in the kitchen. My mother is a good cook but never loved cooking so I took over the kitchen at a pretty young age. Probably before I was even in my teens.

When did you first realize that you enjoyed cooking and what is it about it that appeals to you?
My first real love was baking. I remember when I was quite young, maybe 9 or 10 years old, I made individual breads, braided into little baskets that each held an Easter Egg for the people at church. I think I also made cream puffs that looked like swans that year! Haha! I wanted to be a baker and my Dad had a client who had an Italian café and bakery. Their pastry chef, Nino, was amazing! He said he would take me on as an apprentice. I was 10 years old and it was tough enough to go to school at 7:00 a.m. so when I heard I’d have to start at 3:30 a.m. at the bakery I realized that (becoming a baker’s apprentice) was not in the cards…

Cooking came very naturally to me and at an early age I took over the bulk of the family cooking. I enjoy feeding people and I am pretty good at knowing what ingredients will work together. I have a sense of flavors even if I have no recipe per se, I know what it will taste like.  I like the creativity you can meld into your cooking. The art of making a wonderfully, thoughtfully, lovingly prepared meal is very special.

Do you have a favorite dish or specialty that you love to make?
I love cooking holiday food. There’s a certain ritualistic aspect to the food and the memories of family and friends are so intertwined with the meals, it enriches every aspect of it. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Chinese New Year, Easter, birthdays–all special and I do make special dishes for each holiday that have become a personal tradition.

I’m open to all cuisines and learn a lot when I try new dishes and new ingredients. When my Mom and I were in New Zealand visiting my sister Andrea and her children, I would cook while she was at work and the kids were in school. Food is really expensive in New Zealand so you get creative really fast!

When I was in Honduras, we were staying at a dive resort that had terrible food. I was there for my dear friend Lili’s birthday so I asked if they would let me take over their kitchen to make her a special birthday meal for her and our group. I was very limited on ingredients but you use what’s available, what’s fresh, local and what’s in season. We’d just caught fresh tuna that morning so we had a really nice meal and there was even enough in their pantry and larder for me to bake her a pineapple cheesecake for her birthday cake.

Is there a dish or particular cuisine that you haven't tried yet but would love to give a shot at making?

Too many! I’d love to learn by location. Even the regional cuisine of our country is quite vast. I love Moroccan food but have never prepared it. Spending as much time in Asia as I have I would love to learn how to prepare those cuisines. Hand pulled noodles are right at the top of my list because its magical how they are formed. My love of Italian food is deeply embedded in my childhood so having a better understanding of regional Italian food would be great. And I still love baking and decorating. I took lessons in sugarcraft and cake decorating and loved it. I’d like to be able to wield a pastry bag like a pro someday! 

Jo's Tofu Salad is a perfect cold dish for a hot summer day.

final thoughts
When thinking of Jo, I can’t help but think of the passage in Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice:

“… no one can be really esteemed accomplished who does not greatly surpass what is usually met with. A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be half deserved.”

Jo is accomplished, fully deserving of the word. Thank you, Jo, for sharing a part of yourself with us today.

Until next time, friends … xo, ani 

Jo's Grilled Soy Sauce Chicken with Homemade Teriyaki Sauce
This is one versatile marinade. I've been to Jo's for dinner when she's used this marinade on tri-tip. Delicious! And that's the true beauty of this recipe: you can use it for chicken, beef or a strong fish, like salmon, and with each protein, the marinade will have a slightly different taste. So if you have friends over for a mix grill, all three proteins can take an overnight bath in this marinade and each would retain their own unique flavor–pumped up, that is. If you don't feel like grilling, you can simply preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, place the chicken single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or shallow pan and bake it for 15 minutes. Lower the heat to 375 and bake for an additional 20 minutes or until the meat has pulled away from the bone and internal temperature registers 165 degrees in the thickest part of a leg or thigh. The meat will taste best if you allow it to marinade overnight or at the very least, 4 hours. 

Makes 6 servings

2½-3 pounds bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
2½-3 pounds bone-in, skin on chicken legs

For the marinade: 
¾ cup soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
¼ teaspoon freshly grated ginger (see note)

Divide chicken into two 1-gallon sized resealable plastic bags. In a small bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients. Evenly divide the marinade between the two bags of chicken then squeeze out excess air while sealing bags. Massage marinade into chicken and let marinate overnight in the refrigerator.

When ready to cook, remove chicken from refrigerator and allow 30 minutes to come up to room temperature. Prepare a grill as per grill's instructions. Once temperature reaches 500 degrees, place chicken on grates, close grill and grill for 10 minutes. Open grill, flip chicken, close grill and grill an additional 8-10 minutes. Continue grilling and turning chicken, moving chicken pieces onto cooler areas of the grill as needed until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees. Remove to a platter and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Note: Jo keeps her ginger in the freezer. Frozen ginger grates on a microplane so much easier with the added benefit of not losing any precious ginger juice. I've started doing this and truly am amazed at how much more intense the ginger is.

Jo's Cold Sesame Noodles {vegan}
A classic takeout dish, Jo thinks the problem with restaurant sesame noodles tends to be too much sesame oil. "A little goes a long way," says Jo. "The flavor can quickly become overwhelming, throwing off the balance." A surprise ingredient to me was the addition of peanut oil. "It adds to the silky mouth feel of the dish, especially since we're limiting the amount of sesame oil." Jo has also swapped out traditional fresh Chinese noodles for more readily available spaghetti.

Makes 6 servings

1 pound dry spaghetti
1 tablespoon peanut oil, plus a splash, divided
1½ cups chunky peanut butter
3½ tablespoons soy sauce
6 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons sambal (Chinese chili paste), or substitute with Sriracha or gochujang 
½ teaspoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 scallions, thinly sliced (green and white parts), divided

For garnish: 
chopped peanuts
cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook 8-10 minutes or until just tender. Drain pasta and rinse under cold running water. Keeping the pasta in the colander, drizzle a splash of canola oil over the pasta and toss to coat. This will help keep the pasta strands from sticking to each other. Set aside to finish cooling.

In a large bowl, stir the tablespoon of peanut oil, peanut butter, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, sambal, sesame oil and garlic together until well combined. Add a tablespoon of water if needed to help smooth sauce out. Add the noodles and toss well to coat, adding more water a tablespoon at a time, if needed. Toss in ⅔ of the sliced scallions, stirring to distribute.

Divide noodles between 6 plates. Garnish with remaining scallions, chopped peanuts, cilantro and sriracha, to taste.

Jo's Tofu Salad {vegan}
This salad is so easy. I asked Jo if this was a dish she'd grown up on. She said no, that in fact it came about because she was hosting a New Year's eve dinner and needed to flesh out her vegetarian selections. I'm specifically calling out Trader Joe's Organic Sprouted Tofu for this recipe. No, this isn't sponsored. I have nothing to do with Trader Joe's. But after personally trying and using many different kinds of tofu, I have found that this extra firm tofu has the best texture, holding it's shape well when sliced. 

Makes 6 servings

2 teaspoons soy sauce
3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
½ teaspoon sambal, or to taste
3 drops sesame oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1 medium to large red bell pepper, diced into roughly 1/4-inch pieces
3 scallions, thinly sliced, divided
1 15.5-ounce package of Trader Joe's Organic Sprouted Tofu, cubed into bite-sized pieces 
handful of cilantro leaves, chopped, for granish

Whisk together soy sauce, vinegar, sambal, sesame oil, sugar, bell pepper and half the scallions. Place the cubed tofu in a bowl and top with the dressing. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours. When ready to serve, divide between 6 dishes and garnish with reserved scallions and the cilantro.

Joanna and I June 2017. Photo ©Joanna Joy Seetoo.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

How to cook beef tongue, Part 3: Chile Verde Lengua Tacos

Part three of a three-part series on how to cook a 5-pound beef tongue for three different Mexican dishes. Today, it's chile verde style!

Chile verde is not something I learned to appreciate until well into my 20s. Dad made it occasionally with its most frequent appearance at my grandmother's table for special dinners during the holidays or my grandfather's birthday. And even then, it was only ever served as a condiment on the side as an alternative to my grandmother's salsa roja. I make it now probably more often than I make red salsa or chile colorado and I absolutely love cooking with it. Today's version is a simple, very traditional recipe wherein the vegetables are boiled, blended and then fried and cooked until thickened. At that point, it can be used to braise whatever protein or veggies you want to cook in it or it can be cooled completely, jarred and used as a condiment later. Speaking of condiments, in case you missed it, I did post a roasted tomatillo salsa recipe a few years ago. Both are good but definitely different even though they have virtually the same ingredients. 

Speaking of ingredients, this is what you're going to need: 8 tomatillos (about 1 pound), one poblano, one jalapeño, 3 cloves of garlic, and half a Spanish onion (often called brown, although technically they're considered yellow).

Peel the garlic and onion then remove the husks from the tomatillos. You need to run them under cold water, rubbing to remove the sticky residue left behind by the husks.

Bring a stock pot halfway filled with water to a boil. Quarter the onion and add one quarter of it to a pot along with the two of the garlic cloves, the tomatillos and peppers. Bring to a boil again, lower heat and simmer, cooking for about ten minutes or until the colors darken.

When ready, the tomatillos will change from bright green to a dull greenish yellow while the peppers will turn a dark, slightly yellowish green.

Scoop out the the veggies and add to a blender along with the reserved onion and raw garlic and half a bunch of cilantro, stems and all. If you're a heat wimp like I am, cut the peppers in half first and remove the seeds before adding them to the blender. This will cut their heat by about half while retaining their peppery goodness. You'll need about a ½ cup of the cooking liquid. 

Then blend until just slightly chunky.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a pot and once shimmering, carefully pour in salsa (watch out for splattering). Reduce heat and allow to simmer while you proceed with the recipe.

Rough chop some onion. Heat some oil in a skillet and sauté the onion for 2 minutes, careful not to burn.

Chop the remaining tongue into bite-sized pieces and add to the onions. Cook, stirring, until heated through and just starting to lightly brown.

Pour in the salsa. Top with chopped cilantro. Serve over rice or my favorite, in warm corn tortillas.

Garnish the tacos with avocado, thinly sliced radish, cilantro and juice from a small wedge of lime. 
Mmm. Now that I've finished the writing and editing of this series, I'm ready to go back and make some more just because it's that good!  

chile verde lengua

You'll be using the final third of the previously cooked 5-pound beef tongue. When boiling the tomatillos, be mindful not to overcook or the skins will burst, rendering most of the fruit unusable. This makes more salsa than needed for this particular dish. Once the leftover salsa is completely cooled, place it in airtight container and use it as a condiment throughout the week.

Serves 4

For the salsa:
8 tomatillos, about 1 pound
1 poblano pepper
1 jalapeño
3 cloves garlic, divided
1 brown onion, halved, peeled with root and top ends removed, then divided
½ bunch cilantro
1 tablespoon canola oil
sea salt, to taste

For the lengua:
1 tablespoon canola oil
⅓ of the previously cooked beef tongue
1 ½ cups of the prepared salsa verde
sea salt, to taste
¼ bunch cilantro, chopped

For the tacos:
8 corn tortillas
2-3 radishes, thinly sliced
1 avocado, flesh cubed
¼ bunch chopped cilantro, tougher stems removed first
2 limes, quartered

To make the salsa: Fill a soup pot with water to half full; bring to a boil. Remove the husks from the tomatillos then rinse. Add them to the boiling water along with the peppers, 2 cloves of garlic and ¼ of the peeled onion. Bring to a boil again, reduce heat to a simmer then cook for about 8-10 minutes or until the tomatillos have changed from bright green to dull yellow. Remove the veggies to a blender, reserving ½ cup of the cooking liquid. For a less spicy sauce, first cut the peppers lengthwise and remove and discard the seeds and veins before adding them to the blender. Also add ¼ of the reserved onion, the reserved garlic and ½ bunch of cilantro. Pour in the reserved cooking liquid. Place the lid on the blender, with the vent tab open, place a kitchen towel over the vent and blend just until the cilantro is chopped and incorporated and the tomatillos are still a little chunky. Heat a saucepan over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil and once shimmering, carefully pour in the salsa as it will splatter. Stir, reduce heat to low and simmer while you proceed with recipe. 

For the lengua: Rough chop the remaining onion. Cut the tongue into bite-sized pieces. Chop ¼ of a bunch of cilantro. Heat a skillet on medium heat; add 1 tablespoon oil. Once shimmering, sauté the onions until softened, about 2 minutes, stirring to keep from browning. Add the tongue, cooking until heated through. Reduce heat to low.

Back to the salsa, turn off heat. Add a ½ teaspoon of sea salt, or to taste. Ladle about 1 cup of salsa into the meat mixture. You want enough salsa to coat the meat but not so much that it's soupy. Add up to ½ cup more if needed. Turn off heat and then stir in the chopped cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

To serve: Divide the tongue between 8 corn tortillas. Garnish with avocado, radish, cilantro and some freshly squeezed lime juice.

This is the final in a 3 part series on cooking beef tongue and using it for three Mexican dishes. To learn how to cook the tongue, go here.

You'll also learn on the above post how to make chile colorado tortas like these:

Part two is Lengua a la Mexicana, a dish that incorporates all the flavors of pico de gallo served over rice. That recipe is here.

I hope you enjoyed the little peek into some of my family's favorite ways to prepare cow tongue. I loved sharing these recipes with you. I know it's a little intimidating to try a cut of meat you might have eaten out at a restaurant but not cooked at home yourself. I do hope you give these a whirl. If you do, share a picture on Instagram and tag me (@afotogirl) so I can see your creations!

Until next time, friends ... ¡Buen Provecho!
xo, ani