Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ingredient 30 - Okra

This weekend I tried okra for the first time.  Okra, also known by its Swahili name of gumbo, is a flowering plant from the mallow family.  Cotton and cacao are also members of this family, which contains more than 2,300 species of plants.  Okra is grown in tropical, sub-tropical, and warm temperate regions.  It’s origins are disputed, some claim West African while others claim South Asian roots.  Records indicate that okra has been cultivated in the Southeastern United States since the early 1700s.     


Okra is in season from July through September.  When purchasing, look for pods that are bright green and blemish fee.  Avoid pods with dried ends.  Okra has a short shelf life so cook it ASAP.  However, it can be stored in the refrigerator in a loose plastic bag for a day or two.     

I had two main criteria for this week’s recipe.  First was taste, I had to be able to taste the okra so I could really get a sense of what okra was like.  Second and less important, healthy. the recipe had to be reasonably healthy.  These two criteria really helped me narrow down Southern Living’s list of its 10 Best Okra Recipes.  I made a variation of their Peppery Grilled Okra with Lemon-Basil Dipping Sauce

Broiled Okra with Lemon–Basil Dipping Sauce
2 pounds fresh okra
1/2 a lemon
1 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup basil
2 to 3 small cloves of garlic
2 tsp olive oil
1/4 tsp sugar


Begin by making the dipping sauce.  Roughly chop the basil and mince the garlic.  Place these in a small bowl with the Greek yogurt.  Add in the sugar and then grind in some salt and pepper, 1/2 a teaspoon of each is plenty.  Juice the lemon over the bowl, using a strainer to catch any seeds.  Stir the contents and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.

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Once the sauce is in the refrigerator, turn the broiler to high and line a baking sheet with foil.  Rinse the okra and trim off the tops.  Toss the trimmed okra in a bowl with the olive oil and some salt and pepper. 


Place the okra on the baking sheet and broil for 6 minutes, turning halfway through.  I placed mine on skewers because I liked the way it looked in the picture but this isn’t necessary whatsoever.  If you do place the okra on skewers, be sure to soak the skewers in water to keep them from smoking.
Once the okra has cooled for approximately 5 minutes, plate it with a generous dollop of yogurt sauce and enjoy.


The okra got mixed reviews in our house.  Dave was undecided and I couldn't stop eating it.  I am pretty sure I ate 2/3 to 3/4 of the okra.  The only tweak I would make, more lemon juice in the yogurt sauce.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Ingredient 29 - Pears

Summer is coming to a close here in D.C, we have had a week of sunny days with highs the mid 70's.  I celebrated this fantastic weather by opening my windows and wearing my favorite summer outfits and sandals.  I have a tendency to overestimate the temperature so I often wear my warm weather clothes too long into fall.  I can't even begin to count the number of times that I regret not grabbing a sweater on my way out the door.     

I am not ready for full blown fall weather yet, but I am ready for some fall foods.  Salads with beets and walnuts, apple anything, and cinnamon brown sugar oatmeal, I will consume with gusto.  To help usher in the new season I made a pear galette.  A galette is a free form pie, pastry crust filled with fruit and baked on a baking sheet.

I selected pears as this week's ingredient because enjoying slices on salads constitutes the extent of my pear consumption.  The pear is an old world fruit, native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa.  Pears have been consumed since prehistoric times.  Today, China is the largest cultivator of pears, accounting for three-quarters of world production.  Within the United States, Washington state leads, growing half of the domestic supply.

When selecting pears look for fruit that is firm but not hard.  Squeeze near the stem when testing firmness.  Many pears do not have uniform color so look for skin that is free of blemishes and soft spots.  Store ripe pears in the fridge and under ripe pears in a paper bag.

I made my galette in two stages last Sunday afternoon.  The dough was prepared before heading out to run errands, it took roughly 15 minutes.         

This was my first time making pastry dough from scratch.  I have been told for years that pastry dough can be fickle and difficult to work so I did a little research before getting to work.  The most important takeaway from my readings, don't overwork the dough.  It shouldn't be perfectly uniform, small unmixed chunks of butter are desirable.  They lead to a flaky crust.   

Sweet Galette Dough
Adapted from David Lebovitz's article in Fine Cooking
1 and 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 stick unsalted butter (4oz) - do not soften
1/3 cup cold water


To avoid overworking the dough, I began by combining the flour, salt, and sugar in mixing bowl.  I next took the butter out of the refrigerator and cut it into small chunks.


You can mix the butter and flour mixture together with a food processor, electric mixer, or pastry blender.  The goal is to evenly distribute the butter while simultaneously not over mixing, easier said than done if you ask me.  My best advice, use the less is more philosophy.
I mixed my dough in the food processor, there is a special blade just for working dough.  I pulsed the ingredients for 30 seconds or so before scraping the sides and giving the contents a few more pulses.  My dough resembled loose sand at this point.


The last step in dough preparation, adding the cold water.  I added the water in all at once, just like the recipe instructed, and pulsed the dough for 10 to 15 seconds until it started to come together.

At this point, I gathered the dough into a ball / disk, wrapped it in saran wrap, and placed it in the refrigerator to set.  The dough must set for at least one hour before it can be rolled and baked. 


When I returned from my errands I got to work preparing and baking my galette.   

Pear Galette Filling
3 to 4 ripe pears - I used Bartlett Pears.
1/3 cup walnut pieces
4 oz package goat cheese
2 tbp honey


I began by taking by dough out of the fridge, placing the oven rack in the middle position, and pre-heating the oven to 400 degrees.  While the oven was heating, I peeled, cored and sliced the pears.  Next, I mixed the goat cheese and honey together in a small bowl. 


With the filling prepared, I took a few calming deep breaths and prepared to roll out the dough.  I generously dusted both my countertop and rolling pin with flour before unwrapping the dough and dusting it with a touch of flour.  Dusting with flour keeps the dough from sticking to the counter and rolling pin.


When rolling out dough, roll from the center out and apply light pressure.  Roll the dough a few times, rotate the dough a quarter turn, and roll a few more times. Continue this pattern until you have reached the desired thickness or you can’t easily turn the dough.  If you can’t turn the dough, vary the direction of your rolls to simulate turning.  If this is your first time rolling any kind of dough I would watch a few instructional videos on YouTube.  
The galette dough should have a diameter of 15 inches when properly rolled out, mine came in an inch or 2 under.  I didn't want to risk rolling my dough too thin and making a colossal mess. 

When rolled out, place the dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or dusted with flour.  Spread the goat cheese mixture on the dough, keeping a  border of roughly 2 inches.  Sprinkle the walnuts on the goat cheese mixture and top with a layer of pear slices.

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Fold the edges of the dough up on to the pear slices, slip a few extra pear slices under the crust or in any bare spots at this time.  Gently brush the dough with a bit of water or melted butter and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes.  The galette is done when the crust has turned a light golden brown.  Let the galette cool at least 30 minutes before serving.


Overall, I was pretty happy with how the galette turned out.  The crust was soft and somewhat flakey and the pears, goat cheese, and walnuts complemented each other nicely.  This is a great dessert for anyone who likes fruit and cheese plates or more savory flavors.  

I think the desert could have been improved with a touch more sugar on the crust and something to make the pears a little less dry.  I am glad I took the plunge and made my own pastry dough.  Now that I have, I look forward to gaining more expertise in this arena.    

Monday, September 2, 2013

Ingredient 28 – Tomatillos

First off let me express my apologies for the lateness of this post.  Dave and I moved to new digs last weekend and the packing, moving, and unpacking has monopolized my life for the last few weeks.  I would like to say that things are now back to normal, but they aren’t.  We are heading back to the Midwest for a wedding and family visits next weekend.  However, after said trip I am expecting to fall into my normal cooking and posting routine.

Now on to tomatillos, the main ingredient in salsa verde.  I made the batch pictured below about a week before before I moved.  The preparation was pretty simple and the end result was ridiculously delicious.  To be fair, I love Southwestern, Latin American, and Mexican food more than the average bear, so my opinion is a bit biased.

Tomatillos, Physalis philadelphica, are nightshades native to Mexico.  When ripe, they range in color from green or greenish purple to yellow and red.  Tomatillos come into season in late summer or early fall.  When selecting, look for tomatillos that are firm but not rock hard.  The husk surrounding the fruit can be broken but should be more or less still on the fruit.  You can store tomatillos at room temperature for a few days or in a loosely tied plastic bag in the fridge for up to two weeks.        

Salsa Verde
Adapted from Simply Recipes
1 and 1/2 pounds tomatillos
1/2 a white onion
1 3/4 oz package of cilantro
2 jalapeƱo peppers
1 lime
1 tsp sugar

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Begin by lining your broiler pan with aluminum foil and setting the broiler to high.  While the broiler is warming, remove the husks from the tomatillos and rinse off the sticky coating on the fruit.  The sticky coating comes from the tomatillos high pectin content.

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Next, slice the fruit in half and place it cut side down on the lined broiler sheet.  Broil for approximately 6 minutes.  While the tomatillos are roasting, deseed and roughly chop the jalapenos and roughly chop the onion.

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When you remove the tomatillos from the broiler, the skin should be slightly blackened.

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While the tomatillos are cooling, rinse the cilantro and remove the stems.  Place the cilantro, pepper, onion, sugar, and tomatillos in a food processor or blender.  Juice the lime into the food processor or blender.  You can use a strainer if you want to ensure that none of the flesh ends up in the mix, but this isn’t necessary.

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Cover and pulse for a minute or two.  The salsa is ready to go when all the the ingredients are finely chopped and well mixed.  Plate and serve with crispy tortilla chips.  I prefer Xochitl or Tostitos Cantina Style.

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As I noted previously, this salsa was fantastic.  I could have eaten it with a spoon.  It was so fresh and full of flavor, but not way too spicy.  If you prefer more heat, consider throwing in another pepper.  This is a great take along for any party or bbq.