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Lavender Pepita Croquant

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One of the things that adds a nice touch to desserts is some croquant.  Croquant is very similar to brittle candies (like peanut brittle, for example), but the recipe is a lot simpler.  There’s no butter, or cream, or baking soda, or anything like that.  Just sugar, water, and your “feature ingredient”, which is usually sliced almonds for some reason.  But it’s fall, so I thought this would be great to try with some pepitas / pumpkin seeds.  I also wanted to add some lavender for that added twist.

When I first started considering making something like this, I thought it would be extremely difficult and laborious, but it’s really quite simple.  I realize now that I was mistakenly associating this with pulling taffy.  And if you’ve ever seen or done that, you know what I mean about laborious.  This recipe is great on its own as a candy, but it’s also nice to garnish, I don’t know, something like a Pumpkin Cheesecake (hint, hint — that’s my next post!).  Of course, this recipe does make more than enough to use as a garnish, so luckily it tastes good in its own right.  Here’s what you need:

  • 4 c. sugar
  • 1 c. water
  • 1 1/2 c. pepitas
  • 1 T. lavender

1.  Line a half sheet pan with a silpat or spray with cooking spray.  Set aside.

2.  In a medium-sized, heavy saucepan combine the sugar and water.  Over medium-high heat, stir until the sugar dissolves.  Do not stir after this point; only swirl the pan.  If a film forms on the sides of the pan, brush the insides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water.

3.  Cook for about 10 or 15 minutes until it is a light golden amber color.  Remove it from the heat and gently stir in the pepitas and the lavender.

4.  Pour onto the prepared sheet pan and spread it out quickly.  Allow to cool completely.  You can break it into pieces or before it has cooled 100% you can score it or slice it into desired shapes.  If you keep it in a dry space, this could keep for several months, but probably could last a week or so.

Notes — This batch does seem a little cloudy because I wasn’t paying attention and stirred it a little bit too much.  When you do that, crystals start to form which isn’t what you want.  I didn’t mind too much since I was breaking the croquant into very small pieces to serve as a garnish.  If you are trying to make larger sheets, take more care than I did in this batch.  A quick trick to help prevent this is to add a little corn syrup.  Without getting into too much detail chemistry-wise, corn syrup is a different type of sugar.  So when those two different sugars mix, it makes it difficult for molecules to organize and form crystals.

Garlic Confit Pesto

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Time to revisit that Garlic Confit that I had posted a little bit ago.  I just wanted to show a couple of different ways that you could use it in recipes.  This recipe is for another one of those multi-purpose sauces — pesto!  Quick fact about pesto — it comes from northern Italy (see? quick fact!).  Plus, what some folks don’t realize is that pesto really isn’t a sauce in the way that hollandaise is a sauce.  Actually, it’s more of a paste, at least the way that I do it.

Using the confit makes this sauce sweeter that regular pesto sauces.  When you use raw garlic, you get that sharpness and heat.  So you’ll need to keep that in mind when you use this recipe.  Now I don’t have a lot of exact measurements for this one; you just go for feel and texture and flavor here.  But I do try to standardize it when I can.  This time I did have a lot of fresh basil and parsley from the market, so I used a combination of the two.  But for ease of the recipe, I’ll just list the basil.  So here is about as standard as I can get it.

Here’s what you need:

  • 4 c. packed basil
  • 4 cloves of garlic confit
  • 1/2 c. chopped walnuts
  • 1 – 2 t. lemon zest
  • 1 – 2 T. lemon juice
  • 1 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 – 2 T. honey
  • 1/4 t. red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3/4 c. Parmesan cheese, grated

1.  Coarsely chop the basil and place it in a food processor, along with the garlic, walnuts, zest, and lemon juice.  Cover and pulse for several seconds to combine.

2.  Add the honey and red pepper and process.  Slowly incorporate the olive oil and process the sauce until smooth, being careful not to over-process (the longer you do it, the more heat is added to the mixture).

3.  Season with salt and pepper.  Stir in the cheese.  Store in an air tight container in the fridge.  Should last for a couple of weeks.  You can freeze it, and it should last for a few months.  You could freeze it in some ice cube trays to make it easier to just add a cube or two to some mashed potatoes, or pasta, or soup, or whatever you want!

Garlic Confit

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I love garlic.  There, I said it.  What’s not to love?  And what I especially love about this recipe is how simple it is.  Plus it’s so useful since it has so many applications.  You could put it in salads, really into any dish you might need, you could just spread it on some toast, or you could just get a fork and go to town.  And you could use the oil to cook, to flavor dishes, or to make a salad dressing.

The garlic takes on a nice sweetness when cooked, much like when it is roasted.  In this application though, it is much more subtle.

For those who might not know, a confit is a preparation that helps preserve food by covering it in a layer of fat or oil.  An example is duck confit where the duck is cooked in the rendered duck fat, allowed to cool while submerged, and stored in the cooled duck fat.  This preserves the meat without having to refrigerate it.  Probably has its roots back to a time when refrigeration wasn’t as common as it is today, but that’s just a guess.  Making this recipe follows the same principle.

This recipe is from Chef Thomas Keller’s book Ad Hoc.  His restaurant that folks think of is of course the world renown French Laundry.  But there is a whole group of restaurants in his portfolio, including Ad Hoc and Bouchon Bistro and Bakery.  The list of ingredients is so simple — garlic and canola oil.  That’s it!  And if you love garlic, you definitely need to add this to your basic repertoire.  I did change the amounts a little bit, just because I wanted to make a little bit more than the recipe calls for.  Here’s what you need:

  • 2 cups peeled garlic cloves
  • enough canola oil to cover

1.  Put the garlic cloves in a small saucepan.  Pour enough oil to completely cover immerse them in oil by about an inch.

2.  Place on medium-high heat.  Cook the garlic very gently; only small bubbles should come up through the oil when cooking, but the bubbles should not break the surface.  Adjust the heat as necessary.  Cook for about 40 minutes, stirring about every 5 or so, until tender.

3.  Remove from the heat and allow the garlic to cool in the oil.  Store the garlic in the refrigerator in a covered container, submerged in the oil.  Should last about a week.

Gnocchi with Leeks and Crispy Basil

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It’s been one of those “what the H-E-double-hockey-sticks do I have in the refrigerator / pantry today” kind of days.  But this recipe started out as an inspiration; an “a-ha!” moment, if you will.  For whatever reason, I was inspired to try to make gnocchi today (and by “today” I mean the same day that I’m writing this).  No idea why. . . I’ve never made gnocchi before. . . I don’t have a wise old Italian grandmother who can teach the wonders of making my own dumplings.  But I did have a bunch of leeks and a bushel of basil from the farmer’s (or is it farmers) market.  And I had some leftover mashed potatoes from the night before, so it all made sense.  I could make a shepherd’s pie, but I have the day off so why not try something new?

Now I know that you’re not supposed to use mashed potatoes when making gnocchi, but how different can it be?  There’s just a little extra cream and butter, maybe some garlic. . . and there are probably some recipes out there that would add all that stuff in anyway.  The only problem that I had was my lack of a ricer or a food mill, which I totally recommend that you have if you make gnocchi a lot. . . or even a little, because I had to pass all this through a mesh strainer, which was a pain!

Being a novice at this is rather evident — I could not roll it out right, mainly because I was working with a too-big piece of dough (I altered the recipe to accommodate).  So that meant that the pieces I cut were huge, which also meant that I could not shape things right.  But with all those things incorrect, it still tasted pretty good.  Now I have gone to restaurants and had some bad gnocchi — too dense, too doughy, too bland.  Much to my surprise, these were pretty light, but probably could have used a little bit more salt — I thought the mashed potatoes were salty enough.

This is another one of those things that doesn’t have as exact measurements as I would like. I kept on adding flour to the dough since it was too wet (I assume from the mashed potatoes).  But something like that would probably happen if it’s too humid outside.  This is as close as I could get it.  Here’s what you need:

  • 2 eggs
  • 3 c. leftover mashed potatoes
  • 1 1/2 c. flour, plus extra for the dough and rolling
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 leeks, thinly sliced
  • 2 sprigs of fresh basil
  • canola oil
  • zest of a lemon

1.  Into a large bowl, run the mashed potatoes through a ricer, food mill, or a sieve.  Make a well in the middle and add your eggs, salt, & pepper.  Mix the eggs with a fork, gradually adding some of the potatoes along the sides of the well.

2.  Sprinkle the flour over the top and using the fork mix to combine, being careful not to overmix.  The dough should be moist, but not wet or sticky.  If it is still wet, sprinkle flour over the top 1/4 c. at a time and work in gently.

3.  Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces.  Roll out the dough into a thin log, about an inch wide.  Cut the dough into 3/4 in pieces and dust with flour.  Roll the pieces over the tines of a fork.  Place the rolled pieces onto a sheet pan.

4.  Bring some water to a boil in a large stock pot.  When it comes to a boil,  generously salt the water with about 1 T. salt.  Drop the gnocchi into the water and cook for about 5 minutes; when they are done, they will float to the surface.  Transfer to a bowl and set aside.  Prepare the crispy basil.

5.  In a small pan, put about an inch of canola oil on medium-high.  Pinch off the individual basil leaves.  Working in small batches, fry the basil in the oil; it should only take a couple of seconds.  Remove the leaves and place on a wire rack lined with paper towel.

6.  Put a couple of tablespoons of the basil oil into the drained stock pot (I didn’t want to dirty another pan).  Place on medium high and sauté the leeks.  Add salt & pepper to taste.  When tender, add the gnocchi and heat through.  Toss with the lemon zest and serve.

Notes — Alright so here’s a little history for you, for which I know you’ve been chomping at the bit.  Gnocchi is probably one of the oldest recipes out there, with some documentation dating back to the 1300s.  There is debate on the origin of the word, but most agree that it has its roots in the Middle East. . . Traditionally, this is one of those meals that help extend your budget, since you can make it from simple ingredients. . . You can make these ahead of time and leave them in the refrigerator or maybe freeze them. . .

Happy Mustard Day!

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Just a quick post today about this great national holiday.  A couple of quick things to point out:  1) I don’t make my own mustard.  2) I don’t really have a recipe that uses mustard (although my dry rub recipe does have some dry mustard).  3) I love mustard, as you can tell from the mustards that I have in my refrigerator, not counting the Blue Cheese Mustard from Stonewall Kitchen that was just polished off the other day.  I totally recommend that mustard by the way.  But I digress. . . we all probably have some kind of mustard in our kitchen.  It’s a part of our everyday lives!!!. . . for the most part. . . maybe.

But back to the holiday. . . if you are somewhere near Madison, WI, you should pop on over to the National Mustard Museum in Middleton and celebrate at the festival.  Mustard from everywhere will be there — from Kaua’i, HI to Beaverton, OR to Clearwater, FL.  Unfortunately I can’t make it but I did have to order my very own 20th Annual National Mustard Day (NMD) T-shirt!  It sounds like a fun time and it looks to be a very well attended event.  So go celebrate everything mustard and eat a couple of free hotdogs.  Looks like they have some mustard custard to top everything off!

Does anyone have a recipe out there using mustard?

As a side note — today is also National Root Beer Float Day!  I am working on a cake to celebrate!

Mixed Greens Salad with Fried Goat Cheese and Chive Flowers

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So in honor of National Fresh Fruit and Veggies Month and National Salad Month (which was last month), I thought I’d give a try to make a nice salad.  Now I’ve never been a fan of salad.  Maybe it’s because historically for me, it usually involves some bits of iceberg lettuce and some kind of dressing.  Sometimes a special treat would be a couple of croutons.  Not fun, at least in my opinion.  So whenever I make a salad, I try to make it interesting with a wide range of flavors, different textures, different colors, fun ingredients, seasonal inspiration. . . all that jazz.

Chive flowers were the inspiration for this dish.  I have some chives growing in a couple of pots which I usually take into the house over the winter.  This time, for whatever reason, I left them out to face the winter head-on.  Fast forward to Spring 2011 and there are an abundance of chive flowers.  Not sure if it has anything to do with being exposed to the elements, but that’s beside the point.  Point is, I had at least twice the amount of chive flowers than I’ve had before.  If you’ve never eaten them, they are somewhat milder than chives, but they have a subtle spiciness and bite.

For this salad, the greens that I chose are a mixture of butter lettuce (yum) and some frisee (also yum).  The nice soft sweetness of the butter lettuce is a nice contrast to the bitterness and hardiness of the frisee.   I use about 2 parts frisee to 1 part butter lettuce (which is nice cuz frisee costs a lot less).  Add in the nice, tart, creaminess of the goat cheese and I think it’s a winner.  Here’s what you need to make 2 nice-sized salads:

For the salad:

  • about 3 c. mixed greens (I usually get extra greens, cuz you could have enough for a couple of salads the rest of the week.  For this batch I got 2 heads of frisee and 1 of the butter lettuce.)
  • 8 – 10 chive blossoms, leaving some whole and some divided into florets
  • 4 rounds of goat cheese, 1/2″ thick
  • 5 T. toasted breadcrumbs
  • 2 t. fennel seeds
  • vinaigrette, to taste (I made a raspberry vinaigrette with just a touch of balsamic)
  • salt & pepper, to taste

1.  Place the goat cheese in the freezer for about 15 minutes.  This makes it easier to slice and handle later.  It also helps it not melt too much when it is fried up.

2.  Wash and dry greens.  Cut or tear into bite-sized pieces.  Place on a serving plate or salad bowl.  Wash and dry chive blossoms.  Keep four whole, but separate the other four into the individual florets.  Sprinkle florets over the greens.  Set aside the whole flowers.

3.  Slice rounds from the goat cheese log.  In a small dish, mix together the bread crumbs, fennel seeds, salt, and pepper.  Coat the rounds in the crumb mixture.  Quickly fry the rounds until golden.

4.  Place the warm rounds on top of the greens.  Drizzle with prepared vinaigrette.  Garnish with the whole chive flowers and serve.

For the raspberry vinaigrette:

To make your standard vinaigrette, the ratio of oil to vinegar is somewhere between 3:1 and 2:1.  It all depends on the strength of the vinegar and how tart you like it.  Plus vinegars come in a wide range of flavors, so the ratio needs to adjust to accommodate.   Do what you feel comfortable with!  For this recipe, I used a 2:1 ratio.  There’s no additional emulsifiers here, but if you want something a little bit creamier, you can add maybe 1 T. of honey, or maybe 1 T. of raspberry preserves.  Personally, I don’t really add any emulsifiers unless I need them for the flavor they provide.  Lately I don’t even mix them together; I just drizzle some vinegar and olive oil on the greens and toss it together in my bowl.  Here’s what you need:

  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. raspberry vinegar (with a splash of balsamic)
  • 1 t. chopped chives
  • salt &  pepper, to taste

Combine all the ingredients in a container and whisk until combined.  Or you could put all the ingredients in a mason jar and shake to combine.

Dry Rub

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So, May is National BBQ Month (I have already mentioned this in a couple of previous posts).  When a lot of people think of a BBQ, it usually involves some family and friends in the backyard, ice cold drinks, maybe a couple of dogs running around, all revolving around someone managing the grill.  Depending on who you talk to, this is not a BBQ, but in fact grilling.  Grilling is a method of cooking done over a direct flame and high heat.  To purists, BBQ takes hours, slow roasting cuts of meat at a low temperature (low and slow!), all done in a smoker or a pit.  Some are wet (dripping in a variety of sauces) while others use a dry rub.

And what is a dry rub?  Essentially, it’s a dry marinade.  It is a mixture of salt, sugar, and spices that is rubbed on the outside before roasting.  Everything is allowed to marinate for several hours which draws out a lot of moisture which, in turn, concentrates the flavor of the meat.  This also draws in a lot of the flavor of the marinade.

Now, I like this kind of stuff a little on the sweet side, so this recipe has more sugar than most (I do have a rub that is a lot more spicy, too).  It works well when used on the grill because the sugar helps to give a nice caramelized coating on whatever you are grilling, meat, veggies, or otherwise.  This recipe does make a lot, but it should last you the whole grilling season (depending on where you live and how much you use).   It might seem needlessly complicated, but every ingredient does do its part.

Here’s what you need:

  • 10 T. brown sugar
  • 3 T. salt
  • 1 T. chili powder
  • 1 T. cocoa
  • 1 T. ground coffee
  • 1 t. paprika
  • 1 t. galangal
  • 1/2 t. dry mustard
  • 1/2 t. onion powder
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder
  • 1 t. chili flakes
  • 1 t. whole anise
  • 1 t. celery seed
  • 1 t. whole coriander
  • 1 t. whole cloves
  • 1 t. cumin

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the brown sugar, salt, chili powder, cocoa, coffee, paprika, galangal, mustard, onion powder, and garlic powder.  In a dry saute pan, toast the chili flakes, anise, celery seed, coriander, cloves, and cumin.  Add to the rest of the ingredients to the food processor and pulse until a fairly uniform powder is formed and the dry rub is cool.  Store in an air tight container.

Note — this is something that I came up with after lots of trials.  There’s a lot of ingredients, so I suggest just trying to simplify things and just go with a basic dry rub.  Start with just the brown sugar, salt, and chili powder.  Add stuff as you go and see what you like.