Thursday, May 31, 2012

Purple Barley Salad with Apples, Celery and Bacon

With warmer days and sunnier evenings, dinner salads are in order. This substantial salad, which uses the purple barley from our Lonesome Whistle Farm CSA, was inspired by a recipe from Elin England, CSA member and author of Eating Close to Home. It combines sage-infused barley with cubes of crunchy apples and celery root lightly sauteed with bacon. 

I served the salad on a bed of lettuce and celery fronds with a lemony mustard dressing.

As a final touch, I deep fried some sage leaves in the remaining bacon fat for a crispy, tasty garnish.

Purple Barley Salad with Apples, Celery and Bacon
makes 4 dinner salads

1 cup hulled barley (purple if you can find it)
3 cups water
6 fronds of sage leaves (divide use)
1 lemon (divided use)
1/2 cup chopped walnut pieces
1 medium sized celery root
1 firm apple, such as a honey crisp
4 strips of bacon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1 small head of lettuce or 4 big handfuls of salad greens

1. Soak the barley overnight. The next day, drain and add 3 cups of fresh water, 2 fronds of sage leaves and a generous amount of salt. Use a vegetable peeler to make a long strip of lemon rind and add this to the pot. Bring the water to a simmer and cook gently, partially covered, over low heat until the barley is tender but still has a lot of bite, about 90 minutes. Adjust seasoning and discard the lemon rind and sage leaves. You can cook the barley ahead and reheat it before finishing the salad.

2. Peel the celery root (reserve any celery leaves for your salad) and chop into about ¼ inch dice. Peel the apple and chop into about ½ inch dice.

3. Heat a skillet big enough to cook the bacon. When it is warm, toast the walnut pieces until they are fragrant but be sure not to burn them. Reserve.

4. Now cook the bacon until it is nice and crisp. Drain on paper towels.

5. Over medium heat, submerge the remaining 4 sage fronds, stem side up, into the hot rendered bacon fat and let them cook for a minute. Rescue them out of the vat of oil by their stems, and let them recover from their adventure on the paper towels. They will crisp up into crunchy treats.

6. Reserve 1 tsp of rendered bacon fat for your dressing, and pour off all but about 1 Tbsp of the fat from the pan. Over medium heat, add the diced celery root and sauté for a minute. Now add the diced apple and sauté for a minute longer. You want these to be flavored by the bacon fat but still have some crunch. Transfer the sautéed celery root and apple to a large bowl. Stir in the warm barley and the toasted walnuts. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

7. Mix up a dressing for your lettuce by combining juice from one lemon, mustard and honey and then whisking in the reserved 1 tsp of bacon fat. Toss your lettuce leaves, and celery leaves if you have some, with the dressing and arrange on four plates. Top each with a quarter of the barley mixture. Crumble a piece of bacon over each mound and top with the deep fried sage leaves. Enjoy warm.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Buckwheat Chocolate Cake

It is birthday season in our household. For her birthday party, my daughter considered offering her favorite meal of homemade pasta with pesto and rhubarb buckle, but was worried that not all of her friends would like this menu, so she decided instead on pizza and chocolate cake. Her thoughtfulness in this matter is exemplary of her gentle and generous nature, nascent nine years ago in her deep brown newborn eyes and more apparent with each passing year.

She is not a fan of flamboyant cakes and cloying icing. Instead she favors subtle, fresh flavors and (a girl after my own heart) bittersweet chocolate. Searching for a suitable birthday cake, this buckwheat chocolate one from Beatrice Peltre caught my eye, especially since we still have a sizable stash of buckwheat flour from our Lonesome Whistle Farm CSA. 

This is almost a flourless chocolate cake (and an entirely gluten-free one). The small amount of almond meal adds a rich texture and the buckwheat gives a hint of sourness that complements the bittersweet notes of the chocolate.

A decorative dusting of powdered sugar and a scoop of vanilla ice cream elevated this subtle cake into party fare suitable for celebrating a truly sweet daughter.

Buckwheat Chocolate Cake
adapted from Smitten Kitchen

7 Tbsp unsalted butter, plus extra for buttering pan
4 ounces bittersweet dark chocolate
4 large eggs at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
A good pinch of sea salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
scant 1/4 cup slivered almonds
Confectioners’ sugar to serve (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Melt the butter and chocolate together in in short bursts in the microwave, stirring frequently. Set aside.

2. Prepare the almond meal by pulsing together the slivered almonds and buckwheat flour in a food processor until finely ground.

3. In the bowl of a stand mix or with a handheld mixer, beat the eggs and sugar with salt until light and pale and doubled in volume. Deb Perelman advises that one spend 5 to even 9 minutes on this to develop the cake's crumb, but with my little handheld mixer I didn't have quite the stamina for this and the cake still turned out nicely.

4. Gently fold in the vanilla and melted chocolate mixture. Sprinkle the buckwheat and almond mixture over the batter and fold gently to combine. Pour into prepared pan and bake for about 25 minutes until a tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out dry.

5. Let cool for five minutes on a rack then invert onto the rack, remove the parchment paper, and return upright on a serving plate. Serve in wedges, dusted with powdered sugar.

UPDATE: I made a Pacific Northwest version of this cake with ground hazelnuts instead of almonds and it was delicious.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Brown Butter Baby Turnips

If you are looking for a charming dinner companion, you need look no farther than these baby turnips from Sweetwater Farm that I procured through Eugene Local Foods. Turnips, like their cousin the rutabaga, do not have the biggest fan base. They can be bitter tasting and surly looking and give the impression of requiring a major investment of work. But I’m here to tell you that these babies were a breeze to prepare. I simply trimmed off the tops and tips, quartered or halved them, and then sautéed them with a pad of butter and a pinch of salt. I left them on low heat while I attended to the rest of the meal – finishing off a barley risotto, cooking chicken breasts with a lemon, mustard, and caper sauce, and preparing a green salad. Within about ten minutes the turnips had transformed themselves into tender, caramelized gems of flavor that quietly stole the show at the dinner table.

Brown Butter Baby Turnips

I bunch of baby turnips
1 Tbsp butter
pinch of salt

1. Trim the tops and tails from the baby turnips (if they are in good shape, reserve the greens for a stir fry or gomae). Rinse the turnips, quarter the bigger ones and halve the small ones, so that you have about a cup of equally sized pieces.

2. Heat a small skillet and melt the butter. Add the turnips and a pinch of salt and cook them over medium low heat, stirring occasionally, for about ten minutes until they are very nicely browned all over and the butter has browned to a nutty flavor. Serve warm.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Homemade Kimchi

Right now in the microbiology course I'm teaching we're considering all the different ways that microbes make a living, eking out energy from the most unlikely sources and in the most unlikely settings. It's hard not to feel a little superior as humans, knowing that we have the luxury of aerobic respiration, popping out dozens of ATPs for every sugar molecule we ingest, while the slow fermenting microbes toil away to make a couple of ATPs from the same starting material. But, while dashing to class after frantic mornings getting the kids off to school, I've been thinking that there's a lot to be said for those fermenters' slower paced lifestyle. It's not all about the ATP. I'm certainly grateful for those fermentation byproducts, especially when they result in a delicious and easy kimchi stir fry supper at the end of a long day.

This kimchi recipe is based on David Chang's from Momofuku. It is easy to prepare once you locate the Korean chili powder, called kochukara, which I grabbed while racing through Sunrise Asian Food Market on a mission to find roasted black sesame seeds, although I forgot the jarred salted shrimp called for in this recipe. The chili powder went into a gingery, garlicy, salty, sweet paste that I tossed with cabbage, daikon radish, carrots, and green onions. Then I left the cabbage-affiliated microbes to their leisurely fermenting as we dashed off to a Saturday soccer game. Later that evening I tucked my jars in the refrigerator, instructed to let the kimchi continue fermenting for a couple of weeks, but we couldn't resist sampling it the next day. It was already delicious, with a strong kick of ginger.

A stash of kimchi is a readymade stir fry in a jar: a bounty of precut vegetables, softened but still with plenty of crunch, in a delicious sauce, that just needs heating up with some starch and protein. We're particularly fond of this kimchi fried rice recipe for a quick weeknight meal. A new favorite is kimichi fried rice cakes, topped with strips of cooked egg and a sprinkle of those sesame seeds. Given our speedy rate of kimichi consumption, our diligent cabbage fermenting microbes barely made it to their two week mark before we had gobbled them up. 

Cabbage Kimchi
adapted from Momofuku
makes 1 to 1 1/2 quarts

1 small to medium head cabbage, discolored outer leaves discarded
2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (greens and whites)
1-2 julienned carrots
1 small daikon radish, peeled and julienned
20 garlic cloves
1 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger 
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup kochukaru (Korean chile powder)
1/4 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup usukuchi (light soy sauce)
2 teaspoons jarred salted shrimp (optional)

1. Cut the cabbage lengthwise in quarters, slice out the cores, then cut the quarters crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces. Toss the cabbage with the salt and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a bowl. Let sit for a few hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. 

2. Combine the garlic, ginger, kochukaru, fish sauce, soy sauce, shrimp, and 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl. If it is very thick, add water 1/4 cup at a time until the brine is just thicker than a creamy salad dressing but no longer a sludge. 

3. Julienne the carrots and daikon and slice the green onions. Drain the cabbage. In a large bowl, combine the vegetables and the brine.

4. Transfer the kimchi to clean glass jars. Pack the kimchi down so that the vegetables are submerged in the red spicy brine (the goal here is to have the vegetables in an aqueous, oxygen-depleted environment that promotes fermentation of lactic acid bacteria and prevents the growth of other bacteria). You can leave the kimchi to ferment in a cool place for a day or refrigerate directly. Though the kimchi will be tasty after 24 hours, it will be better in a week and at its prime in 2 weeks. It will still be good for another couple weeks after that, though it will grow stronger and funkier.