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Archive for August, 2008


Nut your Typical Eclair

I still remember the day I stumbled upon the Daring Bakers. Do you? I thought it was odd. Why did everyone all of a sudden decide to blog about French bread? And why were they all using Julia Child’s recipe? I was sure I had found some sort of freaky food cult, but there was no way around it. Every blog, every comment, everyone was going on and on about these breads. It was like being the new kid in school all over again; only this time all the cool kids were talking about food & baking.

Orange Logo

This is my 6th month now as a Daring Baker and I got to cohost the August challenge with the amazing Meeta from What’s for Lunch Honey. She took me under her wing a few months ago and we immediately started scouring cookbooks for the ultimate recipe.

mise en place
mise en place

We began by brainstorming via e-mail and quickly settled upon an eclaire recipe from Meeta’s sugar daddy, and king of French pastries, Pierre Hermé. This was great since I had never made éclairs, but consider myself a professional éclair eater. Of course, the best part of any challenge is modifying the recipe and having the complete Culinary Freedom to bake whatever you want. I decided to make profiteroles (ie tiny, round éclairs), filled with an almond pastry cream, glazed with a hazelnut chocolate glaze and topped with finely chopped pistachios. Here is how it all went down: 

choux dough
choux dough

Choux dough is extremely easy to make, to my surprise. French pastries don’t exactly have the best reputations for being the ones you could whip up in no time. But for this dough there is no worrying about cold butter or overworking the gluten by stirring it for mere seconds. Nope, all this is left behind when entering choux paradise. Once these babies puff up in the oven, you’ve got yourself an empty canvas perfect for filling with whatever your foodie heart desires.

profiterole work flow
filling the profiteroles

I opted for an almond-infused pastry cream, and let me tell you: this pastry cream could be a dessert on its own. I had no problems eating it straight from a spoon as the profiteroles were baking away in the oven. Eventually, though, I had to exercise self control in risk of not having enough filling for the pastries. Next time, I’m doubling the the recipe for the cream – mark my words!

triple nut profiteroles
triple nut profiteroles

I’ve got to hand it to the French – they know exactly what they’re doing when it comes to cuisine (especially pastries). I will definitely be making these again in the near future.

I want to send a big thank you to all the Daring Bakers who joined us this month in baking eclairs! Finally, I also want to send a big hug to Natalie of Gluten A Go Go and Helen of Tartelette for helping us tackle any choux questions and offering their pearls of wisdom on how to achieve eclair bliss. 

Triple Nut Profiteroles

makes approx. 35-40 profiteroles

adapted from Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

Components

  • 900 g almond infused pastry cream
  • pâte à choux
  • 1 cup hazelnut chocolate glaze
  • finely chopped pistachios

Putting them all together

  1. Pipe choux dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and dry.
  2. With a serrated knife gently slice open each profiterole and pipe pastry cream into the bottom half.
  3. Replace cover, drizzle with hazelnut chocolate glaze and top with finely chopped pistachios.

notes: The individual recipes are posted under “Read more…”

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made to be eaten
a big bite

(more…)

Give fat a second chance

Food trends can make or break an ingredient’s reputation. All it takes is the publication of a silly carb-less diet or the disclosed eating habits (or lack thereof) of a swanky A-lister and your favorite ingredient could go MIA – either blacklisted at most restaurants or too taboo to enjoy even in your own home. On Monday, Mark Bittman introduced a contest on his NYTimes blog, Bitten, to make a mayonnaise using the residual fat from your bacon. Before you go into a panic attack, take a deep breath and follow me. It’ll be OK.

mise en place
mise en place

First off, since this is a Mediterranean blog, I decided to revisit the idea of a BLT using med-inspired flavors. No monstrous portions here, either. I chose to make pancetta, arugula & tomato crostini and used the fat from the pancetta for the mayo.

pancetta + pancetta fat: waste nothing
crisp pancetta

Right from the beginning you’re getting double use out of your pancetta. The fat has a distinct, almost nutty, flavor that you won’t be able to achieve any other way. If you’re still having qualms about the pancetta fat, just see it as being resourceful and putting everything to good use. 

spread the love
spread the pancetta mayonnaise

The mayonnaise is wonderful and nothing like what you would find in a jar – not even close for that matter. The pancetta flavor is bold and pairs well with the subtle undertone of the dijon. The egg brings everyone together and the lemon takes care of any heaviness you might’ve been worried about. It’s a well-executed team effort.

Pancetta, Arugula, Tomato Crostini
final crostini

The size of this dish is deliberate. It agrees with the philosophy that everything in moderation is acceptable. Granted, these crostini in no way constitute a full meal, nor are they meant to; but if you’re in the market for an afternoon snack or an antipasto to enjoy with your friends and family, you’ve got yourself a winner. Break open a bottle of wine and enjoy life.

Pancetta Mayonnaise

yields about 1/2 cup

Components

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup liquid pancetta fat, room temperature

Putting them all together

  1. Combine egg yolk, dijon mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small food processor or a blender and pulse until well combined.
  2. While the machine is on, gradually drizzle in the fat until the mixture stiffens and you reach an emulsion. At this point you may add the fat a little more quickly.
  3. If your mayonnaise is too thick, blend in 1 tsp of boiling water to thin it out. 

adapted from FatAn Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, With Recipes

notes: To make the crostini, toast slices of baguettes or ciabatta until golden brown. Spread a thin layer of the mayonnaise on each and top with baby arugula leaves, crisp pancetta and heirloom tomatoes.

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just peachy

Right now I should be in Seattle spending quality time (i.e. karaoke-ing)  with my friend Jess.  Just like this past weekend I should’ve been in sunny southern California at Diane & Todd’s blogger bash… but, no. Instead, I was informed (on my way to the airport on Friday) that my airplane would be delayed to the point that I would miss my connection. Mind you, this was the last connecting flight to southern California that evening. So, does the airline offer to put me up at a hotel for the night?  Does the airline even care to compensate me in any way? No and no. I just barely got my money back from the extremely rude supervisor and had to turn around and go home.

I make it a habit not to let things to get under my skin and so I tried to have a good weekend despite all the mishaps. As is the case with most foodies, our best weekends always tend to start with a visit to the local farmer’s market. I did just that.

Eastern Market in DC:

spring colors
spring colors

The flowers speak for themselves. Everywhere I turned there were different patterns and colors… it always baffles me how these things just grow on the ground (is this just me?).

we had our food, the bees had theirs
fruits and bee

Even though I’m usually freaked out by bees (and most other flying creatures for that matter), this one looked so calm eating and minding its own bee-sniz. I opted for the other food at the market and snacked on a the wide array of fruits and heirloom tomatoes on display that day (definitely one of my favorite things about farmer’s markets). 

my inspiration
my inspiration

How could anyone resist? Seriously, these peaches tasted as ripe and juicy as they look. I took some home and on the metro ride thought of the possibilities. I narrowed it down to peach cobbler or peach galette and since a galette is more Mediterranean, I went with that. 

mise en place
mise en place

Galettes (or crostatas as they’re known in Italy) are rustic looking tarts. This means no fuss with tart pans or delicately crimping edges. That’s exactly what I did not need this past weekend.  No; galettes are super easy and you can pretty much fill them with whatever fruit you would normally bake with.

every good dessert has butter
every good dessert has butter

OK, so even though the crust already has a ton of butter to begin with, I just couldn’t resist adding a tiny sliver on top… Since we’re topping these with a sprinkling of sugar, we need something for the sugar to stick to, right?  Sound logic, especially when you’ve been having such a crummy weekend.  

peach galette
every good dessert has butter

If I wasn’t going to be able to see my good friends on the West coast, I was going to need a few of these tarts (3 to be exact) to cheer me up. In my defense (ahem, Adam), I did go to the gym shortly afterwards. If you haven’t already tuned into Adam’s blog, umm… you should. He’s a foodie/health guru who allows the occasional indulgence (if executed properly, of course).

Peach Galettes

yields approx. 4-5 individual galettes

Components

  • 225 g flour
  • 115 g butter, unsalted (1 stick)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tbsp amaretto, chilled
  • 2 tbsp water, chilled
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • half a peach per galette
  • slivers of butter & sugar for topping

Putting them all together

  1. Pulse cold butter and flour in the food processor until you reach a mealy texture.
  2. add the lemon zest, salt and sugar.  Slowly add one tablespoon of liquid at a time until the dough just barely begins to come together.
  3. Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  4. Once dough has chilled, divide it and roll out each piece to 1/4 inch thickness.
  5. Slice peach halves and fan on top of dough. Fold edges inward to contain the peaches.
  6. Top with a sliver of butter and a healthy sprinkling of sugar.
  7. Bake in a 400 degree F oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. 

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can I plant these?
peach pits

I just started gardening last month and so I’m relatively new to all this… does anyone know if I can grow a peach tree from these pits?

Med LOVE

Glasses filled with wine, bursts of laughter, plenty of food to nibble on – this, to me, is the Mediterranean way of life. Even though there is no way I can convince my boss to let me take a siesta in the middle of the day, I can still lead a Med lifestyle vicariously through the food I make. This month I’m entering Jenn’s popular Royal Foodie Joust, where bloggers have to strategically incorporate three featured ingredients into their entries. Kittie, last month’s winner, chose to feature whole grains, ginger and citrus. YUM!

mise en place
mise en place

I decided to make a traditional Middle Eastern salad called Tabbouleh alongside citrus-marinated swordfish spedini (Italian word for skewers).  I snuck some grated ginger into the swordfish marinade, used bulgur wheat in the salad and incorporated citrus into both dishes.

parsley bouquet
parsley bouquet

In order to get most of the leaves from the parsley (and not a lot of the tough stems) you want to bundle little bouquets of parsley and mince the leaves ultra fine with your sharpest knife. I remember for large social events and holidays, all the women in my family would gather in the kitchen to chop mountains of parsley and exchange juicy gossip. 

lemon juice + olive oil dressing
tabbouleh dressing

Now that we’re on the subject of Tabbouleh, I want clear up the common misconception that Tabbouleh should have only a tiny bit of parsley and a TON of bulgur wheat – NO! The only reason many (non-authentic) restaurants go heavy on the bulgur is because it’s a lot cheaper and quicker than chopping up all that parsley. And don’t try to whip out your fancy food processor here… nope, it’ll only make parsley pesto and that’s a totally different post.

swordfish skewer
swordfish skewer

When it comes to fish, I don’t like to overdo it with too many harsh herbs and spices. I purposefully chose a combo of clean flavors – specifically, basil, mint, lemon & orange zest, ginger, olive oil, salt & pepper. Let them all mingle in the fridge for a couple hours before throwing the fish on the grill. 

swordfish spedini, tabbouleh & olives
swordfish spedini, tabbouleh & olives

Next time you want to take a break from life and jet off to the Mediterranean, invite friends over for some tapas, mezze, antipasti, whatever you want to call it (small food?) and open a nice bottle of wine. It’s lots of fun and definitely my preferred way to host. Spread the Med LOVE!

tabbouleh salad
tabbouleh salad

Tabbouleh

yields approx 10 small servings

Components

  • 3 cups parsley, finely minced
  • 2 tbsp bulgur, fine-ground*
  • 2 tbsp water, lukewarm
  • 1 cup scallions, finely chopped
  • ½ qt. cherry tomatoes
  • 100 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 100 ml lemon juice (approx 1/2 cup)
  • ¼ cup mint, minced
  • pinch of allspice
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Soak the bulgur in lukewarm water (until all the water is absorbed).
  2. Finely mince parsley with a sharp knife (make sure parsley is completely dry before chopping)
  3. Prepare the rest of the vegetables by chopping them as well (they don’t need to be as finely minced as the parsley). 
  4. At this point you could store everything in the refrigerator (well covered) for up to a day.
  5. To assemble, toss soaked bulgur wheat, minced parsley and prepped vegetables in a large bowl. Whisk olive oil, lemon juice and spices together and pour over salad.
  6. Wash some hearts of romaine to serve alongside the tabbouleh and enjoy!

* My supermarket carries fine-ground (aka #1 ground) bulgur in the bulk and ethnic isles, but if yours doesn’t, Dayna’s Market will gladly deliver.

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swordfish spedini
swordfish spedini

Swordfish Spedini

yields approx. 10 small skewers

Components

  • 1.25 lbs swordfish
  • 1 lemon, zest
  • 1 orange, zest
  • 2 tbsp ginger, grated
  • basil, chopped
  • mint, chopped
  • salt & pepper, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. Soak bamboo skewers in water.
  2. Cut swordfish into 1 inch cubes
  3. Marinade with the rest of the ingredients in the fridge for a couple of hours.
  4. Skewer the cubes and grill (or broil) for a couple minutes on each side.  Until the inside is no longer translucent. 
  5. Serve with lemon wedges

notes If you can’t find swordfish, you can make this dish with any hearty fish that can hold up being skewered and grilled. Tuna is a great fish that comes to mind.  Measurements for the marinade don’t have to be exact, just use what you’ve got.  

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don’t make lemonade

What’s with all the lies? No, it’s more than just a lie, it’s a conspiracy. Parents pass it on to their kids, who in turn pass it on to their little ones, who just don’t know any better. The lies stop here my friends. I am nipping this one in the bud: when life supposedly hands you your lemons, don’t make lemonade. Instead, make some حامض مرقد.

life’s lemons
lemons

Keep reading; it’s a lot easier than it sounds (if you could sound that out).  In English, حامض مرقد, sounds something like ha-moud ma-rak-ad; which literally means sleeping lemons in Arabic. Before you call me crazy (and probably go make yourself another batch of lemonade) I’d like to remind you of the fable of the ant and the grasshopper. 

mise en place
mise en place

The classic fable tells the story of a lazy grasshopper who spends his summer singing away while a dedicated little ant works hard to gather food for the upcoming brutal winter. When winter strikes, the grasshopper ends up hungry and begs his tiny friend to share some of his food. The moral of this fable lends itself perfectly to my humble post on this Moroccan staple.

lemon blossoms
lemon blossoms

See, in Morocco, it’s traditional to preserve lemons in order to use them later in tagines, soups, stews… pretty much anything that you want to give flavor to.  Since I love making all these hearty dishes in the winter, I make my hamoud m’rakad now, as in 3 months before winter hits. This stuff lasts forever (i.e. 6-8 months) and the process couldn’t be easier. All it is are lemons that have been packed with salt and stuffed into an airtight jar. Seriously, that’s it.

hamod m’rakad (حامض مرقد)
lemon blossoms

When you’re ready to use the lemons; take out a piece, rinse off the excess salt, and finely chop it into whatever you’re cooking up that evening. The flavor it imparts brings a unique citrusy component to the dish. It’s lemony, and tart and perfect in every single way. So, next time you’re going to make some lemonade, set a few lemons aside to make a jar of حامض مرقد you won’t regret it!

Preserved Lemons

yields approx. 4 lemons

Components

  • 4 small lemons
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • lemon juice

Putting them all together

  1. Rinse and dry lemons.
  2. Barely slice off both ends so that only the pith is showing (not the flesh).
  3. Slice the lemon horizontally and vertically making sure not to reach all the way to the bottom. The lemon will resemble a flower at this point.
  4. Sprinkle a little salt at the bottom of the jar and then stuff each lemon with the rest.  If there is any leftover salt, you can pour it on top.
  5. Strategically fit as many lemons as possible into the jar and make sure the lemons are covered with juice to prevent spoilage.  You may want to add extra lemon juice if the lemons you used haven’t given off enough juice.
  6. Store in a cool dark place for 6-8 weeks (in warm weather, you may want to store it in the fridge).
  7. To use, rinse lemon wedge(s) in water to remove excess salt. Discard the flesh and chop the rind finely into the dish.

notes:  Use the smallest lemons you can find for this dish. The liquid will be cloudy at first, but it will clear up by the 5th or 6th week. You’ll know that the lemons are ready to use once the pith has lost its white color. You can also add different flavors to your preserved lemons by adding peppercorns, whole cloves, whole coriander seeds, or bay leaves to the jar (try to add any spices closer to the sides of the jar so you can identify the spices by looking at the jar weeks later).

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