Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How to Make Scones



First off, welcome to anyone who's visiting for the first time from NPR's website. Hopefully, you'll stay and snoop around the archives. Well, I took my first shot at cooking on camera! I've been wanting to try this out for awhile now, and doing a story on quick breads for npr.org's Kitchen Window column finally motivated me to do it.

Technique is important when it comes to a simple recipe like this one for healthy oat scones with fruit and nuts. Without gobs of butter and heaps of sugar to soften the focus on any baking errors, good technique is what ensures great taste and pleasing texture. Working gently and quickly is the key, and that's what I demonstrate in the clip.

Go to npr.org to get the recipe for Oat Scones with Dried Cherries and Walnuts and read my article titled, Breakfast Baking: Better Fast Food, which also includes recipes for Banana-Raspberry Muffins with Almonds and Mango Colada muffins. I love all the recipes (good thing since I have a freezer full of test batches), but I have to confess that the Mango muffins are my current favorite.

And finally, I must give credit and huge thanks to my husband, Mike, who shot this clip. Please don't tell him that this video has gotten over 300 views on YouTube as of 2pm EST or I think I'm going to have the next Gus Van Sant on my hands (not Good Will Hunting Van Sant, but Paranoid Park Van Sant). Really though, I could not have made it without his patience and organization. Wow, that turned into a bad Oscar speech...cue the orchestra and enjoy the clip!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Cavatelli, Favas & Pancetta in Tomato Broth with Ricotta

That title's a mouthful, isn't it! But I didn't think I could omit any of those elements because they all play a major role in this dish. This is a departure from the kind of pasta dishes I usually make and, in my opinion, a departure from typical pasta dishes in general. The key is the simple and flavorful homemade tomato broth. I wouldn't call it a sauce, but this is not a soup by any means. Whatever it is, it works beautifully.

I'd love to take full credit, but I found this recipe in the New York Times food section a couple weeks ago. Or rather, I found the photo. Before I read exactly what it was, I already knew I had to make it. Whether it was the snowy fresh ricotta or the thick knubby pasta, the visual just appealed to me.

The recipe was actually featured in an article about a trend among NY chefs of serving homemade ricotta. As it turns out, making ricotta at home is incredibly simple. I almost went ahead and did it myself (cheese making is just cool, ya know?), but then I figured there was a high likelihood I would end up with bland cheese that didn't live up to the store bought version--and that would be depressing. So, that's Sorrento ricotta in the photo. As it turns out, a couple bloggers confirmed what I thought--the cheese making process is nifty, but the result is kind of bland.

I'm proud to say my version looks strikingly similar to that original photo in the Times. I was pleased to find great fresh Cavatelli (which I learned from Babette Feasts is a like a cross between gnocchi and regular pasta) at the nearby gourmet market and deli. The thick, starchy pasta does a great job of soaking up the broth, but I think a nice imported orechiette would be a good choice too, or small gnocchi for that matter. The recipe, from the Little Owl restaurant in New York, called for peas and bacon, but I immediately decided to use fresh fava beans and diced pancetta instead. Use fresh (blanched and peeled) or frozen favas if you can find them, but definitely use pancetta. It adds a distinct rich meaty flavor that doesn't include the salt or the smokiness of many bacons. I just love it, and it makes the dish taste special.

Like I mentioned, you need to make a tomato broth, but it's so easy! Do not bother substituting purchased broth. All you have to do is simmer a can of plum tomatoes with carrot, celery, onion and a few other goodies for flavor--30 minutes and you're done. Here is the link to the recipe (email me if the link doesn't work for some reason) and the article if you're interested. And if you're up for trying fresh ricotta, the Times provided that recipe as well. Like I said, I used fava beans and pancetta in place of the peas and bacon, so follow my lead or come up with your own variation!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Smoky Lentils with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Yesterday, I felt like eating something filling and hearty. The day turned dark and tropical-stormy (still 87 degrees though), so a big pot of lentils was exactly the kind of thing I wanted simmering away in my kitchen.

During the week when my husband travels for work, I often eat vegetarian meals because I don't feel like going to the trouble of wrangling meat for myself (as if I'm out killing fresh chickens like Renee Zellweger in Cold Mountain). Anyway, I might do something with fish, but otherwise it's mainly vegetables, beans, pasta and grains for me (and eggs--I'm a fool for eggs lately).

With the hot summer weather, I haven't thought about lentils in awhile, but they are one of my favorite easy dinners. I love them in soups or alongside chicken sausage or salmon. Unlike other legumes, there's no pre-soaking, and they cook in about half an hour.

Lentils are hearty fare, but to make them a true main course, I added diced sweet potatoes that I roasted separately and added at the end. You could add a bit more broth and simmer the potatoes with the lentils, but roasting makes them nicely browned on the outside and gives you the chance to season them separately.

I find that brown lentils have a sort of natural earthy sweetness by themselves, which I played up by adding smoky cumin and mild chile powder. To balance out all the sweetness, I made my favorite green--deliciously bitter broccoli raab--to eat on the side. I wasn't planning to share this simple everyday meal on the blog, but it was so tasty, I had to.

Smoky Lentils with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
Okay, I didn't go totally vegetarian--I used chicken broth. But, I would just as readily use vegetable broth, especially since I started buying the Kitchen Basics brand. Their dark, rich vegetable broth is head and shoulders above other supermarket brands, and their broths have less sodium too. I didn't measure my spices when I made this, so I'm giving estimates here. For the lentils, just use a bit more cumin than chile, and feel free to adjust.

Serves 4

For the potatoes:
cooking spray
2 to 3 sweet potatoes (about 1 pound when peeled)
Mild red chile powder to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For the lentils:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 large red onion, chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 or 4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon mild chile powder
2 2/3 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup brown lentils

To make the potatoes, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and coat with cooking spray. Pile on the sweet potatoes, coat them with cooking spray (you could use olive oil for this, but I was going for low-cal and fast) and season with chile powder, salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, stirring once, or until potatoes are tender and browned in spots.

To make lentils, heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper, and cook until soft and starting to brown. Add the garlic, cumin and chile powder. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, stirring continuously. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Add the lentils, season with salt and pepper (keep it light, you can add more later), and reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until lentils are tender, but not mushy. Stir in the roasted sweet potatoes and serve.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Best Blueberry Pie

This past weekend was the 2-year anniversary of A Mingling of Tastes! I've recorded so many great recipes here and tried so many new things, and having like-minded food lovers to share it with is wonderful.

I wanted to make a special treat to celebrate my blog-iversary, and when I saw the recipe for Best Blueberry Pie in the current Cook's Illustrated, all other recipes fell out of the running. I am not a habitual pie maker, nor am even much of a "pie person," particularly fruit pies. I have every appreciation for great pie, but great pie isn't very common, and I tend to gravitate toward chocolate, chocolate and chocolate.

The summer after starting this blog, I attempted to make pie with peaches and the other luscious stone fruits available at the time. It was so disastrous that I had no pictures or recipe worth posting (filling turned to soup; butter crust was awful). But now, I have the CI recipe, and I took care to follow it to the letter. Their Fool-Proof Pie Crust, which they published late last year, is nothing short of brilliant. The secret is forming the dough with both water and vodka. In the oven, the alcohol in the vodka evaporates, so less liquid is present, resulting in less gluten formation in the dough (gluten makes baked goods chewy--good for bread, bad for pastry).

Another secret ingredient in the pie is one grated Granny Smith apple. In order to avoid a glue-like texture from the high quantity of tapioca needed to thicken a blueberry filling, the natural pectin present in the apple acts as a thickener. The actual fruit is undetectable in the finished pie.

I did have one problem, as you may have guessed from the photo above. This particular pastry dough is on the soft side, and my hand was not quite deft enough when it came to transferring my top crust to the pie plate. After tasting the finished product, I couldn't have cared less (you say homely, I say homey). The filling is blueberry heaven, and I LOVE the crust. Not just the nice flavor and tender, flaky texture, but people, it is now day three, and the edges are still crisp and wonderful. The top is soft, but the bottom has stayed quite firm, thanks to placing it on a preheated baking sheet on the lowest oven rack and using a high temperature for the first half of the bake time. I actually liked the pie better the second day than the first. It sounds crazy, but so does vodka in a pie crust.

Here is the recipe for the Fool-Proof Pie Dough, on SeriousEats.com.

Currently, you can see a 2-minute video of how to make the blueberry pie on CooksIllustrated.com under the "Videos" tab. It's one of the featured videos, but if it's no longer there, try doing a search. You have to pay for full access to the CI site, but this video is free. Since CI doesn't give away most their recipes free online, I don't think it's right to post here--especially since I didn't change a thing. But, if you're ready to make this pie, you can do a free 14-day trial of cooksillustrated.com, and after seeing all the recipes and resources, you may opt to subscribe. You can also go out now and buy the July/August issue--I know it's sold at Barnes & Noble. I also came across this recently published recipe in the Charlotte Observer for a Peach-Blueberry Pie using CI's fabulous crust.

So happy blog-iversary to me, and happy blueberry season to my lovely readers!


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Tasty Links


By the look of my (not-so) little chive plant, I need to stop reading food blogs and start cooking. But I love reading food blogs. My favorite time to read them is while slowly eating a late breakfast, which I stretch out as long as I possibly can, trying to get through a decent number of the blogs I subscribe to on my feed reader. From the talented home cooks, to the food pros, to the novices documenting their highs and lows in the kitchen...there's just so much great stuff out there!

Here's what made me drool this week:

Cheryl of 5 Second Rule writes about the refreshing notion of "decentralizing" meat on your dinner plate.

Susan of Food Blogga wrote about Pretty in Pink Ricotta Pancakes with Fresh Berry Sauce. With my love of 80s teen movies, Molly Ringwald and the great John Hughes, how can I not fall for these?! They're almost as pretty as Molly's prom dress.

Jess of Hogwash shared her harrowing experience with airport security in the name of transporting a wonderful cast iron muffin pan across state lines. It's worth reading of her devotion to this beauty of a pan, but she also includes a very cool corn muffin recipe with quinoa.

The truth is out there: On The Dinner Files, Molly writes about a smart method for making Eggplant Sticks. I love oven fries, but doing it with eggplant just rocks.

Blueberries are finally on sale, and I've been shoveling them into my mouth every morning. I am a slow eater. I never shovel food. But blueberries are the exception. Apparently, this berry inspires all sorts of aberrant behavior: Charmain of Christie's Corner is writing haikus about them.

In my last post, I wrote about a new cookbook, The Splendid Table's How to Eat Supper. Diana of Diana Cooks tried out some of the recipes, so take a look at how she fared.

And finally, the brownie hall of fame. I'm a sucker for brownie recipes. Here are three recently posted ones to inspire chocolate lust:

Lisa of Visual Traveler made Ultra Fudge Brownies that include some interesting ingredients (and that's a good thing!).

Anna of Cookie Madness made Chewy Fudgy Brownies from an America's Test Kitchen recipe, and thought they were some of the best she's ever made.

Jennifer of Bake or Break made Giandiua Brownies (just a spiffy way to say "hazelnut"). If I'm making a nut brownie, this is it.

Hope you enjoyed this little round-up of some of my favorite things this week! I've wanted to do this kind of thing for the longest time, and I've finally gotten around to it. What da ya think? Do you like the occasional "linky" post? Anything else you'd like to see on Mingling, or questions you want me to answer? How about some suggestions on what to do with those chives (must remember to add them to my omelets!)? Leave a comment or send me an email [aminglingoftastes AT gmail DOT com].


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Bacon Ice Cream


Are you dying to try the bacon ice cream Richard made on the Top Chef (warning: that link contains a spoiler) finale, but don't have your own liquid nitrogen stash?

Here's the recipe for Bacon and Egg Ice Cream that I posted just over a year ago. It's from an episode of Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie, and it is a very good thing. The bacon is cooked in the oven with brown sugar, and that bacon candy is then mixed into a rich, custard-style base. I included the link to the original recipe in my post, along with notes on few small tweaks we had to make to the process.

And while we're on the subject...my take on the ever-popular Bacon Brittle recipe.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Thai Cantaloupe Salad from How to Eat Supper

We finally had a chance to do some cooking around here this weekend. Thank goodness, because I am really anxious to write about a new cookbook. I’ve reading through it like a novel because I don’t want to miss any of the insights, humor or pearls of wisdom included on practically every page. The book is The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift.

I will preface this by explaining that I’m a huge of fan The Splendid Table, the weekly show on public radio hosted by Kasper and produced by Swift. I download the podcast every week to be entertained and learn something new about the world of food. So, I expected a book connected with the show to be well done. Furthermore, Lynne Rossetto Kasper is an award-winning cookbook author and food historian who wrote the book on Italian food of the Emilia-Romagna region.

But still, I was skeptical. I already know my way around the kitchen, so I like cookbooks that demystify a new cuisine or offer something new or unique. This book sounds like its goal is to bring infrequent or inexperienced cooks into the kitchen more often. That is in fact one of its aims—there is a short but informative section on outfitting your kitchen with equipment, and the recipes are intended for weeknight meals when time and patience might be in short supply. And as Kasper says in her introduction,
“the recipes in this book are hand-holders, built on the idea that if you’ve never seen the dish before, you need to know the details of how to cook it.”
Crazy idea, right, but it just might work. The recipes are unfailingly clear, suggesting substitutions, specifying prep and cook times and telling you how long the food will keep and how to reheat it. But this is not “how to eat supper for dummies.” Kasper and Swift may include a recipe for “dumbed-down rice” (just boil it like pasta so you don’t have to worry about a burnt layer at the bottom of the pan), but the flavors, philosophy and finished dishes are anything but dumbed-down.

Chapters include Salad, Soups, Eggs and Small Plates, Vegetable Main Events, Pasta, Main Dishes, Sides and Sweets. The authors’ love of Indian, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian flavors influences some dishes, like the Thai Cantaloupe Salad I made this weekend. I chose to make it because it reminded me of the green mango with hot ground chiles, salt and sugar sold as a street snack in Thailand. Plus, cantaloupes (which I love) are in season, and it was incredibly easy, yet something I haven’t seen before. To paraphrase Mike's comment, it was simple enough to show off the individual flavors while giving you something new and really tasty.

Other recipes that caught my eye were Curried Cauliflower Cream Soup; Green Apple, Cheese, and Chard Oven Omelet; Hollow Pasta with Greek Cinnamon-Tomato Sauce; North Shore Shrimp Scampi; and Almond-Turmeric Potatoes (as seen in the intriguing cover photo).

But more than just recipes to look forward to, this cookbook is outright foodie entertainment. Alongside the informative introductions, variations and tips that come with the recipes are funny or thought-provoking quotations, interesting vignettes (see “Sally’s New Year’s Resolution), opinionated commentaries (see “How to Orchestrate Summer Tomatoes”), and “Building the Library” sidebars recommending a diverse bunch of cookbooks the authors deem excellent.

After spending time with this book, I could see that “how to eat supper” is not just a set of instructions but an abundantly realistic philosophy about nourishing yourself. On nights when you want to cook a main course and two sides, this book will help you do that. It also invites you to make supper out of the less than obvious. Alongside a recipe for a no-cook, dead simple Belgian Beer Bar Tartine is a commentary on how to make a meal around a slice of bread. Sounds like an incredible supper to me.


Thai Cantaloupe Salad with Chile
Adapted from The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper by Lynne Rossetto Kasper and Sally Swift

I forgot to buy basil, so I used cilantro leaves instead with good results. The original recipe recommends just a couple drops of fish sauce, but I found a liberal sprinkling of this pungent sauce suited our tastes.

Serves 8


1 large ripe, fragrant cantaloupe, peeled and cut into bite-sized chunks
1 diced jalapeno or (for more heat) Thai red chile, seeded or not
1/3 cup thinly sliced basil leaves
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 teaspoon fish sauce, or to taste
Generous pinch sugar
Course salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large serving bowl, gently combine all the ingredients. Taste and add more lime juice, fish sauce, sugar or seasoning to taste. You can serve this with long bamboo skewers so people can spear chunks of cantaloupe from the bowl.

A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Clarkson Potter.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Nobu Miami Highlights

Interior of Nobu in South Miami Beach
On Memorial Day weekend, Mike and I went to Key West, so no cooking was done. In case you were wondering, the much written about Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory makes a very delicious product—both simple whipped cream topped (my preference), as well as meringue topped. So, that’s one reason I don’t have a recipe to write about today. Next, in case you’re not intimately up to speed on the details of my life ☺, I’m a freelance writer, and I do a lot of articles that involve recipe developing. At the moment, a lot of my cooking is work-related, which is great, but makes for some odd meals (muffins for dinner, anyone?). Add to that the fact that my husband isn’t home on weeknights, so I have no one to cook for but me.

Normally, we cook quite a bit on the weekend, generating most of my blog material, but this past one was an exception. Saturday was the 6-year anniversary of our first date (we will never stop celebrating this despite also having a wedding anniversary), so we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at Nobu in Miami. I’m writing this on Sunday morning, and I’m still full, but not in a bad way. We figured we’d go all out and ordered the omakase tasting menu, which was definitely the right call. There was not a single dish that was merely good—all were stellar and delicious and completely new to us. This is what we ate:

- Octopus carpaccio with slivered red onion and sea vegetable

- Barely seared Tasmanian sea trout (so rich and buttery) with mizuna, paper thin veggies and jalapeno sauce

- Oysters topped with toro tartare and a tiny wonton chip

- Jumbo prawn tempura wrapped in crispy shredded phyllo with a red chile sauce and heirloom tomato stack

- Duck breast (cooked rare) with foie gras mousse, cured orange and a foam made from a root vegetable, I think, possibly with horseradish. There were a couple other elements on the plate, like a citrus jelly.

- Miso-lobster “cappuccino” soup—broth topped with foam tasting slightly sweet of lobster and sharp and salty of miso—with a tempura crab claw.

- Sushi: this was the final savory course, and it lived up to my expectations. Perfect pieces of sea urchin, toro (fatty tuna—like seafood bacon), rockfish, mackerel and yellowtail.

- Dessert—maybe maybe the best restaurant dessert I’ve ever had: Passion fruit jelly with acai sorbet and whipped yogurt cream. The sweet, thick fruit preserve; the mild, nutty sorbet; and the tangy, light yogurt were symphonically good.

I thought about just describing my very favorites, but it was too hard to narrow down the list. Plus, it’s nice to get it all written up before I forget what we had. Keep in mind that these were small tasting portions, so it is not as gluttonous as it sounds! Also, there was almost no starch, which is one very nice and healthful aspect of Japanese food.

I wish I had pictures to help convey how interesting and wonderful the food was, but I was there in the name of hedonism and celebration, not investigation. And I do feel a little weird snapping away in restaurants—if that’s even possible due to lighting—you know? Anyway, I thought it would be fun to share. We’ve never had a meal like this before—it was a treat I will remember for a long time. This is the kind of dining out that I might opt to do about once a year, but it was incredible fun! If you've had a all-out spectacular restaurant experience lately, tell us about it in the comments!

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