seize the season

food detective

Categories: Fish and Seafood, Dinner for Two, Supper, Dinner Party, Posted on June 5, 2021 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (0)

When I returned to Chicago, I was delighted to discover that the second-floor markets at Eataly had reopened. What a treat to once again see the cases filled with aged beef, homemade pastas, a world of cheeses and charcutier, the freshest of fish. I felt like a little kid window shopping at Christmas.

It was liberating to do something that felt enjoyably routine. My only decision in that moment was what to make for dinner. Everything else just melted away. And the choices were endless. Then I saw them, a row of soft-shelled crabs nestled on ice, and the selection was settled. 

Traditionally the first full moon in May heralds the start of these crabs’ short season. This May’s moon was not only a full Flower Moon, but also a supermoon and total lunar eclipse. It seemed destined that four of these molted crustaceans would make their way into my shopping basket and onto our dinner plates.

The crabs are shipped live. Right before cooking you need to clean the gills and remove the eyes. If preparing the same day, feel free to ask your fishmonger to do this task for you.

For soft shelled crabs clarified butter is essential, otherwise the crabs will burn in the milk solids found in plain melted butter. To clarify melt a stick of butter over low heat. Allow to sit for three minutes. 

Skim the froth off the top and slowly pour the clear butter into a cup, leaving the milky solids in bottom of pan. A stick of butter will yield five to six tablespoons of clarified butter. This can be ahead of time. Clarified butter will keep covered in the refrigerator for weeks.

Wondra (the wonder flour!) provides the perfect dusting for a light crisp crust. Measure a cup into a shallow dish.

In another shallow dish combine a cup of whole milk, a teaspoon of kosher salt, and a quarter teaspoon of freshly ground pepper. Let the crabs soak for a at least five minutes.

One at a time lift the crabs out of milk, letting the excess drip off, then dredge in the flour. Knock off excess flour and transfer to a tray. 

Repeat with remaining crabs.

Heat four tablespoons of clarified butter in a large nonstick skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Sauté the crabs, topside down for two minutes.

Turnover and sauté for two to three minutes more until golden brown.

Spritz with fresh lemon juice and sprinkle with chopped fresh Italian parsley and serve immediately. 

Lemon asparagus makes an exceptional side for this ephemeral entree.

a little fishy

food detective

Categories: Fish and Seafood, Dinner for Two, Supper, Lunch, Posted on May 22, 2021 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (2)

Over the last few months there have been all of these nostalgic articles about people’s love affair with McDonald’s filet o’ fish sandwich. I don’t know when, if ever, I have gone to McDonald’s and had a filet o’ fish sandwich. Perhaps when I was a little kid. If so, it obviously didn’t make much of an impression. 

But all of these food writers waxing on longingly piqued my interest. The tipping point came when I saw a picture of what one of these homemade versions looked like. I was like… I need to eat one of these… right now.

Well, I made it and ate it. Gotta say it was beyond awesome. Here is my rendition of Su Li’s fried fish sandwich.

Start with homemade tartar sauce (you’ll be glad you did). In a small bowl, whisk together a quarter cup mayonnaise, three tablespoons sweet pickle relish, half of a finely chopped shallot and a quarter teaspoon soy sauce. Season with salt to taste and set aside. The tartar sauce can be made ahead of time, cover and refrigerate. Makes about one third cup.

For this sandwich you want to use a mild white fish. Flounder is a good economical choice but can be hard to find, I’ve had great success with sole fillets. Purchase two fillets (about three quarters of a pound total) and cut them in half crosswise. Place on a layer of paper towel, cover with another layer of paper towel and pat dry, discard the top paper towel. Season the fish on both sides with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. 

Place the flour, egg and panko in three separate shallow bowls. Beat the egg with a fork. 

One at a time, dredge each filet first in the flour, dusting off excess.

Then in the egg wash, allowing the excess egg to drip off.

Then coat both sides with panko. 

Place on a rimmed pan or if dredging before a wire rack. The fish can be coated up to an hour ahead of time. Cover and refrigerate.

A key player in this sandwich is the soft steamed white bun. Whole Foods carries these wonderful brioche buns. Look in the bakery section of your market.

They are light, airy with just a hint of sweetness. When ready to cook the fish, preheat your oven to 350-degrees. Wrap two white brioche buns loosely in foil. Steam the buns in the oven for about 5-10 minutes while the fish is frying.

Over medium-heat, heat the vegetable oil in a straight-sided skillet large enough to hold the fish fillets without any overlapping. When the oil is hot fry the breaded filets until golden brown and cooked through, about one and half to two minutes per side. Transfer to a wire rack and season with kosher salt.

To assemble spread tartar sauce on both sides of each warmed bun. Layer the top bun with pickle chips. Place one piece of fried fish on the bottom buns.

Layer each fillet with two thin slices of cheese. Don’t get all snooty here. Just like the soft white bun, these sandwiches demand some thin deli sliced American cheese.

Top with the remaining pieces of fried fish (note the heat from the fish will melt the cheese).

Cover with the sauced and pickled top bun. Serve piping hot.

With a side of homemade coleslaw and sweet potato fries, you just might be writing about these too.

layer up

food detective

Categories: Grains and Pasta, Dinner for Two, Supper, Dinner Party, Posted on May 9, 2021 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (1)

Now a nod to my northern friends, who have hopefully put away their snow shovels for good. This spring has been a roller coaster for many reasons, the weather being one of those swinging pendulums. Here’s a recipe that is as comforting as a favorite sweater and light enough to enjoy whatever the season.

Adjectives such as airy and delicate aren’t usually associated with lasagna. This adaptation from Alison Roman definitely is. Skip the heavy bechamel and typical meat sauce. The key here is a light tomato sauce layered with creamy ricotta and fresh mozzarella. It’s truly heavenly, and floats like a crisped edged cloud.

You can use dried lasagna noodles, but I like to pick up fresh pasta sheets from my local Italian deli, then cut them to the size of my baking dish. I also like to make what is typically a half recipe and for an 8” x 8” dish. It’s the perfect amount for four, and if it’s just for two the other half freezes wonderfully for whenever you need a quick homey dinner. If having a crowd double the recipe and cook in a 9 x13 baking dish.

For the lasagna margherita begin with the sauce. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add a chopped onion to the oil and sauté until softened. Add two cloves of slivered garlic and sauté for one minute. Add one tablespoon tomato paste and continue to cook stirring occasionally until the paste turns brick red. Add a 28 ounce can of whole San Marzano tomatoes and its juice, crushing the tomatoes with your hands or carefully with a potato masher. Add I cup of water. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Add sprig of basil, a teaspoon of fish sauce and a dash of salt. Simmer, stirring the bottom frequently until the sauce becomes as thick as if it was from a jar, about 35-45 minutes. Taste for seasoning. Add more salt if needed and a few grinds of pepper. The sauce can be made a couple days in advance. Cool completely, cover tightly and refrigerate. 

For the lasagna begin by shredding three quarters of a pound of fresh mozzarella, set aside one-half cup. In a medium bowl, combine the remaining mozzarella, eight ounces of whole-milk ricotta, one-half cup shredded Parmesan, and two tablespoons heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile cook one-half pound lasagna noodles in the boiling water until just softened (before al dente), about 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and separate any noodles that are trying to stick together. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil to prevent them from sticking further. (Note that five layers of noodles will ultimately be needed.)

Spoon a bit of sauce on the bottom of an 8-inch square baking dish.

Top with a layer of noodles, avoiding any heavy overlap (a little overlap is fine).

Top with about ½ cup of sauce.

Then dot one-fourth of the cheese mixture over the sauce covered noodles.

Top with another layer of noodles and repeat three more times, ending with the last of the noodles (depending on size of the noodle and the shape of the baking dish, there might be a few extra noodles left over).

Top with the last of the sauce.

Then with the reserved ½ cup mozzarella and more Parmesan, if desired. The lasagna can be made to this point earlier in the day, covered and refrigerated. Take out of the refrigerator 30-45 minutes before cooking.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cover the lasagna loosely with aluminum foil and place the baking dish on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet (to prevent any overflow from burning on the bottom of your oven). Bake until the pasta is completely tender and cooked through and the sauce is bubbling up around the edges, about 25-30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the lasagna is golden brown on top with frilly, crispy edges and corners, another 35-45 minutes. Let cool slightly before eating.

The cooked lasagna can be baked up to three days ahead, cooled completely, wrapped tightly and refrigerated or frozen for up to month. To reheat cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes or until heated through (if frozen thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating).

A slice will surely brighten any forecast. 

louie louie

perfecting the "done before they arrive" party- a work in progress

Categories: Salads and Dressings, Fish and Seafood, Dinner for Two, Supper, Dinner Party, Lunch, Posted on April 25, 2021 by Sandy Bergsten - Comments (0)

We had our second dinner party, and it was an absolute blast. Not really sure if it was truly that fun, or if it just seemed that way because we hadn’t had a new person over in well, over a year. It’s like that new mom who goes out for the first time, crams herself into an outfit she has no business wearing, and thinks she’s the life of the party (true confession- I’ve been her twice). Who knows, and who cares. It was so much fun talking to new people about new things. Laughing, imbibing, and sharing news, opinions, stories and perspectives. We were thirsty sponges soaking it all in. At the end of the evening, we exchanged heartfelt hugs among our vaccinated selves. As I said, it was a blast.

Knowing I wanted to spend every minute with our new friends I wanted a supper that could be prepped completely beforehand with just a simple assembly to serve. And because the weather was still pretty warm (sorry to my friends in the Northeast who just got out their snow shovels) I wanted something that could handle the heat.

For some reason I’ve been hankering an old school louie salad. Maybe it was that song that I heard on the radio by The Kingsmen, or perhaps the distant memory of delicate seafood perched upon crunchy greens with a hefty drizzle of a pretty superb thousand island-esque dressing. Whatever it was, I made it my mission to research this iconic salad and figure out a way to get it on my table.

Crab Louie or as it is also known, the King of Salads, dates back to the early 1900’s. While its exact origins on the west coast are debatable, what’s not is how absolutely delicious it is. Turns out it’s pretty simple, if you prep everything ahead of time. For my dinner I decided to swap out the typical crab meat for some plump poached shrimp.

A key component to the poached shrimp louie salad is the dressing

Mayonnaise, chili sauce, and crème fraiche make up the base. Just whisk together with a little chopped scallion, lemon juice, horseradish, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. It can be made a couple days in advance, cover and refrigerate.

Earlier on the day you want to serve the salad bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add a half pound of trimmed thin asparagus and cook until bright green and just tender, about two minutes. Remove with tongs and place in an ice bath. Drain the asparagus well, wrap in paper towel and refrigerate.

Bring the water back to a boil and add one and half pounds shell-on shrimp. Cook until bright pink and just cooked through, 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp. Transfer to a plate to cool. Once the shrimp are cool enough to handle, peel. Cover and refrigerate.

Return the water to a boil and gently lower in four eggs. Boil for 6 to 7 minutes (6 for runnier yolks, 7 for slightly firmer). Place in an ice bath. Peel, cover and refrigerate. Wash and dry a large head of romaine, wrap in paper towel and refrigerate.

An hour or so before serving, or before your guests arrive, thinly slice a Persian cucumber (or one-quarter English cucumber). Wrap in paper towel and refrigerate.

Halve eight to twelve cherry tomatoes. Cover and refrigerate.

Thinly slice the whites and light green parts of two scallions.

Chop the lettuce, refrigerate if not using right away.

Right before serving slice the avocado. Halve the eggs, be careful they’re going to be runny.

To assemble, arrange the lettuce on four dinner plates. Scatter with sliced cucumber, avocado, asparagus, halved cherry tomatoes and peeled shrimp. Season with a little kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Drizzle with a little Louis dressing (serve the rest on the side). Nestle the eggs in the salad. Scatter sliced green onion on top.

Pretty sure this salad will have you singing “Louie Louie, oh no… Me gotta go… Aye-yi-yi-yi!

shot in the arm

perfecting the "done before they arrive" party- a work in progress

Categories: Fish and Seafood, Veggies and Sides, Sauces and Such, Dinner for Two, Supper, Dinner Party, Well Equipped, Posted on April 11, 2021 by Sandy Bergsten

Getting that second vaccine dose was like a heavy door unlocking. It was almost surreal allowing myself to think of possibilities and the thought of making plans. I was so excited to invite our first guests over for dinner. And erring on the side of caution, and because we are in southern California, I knew we could dine outside. What I didn’t anticipate was that the high that day was going to be 101 degrees. But because we live in the desert and temps fall briskly after the sun goes down, I thought we would be ok. Just to play it safe I decided on a completely chilled menu for this first, of what I hoped would be many, get togethers.

Poached salmon is always a winner. I knew I could do it old school in the oven, but the thought of turning it on in this heat made me perspire. I wondered if there was a way I could accomplish this task with my sous vide. Tinkering with my Anova has been an ongoing pandemic project. This technique, utilizing a vacuum sealed bag and a controlled water bath, allows you to cook food to an exact temperature throughout. I’ve had awesome results with beef and poultry, but I hadn’t hit my sweet spot with seafood yet. 

Turns out J Kenji Lopez-Alt, of the Food Lab and Serious Eats, had the answer. 

The key to sous vide salmon is dry brining the salmon with plenty of kosher salt before placing it in the bag with some subtle aromatics and a bit of olive oil.

Season the salmon generously on all sides with salt and a few grinds of pepper. 

Place the salmon fillets in a single layer inside one or more sous vide or Ziplock bags. Add two teaspoons olive oil per fillet. Turn the salmon in the bag to coat well with the oil. Add some gentle aromatics such as sprigs of parsley, dill, thinly sliced shallots, and grated lemon zest. Remove the air, seal the bag and let the salmon rest in the refrigerator for thirty minutes for the salt to dry-brine the flesh.

Fill a large pot with water and set the temperature on your sous vide cooker to 117.5 degrees. Add the salmon to the preheated water bath and cook for 30 to 45 minutes for one-inch filets, or 45 minutes to an hour for filets up to two inches thick.

For “cold poached” salmon. Plunge the sealed bag of cooked salmon in an ice bath until the fish is completely chilled. If not serving right away place in the refrigerator. 

Remove the skin by gently peeling it off and scraping off any dark flesh with a paring knife. Transfer to paper towels to blot off any excess oil.

I served it with a refreshing dill sauce.

Asparagus vinaigrette.

And a simple boxed rice pilaf

This salmon recipe (along with a couple shots) just might be the incentive you need to get yourself back in the entertaining game. 

kiss the miss goodbye

perfecting the "done before they arrive" party- a work in progress

Categories: Appetizers, Breads, Pizza, Tarts, Cocktail Party, Lunch, Fête Fact, Posted on March 30, 2021 by Sandy Bergsten

In a year when many have lost so much it’s difficult to give voice to the special occasions that have evaporated. Quietly everyone is grieving the loss of coming together and celebrating life’s milestones. How many times have we had to plan, cancel, regroup, and reboot? Virtual stand-ins have surely fallen flat. My heart sank a bit when my youngest decided to cancel her bachelorette party. What’s most important is that she is marrying her perfect match. And we’re keeping our fingers crossed her downsized wedding occurs in July. But the buildup of festive moments simply isn’t in the cards.

We knew it was time for the “I do” crew to look on the bride-side and find a way to throw her one final bash. My oldest daughter and I decided to pull out all the stops even if it meant just the three of us. Must say our small but mighty bride tribe had a blast planning this weekend affair.

Any party’s success is in the details. And those who love to entertain take pleasure in the planning and prep. Anticipation building up to the event can and should be fun. Most start with a reason or a theme. The MOH and MOB certainly had both. Here’s Molly’s Final Fiesta.

We kicked off the weekend with a celebratory bottle of bubbles.

In the morning gift bags awaited to help us get ready for the day.

It was bride time.

The MOB couldn’t have been prouder.

We headed up the mountain to Stone Eagle. The entire staff was amazing and helped us shower this bride-to-be with so much love.

After lunch and a slew of party games, the maid of honor toasted the bride with her piñata purse in hand.

The next morning was our designated “spa day”. Upon waking, soothing music filtered through the house and our spa attendant greeted us with terry cloth robes and glasses of cucumber infused sparkling water.

We each received an Oprah-worthy gift bag filled with all of the essentials for the day. 

After our facials and mani/pedi masks it was time for a lunch of tea sandwiches, fresh fruit, mimosas and confetti cupcakes. Because seriously- nothing says special like teeny tiny finger sandwiches. For the recipes click on this link tea sandwiches.

To make the chicken salad and arugula tea sandwiches I start with Boar’s Head EverRoast chicken from the deli. It’s the perfect roast chicken for this type of recipe. Just ask them to cut it into quarter-inch thick slices, then dice. Toss with finely chopped onion and celery and a light mixture of mayonnaise, whipped cream cheese, sherry and chopped parsley.

For the bread I went to my market’s bakery and picked up freshly baked loaves and had them slice the bread thin. Spread one slice with chicken salad, then cover with arugula. Top with a second slice of bread.

Cut off the crusts with a serrated knife. Slice each sandwich diagonally two times to create four triangular finger sandwiches.  All of these sandwiches can be made earlier in the day. After they are cut place back together and wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate. Note that all of the components for the sandwiches can be made a day or two in advance, ensuring that you will have plenty of time to be at the party.

For the egg salad and watercress tea sandwiches. Top one slice of bread with egg salad and the other with watercress.

Cut off the crusts, then cut into fourths.

For the cucumber and radish tea sandwiches spread both slices with softened whipped cream cheese. On one side of the bread top with alternating rows of sliced cucumber and sliced radish. On the other sprinkle with chopped chives and a little lemon juice. 

Place together and cut off the crusts, then cut into fourths.

To round things out I made blini with smoked salmon. Simply top store-bought mini blini with a dollop of creme fraiche, top with a rosette of smoked salmon and a sprig of dill.

Place all on decorative serving plates.

Confetti cupcakes and Parisian macaroons made for a fun finish.

After lunch our cabana boys- Jerry, Alfred, and Chad made sure we were well cared for.

It goes without saying… the entire weekend was truly a memorable fling before the ring.

for the love of cod

cooking for one... or two

Categories: Soups, Dinner for Two, Supper, Lunch, Sources, Posted on March 15, 2021 by Sandy Bergsten

A dear friend is writing her second book. She reached out because she hit a roadblock and wanted my opinion. She is brilliant in the way she can take extremely complex topics and break them down in a way that ordinary people can grasp. Her dilemma was between being “true” to the essence of her subject and being perceived as dumbing it down so the average Joe could understand.

I offered her an analogy… soup. Soup is simultaneously simple and vast. Techniques run the gambit from opening a can to days of expert preparation. Plus what type are you talking… bisque, consommé, chowder, stew, broth, stock. The list is pretty endless. 

The point I was making is that the best soup is one that a person will actually make. Certainly there are people with the time, skill and refrigerator space who will begin by creating their own stock. Browning the bones and caramelizing the vegetables, then simmering and skimming under a watchful eye. A well-made home-made stock is something to behold. Purists will say it is the necessary base for any soup, and deviation or substitution is heresy.

For most, demanding they create their own stock would mean they would never make soup. Personally I’d find that a shame. Homemade soup is a perfect pleasure. It fills the kitchen with inviting aromas, satisfies unknown cravings, and even soothes the soul. And it’s pretty simple to master. If you break it down, you really only need to do four things. Sauté an onion (and maybe some other vegetables such as celery, a carrot, or diced potato), and a liquid (stock, broth, water), simmer until all is tender, then either puree or leave as is and add some rice, noodles and some protein if you like.

With the icy north winds blowing I’ve been craving fish chowder. Chowder in its essence is a simple affair. And one of the simply best fish for this is cod. The fishmonger at my grocery store sells 8-ounce flash-frozen portions. Meaning whenever the mood hits, I can have a homemade bowl in about forty minutes.

But you might be asking don’t you need fish stock? The simple answer is no. You could use one-part water to one-part clam juice. In a pinch you could use canned chicken broth, but I don’t really recommend that. The better option is this great product called “Better than Bouillon”. These concentrated bases are the bomb. I keep jars of the roasted chicken, beef, vegetable and fish in my frig. So whenever I need all day cooked flavor I just spoon a teaspoon into a cup of hot water and voilà. 

For the fish chowder cut two slices of bacon into half-inch pieces and brown in a medium soup pot over medium heat until crisp. 

With a slotted spoon transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain and set aside.

To the bacon fat add one medium diced onion and two small diced Yukon gold potatoes and sauté over medium heat until the onions have gone translucent. Add a pinch of kosher salt, a few grinds of black pepper and a ¼ teaspoon of smoked paprika (be sure to use smoked paprika instead of regular paprika you’ll be amazed how it imparts a wonderfully subtle smokey taste.)

Pour in a half cup of white wine and bring to a boil. Add four cups of fish stock and a bay leaf, bring to a boil then lower to a simmer.

Cook until the liquid has reduced by a third and the potatoes are tender, stirring occasionally. 

Add one cup of frozen corn and a quarter cup of heavy cream. Simmer until it heats through and thickens slightly. 

Add a half pound of cod in one piece. Simmer for five minutes. 

Stir in one tablespoon of chopped Italian parsley and the reserved bacon. With a spoon break the fish into pieces. Taste for seasoning.

Ladle into bowls and serve with crusty bread. This easy chowder is as comforting as a favorite sweater.

And if you’d like to make your own stock, Michael Ruhlman, another dear friend and gifted writer is the certain master. Be sure to sign up for his awesome bi-monthly newsletter (his current one is on stock).

And if his cookbooks aren’t on your kitchen library shelf you’re missing out.

taking it to the streets

food detective

Categories: Eggs, Lunch, Breakfast/Brunch, Posted on March 1, 2021 by Sandy Bergsten

I miss food trucks. They are such a bang for your buck. Getting in line behind one not only satisfies whatever you’re craving, they provide inherent camaraderie with your fellow cue-mates. An all-inclusive culinary passport, if only for the moment.

Lately I’ve been transporting myself to faraway lands one recipe. As we near the one-year mark of sheltering in place, comfort, especially food, is high currency.

I’ve never been to Asia, but I love its cuisine. There’s an amazing breakfast wrap called jian bing. A batter made of wheat and mung bean is spread thin on large griddles then topped with beaten eggs, scallions and pickled greens. I once had one in Central LA. It was warm, chewy, crunchy, the epitome of comforting.

Last week I channeled my inner street vendor and tweaked a recipe by Genevieve Ko. For convenience she made hers with store bought flour tortillas, but because I had time and a certain hankering, I decided to make mine with homemade mandarin pancakes. They’re easy enough to do and just like homemade tortillas, freeze pretty well. Meaning this wrap can come together whenever the mood strikes.

And when it does, be sure to have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go, because these jian bing wraps come together quickly.

I couldn’t find pickled mustard greens, so I subbed sautéed shitake mushrooms. Their seared meaty texture coupled with the salty sweet hues of the hoisin made these jian bing memorable. 

Thinly slice two to three shitake mushrooms. Melt one teaspoon butter in an 8-inch nonstick pan over medium heat. Add the mushrooms along with a pinch of salt and a little freshly ground pepper. Sauté until golden brown. Transfer to a plate and wipe out the pan. (The mushrooms can be sautéed a day ahead of time and refrigerated. Warm them in a dry skillet before using.)

With a fork beat an egg with a pinch of salt until almost blended. Set aside.

Heat a small 8-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Place a mandarin pancake or flour tortilla in the pan, turning until warm and pliable, about 1 minute. Transfer to a plate.

Add two teaspoons vegetable oil to the skillet, then the sliced scallion and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until the scallions are bright green and tender, about 30 seconds.

Add the beaten egg, swirl the pan so the egg covers the bottom of the pan.

Immediately scatter a tablespoon or two of cilantro and the sautéed shitake mushrooms on top.

Press the warm pancake or tortilla on top and continue to cook until the egg is just set and sticks to the pancake or tortilla, about 30 seconds. 

Flip onto a plate, egg facing up.

Drizzle a little hoisin sauce and siracha over the egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Fold in half, then in quarters and serve immediately or wrap in foil. Serve with additional hoisin sauce and siracha. The egg wrap will stay relatively warm for about 15 minutes when enclosed in foil. Though I doubt you’ll be able to wait that long.

If you want to up your game here’s how to make your own mandarin pancakes. Feel free to make a double batch and stow them in your freezer.

Mix one and a half cups flour and an eighth of a teaspoon of salt in a heatproof bowl.

Pour two thirds cup boiling hot water into the flour mixture and mix with a spatula until a dough ball forms.

Knead the dough for eight minutes until smooth, adding a little more flour if the dough becomes too sticky. The dough can also be kneaded in upright mixer, such as a KitchenAid, on low speed with the dough hook attachment.

Cover the dough ball with plastic wrap and allow it to rest at room temperature for at least one hour.

Roll the dough into a cylinder.

Then ccut into 12 equal pieces.

Roll each piece into a dough ball, then flatten with the palm of your hand to form a small disc about 2 inches in diameter.  Lightly brush the tops and sides of six of the discs with oil.

Place the remaining six discs on top of each of the oiled discs. The result will be six pieces comprised of two discs each.

With a rolling pin roll each disc into a 7-inch circle, flip the pancakes frequently so that both of the dough discs are rolled into the same size.

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium heat. One at a time, place a pancake into the pan. After 30 to 45 seconds, pockets of air should begin to form between the two pancakes.

Flip the pancake. (It should be white with just a couple of faint brown patches, take care not to overcook). After another 30 seconds, larger air pockets will form which will allow you to separate the two pancakes. Remove the pancake to a plate, and let it cool for another 30 seconds.

Carefully pull apart the two pancakes at the seams. Place the finished pancakes onto a plate and cover with a warm kitchen towel. Repeat until all pancakes are done. The pancakes can be reheated in a dry nonstick pan. The pancakes can also be frozen. Cool the pancakes completely, then individually wrap in plastic wrap. Place in a large Ziploc bag and freeze for up to a month. Defrost before using.

These will definitely be stacked in your favor.

house always wins

food detective

Categories: Salads and Dressings, Dinner for Two, Supper, Dinner Party, Lunch, Posted on February 16, 2021 by Sandy Bergsten

Why are the simple things often the most difficult to replicate? Take salad dressings. I’ve pretty much mastered a perfect balsamic vinaigrette, a creamy caesar dressing, a wonderful emulsified dressing you can make for a crowd, and a nostalgic thousand island. You can find them all by clicking on the “recipe” tab on the upper right bar of this blog. Once there my blog turns into a cookbook with everything from apps to desserts.

One elusive salad, and definitely its dressing, is house Italian. Bottled versions simply don’t cut it. But my homemade ones haven’t historically measured up either. So this past week I took a gamble to try to nail this once and for all. I’m happy to report I think I’ve come pretty close.

Top shelf ingredients make all the difference when making homemade dressings and vinaigrettes. Because you don’t use much, your best oils and vinegars make a world of difference. You’ll be amazed how they elevate. 

But there is something kitschy about house Italian. I realized that I needed to sub my fresh herbs for dried. Think back to that wonderful 1970’s show Upstairs/Downstairs on BBC. For some reason it simply works.

Here’s the dressing. And an iconic house Italian salad inspired by Mark Iacono at Lucali in Brooklyn. 

For the dressing combine four tablespoons red wine vinegar, two teaspoons honey and one teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice. With a whisk or hand blender slowly add five tablespoons extra-virgin olive and three tablespoons grape seed oil.

Blend until emulsified.

With a spoon stir in the garlic salt, dried parsley, basil, oregano and red pepper flakes.

Stir in the grated Parmesan.Season with several grinds of pepper. Add a pinch of kosher salt if needed.

Set aside or can be made earlier and refrigerated for two weeks in tightly sealed container.

For the house italian salad begin by halving two small tomatoes, then cutting each half into fifths. 

Peel and thinly slice a quarter of a red onion.

Chop a small rib of celery with leaves from the heart.

In a medium bowl combine the tomatoes, red onion and celery.

Add twelve canned, pitted black olives, bruising each slightly between finger and thumb. 

Add a tablespoon of olive brine.

Add the salt, peppers, olive oil and red-wine vinegar to the bowl with the tomatoes.

Mix gently. 

Cover with plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for a minimum of twenty minutes and up to two hours.

Wash and dry half a head of iceberg lettuce. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

To assemble the salad spoon enough of the tomato mixture and accumulated juices to cover its bottom onto a small platter, or individual plates. 

Arrange some of the iceberg across the top of the tomatoes, and drizzle with a little dressing. 

Add some more of the tomato mixture, then another layer of the iceberg. Drizzle with some more of the dressing. Repeat.

Serve Immediately so the lettuce doesn't wilt. This is one bet you can take to the bank.

weigh in

food detective

Categories: Desserts, Dinner for Two, Supper, Dinner Party, Lunch, Sources, Well Equipped, Posted on January 30, 2021 by Sandy Bergsten

How about something sweet? 

I’ll confess I’m not much of a baker. My birthday cakes are endearingly lopsided and zucchini bread eternally crestfallen. What I’ve come to realize is that cooks and bakers are wired differently.  Bakers tend to follow recipes to the law and measure precisely. Us in the cook-camp like to add a pinch of this and bit of that, and it shows. 

I’m also one of those people who seeks out a recipe to use that leftover ingredient from a previous one. I’ve been wondering what to do with the rest of that white miso in my refrigerator from that wonderful salmon from my last post. As chance would have it, I came upon a recipe for peanut butter miso cookies. They sounded amazing- a little savory to cut the sweetness, and simultaneously crisp while chewy. The best part I had most of the ingredients on hand and only had to send my wonderful instacart husband out for some demerara sugar. And just in case you are wondering, demerara sugar is a dark brown sugar with large crystals that give it a crunchy, candy-like texture. And while I was picking up one specialty ingredient to use another, this sugar is a must.

The thing that caught my attention about this recipe was that all of the measurements for the ingredients were listed by volume (i.e. one cup) and by weight (i.e. 225 grams). Perhaps it was time to pull out my beloved cooking scale. I use mine almost daily when cooking, but rarely for baking. Maybe that was one of the reasons my baked goods look the way they do.

If you don’t have a kitchen scale go online right now and get one. They are small and relatively inexpensive. Purchase one that is battery operated and switches from ounces to grams. You’ll also want to be sure you can place a container on the scale and zero balance it so you can measure right into your bowl or onto your plate. 

For these peanut-miso cookies in a medium bowl measure out 1 ¾ cups/225 grams all-purpose flour, ¾ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon baking powder. 

Whisk together and set aside.

Measure out 1 cup/220 grams light brown sugar and ½ cup/100 grams granulated sugar. 

Place in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, along with one stick (½ cup/115 grams) of room-temperature unsalted butter.

Mix until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.

Measure out ⅓ cup/80 milliliters white miso paste and ¼ cup/60 milliliters chunky peanut butter.

I only had smooth peanut butter, so I improvised.

And chopped up some peanuts I had on hand.

Add the miso and peanut butter to the mixing bowl, and continue to mix at medium speed, about 1 minute.

Scrape down sides of the bowl to make sure all of the ingredients are evenly incorporated and mix again. 

Add one large egg and 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract.

Mix until just combined.

Add one third of the flour mixture to the mixing bowl and mix on low speed until the flour mixture is incorporated. Repeat with remaining flour mixture in two batches until all of it is incorporated. Take care not to overbeat. 

Place the bowl with the cookie dough in the refrigerator for 5-10 minutes to allow the dough to firm up slightly.

Place ½ cup/105 grams demerara sugar into a small bowl. 

One at a time, scoop out 2 heaping tablespoons of dough (about 50 grams per cookie).

Roll each portion between your hands until it is nice and round. Drop the dough ball into the bowl of demerara sugar.

Turn to coat. 

Transfer each ball to a small rimmed baking sheet, taking care they do not touch. Repeat with all of the dough. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours and up to overnight. The longer the dough is refrigerated the more the flavors will meld and the mellower the flavor will be.

When ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and space each dough ball 3 inches apart. 

Bake the cookies for about 12 minutes, until crisp at the edges and slightly puffed in the middle. At this point they should still be a bit underdone in the center. 

Now this will sound crazy and will most likely scare your dog but trust me- pull out the baking sheet and hit hard it against the top of the stove. This will cause the cookies to deflate. 

Place the cookies back into the oven to finish baking for about 2 minutes more or until the cookies are firm at the edges and slightly puffed in the center.

Once again pull the baking sheet out and hit the baking sheet on top of the stove. The cookies should appear flat and crinkly at the center.

Let the cookies cool on a baking sheet for a few minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely. Store the cookies in an airtight container; they should retain their marvelous chewy texture for a few days.

This is one scale you won’t be afraid to step on.

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