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Saturday, September 24, 2011

Grapefruit Fennel Salad


This crisp and refreshing salad is naturally sweet and sour. Serve it as a stand alone dish with grilled fish or, if you're serving several courses, in between heavier plates to lighten things up and refresh your palate.

Grapefruit is a good source of vitamin C and lycopene, an antioxidant with anti-cancer activity. Fennel is anti-inflammatory, promotes good digestion, and dispells intestinal gas.

This recipe makes enough salad for 1 or 2 people. If you're expecting more, increase the ingredients as needed and aim for approximately equal amounts of grapefruit segments and sliced fennel.

1 young fennel bulb
1 large grapefruit
Extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
Sea salt
Freshly ground peppercorn

Clean the fennel, reserving the fronds and removing the core and any tough outer layers. Thinly slice it using a mandolin or very good knife skills. (The thinner, the better.)

Cut away the grapefruit peel: Slice off enough of the stem end to find fruit underneath, repeat with the other end, and set it upright. Cut off the sides, keeping as much of the fruit intact as possible. Cut out the segments and drop them into a bowl with the fennel. Squeeze the juice out of the remaining membrane into the bowl. Do the same with any pieces of peel that has fruit still attached.

Drizzle some olive oil, sprinkle a little bit of sea salt, and grind some peppercorn into the bowl. Toss everything together and taste. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve the salad immediately if you like it crunchy or set it aside for up to an hour to allow the grapefruit juice to soften the fennel. Garnish with the reserved fennel fronds.

I like to serve this salad in bowls with spoons so I can scoop up the sauce as I eat it.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Peach Clafouti

The best time to make clafouti is now. Fresh fruit is still in season and the weather has cooled off enough to turn the oven on again. I used peaches, but you could substitute any fresh and ripe fruit, like berries, nectarines, plums or even apples.

Clafouti is a healthy dessert, made mostly of fruit, yogurt, milk and eggs. Traditional recipes contain flour and sugar, but my version calls for only small amounts of whole wheat flour and honey.

The texture of clafouti is soft, between a custard and a pancake. Because you don’t have to bother with a crust, you can mix it up in minutes. It's best make clafouti ahead and serve it at room temperature. That makes it a perfect pick for packing lunches and picnics.

This recipe makes one big clafouti (10 inches in diameter) and serves eight. If you prefer to make individual clafoutis, divide the peaches and batter among small ramekins and bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

Butter for baking dish
Several ripe peaches sliced into wedges, enough to fill your baking dish
2/3 cup Greek or strained yogurt
2/3 cup whole milk
2 eggs at room temperature
Pinch sea salt
Seeds from 1 vanilla bean or 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

Preheat the oven to 375F.

Butter the inside of your baking dish. Arrange the peach slices in the dish and set it aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, milk, eggs, sea salt and vanilla. Add the flour and whisk until just combined. Pour the batter over the peaches.

Transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake for 45 minutes or more, until the top is puffed and golden brown.

Serve the clafouti about an hour out of the oven, when it is barely still warm, or at room temperature once it's completely cooled.

It's delicious as is but feel free to garnish it with a dollop of freshly whipped unsweetened cream, or raw sliced almonds.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Frisée Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette


This simple and satisfying salad is the perfect dish for the end of summer. It's my version of the French salade Lyonnaise. The traditional recipe calls for home-made croutons, but I prefer walnuts. They give the salad a creamy component, add healthy omega-3 fatty acids, and keep it free of refined carbohydrates.

Frisée is an endive in disguise. Its leaves look lacy and delicate but it's really a sturdy, bitter green vegetable. It works well in this salad because the warm bacon vinaigrette softens the leaves and balances any bitterness. Like other bitter greens, frisée is good for digestion and full of fiber. It's also high in vitamins and minerals including vitamin A, beta-carotene,  folate, iron and potassium. If you don't have frisée, substitute escarole, dandelion leaves, beet greens, or any other bitter green leafy vegetable.

This salad is a good example of how meat can be used as a condiment, rather than the main course, in a plant-based diet. Use only bacon from pigs raised on pasture and never exposed to antibiotics or pesticides, because these chemicals can accumulate in animal fat. Find pasture-raised bacon at your local farmer's market or order it online. It's more expensive than conventional bacon, but a little goes a long way.

If you're planning ahead, the eggs can be cooked in advance. I recommend cooking them lightly, until the whites are done but the yolks are still runny. When you eat the salad, runny yolks become a second sauce. They leak out and coat everything with a creamy richness.

The eggs can be served warm or at room temperature. If you poach them in advance and want to serve them warm, re-heat them briefly in gently simmering water just before serving. Alternatively, you can sauté or boil the eggs.

If you don't eat eggs, top this salad with some cooked white beans or crumbled blue cheese instead.

2 slices pasture-raised bacon
1 to 2 cloves garlic
Sea salt
3 to 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 tsp Dijon or home-made mustard
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing
Fresh ground peppercorn
6 to 8 cups frisée or curly endive
Heaping 1/2 cup raw walnuts

Thinly slice the bacon and add it to a small skillet over low heat (I recommend enameled cast iron cookware). Cook it slowly, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the bacon bits are crisp. Turn off the heat and use a slotted spoon to lift out the bacon bits, draining any excess fat back into the skillet, and transfer them to your largest salad bowl.

Replace the skillet on the hot burner with the heat off. There should be a tablespoon or two of rendered fat in the skillet. Grate the garlic into the rendered fat, stir it in, and set it aside to allow the flavor of the garlic to infuse into the oil.

Meanwhile, poach the eggs in plenty of water:

Fill a large, shallow pan with 2 or 3 inches of water and bring it to a slow simmer. Once small bubbles start to rise to the surface, add a pinch of sea salt and crack an egg into a cup. Hold the cup as close to the surface of the water as possible and gently slide the egg into the water. Repeat with the other eggs.

(Some people add vinegar to the water to prevent the egg whites from spreading too far and too thin but I find it doesn't make a difference.)

Once the whites start to set, slide a slotted spoon underneath them to make sure they don't stick to the pan. Cook the eggs until the whites solidify and turn white, 3 or 4 minutes if you like your yolks runny, 6 or more if you like them cooked through. Use the slotted spoon to gently lift them out to check their doneness and, once they're perfectly cooked, transfer them to a clean kitchen towel to drain. Sprinkle a few grains of sea salt on each one if desired.

In the skillet with the rendered fat and garlic, whisk in 3 to 4 teaspoons of red wine vinegar and scrape up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the Dijon, olive oil and ground peppercorn. Continue whisking until everything is well-combined. Taste for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments. 

Add the walnuts to the bowl containing the bacon bits. Fill it up with frisée leaves chopped into bite-size pieces. Pour the warm vinaigrette over the greens and toss until it is evenly distributed. If you are short on vinaigrette, drizzle in a little extra olive oil to help distribute it evenly.

Divide the salad among 4 small plates or 2 large plates and top each portion with 1 or 2 eggs.

Makes 2 main courses or 4 appetizer portions.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Béarnaise Sauce From Scratch


This cheerful yellow sauce is one of my favorite condiments. It's light and fluffy, yet thick and creamy, and also smooth and silky. Béarnaise sauce is an elegant accompaniment to a special meal, and making it from scratch is easier than it looks. Tarragon gives it the signature flavor, so make it now while fresh herbs are still in season.

You'll want to slather this sauce on everything in sight, but in my opinion it's best served with red meat like grass-fed beef, buffalo, or venison, and with white fish and seafood like halibut, haddock, shrimp and lobster.

Vegetarians can spoon it over broiled portobello mushrooms, tamari-marinated tofu triangles, and grilled vegetable skewers.

This recipe is a slight departure than a traditional Béarnaise sauce. I used red wine vinegar and red onion (they didn't ruin the bright yellow color) instead of white wine vinegar and shallot because their flavor is a bit sharper and because I always have them on hand. I also added the zest of the lemon, instead of just the juice, for a little extra zing and because anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer compounds are found there. If your lemon is not organic, omit the zest.

Whipping up a good Béarnaise does require a few different steps, but none are terribly difficult and the results are greater than the effort. This sauce can be prepared in advance but it's best served fresh, at room temperature, within an hour.

This recipe makes about a cup of sauce. Store any excess in an air tight container in the fridge. It will be a bit thicker after it's been refrigerated, so allow it to come to room temperature and serve it with very hot food.

1/4 cup Sauvignon Blanc or other dry white wine
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup minced red onion
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh tarragon leaves, plus 1 tbsp minced tarragon
1 organic lemon
Several grinds of peppercorn
3 egg yolks at room temperature
1 stick best quality butter (grass-fed or organic), at room temperature and cut into 8 pieces
Sea salt to taste
  1. In a small sauce pan, combine the white wine, vinegar, onion and tarragon. Zest half of the lemon into the mixture and add several grinds of peppercorn. Bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer over low heat until it has reduced to about 2 tablespoons of liquid. Pour it through a fine mesh strainer into a medium glass or stainless steel mixing bowl. Press out and discard the solids. Set it aside to cool.
  2. Prepare a pan of simmering water on the stove to use as a double boiler.
  3. One by one, whisk the egg yolks into the strained liquid until smooth. Set the bowl on top of the pan of simmering water and continue whisking. The mixture should get foamy and once it starts to thicken, add a piece of butter. Continue whisking and just before the butter has fully dissolved, add another piece. Continue until all of the butter is fully incorporated.
  4. Remove the bowl from the heat. Whisk in the lemon juice, the remaining tarragon, and a generous pinch of sea salt. Taste the sauce for seasoning and make any necessary adjustments.
  5. Serve the Béarnaise sauce immediately or set it aside at room temperature for up to an hour while you prepare the rest of the meal. If the sauce is still warm and you plan to serve it later, whisk it until it cools to room temperature. This should happen rather quickly once it's off the heat.
  6. Store any leftover sauce in an airtight container in the fridge.