Thursday, May 28, 2009

A Daring Dough (actually, it was quite easy)

The Daring Bakers did it again. They have challenged me to make something that I ended up really enjoying, but never would have attempted on my own. This is why I love being a Daring Baker - I get forced out of my comfort zone, and often, like with this challenge, find out what appears to be a horrible daunting task is quite easy.

The May Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Linda of make life sweeter! and Courtney of Coco Cooks. They chose Apple Strudel from the recipe book Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague by Rick Rodgers.

Since apples are no longer in prime season here, I opted to do a different filling. I used what I had in the house - which is always a bonus - and ended up with a delicious strudel filling inside a crispy, crackly crust.

The idea of making strudel dough was a bit frieghtening when I first learned of this month's challenge. It is a simple dough that gets pulled VERY thin and then wrapped around the filling and baked. I'm talking phyllo thin here. There are definite similarities between the two doughs and it makes me want to find a good phyllo recipe and give that a try. When making strudel at home, many recipes in fact call for using frozen phyllo sheets, but after this month's challenge, I am going to be a regular "from scratch" strudel maker.

I told you it was thin. The dough is amazingly supple and forgiving however. Easy to work with.

For my filling I whipped together cream cheese, almond paste, and finely chopped dark chocolate in the stand mixer (this could easily be done by hand if you let the ingredients come to room temp). I didn't really measure anything. I just threw it all in together, gave it a taste, tossed in a bit more chocolate and called it a strudel. The fun thing about this recipe is that the dough can be filled with just about anything - sweet or savory. I thought about using some organic peaches with the almond paste, but with those I worried they may be a bit too wet. I still may try it, tossing the chopped peaches with a bit of flour and/or cornstarch to bind them up a bit.

I'm already thinking about new filling and entire strudel dinners (savory followed by sweet). I know it's a bit cheesy but who cares? this was good.

I'm going to post the whole recipe as given to us by the Daring Bakers. This includes the apple filling to make a more traditional Apple Strudel. Of course, you can swap out the filling (as I did) with anything that strikes your fancy, follow the dough and assembly directions and you're good to go.

Apple strudel
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

2 tablespoons (30 ml) golden rum
3 tablespoons (45 ml) raisins
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (80 g) sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick / 115 g) unsalted butter, melted, divided
1 1/2 cups (350 ml) fresh bread crumbs
strudel dough (recipe below)
1/2 cup (120 ml, about 60 g) coarsely chopped walnuts
2 pounds (900 g) tart cooking apples, peeled, cored and cut into ¼ inch-thick slices (use apples that hold their shape during baking)

1. Mix the rum and raisins in a bowl. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in another bowl.

2. Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-high. Add the breadcrumbs and cook whilst stirring until golden and toasted. This will take about 3 minutes. Let it cool completely.

3. Put the rack in the upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Line a large baking sheet with baking paper (parchment paper). Make the strudel dough as described below. Spread about 3 tablespoons of the remaining melted butter over the dough using your hands (a bristle brush could tear the dough, you could use a special feather pastry brush instead of your hands). Sprinkle the buttered dough with the bread crumbs. Spread the walnuts about 3 inches (8 cm) from the short edge of the dough in a 6-inch-(15cm)-wide strip. Mix the apples with the raisins (including the rum), and the cinnamon sugar. Spread the mixture over the walnuts.

4. Fold the short end of the dough onto the filling. Lift the tablecloth at the short end of the dough so that the strudel rolls onto itself. Transfer the strudel to the prepared baking sheet by lifting it. Curve it into a horseshoe to fit. Tuck the ends under the strudel. Brush the top with the remaining melted butter.

5. Bake the strudel for about 30 minutes or until it is deep golden brown. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Use a serrated knife and serve either warm or at room temperature. It is best on the day it is baked.

The dough gets wrapped on a flour lined cloth so it doesn't stick and tear

The wrapped strudel ready for the oven.

Strudel dough
from “Kaffeehaus – Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest and Prague” by Rick Rodgers

1 1/3 cups (200 g) unbleached flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 tablespoons (105 ml) water, plus more if needed
2 tablespoons (30 ml) vegetable oil, plus additional for coating the dough
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar

1. Combine the flour and salt in a stand-mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix the water, oil and vinegar in a measuring cup. Add the water/oil mixture to the flour with the mixer on low speed. You will get a soft dough. Make sure it is not too dry, add a little more water if necessary.
Take the dough out of the mixer. Change to the dough hook. Put the dough ball back in the mixer. Let the dough knead on medium until you get a soft dough ball with a somewhat rough surface.

2. Take the dough out of the mixer and continue kneading by hand on an unfloured work surface. Knead for about 2 minutes. Pick up the dough and throw it down hard onto your working surface occasionally.
Shape the dough into a ball and transfer it to a plate. Oil the top of the dough ball lightly. Cover the ball tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to stand for 30-90 minutes (longer is better).

3. It would be best if you have a work area that you can walk around on all sides like a 36 inch (90 cm) round table or a work surface of 23 x 38 inches (60 x 100 cm). Cover your working area with table cloth, dust it with flour and rub it into the fabric. Put your dough ball in the middle and roll it out as much as you can.
Pick the dough up by holding it by an edge. This way the weight of the dough and gravity can help stretching it as it hangs. Using the back of your hands to gently stretch and pull the dough. You can use your forearms to support it.

4. The dough will become too large to hold. Put it on your work surface. Leave the thicker edge of the dough to hang over the edge of the table. Place your hands underneath the dough and stretch and pull the dough thinner using the backs of your hands. Stretch and pull the dough until it's about 2 feet (60 cm) wide and 3 feet (90 cm) long, it will be tissue-thin by this time. Cut away the thick dough around the edges with scissors. The dough is now ready to be filled.

The stretched dough is thin enough to read the recipe through.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fresh Spring Rolls with Turkey "Larb"

I am a food planner. Once a week I try to put together menus for the whole week so I can shop accordingly and so I don’t have to think too much when I get home from work. It’s nice knowing that I have the ingredients on hand for the planned meals and it gives me the opportunity to plan wisely to reuse leftovers.

Too often we’ll make a large portion of a dish, and then after several times eating the leftovers, there is still some that goes to waste. I try to freeze stuff when I can and generally use things up for work lunches, but sometimes you still end up wasting. That’s why I really love planning meals that are designed specifically to use the previous night’s leftovers.

Often when we have a taco night, I will plan to make Southwest Style Stuffed Peppers the following day, using the leftovers (meat, beans, rice, salsa, cheese, etc.) from the taco bar. Well this was another one of those meals.

The other night we had some great friends over for a visit (and a Laker game) and I put together a Build Your Own Noodle Soup Bar. This was my take on Vietnamese Noodle soup – the same as we used for our post Thanksgiving feast meal. It’s light but still hearty enough to fill you up and it’s just packed with flavor. It truly is one of my favorite meals.

And now, from the leftovers of the noodle soup bar comes another new favorite meal. I think I’m going to call these Phoenix Rolls – out of the ashes of leftovers, rise a terrific and light meal. I still had noodles, herbs, and veggies chopped and ready to go, so I simply made my own version of Turkey Larb (a Lao or Thai flavored dish with ground meat – chicken, pork, turkey, duck – mint, fish sauce, and peppers) and wrapped it all up in fresh spring roll wrappers. If you have never use spring roll wrappers, fear not. They are very forgiving, fun, and the end result is amazing.

I seasoned the meat with garlic, ginger, fish and soy sauce, peppers, lime juice and a handful of chopped mint. The kids loved the meat, and went to town on the spring rolls as well. I was a little surprised, I’ll admit. I didn’t think they would like the texture of the rice paper, but they loved it! They even like the two sauces we served the spring rolls with – a sweet chili sauce, and a very tangy fish sauce based dip. Again, quite surprised by how much the kids liked it.

Turkey Larb

1 lb. ground turkey (you can easily swap out chicken or pork as well)
3-4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
1” knob of ginger, minced
Peppers – I used one jalapeno because I had it from the night before, but Thai chilies or anything according to your desired level of heat would work.
Juice of 1 lime
Hearty splash of both soy sauce and fish sauce
Handful of chopped mint

Sauté the garlic and ginger in some olive oil over medium heat in a large pan for 30 seconds to a minute. Don’t let the garlic burn. Add the ground turkey, turn the heat up a bit, and break the meat up while it cooks. You want to cook the meat all the way through, getting rid of any pink color and break it up into as small of pieces as possible. When the meat is almost done, add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Cook together until meat is cooked through.

Fresh Spring Rolls

Rice paper wrappers
Turkey Larb
Cooked rice noodles
Shredded/Julienned veggies – I had leftover carrot, cabbage, celery, radish, jalapeno, and mung bean sprouts
Fresh herbs – I like a combo of (and had leftover) Thai basil, cilantro, and mint

Soak a wrapper is hot water that has cooled enough for you to be able to put your fingers in it. I use a pyrex pie dish for this. Feel the wrapper as it softens, once all the stiffness is gone, take it out of the wrapper and spread it open on a cutting board. Put down a layer of the larb, and add a little of each of the other ingredients. You want a good mix, but don’t overfill it or the wrapper will tear. I try to place one of the herb leaves strategically so that it shows nicely through the wrapper after rolling. To roll, bring the top of the wrapper over the filling and tuck in tightly. Next, bring in the side like you would for a burrito and then roll the whole thing closed. It takes a bit of practice to get a nice tight roll without tearing the wrapper but it’s really not that hard.


I use a store bought sweet chili sauce because I love it. But I also made another tangy sauce to go with it. This is really based on taste and can be adjusted to your liking.

In a small bowl mix some finely minced peppers, with some fish sauce, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. I use about a 1:2:3 ratio respectively. If it is a little too sour/tart/fishy for you, add a bit of brown sugar or honey and mix that in until dissolved.

This sauce goes really well with the freshness of the rolls and is a nice foil to the sweet chili sauce.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Salt and Pepper Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Butter and Fennel Pollen

Because one can never be a part of too many food blogging groups/challenges, I give you the first ever Daring Cooks challenge! Sprung forth from the minds of the Daring Bakers creators, we now have a similar group who will be challenged with recipes that fall into the "cooking" rather than "baking" category. I was excited to join when they announced the formation of the group and I was excited when I saw the first recipe: Ricotta Gnocchi from the Zuni Cafe cookbook.

Now that said, I have some sad news...I hated the inaugural recipe. It doesn't make sense either. I love the cookbook it was taken from, I love the dish in theory (I've raved about a different version already), and I love the Daring Bakers, from whence this whole thing originated. So how is it that the first ever challenge from the Daring Cooks was a big fail for me?

My main theory is that I am a very different cook than I am a baker. I was a cook long before being bitten by the baking bug and it comes much more naturally to me. I grew up around great cooks, eating great savory meals. Don't get me wrong, there were some great desserts in there too, but the focus was almost always on the savory side of the kitchen. I inherited my cooking instincts from those around me and learned at a fairly young age to cook by feel. I don't get worried if I don't have recipes, and I am comfortable taking a look in the pantry, fridge, and garden and coming up with a pretty darn decent meal.

On the baking side however, I am largely at the mercy of a good recipe. That is changing slowly, but I still use recipes for most of my breads and sweets. I just don't have the science side of baking down quite the way I do with cooking.

The other issue is that, for being as into food as I am, I have a few quirky picky eater issues - many of them particularly odd considering how long I was a vegetarian. Given these quirks and my own inclination to not follow recipes while I cook, I may find myself struggling with Daring Cook challenges in the future. Of course, the whole point is to challenge yourself, and I do look forward to that aspect of the adventure.

Getting back to this particular recipe, I will share it with you, but I encourage you to go and try this one instead. The gnocchi from the Zuni Cafe recipe are just too soft and pillowy for my liking. Now some may be way into that, and if that is what works for you, then by all means. I liked a tad more bite to the version I've made in the past which are still quite soft and luxurious.

The even bigger issue here is that the Zuni Cafe version is much fussier. You have to be very delicate with the batter/dough (hence the extreme pillowiness) and it takes quite a bit longer to form and handle. The older version is really a very quick meal - Zuni Cafe version, not so much.

All was not lost however on this challenge. I quite liked the sauce I made to go with the gnocchi and I think I will use it with fresh pasta in the future. It was very simple: butter, slightly caramelized shallot, fried sage, sea salt, fresh pepper and a dusting of fennel pollen. This of course was made up on a whim - the whole cooking by feel thing. By the way, go out and get yourself some fennel pollen, one of my new favorite things in life. In fact, Ru said the bites with fennel really saved the dish.

At the end of the day however, I just don't get it. I love the Zuni Cafe cookbook, and I think Judy Rodgers is brilliant, but for my tastes, these were not the most amazing ricotta gnocchi I've made or eaten.

Fresh ricotta whipped and ready to go

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi
Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook
Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)
Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take 1 hour.

Equipment required:
• Sieve
• Cheesecloth or paper towels
• Large mixing bowl
• Rubber spatula
• Tablespoon
• Baking dish or baking sheet
• Wax or parchment paper
• Small pot
• Large skillet
• Large pan or pot (very wide in diameter and at least 2 inches deep)

For the gnocchi:
1 pound fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the gnocchi sauce:
8 tablespoons butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.

If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneat to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.

To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy better with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Step 3: Forming the gnocchi.

Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the ban gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If you’re gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If you’re gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.

Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

*If you don’t want to cook your gnocchi right away or if you don’t want to cook all of them, you can make them and freeze them. Once they are formed and resting on the flour-dusted, lined tray, place them uncovered in the freezer. Leave them for several hours to freeze. Once frozen, place them in a plastic bag. Remove the air and seal the bag. Return to the freezer. To cook frozen gnocchi, remove them from the bag and place individually on a plate or on a tray. Place in the refrigerator to thaw completely. Cook as directed for fresh gnocchi.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Rustic Candied Walnut Loaf

Sometimes you need some "stuff" in your bread. I'm usually not a huge fan of bread with chunks of stuff in it, but I felt it was time to finally give a loaf a try. I came across a recipe for Caramelized Walnut Bread and knew it was the one to experiment with.

It's a very hearty bread with a fair amount of rye and whole wheat flour in it. Along with the candied walnuts, it's a very satisfying slice. I whipped up some butter with orange zest and honey to spread on the bread which was a fantastic addition.

I could obviously still use some work on my bread scoring, and I slightly over floured the top of the bread, but it was delicious non the less. This bread utilizes an overnight preferment, so plan ahead. But that also means it will last several days and still taste great.

Caramelized Walnut Bread
Adapted from


The night before:
1/2 cup bread flour
1/2 cup dark rye
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Day of:
1 1/2 cups bread flour
3/4 cup dark rye
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 1/4 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon salt

Caramelized Walnuts:
1 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup sugar
4 teaspoon water
1 tablespoon butter

The night before combine the "Night Before" ingredients together and mix. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to sit on the counter for 12 - 16 hours.

The next morning place the chopped nuts onto a cookie sheet and bake in a 250F oven till lightly toasted (or toast on a medium warm dry skillet on the stove – but keep an eye on them). Then set aside to cool. Pour the sugar and water into a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil till the mixture comes up to a 240F (I didn’t take the temp, but it was boiling rapidly and starting to color and foam) . Add in the toasted nuts. Keep the saucepan on the heat and continually stir till the mixture turns a golden brown. Remove from the heat and add in the butter and mix. Pour mixture out onto a silpat or grease parchment paper to cool. Set aside.

Add the "night before" mixture into a large bowl. Pour in the water and stir. Add in the rye, whole wheat flour and instant yeast. Mix together until well blended and the mixture is smooth. Allow to rest for 10 minutes uncovered.

Add in salt and slowly add in bread flour. Mix with a wooden spoon until it becomes too hard to mix. Pour the mixture out onto a floured surface and begin to knead in the rest of the flour. Knead for 8 - 10 minutes, you want the dough to be on the sticky side. If you need to add more flour do so with just a tablespoon at a time. Pour a little oil into a clean bowl and add in the dough. Turn over a few times to very lightly coat all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 1 1/2 hours or until double in bulk.

After the dough has risen pour out onto a flat surface. Flatten out the dough with your fingers to release some of the gas – but keep it relatively gentle, you want to retain some of the air in the bread for a nice soft crumb. Add the caramelized nuts on top and knead just till blended. Cut dough in half and shape into two balls. Sprinkle some cornmeal or flour onto a piece of parchment paper and place the loaves on top. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest for 1 hour or until doubled.

Remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle a little flour on top. Score the top of the bread with a sharp knife. The loaves will be going into a 450-degree, preheated oven with a baking stone on the middle rack and a cast iron pan or broiler pan on the bottom rack. To create some steam. Once you place the breads into the oven pour about a cup of hot water into the hot pan and close the door. Bake for 30 -35 minutes or the internal temp is approximately 205-210 degrees.

Submitted to YeastSpotting at Wild Yeast

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Thanks Everyone!

I was honored to wake up this morning to find out I had won the second Foodie Fight Battle. Thank you to everyone who voted! I was amazed at the amount of support you gave and that votes came in from around the world.

Congratulations to all of the contestants in the Foodie Fight. I quickly got very nervous when I saw all of the revealed dishes - 6 wonderful creations were produced and I only wish we could all get together for a giant Rhubarb and Coriander feast.

As I mentioned in the original post, I love this type of blog event because it gives me an opportunity to push a little harder in the kitchen, get creative, and enjoy food we may not have otherwise enjoyed. So a big thank you to Nick and Dan for the creation of Foodie Fights. To all you food bloggers out there - go sign-up for the next FoodieFight. You won't regret it. I'm also super excited about being a judge in the next round. It will be great to experience the whole Foodie Fight from different perspectives (contestant/judge).

Thanks again!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Foodie Fight? More Like a Flavor Love Fest!

The thing I love about food blogging is the food blogging community. So many talented and generous people are out there sharing their wisdom and their love of all things food. When I started my blog, it was a chance to keep track of some of the food we were creating and eating, and share some recipes with friends. As time went on, the blog became a way to interact with many others around the world who are equally (and then some!) passionate about food. I have gained an immeasurable amount of inspiration from the impressive work of these bloggers. And because I have chosen to share my work in a public forum, I have felt challenged to up my own game.

It started when I joined the Daring Bakers. Each month hundreds of bloggers around the world were challenged to make the same dish, and share their results with each other. With a deadline looming and knowing that I would have to share my results, the adrenaline began pumping and I was hooked. I was compelled to tackle exacting recipes that had previously scared me off with their complex techniques and pages of details. After several successes on the baking end, I joined the newly-formed Daring Cooks, and I look forward to the challenges ahead in that end of the kitchen.

So when I saw that Nick and Dan had created and would be taking their Iron Chef style food blog challenges mainstream, I was very excited. Being a part of the second ever Foodie Fight has been an honor and a challenge both. Seriously, rhubarb and coriander?

The biggest challenge was actually narrowing down the list of options I came up with. After spending an afternoon discussing it with R, I had about a half dozen sweet recipes, and an equal number of savory recipes in mind. After talking it out, we finally settled on the one that sounded the most delicious:

Pulled Pork in a Rhubarb Coriander BBQ Sauce with a Pickled Rhubarb Relish and Freshly Cut Mixed Greens from the Garden on Homemade Coriander Buns.

Now, that's a heck of a name, but really, almost every aspect of the meal had that rhubarb/coriander combination in it because they are quite a team - even the pickled rhubarb is spiced with coriander. Turns out, this unexpected marriage of flavors really works.

Before we get too far into this thing, let me remind you that this is a competition. So after checking out the rest of the post, please check out all the other wonderful entries over at, and then vote for your favorite, wink wink, your favorite Pulled Pork Sandwich that is.

It made the most sense to prep the pickles and sauce before tackling the pork, and then prepare the coriander buns last so they would be fresh when served.

Chopping Rhubarb and Onions to be Pickled

I knew with the sweet and savory aspect of the BBQ pork I wanted an acidic element to balance the flavor composition. The pickled rhubarb was just the thing.

Pickling spices, clockwise from top center: coriander, peppercorns, dry mustard, clove, cumin

It is spicy from the coriander, peppercorns, and mustard, and sweet and sour from the sugar and vinegar brine.

Pickled Rhubarb Relish in all of its sweet and sour glory

The result is a fabulously complex, crispy relish that complimented the sandwiches' richness perfectly. Even its colder temperature added another element of interest in the otherwise warm sandwich.

Rhubarb chopped and ready for the BBQ sauce

This BBQ sauce is very unique. It hints of a traditional BBQ sauce, but has much more depth. The rhubarb is the key player, adding an unexpected, yet delightfully satisfying note. With rhubarb as the main ingredient, I made a tomato sauce based BBQ with brown sugar, molasses, cider vinegar, spices (featuring coriander, of course), and finished with a touch of spicy mustard and some Sriracha. At the end of the day, this is a BBQ sauce I will be going back to. It was a great companion to the meat, and not cloyingly sweet like so many pulled pork recipes are.

Pork loin with coriander and peppercorn rub

Both the pork itself and the bun highlighted the aromatic essence of the coriander. The meat was rubbed with crushed coriander and black peppercorns before being seared and then slow cooked in the rhubarb BBQ sauce overnight. The buns were spiced with ground coriander seeds and were the perfect base for the sandwich. Aromatic and tasty, even light, they had just the right amount of texture and density to stand up to the saucy sandwiches.

Coriander Sandwich buns during their second rise

The complete sandwiches were complex, rich, tangy, just sweet enough and very satisfying. We served the sandwiches with a very simple salad of fresh mixed greens and herbs (harvested from our garden minutes before dinner ) with a citrus honey vinaigrette, as well as a tangy carrot and shallot salad with a salty, white wine vinegar kick - a more exciting interpretation of the classic coleslaw side dish.

Fresh greens in the garden waiting to be harvested

Prepping the tangy carrot salad

Working on those knife skills

Win or lose, we loved this meal! I hope everything looks and sounds good to you. Good enough for your vote, and good enough for you to head into the kitchen and give the recipes a try.

And a big thank you to and all of the competitors in the Foodie Fight #2!

Pickled Rhubarb Relish

3 stalks fresh rhubarb
½ medium onion (any color - I used white)
2 Tbs. kosher salt
1 ½ C. cider vinegar
2/3 C. sugar
1 Tbs. coriander seed
1 ½ tsp. dry mustard
2 tsp. black peppercorns
1 ½ tsp. whole cloves
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. turmeric
1 bay leaf

1. Wash and peel the rhubarb and slice into very thin slices. Using a mandolin is easiest, but since I don’t have one, it’s a good chance to hone those knife skills. Peel and half the onion and slice into equally thin half moons. Combine the rhubarb and onion in a non-reactive bowl and toss with salt. Cover in cold water and a few ice cubes and stir to dissolve salt.

2. After at least 30 minutes, feel and taste a piece of the rhubarb. It should feel slightly softened. Drain the veggies and pat dry.

3. Combine the vinegar, sugar, and all remaining ingredients in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Set the brine aside to cool, or put the sauce pan into an ice bath to cool more quickly.

4. Return the rhubarb and onions to the dry bowl and add the cooled brine. Stir to distribute the spices and then transfer to a jar that will hold the veggies and brine. Seal well and refrigerate for at least a day before serving to allow the flavors to marry.

Rhubarb Barbecue Sauce

2 Tbs. olive oil
½ C. diced onion
2 Tbs. crushed coriander seeds
1 ½ tsp. dry mustard
3 C. thinly chopped cleaned and peeled rhubarb.
½ - 2/3 C. brown sugar (use up to 2/3 C. if you like a sweeter sauce)
2 Tbs. water
1 Tbs. spicy/brown/Dijon etc. mustard
3 Tbs. cider vinegar
¾ C. tomato sauce
2 Tbs. molasses
1/3 C. ketchup
1-2 Tbs. Sriracha, depending on taste
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring for 5-6 minutes until translucent and soft. Add the coriander seed and dry mustard and cook for another minute to toast the spices. Add the rhubarb, sugar and water and increase heat to medium high. Bring the sauce to a low boil. The rhubarb will give off a considerable amount of liquid to allow the sauce to properly boil. Cook for about 10 minutes, until the rhubarb has softened and can be mashed with a spoon.

Lower the heat and add the remaining ingredients through the Sriracha. Stir well to combine and cook on low for several minutes. Taste the sauce, and season with salt and pepper appropriately.

Serve the sauce warm over the sandwiches. If the sauce is too thick, you can thin with anything from water to apple juice or even a splash of beer.

Seconds. A little rhubarb BBQ sauce slathered on some pulled pork with a lettuce leaf, and a thin slice of bread.

Pulled Pork

Large pork loin/butt/shoulder etc. any decent cut of meat with some fat in it that you can get a good deal on
Olive oil
A few Tbs. crushed black peppercorns
A few Tbs. crushed coriander seeds
Kosher salt
½ - 1 C. diced onion
1 C. deglazing liquid (I used homemade veggie broth, but you could easily use water, juice, beer, wine etc.)
2 C. rhubarb BBQ sauce

Clean and dry the pork. Heat some olive oil in a large heavy pan over fairly high heat. Rub the meat with the pepper, coriander, and salt on all sides. Sear the meat in the hot pan until all sides are browned. (Contrary to popular belief, we are not “locking in the juices” at this point, we are just adding flavor).

Transfer the meat to the cooking vessel. I used a slow cooker but you could easily use a dutch oven cooked low and slow in the oven.

Add the onion to the pan and saute for several minutes. Add the liquid and deglaze the pan scraping up all the delicious crusty pork fond on the bottom of the pan. Pour the pan liquids and the rhubarb BBQ sauce over the pork and cook until fork shreddable. I did this in the slow cooker overnight - 8 hours on low.

Coriander Sandwich Buns

¾ - 1 C. warm water
2 Tbs. butter, softened
1 large egg
3 ½ C. AP flour
¼ C. sugar
1 ¼ tsp. salt
1 Tbs. ground coriander seeds
1 Tbs. instant yeast

Mix and knead all ingredients to make a soft, smooth dough. You can do this by hand or in a stand mixer.

Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rise for 1 -1 ½ hours.

Gently deflate and divide into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a round ball and flatten to 1” think and about 3” round. Place buns on a lightly greased baking sheet (or use silpat or parchment) cover, and let rise for about an hour.

Brush buns with melted butter and sprinkle with poppy and/or sesame seeds.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes until golden.

Cool on a rack.


Friday, May 1, 2009

The FoodieFight is on!

Earlier this week I got the exciting news that I was one of six food bloggers chosen for the 2nd ever Foodie Fight Battle. The concept was put together by Dan at Macheesmo and Nick at TFIMB. After challenging each other to an Iron Chef style food blog battle, they enjoyed the process so much they formed to share the love. Now, each week, six bloggers will be chosen to battle it out, making any sort of dish based on the two secret ingredients chosen. Judging will ensue, fun will be had, and a victor will be crowned.

So without further ado, this week's secret ingredients are...

Coriander Seed and Rhubarb

As Dan mentioned, the obvious first question is: Savory or Sweet? I have gone over dozens of possible recipes on both the sweet and savory side and I think I have finally settled on a dish. I look forward to working things out this weekend and can't wait to share my results with you all.

Please come back on Tuesday (Happy Cinco de Mayo!) to vote!!! I have a feeling I will need all the votes I can get, I am paired with some pretty stiff competition. You should definitely take a few minutes and check out all of their sites, each one is unique and impressive and has me quite intimidated.

Aga Kitchen
The Arugula Files
Crazy Monkey House
Elaine - The Gourmet Girl

The judges for this week's challenge include last week's winner Pete, of PeteBakes, and surprise judge Erin Zimmer, the editor of Serious Eats: New York. They'll be looking for, most importantly, which dish would they like to eat, overall creativity, and whether or not it is a good blog post. Hopefully I am able to deliver the goods.

Don't forget to come back on Tuesday to vote. I'll need your support.