Monday, October 14, 2013

Caramelized Onion, Kale and Rice Gratin

There have been many, many kitchen epiphanies over the last 6 months I've been working at Bi-Rite. There is one standout that has transformed my little kitchen: Cheese.
Previously, aside from the occasional purchase of true Parmigiano Reggiano and Azur Blue cheese from the infrequent excursion to the Whole Foods cheese counter,  those giant blocks of supermarket bright orange cheddar, jack and mozzarella were little kitchen staples.
Our cheese counter at Bi-Rite is my Happy Place and my favorite part about working The Creamery-the area in the store where we sell our amazing hand made ice cream. I love the ice cream, but I love the cheese more and the position of the cheese counter smack-dab next to me all day long...well...let's just say that there are suckier ways to spend an 8 hour work day. So when I brought home a bunch of greens and was contemplating my usual brown rice/quinoa bowl, somewhere in the back of my brain I heard the word gratin. Coincidentally, my sister has been posting on her Facebook page, her kitchen explorations of the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook I gave her for Christmas last year, so not to be outdone, I pulled out mine and made this. It's slight riff on one of my favorite recipes. 
In my kitchen, Twice Rescued Kale, Spinach, Dandelion Green, Caramelized Onion, Three Cheese and Brown Rice Gratin is a more fitting, if tedious title and probably not all that appealing I'd hazard to guess...but this one was off-the-hook good. I credit the cheeses. This pan was like crack. I finished the entire thing off, all by myself, in two days.
Earlier this week I came home with two new cheeses and I made this killer grilled cheese sandwich from smitten kitchen using what is now my favorite cheddar, Cabot Vintage Cheddar. It's perfectly sharp and melty. Unbelievably flavorful.  Along with it, I bought Beecher's Flagship Reserve, an English Clothbound Cheddar, which also produced a tasty grilled cheese sandwich. The Beecher's is harder, and flavorfully sharp. It can be used like a parmesan. I used the last bits of these along with some Parmigiano Reggiano. Good lord, I can't wait to make a mac and cheese with this.
Here's the recipe from the book. It's amazing.

wild rice gratin with kale, caramelized onions, and baby swiss
from the smitten kitchen cookbook

wild rice:

5 cups cooked wild rice (from 1 2/3 cups, 10.5 ounces, 300 grams uncooked)
        **I used brown rice because it's what I had on hand**

caramelized onions:

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large sweet onions, halved and thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon table salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 cups stemmed, ribboned kale leaves (from an 8 ounce or 225 gram bundle)
       **I used a mixture of kale, spinach and dandelion greens**

2 cups (8 ounces or 225 grams) coarsely grated Emmentaler or another Swiss cheese
     **my mix: Parmigiano Reggiano, Beechers Flagsghip Reserve Cheddar and Cabot Vintage Cheddar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 tablespoon to grease dish, 1 tablespoon melted, for crumbs)
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup (60 grams) fine, dry breadcrumbs
table salt
freshly ground black pepper

Cook the rice according to package directions, but if you're like me and buy your rice in bulk and don't own a rice cooker, boil up a big pot of salted water, dump in your rinsed rice, boil the crap out of it until it becomes chewy and then drain the rice into a collander, flatten a piece of aluminum foil down onto the surface of the rice, add about a cup of water back into your cooking pot and turn the heat to high, put the colander back into the pot and cover, turning the heat to low once it's come to a boil. Steam the rice until it reaches the texture you like.
Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.
Meanwhile, caramelize the onions:
Heat the butter an olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions, sprinkle with salt and a little pepper, and cook until they're tender and sweet, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Add the kale ribbons, and cook until they wilt a bit, about 5 minutes. Stir together the onion-kale mixture, rice and one cup of grated cheese in a large bowl. Season to taste with additional salt and pepper if you need to.
Assemble the gratin: Use 1 tablespoon of butter to generously coat a 2 quart baking dish. Spread the rice mixture into the dish and pour broth over it. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. Toss bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon melted butter and salt and pepper to taste: sprinkle over cheese.
Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a little bubbly and beginning to brown on top.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Layered Breakfast Salad

Breakfast Salad, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
I really do love salads yet I rarely make them. By the time I've collected up my favorite salad components, rinsed, dried and chopped, sliced and just seems like an awful lot of work when all is said and done for something that is essentially a side dish. It's kind of like exercising...I'll make every excuse not to do it, but once I've convinced myself to start I really enjoy it, even though more often than not, once I've enjoyed the first salad or two, I still end up with a lot of sad produce that I just can't manage to use up.
I am newly inspired by a couple of things:
1) Little Gems and Baby Heads!  Small heads of lettuce that are perfect for the single serving salad. I love, love, love the crunchy Little Gems. I'd never seen these before I started working at Bi-Rite.
2) Layered rather than tossed salads-I've taken a couple of cooking classes at 18 Reasons, Bi-Rite's non-profit educational space. The gal who runs the program and teaches many of the classes always builds the salad on platters. Each component is prepped and spread on the plate or platter in two layers and generally consists of no more than 4-5 components including the dressing, which is also drizzled on within the layers. 
3) Gifts from the Grey Box: The salad pictured above started with my culled collection of 3 Little Gems, one Baby Head, one heirloom tomato, a bunch of radishes (sliced paper thin on a mandolin), a red bell pepper (sliced in thin strips) and a handful of romano beans (sliced thinly on the diagonal). Lastly, some slivered basil.
My go to dressing is a honey Dijon vinaigrette:
1/3 cup Olive Oil
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
1 clove garlic finely minced and smashed
1 tablespoon Dijon
1 teaspoon honey or agave nectar
a pinch of salt
a couple of grinds of fresh pepper
1 thinly sliced scallion
I put all the dressing components into a small jam jar and shake it like crazy to emulsify.
The  dinner salad was topped with a little of my new favorite cheese, L'Amuse Gouda. The eggs were added to the next-day breakfast leftovers which held up surprisingly well. What I didn't use the night before, when I started layering on my salad plate, I put into a plastic sandwich container, keeping each component in it's own little pile within the single container.

The only thing missing is bacon!

Update: I just found this article as I was looking up the Little Gem. It includes and interview with Simon, our produce buyer at Bi-Rite.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Strawberry Summer Cake

Strawberry Summer Cake, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
What goes around, comes around. Last night as we were closing up the market, one of my produce pals presented a box of culled strawberries (not so pretty) free for the taking. I didn't have to think twice about where these were going.
Smitten Kitchen's Strawberry Summer Cake has been one of the most repeated SK recipes to come out of my oven since I discovered it a couple of years ago.  It's a super simple, everyday, all-occasion cake, equally at home to be selfishly consumed all by your lonesome with your morning cuppa joe or fancied up with a light dusting of powdered sugar to present as a gift,  served at a dinner party with a blob of whipped cream or a side of vanilla bean ice-cream...or cut into wedges, packed in a plastic container, shoved sideways into a back pack, and transported by bike back to work and left on the table of the staff break room, where it disappeared in under an hour.
There was a scary moment, which I don't recall ever happening before. My first attempt involved can of out dated evaporated milk (really should have known better). I added it to the creamed butter and sugar, along with the egg and vanilla, some scary curdling occurred. Really scary. Scary enough to toss it, run to the store for fresh milk and do it again. It still curdled, I convinced myself that it wasn't as bad and moved on. I wasn't like sour milk curdling. It was the butter solids not incorporating  into the milk liquids. Upon reflection this did seem to be an odd step  and should have been expected when attempting to mix fat and water without agitation-physical, emulsifying agitation that is. My mental agitation clouded that logic at first. But as OCD as I can get sometimes, I went back to the original post, read the intro again to make sure I got the steps right and after two years the post has over 800 comments. Try as I might, could not find one comment where curdling was a concern. It just seems odd that no one was worried about this. 
After all of that it was a success. I'm going to do it again with a bunch of pears I brought home last night..

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Roasted Vegetable Tartine

Roasted Vegetable Tartine, originally uploaded by michele wynne.
Well, clearly this will not be winning any beauty contests but I want to start the month focusing  on my commitment to vegetables and I was really thrilled with this impromptu tartine. This is a version of  Refrigerator Rescue. The roasted vegetable medley that sits atop slices of day old Semifreddi loaf toasts and gooey good Carmody cheese, began as small assortment of vegetables I collected the other day from the market where I work. I have come to refer to these particular hauls as Gifts from the Grey Box, culled produce that has been pulled from the market. I wish I'd gotten a picture of the box this day because it really was a sight to behold. A large grey plastic storage box, the kind with an interlocking flip lid, sits propped on its side on a small counter top next to the time clock. Bunny, one of our produce goddesses, had created a gorgeous still life contained within the stage set of the box. I felt a wee wave of guilt disturbing the scene, but I did so for the greater good.

My cast of characters included:

2 small Japanese eggplant
3 purple carrots
1 parsnip
a tiny bunch of broccoli
1 jimmy nardelo pepper (a sweet frying pepper)
2 small zucchini

As soon as I got in the front door I turned on the oven, ditched my coat, kicked off my shoes, grabbed my apron and unloaded my haul. I sliced everything up to about 3/8" thick slices and spread it all out onto 2 parchment lined baking sheets, drizzled and brushed it all with olive oil, sprinkled a bit of  sea salt  and a several grinds of pepper.
Now my roasting technique is a work in progress. I am more and more inclined to go low and slow, but have yet to employ this method with eggplant and carrots on the same baking sheet. This batch went into a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes. I tossed everything around, switched the baking sheets around and set the timer for another 15 minutes. Things got dark, but I absolutely loved the slightly crispy edge that it gave everything and the flavors were all pretty damned tasty.
I ended up with about 4 cups of roasted vegetables. The next morning, half  got chopped up and tossed into a fried rice & quinoa bowl topped with a poached egg and later on, lunch was this tartine.

Dijon mustard and shredded parmesan is stirred into soft butter and then spread onto the sliced bread, then placed butter side down into a hot skillet. Lay thin slices of cheese onto the bread. I found that I can control the cheese better when I use a vegetable peeler to shave the cheese and carefully place the shards onto the bread-I used to grate the cheese but no matter how hard I tried, I'd end up with melted cheese glued to my skillet. I've started using better cheeses and that just won't do anymore.
For this tartine, I used Bellewether Farms Carmody cheese, a semi-soft buttery table cheese. For my grilled cheese type sandwiches and tartines, I like to finish the melting in the broiler, so when the bread is all golden toasty on the bottom, move  the whole skillet (if it's oven-proof) into the oven/broiler or transfer the toasts onto a broiler proof baking pan. I like the cheese a little browned on top. This only takes about 2-4 minutes depending on your broiler so stand guard.
Remove it from the broiler and lay your vegetables on top, pressing a little so they sink into the cheese. Sprinkle with a little grated parmesan and place it back in the broiler for another minute to melt the parmesan.