CAULIFLOWER TORTILLAS: GOING LOW CARB AND LOVING IT!

You’ve got to admit I did a pretty good job on my promise to stop posting so many cauliflower recipes. It’s been more than 2 months since I brought up Brassica oleracea to your screen. I cannot hold myself back anymore, not when I made these A-M-A-Z-I-N-G “caulitillas” that even the husband professed to be delicious. That is saying a lot, as he is adamant about corn tortillas, preferably the yellow kind. But, ever since Iron Man Mike blogged on these babies I’ve been meaning to try them.  They are everything he told them to be.  Make these.  It is a little involved, but in a fun way. And the pay off is huge.

Caulitillas

CAULIFLOWER CRUST TORTILLAS
(from The Iron You)

olive oil for greasing baking sheets
1 head of cauliflower, riced and packed (3 cups needed)
3 eggs
½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

Heat oven to 375°F (190°C), line two baking sheets with parchment paper and grease them with olive oil.

In a food processor rice the cauliflower, until you get a texture finer than rice. Measure to make sure you have 3 cups of the riced veggie.  Place cauliflower rice in a bowl and microwave on high for 2 minutes, give it a stir and microwave for another 2 minutes. Place the cauliflower rice in a tea towel and twist it to squeeze as much moisture as you can. Do not skip this step, because the cauliflower must be dry to behave properly in the subsequent stages of cooking.

Place drained cauliflower rice back in the bowl and add eggs, salt and pepper and mix until combined. Spread the mixture onto the lined baking sheets into 8 fairly flat circles. A small offset spatula works wonders here.

Place in the oven for 10 minutes, then peel them off the parchment paper, flip them and bake for further 6 to 7 minutes. Heat a nonstick medium-sized pan over medium heat and place the tortillas into the pan pressing down slightly and brown them (1 minute per side).

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Hard to find someone who loves a Mexican meal more than I do. Tacos, tostadas, enchiladas, I love them all!  But, as the years go by, it gets easier for carbs to turn into fat, so I love it when I find a lighter way to indulge in one of my favorite cuisines. The Paleo world offers quite a few lower-carb options for tortillas using tapioca and/or coconut flour mixed with eggs, and cooked on a non-stick skillet.  They can be quite tasty, but their texture is closer to that of a crepe. If you are searching for a wrap that will be closer to the real thing, look no further. They even look like corn tortillas, don’t you think?   We had some tortillas leftover and I enjoyed them two days in a row, without any detectable loss in flavor or texture. I advise you to bake the full batch, and then do the final browning on top of the stove only for those you intend to consume right away.  Store the rest in the fridge, well wrapped.

The “caulitillas“, paired with pulled pork and a few selected toppings made for a fantastic midweek dinner! Next time I intend to use them in chicken enchiladas, like those from Mike’s original post. Scrumptious!

PulledPorkTortillas

And, don’t forget that if your cauliflower produced more than the three cups of riced veggie needed for this recipe, put the additional amount to good use: make a batch of roasted riced cauliflower with coconut oil, and save it as a tasty side dish for later.

leftovers

ONE YEAR AGO: Majestic Sedona, Take Two

TWO  YEARS AGO: Secret Ingredient Turkey Meatballs

THREE YEARS AGO: Swedish Meatballs and Egg Noodles

FOUR YEARS AGO: Italian Easter Pie

FIVE YEARS AGO: Black Olive Bialy

BLOOD ORANGE MARGARITAS

Almost six years of blogging, and I shared THREE drinks with you.  Three. That is an average of one drink post for every two years. Would that mean we are a boring couple as far as alcohol is concerned? Not quite the case. Phil enjoys a shot of tequila every once in a while, caipirinhas, good quality vodka on the rocks (he likes a brand called Chopin), and the eventual dry Martini. Shaken, not stirred. It turns out that “I” am the boring alcoholic component in our relationship, as 99% of the time I stick to white wine. But, even a boring person will occasionally go for a walk on the wild side. Take for instance these Margaritas, made with one of the sexiest fruits in the world: blood oranges. I love them. Now, keep in mind we made this drink quite sour, with no sugar added to it. Most people will prefer a little more sweetness, so adjust to your taste with simple syrup or a little agave, as suggested in the recipe.

Blood Orange Margaritas
BLOOD ORANGE MARGARITAS
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

makes 1 drink

2 shots of blood orange juice
1.5 to 2 shots tequila of your choice
1 shot lime juice
1 shot Curaçao (or another orange liqueur)
1 drop vanilla extract (optional)
sugar to taste (simple syrup, agave) – we omitted

Mix all ingredients in a shaker. Pour over crushed ice.  Take a sip, and open a big smile!

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Many (too many) years ago, I could enjoy a festive drink before dinner, then switch to a glass of wine or two with the  meal. No major harm done, life next day would be normal.  Not anymore. I do not dare mixing types of alcohol, not even those that are supposed to “work”. You know, the famous saying: Liquor before beer, never fear…  Not for me. I now have a huge respect for alcohol, as a hangover will knock me in horizontal position until 5pm next day. For the record, the last time I had a hangover was after a 4th of July party in 2010. No desire to face another one. So, I have this fascination for beautiful drinks, but rarely indulge. When I do, that becomes my drink for the evening, no wine with the meal.

These Margaritas were so refreshing and light!  We like our drinks very sour, in fact this time they were almost too sour for Phil’s taste, but I thought they were pretty good. You never know how red a blood orange will be until you cut it open, so there’s always some excitement associated with them.  Only one grocery store in town carries them, and it’s the one on the other side of town (you know, a 10 minute drive instead of 5). I bought a few with the intention of preparing a blood orange vinaigrette, perhaps a blood orange pound cake, but Phil came up with the idea of a colorful drink, and that was it.  With a Mexican-type dinner, it was a delightful evening. The vanilla addition was something I saw as a tip somewhere a while ago, wish I could give proper credit. Just a little drop, don’t go wild with it, or it might overpower your margarita.

ONE YEAR AGO: Smoked Salmon Appetizer

TWO YEARS AGO: Clementine Cake

THREE YEARS AGO: Springtime Spinach Risotto

FOUR YEARS AGO: The end of green bean cruelty

FIVE YEARS AGO: Torta di Limone e Mandorle

RASPBERRY RICOTTA CAKE

This cake recipe was published in a recent issue of Bon Appetit magazine, and I wanted to make it right away.  I subscribe to several cooking magazines but they tend to accumulate by my bedside table, untouched. Then, a trip comes up and they go with me in the plane. I read and rip the pages that interest me, tossing the magazine before coming back home. I know that for some this might be a huge no-no, but ever since we moved from OK to KS and I donated my collection of Fine Cooking magazines, I stopped saving them. The cut out recipes are glued in a notebook, a system that works great for me.  Anyway, as I was reading that issue on a flight to Hawaii (yeah, you got that right…. we’ve been to paradise last month), this recipe screamed at me: MAKE ME! MAKE ME! MAKE ME! Glad I finally did, it’s a great cake, moist, tender, and not overly sweet, thanks to the natural tartness of raspberries.

RaspberryRicottaCake

RASPBERRY RICOTTA CAKE
(from Bon Appetit, March 2015)

Non-stick vegetable oil spray
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ cups ricotta
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup frozen raspberries, divided

Heat oven to 350°. Line a 9”-diameter cake pan with parchment paper and lightly coat with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.

Whisk eggs, ricotta, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth; fold into dry ingredients just until blended. Then fold in butter, followed by ¾ cup raspberries, taking care not to crush berries. Scrape batter into prepared pan and scatter remaining ¼ cup raspberries all over the surface of the batter.

Bake cake until golden brown and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50–60 minutes. Let cool at least 20 minutes before removing from the pan.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

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Comments: This cake was so easy to make that I got into hyperventilation from excessive confidence. Basically, there is no way out for me, cakes make me suffer, even when nothing goes wrong. I thought that the raspberries sitting on top of the batter looked awfully cute, but after a few minutes in the oven, I pushed some of them a little into the batter, just in case.  I bet it made no difference whatsoever, the cake experts might be shaking their heads at my naiveté.  Oh, well.

As you know, food blogging is a very social activity. We leave comments, we follow food bloggers we enjoy, sometimes for their cooking alone, sometimes for the “whole package”.  I love bloggers who are witty (hard to beat Maureen on that category) make me laugh, make me think, teach me something. I normally stay clear from sites that push endless surveys or advertisements. But, anyway, some bloggers seem to always cook stuff I want to make. One such example is Steve, from Oui, Chef.  He subscribes to the same magazines I do, so quite often I bookmark a recipe and, being the slow self I am, next thing I know, the recipe is on his site!  This is exactly what happened with this cake. Take a look at Steve’s post by clicking here.  Obviously, great minds read alike, bookmark alike, and bake alike.

This cake was absolutely delicious! I added a sprinkle of powdered sugar on top because I felt the raspberries would be happy. And everyone who tried this cake in our department seemed to be happy too.  Such a great simple treat to celebrate spring…  Make it, and tell me what you think.

sliceHow about a slice?
;-)


ONE YEAR AGO:
In My Kitchen, April 2014

TWO YEARS AGO: Whole-wheat Pasta with Lemony Tomatoes and Spinach

THREE YEARS AGO: Blood Orange Duck: A work in progress

FOUR YEARS AGO: Grilled Mahi-mahi with citrus marinade

FIVE YEARS AGO: Memories of Pastéis (and my Dad)

JOSEY BAKER’S OLIVE BREAD

You would think that I’m done talking about gifts. Sorry, there is one more, a super special gift received from Celia, the bread baking Goddess Extraordinaire from Australia, hostess of the equally extraordinaire food blog Fig Jam and Lime Cordial.  She found out that it was my birthday last month (full disclosure: I told her), and sent me a bread cookbook: Josey Baker Bread.   I was traveling at the time, but could not wait to get my hands on some flour, salt, and yeast to put my gift to use.  Of course, my first thought was sourdough, but we’ve been so busy lately, that every Wednesday would come and go, and I never remembered to revive my starter, hibernating in a – 20°C freezer.  Finally, I could not wait any longer, and tried one of the simpler recipes using commercial yeast.  This is by far one of the easiest breads you can make. All it takes is preparing a pre-ferment with whole-wheat flour, allowing that to sit at room temperature overnight, then proceed with a no-knead formula next day.

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OVERVIEW OF THE RECIPE: to make this bread, you will start by mixing whole wheat flour with water and a little commercial yeast.  That mixture will bubble away overnight, and will be part of the final dough, which contains only white flour, a little salt, lemon zest, fresh rosemary, and of course black olives.  I actually omitted the rosemary because I did not have any at home then.  I increased the amount of lemon zest, but other than that the recipe was followed to a T.

It is essentially a no-knead bread, with a very flexible schedule as far as preparing the dough and baking it. This is one of the things I loved the most about his cookbook: Josey offers a timetable for all his recipes, so that you can adjust making bread to your own schedule, no matter how busy you are. If you rather stay up late to bake, follow one particular timing. If you prefer to bake first thing in the morning, follow another one. Baking in the end of the afternoon? At lunch time? It’s all doable. Part of the beauty of working with yeast. If you are new to bread baking, this book will be perfect for you, because it totally demystifies the process. Reading the book is the closest thing to having a class on bread baking given by a pro who behaves more like a friend, not a snotty professor. Yeap, that is what Josey Baker’s book is all about.

If you want the full recipe, it is available online, reprinted with permission from Josey on this site.

 

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For a no-knead bread, the crumb has quite a nice structure, and the taste is wonderful!  The lemon zest was very prominent, and I think rosemary would make this bread perfect. But I would never substitute dried rosemary because I dislike its texture. In fact, one of the spices I rarely use in dried form is rosemary for that very reason.  Unless it is part of mixes such as Herbes de Provence, but in that case it is pretty much pulverized and the drawback of harsh texture is eliminated. Still, get your hands on some fresh rosemary, grab your bag of flour and make this bread. The smell while it bakes is out of this world delicious! And refrain from grabbing one of those olives that will be peeking on the surface of the loaf.  It is bad bread etiquette, and resisting that temptation builds character. HA!

Celia, thanks so much for the thoughtful gift! Special friends make getting one year older “almost’ painless…
;-)

ONE YEAR AGO: Almonds, a Cookbook Review

TWO YEARS AGO: Pumpkin Shrimp Curry

THREE YEARS AGO: In My Kitchen, April 2012

FOUR YEARS AGO: A Dutch Tiger

FIVE YEARS AGO: Banana Bread

 

SPRING HAS SPRUNG WITH SUZANNE GOIN!

Remember that decision of not getting new cookbooks in 2015? I am actually proud of myself because I arrived almost at the end of March without caving. Only one cookbook purchase, which at some point I will talk about here. However, the universe conspired against me. In a perverse turn of events a certain good friend of mine sent me not one, not two, but TWELVE cookbooks. I’ll now pause so that you can close your jaw and regain your composure. Better yet, they were in electronic format, so no trees were harmed. One of the gifts was Susanne Goin’s The A.O.C. Cookbook  which I fell in love with instantly. I do own her other book, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, and have been to that restaurant in Los Angeles twice during our sabbatical a few years ago.  The place has a wonderful vibe, and fantastic food with a country French feel centered on local ingredients.  I was not at all surprised by how much I loved the recipes she chose to feature in A.O.C. Plus, what a clever name for a wine bar, I definitely want to stop by next time we are in L.A.

The recipe I chose to inaugurate the book perked my interest because it’s simple but at the same time quite sophisticated. The different components go together perfectly, the dish satisfies without being heavy, it’s all about balance, harmony, but with contrasting flavors and textures. I think it reflects well what Suzanne’s cooking is all about. Plus, it really looks like spring on a plate…  What could be more appropriate now?

Mustard Grilled Chicken AOC

 

MUSTARD-GRILLED CHICKEN WITH SPINACH, ALMONDS, PECORINO AND SOFT EGG
(slightly modified from Suzanne Goin’s A.O.C.)
(published with permission from Suzanne Goin & Random House LLC)

(for 6 servings)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup finely diced shallots
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
½ cup dry vermouth
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
7 extra-large eggs
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon
6 large chicken legs with thigh attached, boned
1 extra-large egg yolk
1½ tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 lemon, for juicing
¾ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup slivered almonds
6 ounces baby spinach, cleaned and dried  (I used a baby spring mix)

1 recipe Mustard Breadcrumbs

1 recipe Pecorino Pudding

½ cup grated pecorino
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oven to 375°F.

For the chicken marinade, heat a small sauté pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Swirl in the butter, and when it foams, add the diced shallots and the thyme; sauté for about 2 minutes, until the shallots are translucent. Add the vermouth, and reduce by half. Transfer to a baking dish, and let cool a few minutes. Whisk in ½ cup Dijon mustard, 1 egg, the chopped tarragon, and a pinch of black pepper.

Place the chicken legs between two pieces of plastic wrap, and pound them with a mallet to an even ½-inch thickness. Remove from the plastic wrap, and slather the chicken with the marinade, making sure to coat both sides well. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Make the vinaigrette: Whisk the egg yolk in a small bowl with the remaining 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, the red-wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, ½ teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper. Slowly whisk in ¾ cup olive oil. Thin the vinaigrette with 1 teaspoon water or more if needed. Taste for balance and seasoning.

Light the grill 30 to 40 minutes before you’re ready to cook the chicken and take the chicken out of the refrigerator to let it come to room temperature. Spread the almonds on a baking sheet, and toast in the oven for 4 to 5 minutes, until they’re lightly browned and smell nutty.

Meanwhile, carefully lower the remaining six eggs into a pot of boiling water. Cook for exactly 6 minutes, and cool immediately in a bowl of ice water. When the eggs have cooled, peel them.

Place the spinach, half the almonds, and half the breadcrumbs in a large bowl. When the grill is ready, place the soft-cooked eggs in the oven to heat up.

Drizzle the chicken with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil, and place it on the grill skin-side down. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, rotating once or twice after a couple of minutes to get the skin crispy. (The chicken will stick to the grill at first, but it will eventually release.) When the skin side is nicely crisped, turn the chicken over, and cook for a few minutes on the other side, until it’s just cooked through.

Pour ½ cup of the mustard vinaigrette over the salad, and season with salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon. Toss well, and taste for balance and seasoning.

Spoon the hot pecorino pudding onto the center of six dinner plates. Arrange the spinach salad on top of the pudding, and place the chicken on top. Carefully balance an egg on top of each piece of chicken. Drizzle with ¼ cup mustard vinaigrette, and sprinkle the remaining almonds and breadcrumbs and the grated pecorino over the top.

MUSTARD BREADCRUMBS
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1 teaspoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the oven to 375°F.

Place the breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the butter, and when it foams, whisk in the mustard, thyme, and parsley. Remove from the heat, let cool for a few minutes, and then pour the mustard butter over the breadcrumbs, tossing to coat them well. Transfer the breadcrumbs to a baking sheet, and toast them for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring often, until they’re golden brown and crispy.

PECORINO PUDDING
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1¾ cups whole milk
⅔ cup heavy cream
1 extra-large egg
1 extra-large egg yolk
1¼ cups grated Pecorino Romano
Kosher salt

Heat the oven to 350°F.

Heat a medium pot over medium heat for 1 minute. Add the butter, and when it foams, whisk in the flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, and cook for about 5 minutes, being careful not to let the flour brown. Slowly pour in the milk and cream, whisking constantly to incorporate it. The butter and flour will seize up and get pasty at first. Continue whisking vigorously as you add the liquid, and the mixture will become smooth. Cook for a few more minutes, until warm to the touch. Remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk the egg and egg yolk together in a small bowl. Slowly drizzle the eggs into the cream mixture, whisking continuously until combined. Stir in the cheese, and season with a heaping ½ teaspoon salt. Pour the mixture into an 8-by-6-inch (or equivalent) baking dish, and cover lightly with foil. Place the baking dish in a roasting pan, and add hot water to the pan until it comes halfway up the outside of the baking dish. Place the pan in the oven, and bake for about 1 hour, until the pudding is just set. If you make the pudding ahead of time, be sure to take it out of the refrigerator to reach room temperature. When it does, heat it in a 350°F oven for about 20 minutes, until it is heated through and starts to brown slightly on top.

ENJOY!

to print the recipes, click here

moussebefore

Comments: For the most part, my cooking style is quite simple, reflecting our desire to eat well, but keeping in perspective our work schedule. But on weekends it’s possible to devote a bit more time to prepare a nice menu, even if it’s just for the two of us, which was the case in this particular meal.  I took my time, doing all steps of the recipe at a leisurely pace, then assembled the dish in all its colorful glory!

I used chicken thighs instead of whole legs, considered de-boning them myself, but then went with what I found at the grocery store ready to use, boneless, skinless pieces. The marinade kept the pieces very moist, they stood well to grilling.  I more or less halved the whole recipe, but ended up making the full amount of the pecorino pudding, because I suspected we would love it as a side dish for another meal later. I was right, so if you are making this recipe just for you and your favorite person in the world, go for the full amount of pudding, it’s the same work for double rewards!


mousseThe Pecorino Pudding… absolutely wonderful on its own! 

 Another change I made was using slivered almonds instead of pine nuts. A few years ago I was getting ready to use pine nuts in a recipe and decided to munch on a couple after toasting. They were rancid, even though the bag was stored the freezer.  Have you ever tasted a rancid pine nut? My advice: do not. I know it’s silly to avoid them, but let’s say I’ve been very happy substituting slivered almonds, and did the same for this recipe. I simply did not want to run the risk of ruining our special dinner.

tosted

Please don’t cut corners and use store-bought bread crumbs. No bueno. Go the extra mile and toast your own bread crumbs, keeping them with a coarse texture. As we sat down and savored the meal, Phil said “this dish would be a star in the best Parisian bistrots”.   Mission accomplished, Sally pats herself on the back, although patting Suzanne’s back would be more appropriate. The egg yolk self-transforms into a luscious sauce that envelops the flavorful chicken, and the pecorino pudding underneath provides the exact amount of sharpness, but with a soft and pleasant texture. What a great combination of components!

All things considered, I’m in awe of restaurant chefs, sous-chefs, and prep cooks. Even though I prepared all the components ahead of time, things got pretty frantic close to the finish line. To think that in a restaurant they are able to pull this type of recipe non-stop, is really something! Whenever someone places an order, there they go assembling a perfectly poached egg, a perfectly cooked chicken, and making sure the presentation is flawless. I am stressed just thinking about it…

And now, time for a walk through The A.O.C. Cookbook

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Suzanne opened A.O.C. Wine Bar and Restaurant to mimic the atmosphere of the small wine bar at Lucques, where people would sit, eat hours d-oeuvres, have a great time while waiting for their tables. Her idea was to have a wine bar of sorts, in which people could order a few small dishes and informally share. Before you say “tapas bar”, let me assure you it is not at all the case, and it bothers Suzanne when people insist on defining A.O.C. that way.  Think about more elaborate, bigger dishes that happen to be perfect to share.

As usual for my cookbook reviews, instead of giving you a complete list of recipes, I will offer my favorites of each chapter.

Chapter One: Cheese
A delicious collection of recipes, my favorites probably Bacon-Wrapped Dates with Parmesan, and Torta Gorgonzola with Walnuts in Honey. As Suzanne points out, honey and blue cheese are a match made in heaven, adding walnuts brings the additional textural component that fits right in.

Chapter Two: Charcuterie
I pretty much drooled over each and every recipe, but the Chicken Liver Crostini with Pancetta went to the top of my list, after reading that Suzanne’s intention was to “make the most delicious chicken-liver pate I could”. Cannot beat that endorsement. I also would love to try my hands at the Pork Rillettes with Pickled Onions and Cornichons, because rillette was one of the appetizers I ordered most often while living in Paris. Each place seems to have a slightly different take on it, not only as far as spices, but the way the meat is prepared and shredded.

Chapter 3: Salads
This chapter as well as all others coming after it will be divided by season. Growing up in Brazil, where seasons are not well-marked, it took me a while to adapt to the idea of seasonal cooking. But, it’s something I embraced and now appreciate when a cookbook focus on it.

My favorites of this chapter would be Sweet Pea Pancakes with Dungeness Crab and Red Onion Crème Fraîche…  Fattoush Salad with Fried Pita, Cherry Tomatoes, Crumbled Feta and Sumac… and Roasted Kabocha Squash with Dates, Parmesan and Pepitas.  You can see how Suzanne is very creative with her salads, and you could order two or three of them to make a complete meal, no meat needed. Remember? A.O.C. is all about sharing, a place that seems perfect to go with a few friends.

Chapter 4: Fish
Maybe my favorite chapter? Not sure, but a serious contender.  Sharing a few favorites: Alaskan Halibut with Carrot Puree, Asparagus, and Pistou… Wild Salmon with Spinach Soubise, Wilted Leeks, and Meyer Lemon Butter (OMG!)… Black Bass with Fennel Puree, Winter Citrus, and Green Olives in Green Harissa.  Notice how long the names of her recipes are? Well, at least you know exactly what you will be enjoying!

Chapter 5: Meat
I am of course very partial to the opening recipe, Mustard-Grilled Chicken with Spinach, Pine Nuts, Pecorino, and Soft Egg, which was featured in this post.  But then there’s also Lamb Paillards with Risotto Carbonara, English Peas, and Chanterelles… or her Grilled Chicken with Fresh Garbanzos, Corn, and Chile-Cumin Butter. If you are feeling adventurous, consider her Braised Duck with Madeira, Kale Stuffing, and Dates. Sounds like heaven to me! If pork is more what you are looking for, she has a great looking recipe for Pork Confit with Caramelized Apples and Cabbage in Red Wine.

Chapter 6: Vegetables
I really enjoyed reading her introduction of this chapter. Quoting from the book: “I feel I walk the line of respecting and showing off the inner beauty and inherent deliciousness of the vegetables, while also giving them a little dressing up or a nudge of sexiness and surprise”.  That says it all. She really shines in her preparation of veggies.

My favorites, pretty hard to pick: English Peas with Saffron Butter and Pea Shoots,… Crushed Corn Pudding with Poblanos and Queso Fresco… Balsamic-Glazed Brussels Sprouts with Pancetta… and Turmeric-Spiced Root Vegetables with Kaffir Lime Yogurt and Mint Chutney (OMG #2).

Chapter 7: From the Wood-burning Oven
Must quote her again: “I know intellectually that you can work wonders with plastic bags and vacuum packing; I have tasted sublime creations made with liquid nitrogen, meat glue, and other such things; but personally I want to get my hands in the food, I want to feel and smell the wood burning”.  (this is all music to Sally’s ears…)

My favorites of this chapter: Brioche with Prosciutto, Gruyère, and Sunny-side-up Egg… Roasted Cauliflower with Curry and Red Vinegar… Lamb Meatballs with Spiced Tomato Sauce, Mint, and Feta.

Chapter 8: Desserts
For someone who doesn’t have much of a sweet tooth, it’s odd but true: all recipes appealed to me. For instance, her opening Spring option: Frozen Meyer Lemon Meringue Tart with Gingersnap Crust and Blueberry Compote (OMG#3)…  her Chocolate Mascarpone Tart with Pistachios in Olive Oil…  or her Sticky Toffee Pudding with Blood Orange, Tangerine, and Whipped Crème Fraîche. But, if you are going for the kill, take a deep breath and imagine this: Vanilla Pot de Crème with Dulce de Leche, Marcona Almonds, and a Layer of Chocolate. Ok, I am officially done. If you are not howling in gastronomic pleasure by now, there’s something wrong, and well, I feel a little sad for you  :-)

Chapter 8: A.O.C. Cheese
A list of all cheeses you can find at her wine bar. Mind blowing. If you are expecting that boring list found in so many books, “hard cheeses, soft cheeses, blue cheeses”, with a few meager examples of each, be ready to be absolutely amazed.  She lists hundreds of types of cheese, most of them I have never heard of. They are divided by type of milk, and country of origin. Since I’ve never met a cheese I did not like, I bet I would welcome any of them at my table.  Each cheese has a reasonably detailed summary of its “personality”.  A real masterpiece of a chapter to close a great cookbook. A.O.C. brings good  balance between short stories, Suzanne’s thoughts on food, and the detailed recipes are paired with excellent photography:  the icing on the cake.

Suzanne, thanks for giving me permission to publish one of your recipes, and I look forward to visiting A.O.C. in person in the near future!

NOTE ADDED AFTER PUBLICATION:  I just learned that a very dear employee of Suzanne Goin suffered a horrible accident, and Suzanne is asking for help raising money for her medical expenses.  If you can help, visit this pagewhere you can also get more details about it.

ONE YEAR AGO: Chai Brownies

TWO YEARS AGO:  A Small Tribute to a Big Man

THREE YEARS AGO: Still got stout?

FOUR YEARS AGO: The Real Vodka Sauce

FIVE YEARS AGO: Spring Rolls on a Spring Day

 

 

 

VENTING ON VACCINES

Disclaimer #1:  This is not a food-related post

Disclaimer #2: I am taking my gloves off

Few things upset me more than the disturbing movement to stop vaccinating babies and kids. For a while now I’ve been debating whether I should write about it. Having watched an episode of Frontline the other day that dealt with the subject, and almost succumbing to cardiac arrest while screaming at the screen, I decided I cannot stay silent any longer. First of all, let me get this straight out up front: I have a doctoral degree in Biochemistry, three years post-doctoral experience in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Stanford, and I taught Microbiology to Medical students in Brazil at Universidade de Sao Paulo. I also worked for about 10 years on basic research into the biotechnology of vaccines.   I’m not bragging, but I am stating my experience, that hopefully will convince you to read what I want to say,  especially if you are part of the non-vaccination crowd.  And, by the way, if you are part of this group YOU ARE WRONG. There is no equivocation or debate on this point: the truth is not subject to a democratic process.  It’s not a matter of opinion, personal choice or civil liberties. It’s a matter of what is right versus what is wrong. What is responsible versus what is reckless.  The anti-vaccine position cannot be intellectually or ethically justified, and it is morally wrong.  When the health of children is at stake, then morality becomes an issue.

I don’t criticize anyone for ignorance of a topic (and this is a complicated topic), but a parent doesn’t have the right to put the lives of their, or anyone else’s children at risk because of their ignorance.  If you are anti-vaccine, then you are ignoring over 100 years of research on immunology and microbiology.   I am not going to mince words here, because this is a subject that is too serious to mince words:  the anti-vaccine movement is socially irresponsible.  Anti-vaccine advocates deny both the mortal risk of bacterial or viral infections, and by their actions they potentially commit a crime: the crime of resurrecting horrible diseases that would otherwise, and should otherwise,  stay as nightmares of the past.

measles-cases-616px

Measles cases from 2001 through 2015: from this source

 

If you watch the Frontline episode you’ll become acquainted with a young mother from Ashland, OR, who is clueless about microbiology and immunology.  This woman, who has a doctorate in English, was so mistaken in her arguments that it shocked me that the producers devoted more than a few minutes to her reasoning. I will use her “arguments” to highlight the crucial points of this discussion.  I’m quoting from memory, because I can’t bring myself to watch the show again, but even if the words are not exactly what she said, I  preserved the gist.  You can trust me on that point, and you can watch the show if you’d like to double check it.

“Why are we vaccinating kids today with so many vaccines, when previous generations had fewer vaccines and they were ok?” Oh, dear…  I could answer that with three simple words: BECAUSE WE CAN. Because more vaccines became available over the past two generations.  Because we should immunize with even more vaccines as they become available. Because no one born in this country after the 80’s should risk contracting measles. Or mumps. No one born after the 60’s should contract poliomyelitis, tetanus, or diptheria; no one born after the 80’s must face bacterial meningitis.  Or any other infectious disease for which a vaccine is available.

“Why would I vaccinate my young girl against a sexually transmitted disease (Human Papilloma Virus, HPV) when obviously she’s not sexually active and won’t be for many years?” Oh, dear…  If you bothered to study Immunology 101, a subject that you are so quick to misrepresent, you would learn that immunity begins during the first encounter with a pathogen (or its selected components), but must be reinforced (boosted) by subsequent encounters, which explains why some vaccines are repeated over   months or years. It’s all part of generating special cells called “memory B-cells” that stay in the bloodstream in very low numbers, awaiting another encounter with the specific pathogen (or in this case a small part of the pathogen, loosely defined as an “antigen”) to show up. Once in contact with the pathogen again, memory B cells  proliferate and generate a huge quantity of neutralizing antibodies that will prevent you from becoming sick.  Another, more complex “arm” of the immune response, “cellular immunity,” also plays a role in protection against infection, but let’s not get too technical.  Different vaccines promote immunity for different amounts of time, and require different doses and boosting schedules. In the case of the HPV vaccine,  preteens develop a stronger response than teens and young adults, and for HPV vaccines to take effect they must be given prior to exposure to the virus.  That’s why doctors recommend vaccinating young kids, as early as 9 years-old.  They do not imply that your daughter could be having sex at age 9. It’s all about optimization of immunity.  And let’s not forget that infections with HPV lead to higher rates of cervical and ovarian cancer later in life, so the vaccine has a purpose and  a positive effect on human health.

EPPUR SI MUOVE
(Galileo Galilei, 1663)

“Why do we need to vaccinate against polio? There is no more polio around!”  The expression on her face was one of “I am so clever, see how I gotcha with that?” You know what her remark made me think of? Someone who might have asked 200 years ago: “…is the Earth moving around the sun? Of course it’s  not!  I would feel it moving if it moved. I am so clever, see how I gotcha with that?”  The reason we do not see polio in the US anymore is simple: comprehensive vaccination reduced the number of people who may contract the virus and spread it.  Is a vaccine 100% efficient? No, such vaccines don’t exist because the complexities of each individual immune system may prevent some people from responding to a particular vaccine.  If a small fraction of the population is not protected, it’s usually OK, even when the virus is around, and chances are no one will get sick.  So, if someone comes to New York from Pakistan (where polio is still endemic), bringing with him/her the virus in an airplane,  and walks around in the city for a couple of weeks, it’s likely that no one will contract the disease because the vaccination campaign started in the 1960’s provided solid immunity to almost all New Yorkers.   Now, suppose instead that the person lands in Portland, OR,  and travels to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, OR, where the percentage of un-vaccinated individuals is much higher. In Ashland a bunch of people (full of good intentions, but clueless about the relationship between immunology and health) are busy waving flags and demanding that their kids be spared from dictatorial, mandatory vaccinations. You will have a much, much higher chance that some innocent un-vaccinated child  will contract polio in Ashland.  And because many kids are not immunized in that community, it could mark the beginning of a polio outbreak.   For heaven’s sake, what would Louis Pasteur say about this if he could   witness it all? At first he would be thrilled to see that the work he started in France with rabies and fowl cholera paid off:  vaccination saved millions of lives, improved the quality of life of people all over the world, and at a very low cost.  But then he’d be shocked, frustrated, and angry to realize the lack of a vaccine against arrogance, stubbornness and social irresponsibility. And, malheureusement, that the internet is an equal-opportunity forum that allows stupid ideas to thrive. Especially if they are fueled by human emotions. More on that later.

“Why is it now a problem to get sick? Disease is a natural thing, people should get sick and allowed to recover.  Vaccines are not natural.”  Oh, dear… This statement almost made me lose it. The sheer absurdity of it, the social irresponsibility, the disconnection with the reality of what such diseases cause to human beings.   The words hurt my ears.  But, that’s what she (and other anti-vaccine folks) advocate. Poliomyelitis causes permanent paralysis in 10 to 20% of the people infected. In the house next to mine in São Paulo lived a couple with two kids.  One of them contracted polio as a young child and was permanently confined to a wheelchair.  I remember seeing him on sunny days being brought by his mom to the balcony so he could sit and watch the street.   One of my husband’s best friends, here in the US in Lansing MI, had polio.  He couldn’t run; he walked with steel leg braces and two steel canes, one in each hand.  He was forever sentenced to watching all the play, sports and games of his friends and classmates.   Some images are hard to forget. But nowadays we don’t see these cases anymore.  Still, you don’t have to see them to be horrified by the prospect of a young child paralyzed for life.  And that is what the statement “let them get sick” can do to someone.  Today, in 2015, measles kills 400 people worldwide per day. It’s a death that affects the un-vaccinated rich and poor alike, the well-fed and the malnourished. I can’t comprehend an intelligent person advocating “let them get sick.”  I am the one who’s sick: sick and tired of people equating “natural” with “good.”  Sure, it a potentially good concept, but also potentially naive, and in the case of the anti-vaccine movement, it’s a potentially deadly concept that borders on criminal.

Pertussis_loresBaby suffering from whooping cough – image from Wikimedia 

Now, to the heart of this matter. Why all of a sudden do we witness such a strong pull away from one of THE most beneficial practices in the history of human health, probably matched only by water treatment and antibiotics? It all started with autism and the suspicion that vaccination was responsible for the increase in cases of this horrible illness. To add fuel to the fire, a SINGLE article published in a scientific journal (The Lancet) in 1998 suggested a link between MMR immunization and autism. Many of the most vocal people against vaccination have autistic children, and some state that the onset of the symptoms coincided with their immunization.  One of the “celebrities” who is most aggressive at pushing this agenda is Jenny McCarthy.  I understand she has an autistic boy and and she believes that MMR vaccination caused his illness.  I sympathize with her and his suffering and struggles, as well as those of other parents and children, but that doesn’t make them right. THEY ARE WRONG.  The connection between autism and vaccination was bogus.  It was subsequently extensively studied by many independent groups of scientists in many different countries and laboratories.  Andrew Wakefield, the author of the infamous article connecting vaccination and autism, was rebuked for conflicts of interest,  had his paper retracted and was barred from practicing medicine in the UK.   Can you smell fraud?  The problem is that even in the light of comprehensive scientific evidence to the contrary (summarized here),  disproving ANY connection between vaccination and autism, the anti-vaccine advocates won’t budge. When the articles mounted disconnecting the measles vaccine as a culprit, they changed their focus to its mercury-containing component thimerosal, that was used in the formulation of some of the original MMR vaccines  (current vaccines, BTW do not contain any mercury). When thimerosal was also proven to have nothing to do with autism, they said that the problem was “… too many vaccines are given at the same time.”   The sad reality is this: no amount of scientific evidence is enough to convince those people that their kids did not develop the disease because of vaccination. In fact, in that Frontline episode one father screamed “I don’t give a (expletive) about their data!.” So, instead of accepting that for the time being it is unknown why autism is increasing, and that vaccination has zero impact on it, they follow their gut feelings. From watching the program and reading comments on the internet, I realize that anti-vaccine advocates resist logic and believe instead that scientists are for the most part unethical, and have some hidden financial agenda to hide problems with vaccination.  Nothing could be farther from the truth. Epidemiological studies do not lie:  the numbers are analyzed and correlations made or not made. Anti-vaccine advocates are potentially diverting the focus of scientists from research that may ultimately explain the increases in autism, because they insist like Ms. McCarthy  “we just want them to do the research that is needed.”   In their minds, “research that is needed” are studies that prove a connection they firmly believe in. Otherwise, they will ignore it and fight it. Gut feelings rule.  Fake publications, that are retracted, and the author stripped of his medical license, mean absolutely nothing.   Mr. Wakefield should go to trial because he is indirectly responsible for many preventable illnesses and deaths.

Final words on the importance of vaccination. When you are sick with a bacterial infectious disease, you can take antibiotics to get rid of it. The antibiotic will do good for you, but only you. The beauty of vaccination is that when a person is immunized then others share the benefits,  including individuals that are un-vaccinated. Think about newborns, about those undergoing cancer treatment, or suffering from immuno-suppression of some type. The mechanism behind this side-benefit is called “herd immunity”. When a large enough proportion of individuals in a population becomes immune to an infectious disease (either viral or bacterial), the disease will have difficulty spreading.  In other words, even those non-vaccinated persons get protection by the low probability of encountering the pathogen.  Now, what anti-vaccine advocates seem to think is that their kids don’t need to be vaccinated because other “fools” are doing it, so their kids will be OK by default.  However, herd immunity will not be maintained unless the proportion of immunized people is kept at the target level. This proportion is not hocus-pocus, it’s a carefully calculated number, based on the infectivity of each pathogen. The index used for this calculation is called “Reproductive Number” and reflects the measure of how many people can potentially be infected by a single sick individual. For measles, a highly contagious disease, this number is around 15. Mathematical calculations using the Reproductive Number show that for measles, a level of immunization of around 90 to 95% is required to sustain herd immunity.  Less than that, and the disease will not be kept at bay. You can read more about how the calculations are made by clicking here.

Using predictions of infectivity based on poliovirus, this is what The World Health Organization has to say:  “As long as a single child remains infected, children in all countries are at risk of contracting polio. Failure to eradicate polio from the last remaining strongholds could result in as many as 200,000 new cases every year, within 10 years, all over the world”.

When anti-vaccine advocates preach their illogical stance on this issue, they are acting irresponsibly. Some communities of the USA risk paying a huge price for accommodating such requests and making exceptions due to religious beliefs or gut feelings like  “vaccines cause autism.”  If a serious outbreak of measles, polio, or pertussis takes place, what will those folks say in their own defense? Will they finally admit to being wrong? What good will that do for young parents losing their babies? For kids dying or being affected forever?  If you are ready to go to the streets waving flags and acting hysterically against immunization, you better be ready to stand up and say “I helped create this episode of human suffering and debilitation” when a serious outbreak takes place.  And unfortunately, unless firm action is take by those authorities on the correct side of the issue, I’m afraid it will be just a matter of time before we see the ugly face of an outbreak, in cities like Ashland, OR.

 

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ARE YOU AFRAID OF CELERY ROOT?

If I had to choose a word to define my childhood and even teenage years, fear would be it. To name a few of my fears: darkness, sleeping alone, mirrors, clowns, dolls, sleepovers,  odd numbers (don’t ask), heights, cockroaches. There were many more, but let’s keep it simple, shall we? Glad to report that just as my pickiness to eat, those fears are a thing of the past. Except heights and cockroaches. The former I still try to work on, cockroaches are out of question. I am talking about the tropical kind, with their scary dimensions and uncanny ability to fly across a room. I shiver just to think about them. Growing up, I don’t remember ever seeing  celery root in our home, but being the easily scared self I was,  I bet I would be afraid of it too. It does look like a large potato under the spell of black magic. Something that belongs in the setting of Hansel and Gretel’s tale (which as a matter of fact gave me nightmares for months after reading it as a child).

ingredients
But, don’t let celery root (aka celeriac) looks prevent you from enjoying it. Under that harsh appearance, lies a beautiful white entity, with a flavor vaguely reminiscent of celery, but much more complex.  Yes, it is a bit hard to peel, and if you are not careful a finger or two could be hurt in the process, but keep calm, peel on, and make soup before the weather gets too hot.  Too hot. What a silly statement. Sorry, sometimes I make no sense.

Parsnip&CeleriacSoupCELERIAC AND PARSNIP SOUP WITH TOASTED COCONUT
(from the Bewitching Kitchen)

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium celery rib, diced
1 shallot, minced
1 large celeriac, peeled and cut in chunks
3 to 4 medium-sized parsnips, peeled and cut in chunks
salt and black pepper
dash of nutmeg
4 cups water
lemon juice to taste

Heat the olive oil in a pan large enough to accommodate all ingredients. Sautee the shallot with the celery until fragrant and shallots become translucent. Season lightly with salt and pepper.  Add the pieces of parsnips and celeriac, saute for a few minutes, moving them around.

Add water, making sure it cover the veggies. Bring to a boil, cook until parsnips and celeriac pieces are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer the veggies with some of the water to a blender or food processor, blend until smooth. You might need to do it in two batches, being careful while processing hot liquids (using a blender keep the lid open and cover the top with a kitchen cloth).  Use only enough water to get the consistency you like.

Return the processed soup to the pan on low heat, adjust consistency with the reserved water if needed. Season with nutmeg, add a squeeze of lemon juice, taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve with coconut flakes (unsweetened) sautéed in olive oil or butter, lightly seasoned with salt, or with any other topping you like.

ENJOY!

to print the recipe, click here

composite
This was a delicious soup, the lemon juice at the end does that citric magic I am very fond of. If I had a dollar bill for every time I use lemon juice in my cooking, I’d be rich. You can make this soup a bit more luscious adding a touch of cream if you want, or using chicken stock instead of water, but I often like to keep things simple and let the flavor of the veggies take the spotlight.  I am not quite sure about the nutmeg. I love nutmeg with cauliflower and in bechamel sauce, but I might omit it in this soup next time. Maybe I used too heavy a hand, I thought the flavor was a bit too strong. Anyway, if you make it, go easy with it and taste it.

Before I say goodbye, here is a small collection of recipes to help you lose any residual fear of celery root… just in case you need it  ;-)

SWEET AND SOUR CELERIAC SEPHARDIC STYLE, from Tasty Eats

CELERY ROOT, APPLE AND WALNUT SALAD from Cooking and Traveling in Italy and Beyond

CELERY ROOT LETTUCE WRAPS from The Wimpy Vegetarian

CELERY ROOT REMOULADE, from Kitchen Riffs

FRENCH LENTILS WITH CARAMELIZED CELERY ROOT, from Martha Stewart

POACHED EGGS OVER CELERY ROOT LATKES, from Fresh Start

POTATO AND CELERY ROOT ROSTI, from Martha Stewart

I hope you enjoyed this small tour on celeriac possibilities, and if you are a celeriac virgin, you will give it a try in the near future. Nothing to fear, I promise!

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