The Free Range Gourmet Free range thoughts on the finest ingredients, cuisine, and fine dining in Hawaii.
Free 

Range Gourmet

  Local Hawaii ingredients used with an international flair



                   Email: nanette@freerangegourmet.com

Sunday, July 24, 2011

 

Sunday morning: Challah French toast


by Nanette Geller

When we lived in Brooklyn, I stood in line outside the local Jewish bakery on Fridays for fresh challah, hot and fragrant from the oven. Even in winter, it was worth the wait. The shiny, dark brown crust hid a tender, golden crumb that was better than cake.

Challah is a lot like France’s luxuriously rich brioche and Hawaii’s beloved Portuguese sweet bread. All are made with lots of eggs. But challah is made without butter or milk, which in a kosher home would make it unusable with meat.

In Hawaii, sweet bread is the bread of choice for French toast. Since moving here, we’ve indulged often in sweet bread French toast, both at home and in restaurants. But good as sweet bread is, challah is even better.

Compared to sweet bread, challah’s crust is browner and the crumb has more structure. Soak sweet bread in milk and eggs too long and it turns to mush. Challah can be soaked through and not fall apart.

I’ve bought challah a couple of times from This Is It, the bagel bakery on Cook Street. It’s available only on Friday mornings, and sells out quickly. A couple of weeks ago, I learned that Ba-Le/La Tour Bakehouse has started supplying challah to Whole Foods, both in Kahala and Kahalui. It’s baked Thursday night only, for delivery on Friday. It’s not available at La Tour Café or the farmers markets where their breads are sold, but I was able to order one for pick up at the KCC market on Saturday.

Saturday evening, I cut off the narrow ends to eat with dinner. At two days old, it was no longer perfectly fresh but still had a satisfying flavor and texture. But it really didn’t matter. What we wanted was challah French toast, and by Sunday morning the slightly dried bread was perfect for soaking up the batter.

 

french toast

 

The special Free Range Gourmet touch? Orange juice in the egg batter. We love the bright citrus taste and it adds just enough sweetness without being cloying.

For three thick slices of challah I used three eggs (from Blue Lotus, of course) beaten with about three tablespoons of orange juice and three tablespoons of milk, and seasoned with salt, pepper, cardamom and Big Island vanilla.

The challah was soaked in the batter until it was completely saturated, then fried in about a tablespoon of butter over moderate heat until it was cooked through and beautifully browned on both sides. I cooked the slices whole, then cut them in half to serve.

Ceylon cinnamon, real maple syrup, sliced apple banana (SKA Tropicals). Vietnamese cinnamon is on the table as well. So is calamansi (SKA, not pictured) to squeeze over. Not on the table: butter.

Yee’s Farm Golden Glow mango (Made in Hawaii).

Caffè Americano made with Koko Crater Coffee’s Maika’i espresso.

I love Sunday mornings!





Saturday, July 16, 2011

 

Vichyssoise: Elegant, easy and not so rich


by Nanette Geller

Larry loves Vichyssoise, a rich, suave cold soup of leek and potatoes. For all its elegance, it is rooted in French peasant cooking. It starts with a base of Potage Parmentier,  which at its simplest can be made with just leeks, potatoes, water and salt, simmered till tender and enriched before serving with just a touch of cream or butter. Pureeing is optional.

For Vichyssoise, the water is usually replaced with chicken stock and the chilled, pureed soup is enriched with cream. Lots of cream. Ok for an occasional indulgence, but not exactly everyday fare.

Yukon Gold potatoes are more flavorful than the russet potatoes called for in most recipes. When Milner Farm has wonderful Yukon Golds from Twin Bridge Farms on the same day that Pit Farm has their vibrantly fresh leeks, I like to make a treat for Larry.

I started with Julia Child’s basic recipe for Potage Parmentier. Equal parts peeled, sliced potatoes and trimmed, sliced leeks. Cover with water, salt to taste, and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Mash or puree. At this point, it’s already a delicious hot soup even without the addition of a bit of cream.

Blenders turn mashed potatoes to a gluey mess, but work ok on potatoes when there’s liquid. I use my immersion blender right in the cooking pot. It’s easier and less mess than a regular blender.

 

vichisoise

 

Now to turn this peasant soup into gourmet fare.

Chill thoroughly. It will thicken a bit. At this stage it will keep for several days in the refrigerator, so I make enough to serve two or three times.

When ready to serve, dilute with milk to the texture of heavy cream.

Blend in about 1 teaspoon of crème fraiche per serving (optional but recommended).

It’s not quite as rich-tasting as an authentic Vichyssoise, but it’s still delicious.

It’s amazing how much more luxurious it tastes served in an elegant glass.



 

Notes:

Leeks often have quite a bit of dirt between the layers. I’ve found that Pit Farm’s leeks are generally pretty clean, but they should still be carefully washed. Here’s a good description of how to trim, cut and clean them.

The immersion blender is one of my favorite kitchen tools. I hardly ever bother with the regular blender anymore.

I stick with water instead of chicken stock because I want to showcase the pure taste of the fresh vegetables. Feel free to use stock if you prefer.

I use crème fraiche instead of heavy sweet cream. We like the slight tang and rich mouth feel. It also keeps much longer in the refrigerator. Since I use cream only occasionally, and in small amounts, sweet cream spoils long before I can use it up.







Tuesday, July 12, 2011

 

Penne alla Norma


by Nanette Geller

Pasta alla Norma is a classic Sicilian eggplant and tomato dish created in the 19th century. It was supposedly named in honor of  the Sicilian composer Vincenzo Bellini's enormously popular opera "Norma."  Although sometimes made with spaghetti or other pastas, it is most commonly made with penne.

American recipes sometimes call for fresh ricotta, a soft, creamy product which is universally available here. In Italy, however, it is made with ricotta salata, which is sheep’s milk ricotta that has been salted, pressed and aged. It is a little like feta, but firmer and less salty. It can be grated, shredded or crumbled, and gives the final dish a very different flavor and texture than fresh ricotta. While not available everywhere, I have found it at Kokua, Foodland, and Whole Foods. It’s worth seeking out. In addition to Penne alla Norma I use it frequently for other vegetable-based pastas. Crumbled sheep's milk feta would probably be a better substitute than fresh ricotta and is more readily available than ricotta salata.

Where I do break with tradition is in preparing the eggplant. It is usually sautéed in lots of olive oil, or even deep fried. I prefer to cut the eggplant in thick slices, brush lightly on both sides with olive oil, then broil until the outside is brown and slightly crisp, and the inside is tender. Cut into bite-size pieces and set aside. It can even be made ahead and refrigerated.

 

penne alla norma 1

 

Start the sauce by sautéing onion in olive oil with a pinch of salt. I happened to have a little leftover celery and red  bell pepper, so I added them.

Two things missing: I was out of garlic and fresh chilies. Substituted dried chili flakes, left out the garlic. No problem.

When the aromatics are lightly browned, add a can of diced tomatoes (juice and all). Simmer uncovered about 15 to 20 minutes.

I added fresh ground black pepper, a couple of bay leaves, and a good shake of Ceylon cinnamon with the tomatoes. The cinnamon is my own variation – I like Ceylon cinnamon in tomato sauces. It’s not that outrageous in a Sicilian dish, there’s a lot of Moorish influence in Sicilian cooking.

Mint is also my own variation, added as a fragrant garnish instead of basil. It goes well with both eggplant and tomatoes, and keeps within the exotic Sicilian/Moorish theme.



Meanwhile, bring the pasta water to a boil. Add plenty of salt and throw in the pasta. Time it to drain about a minute before it reaches al dente. We’ve switched to whole wheat pastas for robust tomato sauces and actually enjoy the nutty flavor.

When you drain the pasta, reserve some of the starchy, salty cooking water.

 

penne alla norma 2

 

Add the pasta and eggplant to the sauce. Stir gently. Add pasta cooking water as needed. The starch in the water helps bring the sauce together.

Continue cooking until the pasta is al dente, adding more of the reserved cooking water if it gets too thick. Taste for seasoning.

Remove from the heat. Stir in shredded ricotta salata and torn-up mint. You can add a little extra virgin olive oil as well.

After plating, top with more cheese and mint.


 

The eggplant was a beautiful young specimen from Milner farm, firm and almost seedless. Onion, celery and red pepper from Pit Farm. Mint from SKA.





 

Tummy ache? Maybe it’s not the flu, could be the sushi


by Larry Geller

I walked past one of those chain sushi restaurants downtown just before lunch time yesterday, and I have to tell you, I suddenly really wanted some. But no.

One thing I love about Hawaii is that we can easily get many of the foods we came to love while living in Japan. It’s great to be able to buy locally made natto in almost any supermarket. For lunch, there is a wide variety of Asian dishes available in plate lunches. And yes, there is something like Japanese sushi available from little franchise shops everywhere.

In Japan we loved sushi. We could afford the best, and we had the advantage of being able to read restaurant reviews in Japanese. We also knew people who knew people, if you know what I mean, which is important to get into the best places.

But in Hawaii? Watch out. Sushi, of all foods, needs to be fresh and kept properly. If you’re not eating the fish, some little microbe is.

Now read this to see one reason why we don’t eat sushi here:

There are more than 5,800 places to eat on Oahu but only 10 health inspectors to check them all.  Of the restaurants they do inspect 70 percent have violations.  That's much higher than the rest of the country.

"It's not surprising at all," said Peter Oshiro, Department of Health, Sanitation Branch Supervisor.  "Right now we're at almost one inspection almost every two years so we're not even close to where we're supposed to be and that's the result you're going to see in the field a lot of violations."

[HawaiiNewsNow, Behind the Counter Second Serving: Inspectors hope changes will clean up food industry, 11/18/2010]

So that sushi restaurant I passed likely hasn’t been inspected once in over two years.

The same article mentioned the Chinatown rat situation:

Last year in Chinatown rats were seen crawling all over produce in a market.  Despite that discovery there still isn't a single inspector that checks the area on a regular basis.

I can tell you a thing or two about those rats, of course. Our Department of Health would not approve overtime for inspectors to go out at night and check for rats even after the video was posted.

But back to sushi. If 70 percent of restaurants have violations, how can we trust that little sushi shop to properly care for the fish?

We can’t. Be warned.

For me, it’s a big disappointment not being able to indulge whenever I crave a bit of raw fish on my way through downtown.

Oh, if you like a certain pancake restaurant, keep your eye on the little pitcher they use to bring milk for your coffee. Watch what happens to it when they clean off a table. Does it get washed with the other dirty dishes? No. It is put back next to the coffee machine. I’m guessing that the pitchers may not be washed all day. Suppose some little kid sneezes into one….    ugh.

I reported it to the DOH, but that was over a year ago and the situation is unchanged. I’m going to report it again, but thought I’d let you know about this one, just in case you like those special sourdough pancakes as much as I do.

Welcome to Hawaii, APEC 2011 delegates. At least the water is safe for you to drink.

 




Sunday, July 10, 2011

 

Sunday morning: Apple pizza


by Nanette Geller

Yes, apple pizza. For breakfast. We do like to mix it up on Sundays!

Larry’s the baker chez Free Range Gourmet. He makes the pizza dough and shapes it, ready for me to top and bake.

 

apple pizza

 

Lots of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, coarsely ground black pepper, and a light sprinkle of Ceylon cinnamon.

Sliced Granny Smith apples. We like the tartness, plus they don’t turn to mush when cooked.

Brush with just a little melted butter (optional).

Sprinkle lightly with more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and a little raw sugar.

Bake on a pizza stone preheated to 500 degrees. This one took about 12 minutes but start checking after about 8 minutes.

Let sit a couple of minutes for the topping to set up. Long enough to grab a photo.

Cut into wedges and enjoy with Caffè Americano (espresso diluted with hot water). Thanks to the Parmigiano-Reggiano and pepper, it’s savory as well as sweet. It would be equally at home in the late afternoon with a glass of Prosecco.



If I had Italian sausage on hand, I’d have scattered some in between the apples – just enough to be a salty/savory contrast to the apples. I’ve sometimes torn up a couple of slices of Prosciutto di Parma to tuck between the apple slices. It becomes crispy and delicious, a texture as well as flavor contrast with the apples.





Saturday, July 09, 2011

 

It’s already nattō day in Japan


by Nanette Geller

I was planning to serve nattō tomorrow for nattō day, but since it’s already 7/10 in Japan I decided to go ahead and make nattō soba for dinner. We both love soba, and cold nattō soba is one of our favorites.

 

natto soba 1

 

Cold soba and broth topped with nattō, okra, grated daikon, finely sliced green onion, and finely julienned shiso.

The nattō is lightly chopped.

Grated ginger, grated daikon, and green onion to be added as desired

 



 

natto soba 2

 

Mix with chopsticks and it’s ready to slurp.

After we’d finished the soba, we added some hot soba cooking water (soba-yu) to the nattō and broth remaining in the bowl. This makes a light soup to finish the meal.

 







Friday, July 08, 2011

 

7/10 is nattō day in Japan. A good day to enjoy stinky, sticky, delicious fermented soybeans!


by Nanette Geller

I love the Japanese penchant for numerical puns. Seven can be pronounced “na” and ten can be “to” so 7-10, “na-to,” becomes the excuse for “nattō” day. That means our dinner this Sunday will definitely feature nattō.

When we moved to Japan, Larry’s company sent us to Berlitz for private lessons. Our teachers quickly learned that we already loved Japanese food. One teacher, a gourmet, delighted in trying to find something we wouldn’t eat. He described nattō, which we hadn’t heard of. He loved it, but was certain we would be put off by both the fermented smell and the sticky texture. One day Larry and I had dinner at a hole-in-the-wall place where we ordered a set meal. One dish was small beans. Smelly. Long, slimy threads that stuck to our chopsticks. Nattō! The next day I proudly told the teacher that he was wrong. We loved nattō. Hey, my mom was French. I’d been eating stinky cheese my whole life. After that, he gave up trying to find a traditional Japanese food we wouldn’t enjoy.

The stinky cheese analogy is apt. If tofu is the soy equivalent of cottage cheese, then nattō is like a nice, ripe camembert.

Even in Japan, lots of people won’t eat nattō. It’s popular in the East and North (including Tokyo) but generally shunned in Western Japan (Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka). As the Wikipedia article notes, it’s typically served at breakfast, usually with a raw egg and shoyu (soy sauce) to mix in before pouring over hot rice. Despite the aggressive smell, it is highly digestible. With high protein and low fat, it’s a good way to start the day.

Although we enjoyed Japanese breakfasts when we stayed in Japanese inns, we most often ate nattō for dinner. And while it does go well with rice, it is equally at home with sake or beer. To serve with drinks, it is often combined with other items. The accompanying shoyu may be mixed with rice vinegar or tart citrus juice. There is often a garnish of thinly sliced green onion or other herb. A bit of hot mustard may be on the side for the diner to add to taste. The bite of the mustard and acid helps to tame the pungent flavor, while the herbs mediate the smell.

Izakaya (Japanese-style pubs) often serve either thin strips of raw squid or cubes of raw tuna mixed with nattō.

Probably my favorite accompaniment is grated daikon radish (daikon oroshi). But then, I love anything with daikon oroshi! We don’t find the nattō texture objectionable, but for people who do the daikon oroshi reduces the stickiness and tames the threads. After grating daikon, drain it to remove excess liquid.

When we moved to Hawaii, we were delighted to find that nattō is readily available, even in supermarkets. Imported nattō from Japan is available frozen, but we prefer the locally-produced Aloha or Maui brands. Here are two preparations which I served as part of Japanese dinners. Both went very well with sake.

 

ika natto

 

Frozen, thinly sliced squid is available at Don Quijote or Marukai. Here, it is arranged with separate piles of nattō and daikon oroshi to be mixed by the diner.

The dressing of grated ginger, shoyu and rice vinegar is underneath the main ingredients, to avoid discoloring the daikon. I advise against using the dressing which comes with the squid.

On top is julienned shiso (perilla) leaf.

 



 

okra natto

 

A similar preparation with okra. Oddly, the sliminess of the okra and the sliminess of the nattō seem to complement each other. This is Larry’s favorite nattō preparation.

I was delighted to find small, tender okra at Pit Farm. Most of the okra I find in Hawaii is older and tougher than okra in Japan, and doesn’t work as well for this preparation. Instead of steaming or blanching okra, which tends to increase the sliminess, I microwave them whole, covered, with just a splash of water. Cool quickly in ice water and pat dry before slicing. As you can see from the picture, they are very lightly cooked. You can click on the photo to enlarge it.

The daikon is mixed with finely julienned shiso.

The dressing (calamansi juice and shoyu) is underneath the other ingredients. Calamansi isn’t used in Japan but I find it’s a good substitute for sudachi, a small, tart citrus used for both juice and zest.






 

A hell of a good egg


by Nanette Geller

OK, technically, uova in purgatorio is eggs in purgatory, not hell. But then, I’m probably making it hotter than most Italians would. This is another of those classic dishes that come together quickly, using ingredients we usually have on hand, that winds up tasting like a special treat. 

 

uova in purgatorio

 

Start by sautéing an onion in olive oil with a pinch of salt, sliced if you like it chunky, diced if you prefer a smoother sauce. We like chunky. Have you noticed that practically everything I cook starts with sautéed onion? Here, I used a red onion from Pit Farm. I let it get medium brown before adding the rest of the aromatics, which don’t take as long.

It’s completely non-traditional, but I also like to add some minced fresh ginger (also from Pit), which I think goes really well with tomatoes. I added a couple of sliced Thai chilies (from Pit), but if you want less heat you could use something milder. If I’m out of fresh chilies I use crushed dry ones, or else add a spoonful of Chinese-style chili-garlic sauce together with the tomatoes.

Minced garlic, which burns easily, goes in after the other aromatics. When the garlic is fragrant I add a can of diced tomatoes (14 ounces for the two of us). Feel free to use crushed tomatoes for a smoother sauce. In goes a bay leaf and a couple of cinnamon leaves from Wailea Ag Group (or a good shake of Ceylon cinnamon). Freshly ground black pepper, taste for salt, cover and simmer. Cinnamon, like ginger, is my own variation.

After about 15 minutes, the whole apartment smells fantastic. This is when Larry magically appears in the kitchen to ask how long till dinner. Actually, the sauce can be prepared ahead to this point. I sometimes make extra and put half away for another night. If it’s too thin, just simmer uncovered for a few minutes. We like it pretty thick.

When we’re ready to eat, I slip a couple of eggs right into the hot sauce and simmer, covered, until the white is barely set and the yolk is still runny. This is a duck egg from Blue Lotus but chicken eggs are fine. Either way, for undercooked eggs I would only use very fresh eggs from a trusted source.

A nice extra touch is a lightly-toasted slice of crusty country-style bread (Ba-Le Bakery) placed under the egg and sauce. The chopped Italian parsley (Milner Farm) adds fresh flavor as well as looking pretty. Feel free to grate on some cheese at the table.

A simple salad, a glass of wine, more bread – heavenly!







  

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Email: nanette@freerangegourmet.com
Twitter: @freerangenan


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