Sunday, October 10, 2010

grape leaf pie

slice, missing
i think it's fair to say
that this may be one of the
oddest things i've made in
a long time. and you know,
i make some odd things.

six years ago, i was working
at the magazine, living by myself
in a tiny studio apartment and
needed to make a little more money.
i thought about it for a few months,
hesitant to add another job to
my busy schedule. but, when i found
out that the gym i already frequented
five days a week was in search of a
part timer, i jumped at the chance.
the job helped in two ways:
it gave me extra money.
it gave me a free gym membership.

at first, i struggled with my two
identities. it was hard waking up
early to go to the gym for myself,
come home, shower,
pack a bag, go to work,
drive as fast as i could back to the gym
and then dash into the small changing
room that i entered in heels
and dresses and emerged in sneakers,
workout pants and an old camp t-shirt.

but, before i knew it,
it was two years later. i was living
with larry in our two bedroom
apartment, enjoying the relationships
that i had made with the people who
attended the gym and still resenting having
to wake up at 7am every sunday morning
to open the gym, just as much as i disliked
not getting home until 9pm on monday
and tuesday nights.

and then, i decided to go to culinary school
full time and still keep my monday to friday job.
and, i made the decision that in spite of
the fact that i was putting myself into
thousands of dollars of debt, i had no choice
but to walk away from the little bit of money
that helped bridge the gap between
scared and making it.
i was quitting the gym.

telling my never-there boss was a breeze.
it was the gym-goers, who i had formed real
relationships with, that i was dreading addressing.
but, the gym goers, the ones who had spent
two years working out
while discussing recipes with me,
were wonderful
and supportive.

and one of them, linda, asked me a question
that i had never really thought of before,
but has stuck with me everyday since:
can you taste the recipe before you make it?
she elaborated, can you look at a recipe,
read the ingredients, the techniques
and know what you will
be tasting at the very end?

and, i know it sounds strange,
but every time i think of those two
weird transitional years in my life in which i
was food editor by day/gym something-or-other
at night, i think about linda and how
in the end, her question, forcing me to always
critically examine a recipe before making it,
made it all worth it.
lemon zest, basil, mint, walnuts, shallots
and that's why i had to make this
grape leaf pie. i read the headnote provided,
discussing how unusual of a recipe it was.
i read the ingredients,
a combination of:
greek yogurt,
toasted nuts,
lemon zest,
lemon juice
rice flour.
i read that i, the recipe-maker, was to
line the bottom of a dish with soaked
grape leaves, spread them with the
yogurt paste, cover them with more grape
leaves and after brushing with oil and
topping with panko, i was to bake the pie
and then cut it into wedges.
grape leaf-lined pan
folded over
and i, for the life of me, had no idea
what i would see when i peered into that
savory cake.

would it be firm? a solid piece that
cut into beautiful wedges? or would
it have only firmed slightly, still
holding onto some of that squish
that yogurt is famous for, the filling
oozing out of the sides of the slices? or,
after 40 minutes in the oven,
would it be a scoopable mess?
i didn't know. i didn't understand it.
the directions were easy enough.
just before throwing the cake pan
into the oven, i compared my pie to
the picture: it was the spitting image,
just unbaked. 40 minutes was perfect -
the pie came out with a crispy golden
brown top; the house smelled like
a greek restaurant. i stared at it for
10 minutes.
and then, i started to cut.
the top leaves crackled
and lifted from the filling. the bottom
leaves, more tender, sort of clung better.
the filling was sturdy, handling the knife
like a champ.

and still, i don't know how to describe it.
instead, i'll tell give you
this random collection of thoughts:

-the center of the pie was very firm.

-every time i think of something to compare it to,
i want to say that i reminded me a little bit of tempeh,
but i know that that would turn off people who are
anti-meat replacement products and possibly infuriate
tempeh lovers who once they try it, may think
that this pie is nothing like tempeh.

-if i didn't make it, i wouldn't have known that
there was yogurt inside, holding it all together.

-i wish that i had used more herbs.

-even though i thought that the perfect large
grape leaves would look beautiful on top, next
time i would use smaller ones. i think that they
would cover better and not be so hard to cut.

but, still, i liked it.
i know that's hard to accept,
what with me not really able to give
you any information and all.
but i did. it was light and filling
and unusual and actually reheated
pretty well the next day for lunch.

but, i maintain my stance:
this really may be one of the
oddest things i've made in
a long time.*
grape leaf pie
grape leaf pie
adapted from plenty
i followed the concept completely, but i did make changes based on what i like and what i had in the house: eliminating tarragon and parsley, keeping the mint and adding basil, throwing in two cloves of garlic, switching in chopped walnuts for pine nuts and reducing the oil and butter used. the original instructions said to make and bake in a shallow bowl. i opted to use an 8" cake pan, which worked well. i think.

also, the recipe calls for 20-25 grape leaves. i ended up using 12. i wish i had used more on top because as you can see in the picture, as they baked and shrunk a little bit, they exposed the filling. but, i still think the most i would have used was 16. use your judgement.

last thing. because it's so creamy, i always use fat-free greek yogurt. even though i'm sure the recipe intended for a full-fat yogurt to be used, i wanted to go with my normal pick, but i did have my doubts that it was the wrong move. luckily, the store was out, so i opted for 2%, which i think was fine.

15-25 grape leaves (see headnote)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 container (7 ounces) greek yogurt, plus more for serving (see headnote)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
3 tablespoons thinly sliced basil
3 tablespoons thinly sliced mint
1 lemon, grated and juiced
1/2 cup rice flour
3 tablespoons panko
salt and black pepper

heat oven to 375˚f.

place grape leaves in bowl; cover with boiling water. let sit 10 minutes. drain; dry well. using scissors, trim and discard any hard stalks on the bottom of the leaves.

in small skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat; add shallots. cook 7 minutes, or until just starting to turn light brown, adjusting heat, if necessary and stirring occasionally. add garlic; cook 1-2 minutes more, or until the shallots and garlic are both golden brown, stirring occasionally. remove from heat; let cool.

whisk together melted butter and remaining olive oil.

cover bottom and sides of 8-inch cake pan with grape leaves, overlapping slightly. using pastry brush, gently brush bottom of leaves with butter-oil mixture. set aside.

in bowl, stir together shallots, yogurt, walnuts, herbs, lemon zest, 1 tablespoon lemon juice and salt and pepper; taste and adjust, if necessary. stir in rice flour. using offset spatula, spread yogurt paste evenly in serving dish, making sure to get the filling all the way to the edges.

fold grape leaves evenly over top of filling. top with remaining grape leaves, overlapping slightly and covering well. brush gently with butter-oil mixture. sprinkle with panko; drizzle with remaining butter-oil mixture.

bake 40 minutes, or until leaves crisp and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. let sit at least 10 minutes. cut into wedges. serve with dollops of yogurt, if desired.**

*just as i finished writing this, larry came in and asked what i was blogging about. when i told him grape leaf pie, he said, that was good. when i looked at him, he said, yes, in retrospect, i liked it a lot. it's not that he hadn't eaten it or even complained about it. he just originally had the same what-is-this? reaction that i did.

**i picked up an extra 7 ounce container of yogurt to serve on the side. while i planned to just dollop it, i had a last minute change of heart, squeezing in lemon juice and adding chopped mint and basil. i'm very glad i went that route. i think it added a very necessary something to the pie.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

kale and pumpkin seed risotto

pumpkin seeds
when we first decided to buy
this house, one of the things i
was most excited about was
the kitchen. yes, it was
painted four colors, each one
worse than the last. no,
it was not as large as i would
have liked. and, no, it did
not come stocked with
designer up-to-date appliances.

but, the wooden cabinets were high,
the counter space was plentiful
and it was hard not to notice the
three huge windows.
our old apartment boasted one tiny
brick-facing piece of glass
on the complete opposite
side of the kitchen workspace.
my first thought?
finally, i can get some good pictures.

but, people.
this kitchen is full of deception.
how did we not realize that there
is only one very dim, very yellow
light in the entire room?
the windows offer little help.
it's hard enough to
see the food when we cook.
taking pictures? well, unless
i decide to quit my job and
cook every meal in the middle
of the day, they're kind of a joke.

i find myself rushing home,
trying to catch the last moments
of sunlight and learning that even
when there's dimming daylight
outside, it's still too dark.
lacinato kale
this kale?
i took at least 30 pictures in
six different places in the kitchen.
this, standing directly in front of the window,
is the best of the bunch,
(see my neighbor's pathway
blurry in the background?).
i hoped that maybe my eyes
were playing tricks on me.
that maybe, when they were on
off the camera and blown up on
the computer screen i would realize
that it wasn't so bad. but, i've
come to terms with the fact that
clearly, we have a situation here.

i'm going to do the best i can
going forward into the colder
and darker months. i'm going
to research new lenses and
find a reliable electrician to
install usable lights into
our ceiling and invest in different
window treatments for our windows.

and, i'm going to make us
more of this risotto. because even
if the few pictures might not be so
pretty, this is the kind of meal
you want to have in your cooking
arsenal on chilly, dark, winter nights.
carnaroli rice
i think risotto has a bad reputation.
when i told my grandmother that
i was making it for dinner, she was
shocked that i would attempt such a
laborious dish on a work night. but,
in case you haven't made risotto yourself,
here's the deal: the total time is short.
it's the hands-on time that risks becoming
a turn off. because really, all you have to
do is heat up some broth, saute onions,
pop open a bottle of wine and commit
to stirring for about 20-25 minutes.

i usually convince larry to hang out with
me during the stirring, but i've also
found that itunes, a phone call or
my own thoughts
are enough to distract me from
the potentially monotonous activity.

the method for this risotto echos
the most classic recipes. but, it
was the two title ingredients that
intrigued me enough to give it a go.

we, like many people i know, have
become big kale eaters over the past
year and i've discovered that even
though i had previously
avoided the leaves for
fear of overtly bitter notes, we are never
fighting through eating the greens.
i loved the idea of stirring tender,
but still hearty, strands
into the al dente grains.
i also liked that by first boiling the leaves
in chicken broth, their flavor
infuses the rice's cooking liquid.

the toasted pumpkin seeds were
the second reason that i wanted into
this dish. risotto is lovely - creamy,
indulgent and full of comfort. but,
like a plain bowl of vanilla ice cream (also,
creamy, indulgent and full of comfort),
i get bored with an entire serving of one
texture. crisp lightly salted pumpkin seeds
were the perfect foil.

on this night,
i wanted the pepitas seeds
out of the way.
i started by toasting them
until they were puffy and golden,
then drizzled with oil and a touch
of kosher salt, per the recipe,
before adding a couple dashes of
cayenne, to add a touch of spice to
the finished dish.
translucent onions
rice sauteed with onions
next, while the onions sauteed,
i simmered the chopped kale in
a mixture of chicken broth and water
(next time i would use all chicken broth),
before draining the greens and setting
them aside. from there on, it was
business as usual,
adding a bit of chopped garlic,
then the rice to the onions.
deglazing with white wine
and then adding the broth,
by the ladleful, all the while,
stirring the mixture.

when creamy,
i mixed in a pat of butter,
a healthy handful of grated pecorino romano,
the kale and generous squeezes
of lemon juice that i was pretty sure
the mixture would need. i tasted it
and wished that i had replaced part
of the grated cheese with goat cheese.
i think the tang would have put the whole
dish over the top. but still, i was happy.

i violated every photography rule out
there and placed the plates of
pumpkin seed-sprinkled risotto
directly under that one dim light in the
kitchen and hoped for the best.

then, i let go.
it is, after all, risotto.
it waits for no one.
especially not,
a poorly lit kitchen and
an amateur photographer.
kale and pumpkin seed risotto
kale and pumpkin seed risotto
adapted from gourmet magazine
if you've never made risotto before, this one does have a couple extra steps, but nothing that you can't handle. i will say, though that this is a perfect recipe to practice your mise en place.

i made several changes: i used a greater ratio of chicken broth to water than called for - as i said above, next time i would use all chicken broth. i chopped the kale before cooking, instead of cooking, straining and cutting as it instructs in the recipe. i used an entire white onion instead of measuring, switched in pecorino romano for the parmigiano-regianno, squeezed in lemon juice and added cayenne pepper to the pumpkin seeds to give the dish a slightly spicy edge. i'm writing it below as i made it, but i do think that next time i would increase the garlic, add more lemon and if i was feeling completely indulgent, stir in some of that goat cheese.

spicy pumpkin seeds
1 cup hulled raw pumpkin seeds
1 teaspoon olive oil
kosher salt
cayenne pepper

in dry heavy skillet over medium heat, cook pumpkin seeds 5 minutes, or until puffed and golden. remove from heat; stir in olive oil. season with salt and cayenne to taste. set aside.

5 cups low-sodium or homemade chicken broth
3 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 pound lacinato kale
1 white onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cubed and divided
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice (10 ounces)
1/3 cup white wine
1 juicy lemon, juiced
1/2 cup grated pecorino romano

in saucepot, bring broth and water to a boil; add 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt.

meanwhile, cut stems and center ribs from kale; discard. cut kale into 1-inch ribbons. add kale to broth in batches, stirring between additions. reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, or until kale is tender. carefully pour into strainer set over a large bowl; press on kale to extract as much liquid as possible. transfer liquid back into saucepot; turn heat to low.

meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon butter until melted and hot; add onion and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. cover; reduce heat to low. cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until translucent. add garlic; cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly. add rice and cook 1 minute more, stirring constantly.

increase heat to medium; add wine and simmer until absorbed, stirring constantly. stir in 1/2 cup warm broth; stir constantly until broth is absorbed. add broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly and waiting until the liquid is absorbed. you can stop adding the broth when the mixture is creamy and the rice is tender, but still al dente, about 18-22 minutes. reduce heat to low.

stir in kale, lemon juice, remaining butter, cheese and salt and pepper to taste. cook 1 minute more to incorporate. stir in some of the remaining broth mixture to thin out, if desired.

transfer to serving bowls; sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds. serve with extra pecorino romano for sprinkling, if desired.