DIY Crème Fraîche – and Kohlrabi Salad

 

Or, why I like The Joy Of Cooking so much.

 

creme fraiche and kohlrabi

I know, it looks like strange bedfellows, but keep reading . . .

 

If you’ve never had crème fraîche, I recommend trying it.  It’s kind of like sour cream, but a little less sour and much more subtly flavored.  And expensive, at least here.  It’s a cultured food, so we figured that if some of the cultures are still active, we might be able to get more crème fraîche by adding some of what we had to some plain cream.  Good quality organic heavy cream is about 1/4 the price per ounce of crème fraîche, at least in Flagstaff, AZ.

And in fact, if you look up crème fraîche in the KNOW YOUR INGREDIENTS section at the back of The Joy of Cooking (I love that part of the book), they suggest as a substitute: adding one tablespoon of buttermilk to one cup of heavy cream, warming it to 110° F on the stove, and then pouring in into a jar, letting it set loosely covered “until the cream has thickened and has a pleasant mildly sour flavor,” anywhere from 6 hours to 3 days.

We tried the same thing, using one tablespoon of store-bought crème fraîche to one cup of cream.  And, almost three days later, tada!  It’s funny because it looks like nothing is happening for quite a while, the cream still very liquid, and then finally a few more solid clumps appear, and the then bam! it’s done.  Once it gets as thick and mildly sour as you would like, store it in the fridge to keep it from becoming overly acidic.

These directions say to leave it in a warm place while the cultures are working.  Our house is short on warm places in the winter, so the first time I tried it, I left the little jar near the stove, figuring that whenever I heated something up it would get a little warmth.  That was the time it took almost the whole three days, but definitely worked.  The next time, I actually forgot to heat it at the beginning, I just added 1 tablespoon of the first batch to one cup of fresh cream and stirred it around.  I thought it might benefit from a warmer place, so I put it in the middle of the burners on the stove as I was cooking dinner, checking from time to time to make sure the jar was getting warm, but not hot, and to rotate it around a bit.  That time the whole jar had become thick crème fraîche by the next morning!

 

kohlrabi salad

 

Ok, so once you have some crème fraîche, kohlrabi is probably not the first thing you are inspired to put it on.  Dolloped in soup or on waffles might sound more luscious, and both are wonderful.  But, if you’ve never had kohlrabi, I definitely recommend it.  It’s one of those winter vegetables that looks knobbly and scary on the outside, but on the inside has a lovely subtle flavor, in this case a little cabbage, a little nutty, and quite good.

I tried one recipe for kohlrabi salad earlier this winter, but I thought the amount of lemon juice in the dressing overwhelmed the soft flavors.  If you look up almost any specific vegetable in Joy, it will tell you not only whether it is good raw or cooked, and how to cook it, and whether to peel it first, but it also gives a list of flavors that compliment that veggie particularly well.  That features was a huge help when we joined our local CSA – even though I had never heard of most of the greens we got, they were almost all listed, and I could figure out at least whether they were for cooking or salad, and what they were likely to taste like.

Under kohlrabi it says, among other things, that it goes well with cream, parsley, and dill.  As do carrots, and so . . .

 

Recipe Sketch: Kohlrabi and Carrot Salad with Crème Fraîche

This makes enough for 2 or 3 servings, feel free to make more!

 

Peel, taking off the woody outside layer (chew on a bit if you are not sure), 2 small kohlrabi

Scrub one medium carrot (I pretty much never peel carrots)

Grate the kohlrabi and carrot on the largest teeth of your grater (a trick I only recently figured out is to leave the carrot top as a handle, start grating from the skinny end, and stop when you get almost to the top).

Put these in a bowl, add 2 – 3 tablespoons of crème fraîche, and mix with your fingers, it should be slightly creamy all over.

Sprinkle on about a tablespoon each of chopped fresh dill and fresh parsley.  (Remember how I keep herbs in a jar in the fridge?  Dill keeps practically indefinitely that way.)

Mix together, taste, and add a pinch of salt if desired.  If you are not serving it right away, you may find that the veggies have absorbed some the liquid and the salad is a little dry, if so you can add a little more crème fraîche or regular cream before serving.

 

I love all harmonious delicate flavors in this salad.  And, as you might guess, some crème fraîche mixed with the cream for carrot and raisin salad is pretty great as well.

If you can’t find any crème fraîche to start from where you live, you may be able to get the cultures from a source like New England Cheesemaking Supply.

I did a little research on using the same process to make perpetual yogurt, which I’m embarrassed to say I’ve never tried, but it’s now next on my list of kitchen projects.  From what I’ve read so far it seems only slightly more complicated, heating the milk, I presume to kill of any unwanted bacteria, then adding the yogurt or culture once it’s cooled back to warm.

What about you – have you made your own crème fraîche or yogurt, or other cultured food?  Any tips or thoughts?

 

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Asian Coleslaw Recipe Sketch

 

This is a family recipe in a few ways.  I first got obsessed with this salad a couple of years ago when one of my aunts was making it a lot.  Hers was inspired by two different recipes (neither for Asian coleslaw), which I bothered her until she sent me, I thought it was so good I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I have been making my version of her salad (below) for long enough that it’s established its own pattern in my head of what “Asian Coleslaw” is like.

So, during our craft retreat, another aunt decided to make “Asian Coleslaw” with some veggies left in her fridge.  Great!  I offered to help, and had to laugh as soon as she started putting things in.  Parsley?  Olive oil instead of peanut or sesame?  If you’re putting that, why not add this cauliflower?  No?  As it became more and more clear that our visions differed (and of course her version was also delicious) I realized that here was one of my own lessons coming back to me, of course you can make it with whatever you have and whatever you like!  Please feel free to experiment.

 

Asian Coleslaw

This much will feed four as a side.

Combine in a bowl:

1/2 small cabbage (your favorite kind) shredded

3 medium carrots, grated

1/4 cup chopped cashews (peanuts and or/sesame seeds would also be good)

3 green onions/scallions, chopped fine (optional)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro (and/or parsley or other herbs)

Dressing (I make this in my little food processor):

1 Tablespoon shallot, or 2 cloves of garlic

1 Tablespoon fresh ginger

2 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil (you can also use peanut)

Juice of one small lime (or splash of rice vinegar, although I like lime better)

2 – 3 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

2 teaspoons sugar or maple syrup

Squirt of hot sauce (or add serrano or another hot chile)

Process the dressing until everything is combined and chopped fine (you could also mince the solid ingredients by hand and combine everything in the bowl).  Pour the dressing over the salad, toss, and you are done!  This also keeps quite well in the fridge for several days.

 

 
I realized as I was thinking about posting this recipe that’s a really a year-round salad.  I tend to think of it almost more for winter, since the ingredients are still readily available, and it provides a little something fresh when almost everything seems warm and stewed.  But, it also makes me think of my cousin (sweating out the Brooklyn summer without AC) and everyone stuck in the Midwest heatwave – a tasty way to get your veggies without ever turning on the oven.  I’m still making it here, even though our monsoon-season weather has been exquisite, so close to perfect that I keep sitting on the (brick) front steps with my laptop to feel the breezes.   I’m telling you, the world’s best weather is in the mountain southwest, once it starts to rain.

One last note, my DIY envelope tutorial was featured on KP’s blog today!  We became friends in person (when we lived in the same country) now I love keeping up with her fun projects and lovely photos (plus she has a recycle project challenge)!

 

Recipe Sketch: Vietnamese Noodle Salad with Pan-Marinated Tofu

 

Last summer when we were at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, I fell in love with this salad.  Instantly it was the only thing I wanted to eat on a hot day – it’s cool, it’s nutritious, the lovely clean flavors of the sauce and herbs on top make it so refreshing.  I’m pretty sure I got it (from a local restaurant’s stand at the festival) all three days we were there, and I’ve been seeking it in other cities ever since.  This week, I was sitting on the couch, thinking about all the other things I have to do and wondering what on earth to make for dinner, flipping through my recipe book, when I remembered this salad – being home in warm weather was the perfect time to try making it myself!

 

Vietnamese Noodle Salad

Noodles: I used very thin rice stick noodles. I’ve also seen this served with slightly thicker clear or white noodles.  Whatever kind you can find, check the package directions, boil just until tender (usually only a few minutes), then rinse under cold water.

Veggies; any or all of the following: shredded carrots, thin sliced bell pepper, cucumber, zucchini . . . almost all of the versions I’ve had include bean sprouts and shredded lettuce.  Tip: rinse bean sprouts in a generous spray of very cold water to get them at their tastiest and crispiest.  For my version, I sauteed the bell pepper and zucchini strips briefly over high heat, just to get little caramelized edges, then let them cool.  If it’s really hot out, you could just leave all the veggies raw and avoid turning on the stove!

Pan-marinated tofu: this seems like a good time to include this technique, which I use pretty much every time I make tofu.  Start with extra-firm tofu.  Cut it into slices, rectangles, triangles, whatever you like.  In a large skillet, heat a generous splash of peanut oil (sorry about the no-measuring for this part, I just don’t!) over medium heat.  When it’s getting hot, add in a splash of soy sauce, a splash of rice vinegar or lime juice, and a small spoon of brown sugar.  Stir around until the sugar dissolves, then add the tofu.  Stir the tofu around, then shake the pan occasionally while the liquid evaporates.  Keeping the heat on med-low, and stirring when you first put the tofu in will help keep it from sticking to the pan.  Once the liquid is gone, a nice caramelized crust will form on the tofu – yummy!  I haven’t found a better way than to flip each piece over once the bottom is brown and crispy.  If there are patches of sauce left, steer the flipped pieces onto those.  You can also add a little more of the marinating ingredients if necessary.  When both sides have a lovely golden crust, you’re done!  Flip the tofu out onto a plate to cool.  I did this one day as an experiment, and I have done it every time since, when I make tofu for Pad Thai, curry, etc.  Side story: once I was hanging out with my brother while he was grilling brats.  He said it’s the juice dripping down from the meat and being shot back up by the fire that makes it taste good.  Sometimes I think of this technique as giving the tofu some tasty juice of its own.  Ok, back to the noodle salad.

 

 

Herbs and peanuts: whatever veggies and other ingredients you choose, this and the sauce are key to the flavor of this dish!  Coarsely chop a generous handful of fresh mint, basil, and cilantro.  Finely chop some raw or roasted unsalted peanuts.

Sauce:  start with equal parts maple syrup, soy sauce, lime (or lemon) juice, and water.  For one person’s lunch-size bowl, use about a tablespoon of each.   Taste and adjust.  You can also add a clove of minced garlic and/or a little hot sauce if you wish.  What I love about this is the clean clear flavors, but some friends liked it better with a LOT of hot sauce. Hat tip to theKitchn for what to put in this sauce!

Assembly:  put the bean spouts and cooled noodles in the bottom of a bowl.  A wide shallow bowl would be ideal, since the sauce tends to sink to the bottom (otherwise, stir it up).  Top with veggies, herbs, tofu and peanuts, and pour sauce over the whole thing.  Enjoy!

Variations:  I made it the next day with an fried egg on top, also super tasty but not quite as cooling.  Of course you could add stir-fried meat as well, or practically anything else you like.  Pickled vegetables? It can easily be vegan, gluten free, or not, really the sky’s the limit here!

 

 

Enjoy!  I can’t go without mentioning the dessert I made for this meal, roasted strawberry coconut milk popsicles from The Year in Food.  Dude.  These were incredible!  I’ve been dying to make them and I was so happy I finally could.  My only note would be to lightly crush or grind the cardamom.  I love it when a recipe opens up whole new ideas, I never would have thought to roast a strawberry.  My whole house was filled with an explosion of strawberry jam smell so wonderful that I couldn’t stand to spoil it by cooking anything else at the same time.  They look cool too, I couldn’t resist taking my own picture!  Anyways.  Get out there and eat some summer!

 

 

Recipe Sketch – Carrot and Raisin Salad

 

Carrot & raisin salad 2

 

For this recipe, I wanted to give a nod to the fact that we don’t really follow recipes.  At least I don’t.  At least not usually.  You know what I mean?  I read one and think, “That’s a good idea!” and I may even refer back to it while I’m cooking, but I’m not using any of the exact quantities specified, I am leaving things out, and I am putting in things that aren’t called for.

Of course, there are also the nights when I just want to settle down and cook something from exact notes, especially my own exact notes, about what to put in and how much.

But, I think being more experimental, at least some of the time, is a great way to learn about cooking, about flavors, and about what you like.  And some recipes, like this one, seem made for a non-measuring preparation every time, even after I have figured out just how I like them.

So, at least some of the time, I’m going to post in the form of a recipe “sketch” that acknowledges the fact that many of us are going to make our own version anyway, as well we should.

 

Carrot & raisin salad 1

 

Recipe Sketch – Carrot and Raisin Salad

Grate some carrots, on the biggest holes in your grater.  These make up most of the volume of the salad, so grate as many as you need for about as much salad as you want.

Add some raisins.  Pour some in and mix to see if you think it’s enough.

Grate in citrus zest.  I like lime the best, but Meyer lemon is also lovely.  Squeeze on a little juice of the same citrus.

Salt.  It seems weird, but a small (not tiny) amount of salt is totally what makes this come together.

That and heavy whipping cream.  Actually, mixing the cream with crème fraîche is even better.  I like to add just enough to make a little liquidy dressing for the carrots and raisins.

Mix, taste and adjust.

I love these flavors!  A little salty, a little sweet, a lot of fresh.  Also, a fantastic way to use up carrots from your fridge right before you leave town.  And a good use of multicolored carrots.  Sometimes I think I buy heirloom vegetables just for the colors.

So what about you?  Do you “follow” recipes?

 

Fennel and Orange Salad

Ease into spring – bright flavors with late winter ingredients.  The idea for this salad came from a dinner of delicious tapas made for us by a friend of friends in Phoenix – thanks Charlene!

Fennel and Citrus Salad

Combine on a plate:

6 baby fennel bulbs or 2-3 large ones, thinly sliced

Small sections of mandarin, or chopped sections of orange, from about 2 oranges or 3 mandarins 

A little thinly sliced red onion

Pour over the top:

Juice of 1/2 orange or mandarin

A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

A drizzle of balsamic vinegar (high quality balsamic is really good here)

Top with a few fennel fronds for garnish

That’s it!  Simple and oh so good.

And a tip on chopping orange sections: I have been doing this a lot the past month or so, and my best method so far is to separate the sections first, then line up three or four and chop them into pieces.  You’ll see most of the seeds and you can pull them out.  I only pull the membranes off the sections if I need the dish to be really impressive for some reason.

PS: one of my cousins was asking me the other day about quinoa recipes, and I found this one on The Year in Food – such a lovely blog.  Apparently we’re not the only ones to figure out that fennel and citrus is a good combo for late winter/early spring!