Friday, September 9, 2011

Whole Foods Friday: In search of the unusual

Pretty, huh? Do you know what it is?
Whole Foods Friday is what I'm calling my new partnership with the local Whole Foods stores in Boulder County. Whole Foods lets me shop for what I need for any recipe I want to make, and I post the results here. Whole Foods also posts my recipes on their Boulder blog. It's a fun project.

One of the cool things about shopping at Whole Foods is that I'm constantly finding things that I seldom (or never) see anywhere else. Whether it's a different cut of meat, a specialty cheese, an interesting condiment, or an unusual vegetable, there's always something that sparks my imagination.

Some items are familiar to me because I've seen them mentioned on cooking shows or in cookbooks, and I know exactly what to do with them. Others, the names are familiar, but I'm less sure of how to use them.

Sometimes I'll see an item and think,"Oh! I've been wanting to try that for a long time!" Others I'll be less excited about, but still curious. 


No matter what, it makes shopping there a little more fun, because I never know what I'm going to find - or bring home.

Burrata

Burrata is a cheese in the mozzarella family, with a mild creamy flavor and a soft interior. The exterior of the cheese actually is a thin shell of mozzarella. The interior is bits of mozzarella mixed with cream. Because of its gentle flavor, I didn't want to pair it with anything that would overwhelm it.

You certainly can cook with burrata, or put it on top of hot pasta just before serving and let it melt a little. But even that seemed like a little too much manipulation for this specialty cheese. 

Instead, I opted for a very simple preparation: Burrata surrounded by small quartered heirloom tomatoes. A sprinkle of sea salt and freshly ground pepper finished the dish.

I could have gone one step further and drizzled a little olive oil and vinegar over the top, but it didn't need it. The tomatoes provided the sweet acidity and the cheese provided the richness.

Crackers or thin slices of toasted baguettes would make a nice accompaniment for this dish.

Speck

Prosciutto is commonly paired with asparagus, but when I saw speck at Whole Foods, I knew I had to try it. It's a lot like prosciutto, but is smoked.

For the pizza dough, you can make your own from your favorite recipe, or you can buy it already prepared. For the asparagus, I think thick spears work better for this type of recipe, but it's up to you.

Asparagus and Speck Pizza

1 recipe pizza dough
Asparagus, peeled and cooked until just done
Speck
Cultured cream cheese
Olive oil

Preheat your oven to as high as it will go - usually 550 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, have that in the oven as it preheats. If you don't have a pizza stone, a cast iron griddle works well, or you can use an upturned cast iron frying pan (you will be cooking on the bottom of the pan.)

If you don't have other options, you can use a baking sheet, but the pizzas will take a little longer to cook, and probably won't be as crisp.

Divide the dough into 3 pieces, form each piece into a ball, and flatten the balls. With a rolling pin, roll them into 8-inch rounds.

Arrange asparagus spears on top of the pizza, as desired, then add torn pieces of the speck. Add small dollops of the cream cheese. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, as desired - keep in mind that the speck is salty. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake the pizzas on the preheated pizza stone at 550 degrees for about 8 minutes. As soon as the pizza comes out of the oven, top with some torn fresh basil leaves. Slice and serve.

Flap Meat

Even if you've never heard of flap meat (it sounds weird, doesn't it?) you might think it looks familiar. Flap meat looks very much like skirt steak. Okay, maybe you've never cooked skirt steak, but it still might look like something you've seen before, since skirt steak is commonly used for fajitas.

Both skirt steak and flap meat benefit from short, high-heat cooking, being served somewhat rare, and slicing against the grain.  Done properly, it's a flavorful and tender cut.

You can marinate the meat if you want to add flavor, but it's not necessary. Since I wasn't looking for a particular flavor profile, I went with a very simple preparation.

Grilled Flap Meat

About an hour before grilling, take the meat out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.

Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and paprika, and grill on high heat until one side is nicely browned - just a few minutes. If you want the nice crosshatch grill marks, you can turn the meat 90 degrees halfway through cooking, but since you'll be slicing it prior to serving, it's not going to matter.

Turn the meat over and cook on the second side until it has reached the desired doneness. Keep in mind that the meat will continue cooking after you take it off the grill, so leave it slightly underdone. Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

When you slice the meat, look for the direction the grain is running - it's very easy to see in this meat - and cut across the grain.

Leftovers make great tacos - just heat a pan, drop in a tiny bit of oil, and cook very quickly, moving the meat constantly. You don't want to cook the meat much more - you're just trying to warm it up for serving.

Florets

For a side dish, I went with something incredibly easy - broccoli and cauliflower florets. Since I didn't want a whole big bunch of broccoli and a whole head of cauliflower, I bought the pre-cut florets at the produce section. And for those who dislike the stems, the florets are a bargain.

While I never buy the bagged pre-cut vegetables at other stores, I'm more confident that the bulk pre-cut produce at Whole Foods is a little fresher.

Have you ever looked in those bags and seen brown or soft spots on the vegetables? Yeah, I can do that sort of damage in my own refrigerator, but if I'm buying fresh vegetables, I prefer them to be reasonably fresh when I'm spending the money.

So, okay, broccoli and cauliflower doesn't qualify as an unusual find, but it's a convenience item that I normally wouldn't purchase. And I was more than happy with the quality. That's surprising, considering how picky I can be.

My cooking method was simple: I steamed the vegetables in salted water until they were almost done but still vibrantly colored. I shocked them in cold water to set the color. Then, just before serving, I gave them another quick steam bath to heat them up.

While my point in doing this was to keep the broccoli bright, this is also a great way to cook for company. It takes no time at all right before serving to heat the vegetables, so you don't have to worry about them being under- or over-cooked when the rest of the meal is ready to go.

If you don't want steamed vegetables, you can heat a bit oil in a pan and give them a quick saute or finish them in the oven or on the grill. I finished them with ... well, nothing. The cooking water was salted. I didn't even add butter or oil. Sometimes a simply steamed vegetable is all I really want.

Beverage time!

I thought that something light and a little bit fruity would pair nicely with the steak and vegetables. Nodding briefly to fall (which I'm not completely ready to acknowledge yet) I picked up some hard cider.

But instead of apple cider, this is a pear cider. You see, you can even find different things in the Whole Foods liquor store.

Instead of making a mixed drink, I thought the cider would be just fine on its own. A simple beverage to go with a relatively simple meal.

However, cider in a glass is not all that photogenic.

To compensate, I picked up what might be the most spectacular garnish ever. I'd heard of this, but never saw it for sale anywhere. And I had no idea what it tasted like. It's dragonfruit.

Now, I'm not sure if dragons eat this fruit, or grow it, or pick it. Maybe they hatch from it. All I know is that the outside looks like a less-threatening and more colorful artichoke.


At checkout, I was told that they could be white inside, but it's considered lucky to get a pink one. Do ya feel lucky?


Why, yes, I was quite lucky, as a matter of fact. And I wouldn't call that just pink. Magneta, maybe. Stunning color. The fruit texture was sort of like watermelon, but not quite that crisp. Not as hard as an apple, and nothing like a peach or plum. Sort of melon-like. Juicy, as you can see. With tiny black seeds.

As far as taste, it was a little sweet and very mild.

Not strongly flavored at all. But with the color, flavor wasn't a worry. A slice of that on the rim of a glass makes any drink a party. Can you imagine it in a fresh fruit cocktail? Or slices garnishing a savory dish? I'm soooo glad I discovered it.

4 comments:

Nelly Rodriguez said...

Love this roundup for delicious finds! Specially the speck and the Burrata...Thanks for sharing!

Nossi @ TheKosherGastronome said...

I've had dragonfruit before, but I've actually never seen it in white...I've seen the pink-masgenta-whatever color you got...and it's really tasty
thanks for sharing

Wine Harlots said...

Great list!
Hard apple cider is perfect for fall.

Cheers!

Nannette Eaton

Anonymous said...

Thanks for another great WF Friday. As you remind us, cold-shocking steamed veggies is a useful tool for meal timing and one that we (well I?) too often forget. I'm not yet sure about the anatomical source of 'flap meat,' but if it is what I think it might be (whole outer flap, carved from outside of rib sections - mostly rib steaks I'd guess, it it a genuine favorite. Again, if so, I enjoy it as the best bites of a Prime Rib slice. Or maybe not. I'm investigating a bit more as I did NOT know that this very tasty meat could be had as an individual cut. (I can see variations here, including stuffing, rolling, a little kitchen string and roasting...) WF is a FUN store and often provides some interesting ingredients. Lastly, I will acknowledge the convenience of pre-cut (Florettified?)veggies, but I just cannot do it. I cut whole broccoli to include most of the stem, peel when necessary and when properly steamed, it looks and tastes great. Semi-prepared and convenience foods are not big around here. To their credit, WF limits this sort of product. A wonderful post, Donna. Your arrangement with Whole Foods is a real winner and I hope that they are as pleased as are your readers. This is an idea that should spread. -C.

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