Cooks Corner

Pastry chef Mindy Segal gives baking tips, tricks in new cookbook

Avocado and Asparagus Grilled Cheese: Use any kind of avocado you like.
Avocado and Asparagus Grilled Cheese: Use any kind of avocado you like. arla.com

Chicago chef-restaurateur Mindy Segal is a self-proclaimed “cookie nerd,” so the recipes in Cookie Love (Ten Speed Press, $24.99) are so meticulous and detailed you may find them annoying. Or you can be happy these are recipes so painstakingly clear you can be sure they won’t fail.

The book is full of quirky and fascinating twists on classic recipes, such as peaches and cream biscotti, malted milk spritz, strawberry rhubarb rugelach with oatmeal streusel, blueberry jam kolachkes with orange blossom almonds and 50 more.

There are lots of tips and tricks that Segal has perfected at Hot Chocolate, her popular Chicago restaurant and dessert bar.

In the shortbread recipe here, for example, Segal recommends freezing toasted nuts before grinding “to avoid making Brazil nut butter.” Segal, a James Beard Foundation award winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2012, said she came up with the recipe because Brazil nuts — what she calls “one sexy nut” — are as rich as a cashew and as buttery as a macadamia but are forgotten when it comes to dessert, and she loves the way the nuts complement sweet flavors, especially milk chocolate.

Reader question: Avocado

Avocado is usually a very confusing word. When a nutritionist or chef makes a statement about an avocado containing “322 calories and 29 grams of fat,” (as in a recent story), is she referring to a knotty little Hass, a big Florida green or a “SlimCado?” Large green Florida avocados were often called “alligator pears” in Miami when I was a boy. Also, what is the difference between the old-fashioned green and the new SlimCado, and is the difference nutritionally significant?

Jean

You can generally conclude that recipes and nutritional information refer to the more common Hass avocado.

But let’s take this opportunity to clear something up. Despite what you may have read, the “SlimCado” is not something new and it has not been genetically modified to have less fat and calories. It is simply being more aggressively marketed for those traits by Brooks Tropicals, the Homestead-based grower.

If you grew up in Florida or in Latin or South America, the smooth green-skinned and heftier native avocado is more familiar. It’s the variety you’ll find in back yards in South Florida, and indeed was once known as alligator pears, as Jean recalls.

The smaller Hass avocado is a lot more common in the United States simply because it is more available. Though avocados are Florida’s largest tropical-fruit industry after citrus — mostly from south Miami-Dade — the harvest is nowhere near that of the Hass variety from California or Mexico. I see Florida avocados more readily now in supermarkets in other parts of the country, but they are still an oddity.

As to nutrition, the biggest difference between Florida and California avocados is their fat content — and to my way of thinking the differences are not all that significant, particularly because this is a good fat. Given that non-Hass varieties can vary so greatly in size — up to 2 pounds — it is easier if you go by a specific measurement rather than unit.

For example, the American Institute for Cancer Research says that for each golf-ball-size portion (two tablespoons, or two to three thin slices), a California avocado such as Hass contains 4.6 grams of fat and the same portion of a Florida avocado averages 3 grams of fat. Calories? The Florida variety has 36 calories versus 50 for the California one. Otherwise, nutritional value of the two types is similar.

I see a lot of dismissal of Florida avocados on various blogs that claim the Hass has more flavor and less water. Obviously, our avocado grows in the tropics and not in a desert, but I think it packs just as much flavor with its lighter texture. For sure it is a whole lot easier to peel a Florida avocado.

Here’s a great avocado and grilled cheese sandwich I couldn’t wait to try when I was looking for a way to use roasted asparagus leftovers. You can use whichever avocado variety suits your fancy.

Tried and New

If you’ve ever snarled at your plastic wrap for tangling and clinging in all the wrong places, you’ll appreciate ChicWrap, which replaces the pesky serrated cutting edge with a simple sliding zip cutter. Plus, if you appreciate not only the practical but the whimsical, note that the boxes are meant to be attractive enough to sit out on the counter and even have rubber feet to keep the box from sliding and the boxes are coated to resist splatters. You can even buy refills for the box. Available at Sur La Table and at chicwrap.com ($14.99).

Sleuth’s Corner

Q. I’m hoping someone can help me find a recipe for a dish my boyfriend, who is from Peru, talks about all the time. It is a potato cake called causa. His mother told me I need avocado and Key limes and tuna or cooked chicken, but I need actual measurements and instructions and I cannot find a Peruvian cookbook.

L. P.

Send questions and responses to LindaCiceroCooks@aol.com or Food, The Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.

Brazil Nut Shortbread

3⁄4 cup (4 ounces) unsalted Brazil nuts, toasted

4 ounces milk chocolate (preferably 33 percent cacao), broken into pieces

1 1⁄4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt plus 1⁄2 teaspoon sea salt flakes

13 tablespoons (6 1⁄2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3⁄4 cup powdered sifted

1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Heat oven to 325. Put the nuts and chocolate in a bowl and freeze until thoroughly chilled, approximately 30 minutes. In a food processor, grind the nuts, chocolate and flour until a coarse meal forms. Pulse in the salts. Mix the butter on medium speed for 5 to 10 seconds. Add the sugar and mix on low speed to incorporate. Increase speed to medium and cream butter mixture until it is aerated and looks like frosting, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the yolk and vanilla, mixing briefly until the batter resembles cottage cheese, approximately 5 seconds. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to bring the batter together. Mix on medium speed for 20 to 30 seconds to make nearly homogeneous. Add the flour-nut meal all at once and mix on low speed until the dough just comes together but still looks shaggy, approximately 30 seconds. Do not overmix. Pat into a rectangle, wrap tightly in plastic, and refrigerate until chilled throughout, at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.

Unwrap the dough and place on a surface lightly dusted with flour. Leave at room temperature until the dough has warmed up but is still cool to the touch. Put a sheet of parchment paper the same dimensions as a half sheet pan on the work surface and dust lightly with flour. Put the dough on top. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a rectangle approximately 10 by 12 inches and 1⁄4 inch thick. To keep the dough from sticking to the parchment paper, periodically dust the top lightly with flour, cover with another piece of parchment paper, and, sandwiching the dough between both sheets of parchment paper, flip the dough and paper over. Peel off the top layer of parchment paper and continue to roll. Ease the dough and parchment paper onto a half sheet pan. Cover with another piece of parchment paper and refrigerate until firm, at least 20 minutes.

Heat oven to 350. Line a couple of half sheet pans with parchment paper. Let the dough sit at room temperature for up to 10 minutes. Invert the dough onto a work surface and peel off the top sheet of parchment paper. Pierce it numerous times with a fork. Cut the dough lengthwise into 4 even strips. Cut the dough crosswise into 8 even strips. Evenly space up to 16 shortbreads on the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake until the cookies feel firm to the touch, 4 to 5 minutes more. Let the cookies cool entirely on the sheet pan. Repeat with the remaining dough.

The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week. Dough can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Makes 32.

Per serving: 100 calories (66 percent from fat), 7.4 g fat (3.6 g saturated, 2.2 g monounsaturated), 19.4 mg cholesterol, 7.4 g carbohydrate, .5 g fiber, 70 mg sodium.

Source: Adapted from “Cookie Love” by Mindy Segal with Kate Leahy by permission of publisher Ten Speed Press.

Avocado and Asparagus with Dill Havarti Grilled Cheese

1/2 pound asparagus, ends trimmed

Extra-virgin olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/2 lemon

1 avocado, peeled, halved and pitted

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 slices bread

3 to 4 tablespoons butter

4 ounces dill Havarti, grated (or 4 slices)

Heat an oven or toaster oven to 450. Place the asparagus spears on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roll the spears in the oil to coat, then season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Roast for 10-15 minutes or until the spears are tender. Remove from oven, give a light squeeze of lemon, toss and cool. Place the avocado halves in a small bowl with the cayenne pepper and a squeeze of lemon. Smash roughly with a fork so the mix is still chunky. Spread 1/2 tablespoon of butter on one side of each slice of the bread. Sprinkle one fourth of the cheese on the bread stack. Add half the avocado mixture, then layer asparagus spears to cover the bread. Top with another ounce of cheese.

Drizzle a small amount of olive oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Place the sandwich in the pan, buttered side down, and top with the other slice of bread, buttered side up. Cover with a lid and cook or 3-4 minutes or until the bread on one side is golden. Reduce the heat to medium-low, flip the sandwich to the other side and cook for 2-3 minutes or until the bread is toasty golden and the cheese has melted. The second side will cook faster than the first, so watch it carefully. Repeat with other sandwich. Cut in half and enjoy hot. Makes 2 servings.

Per serving: 686 calories (67 percent from fat), 51 g fat (26.5 g saturated, 12.5 g monounsaturated), 103 mg cholesterol, 18.5 g protein, 39 g carbohydrate, 11.5g fiber, 815 mg sodium.

Source: Heidi Larsen, FoodieCrush, at arla.com.

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