Saturday, February 16, 2013

flourless chocolate-walnut cookies

 I'd like to think by now I have some some grasp of the mechanics of baking. But nothing in my makeshift culinary education can account for these cookies—a handful of ingredients culled together into chewy, crackly-surfaced goodness with nothing more than confectioners' sugar and a few efficient egg whites. A better baker would devote time to unraveling their dark (and gluten-free) mysteries; I choose simply to revel in the delicious results.

Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies
From François Payard

As much as I enjoyed these cookies (and appreciate their virtuous and logic-defying composition), they strike me as more of a textural revelation than a taste one. The cocoa powder + confectioner's sugar combination doesn't provide the depth of flavor of some other chocolate cookies I've made in the past. That said, I will definitely continue to experiment with this recipe, perhaps with one of these variations.

2 3/4 cups walnut halves
3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Position two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and line two large-rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. (From what I've read, the parchment paper is key; do not substitute silicone baking mats.)

Spread the walnut halves on a large-rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 9 minutes, until they are golden and fragrant. Let cool slightly, then transfer the walnut halves to a work surface and coarsely chop them.

In a large bowl, whisk (or combine in an electric mixer on low speed) the confectioners’ sugar with the cocoa powder and salt followed by the chopped walnuts. While whisking (or once you change the speed to medium), add the egg whites and vanilla extract and beat just until the batter is moistened (do not overbeat or it will stiffen). Don't automatically add all the egg whites. You want the batter to be thick and goopy — not wet and runny. So if it's thick, goopy, and scoopable, stop there.

Spoon the batter onto the baking sheets in 12 evenly spaced mounds, and bake for 14 to 16 minutes, until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked; shift the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through to ensure even baking.

Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto 2 wire racks. Let cookies cool completely, and store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Friday, January 25, 2013

pasta with creamy roasted carrot sauce

This pasta feels like a seasonal variation on the (much beloved, and often aseasonal) Fettuccine with Peas and Parmesan. It's extremely comforting, in the way that most pastas—particularly monochromatic pastas—are, but complex as well: fragrant with roasted garlic, onions, and thyme; creamy and sharp from the crème fraîche and parmesan; and occasionally surprising with the crunch of toasted hazelnuts.

Whole Wheat Pasta with Creamy Roasted Carrot Sauce
Adapted from Traveler's Lunchbox

Serves: 4

1 1/2 pounds carrots (about 6 large), peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 large yellow onion, peeled and roughly chopped
4 large cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 - 1 1/2 cups hot, strong vegetable or chicken broth
3-4 tablespoons crème fraîche [you could substitute sour cream or Greek yogurt]
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 pound whole wheat penne, farfalle or other chunky pasta, cooked according to package directions
Freshly-grated pecorino romano or parmesan cheese, for garnish
Chopped toasted hazelnuts, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the carrots, onion, garlic, thyme and oil together in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, then spread the mixture out on a foil-covered baking sheet in a single layer. Roast until the carrots are tender and flecked with brown, about 45 minutes, stirring a couple of times and removing the garlic early if it starts to over-brown.

Peel the garlic cloves and puree with the rest of the vegetables in a food processor or blender, adding as much broth as necessary to make a thick, creamy sauce. Blend in the crème fraîche to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss with hot cooked pasta and top with a sprinkling of cheese and toasted nuts.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

christmas report

After two years, this triumvirate it close to claiming the title of official Christmas menu. It checks all the requisite boxes (presentation value + maximum deliciousness), and, more importantly, allows us to admire the technical grace with which M. can clean a lamb chop.

The Menu:
Crown Roast of Lamb with Thyme and Mustard Bread Crumbs
Homemade (and Store-Bought) Mint Sauce
Mint Orzo with Crème Fraiche
Fennel with Orange and Sambuca


Crown Roast of Lamb with Mustard and Thyme

This recipe works just as well for a single rack of lamb; just halve the quantities.

Serves 6-8

3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
2/3 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
1 crown of lamb made from two 8-rib racks
2 cup fresh bread crumbs from French bread
4 tablespoons olive oil

Mix together butter, mustard, garlic and chopped thyme in small bowl to blend.

Season lamb generously with salt and pepper. Place lamb in roasting pan. Spread mustard mixture evenly over lamb. (Lamb can be prepared up to 6 hours ahead. Refrigerate uncovered.)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Stir bread crumbs and oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat until crumbs begin to crisp, about 5 minutes. Cool slightly. Press crumbs onto mustard coating on lamb.

Roast 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue roasting until thermometer inserted into lamb registers 140 degrees. for medium-rare, about 40 minutes. Transfer lamb to platter; let stand 15 minutes, then serve with mint sauce.


Mint Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appétit

For the sake of tradition, we always supplement this with some of the store-bought stuff (hence the electric green jelly you see in the photo), but I prefer this more piquant version. 

Makes about 1 cup

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 cup canned beef broth
1/3 cup minced shallots
6 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Combine 1 cup mint, broth, shallots, vinegar and sugar in heavy small non-aluminum saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves. Simmer 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cover and let stand 2 hours.

Strain sauce into large glass measuring cup. Place cornstarch in same saucepan. Gradually whisk in sauce. Bring to simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly. Stir until sauce thickens slightly and turns translucent, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Cool to room temperature. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before continuing.) Stir in remaining 2 tablespoon mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper.


Mint Orzo
Adapted from A Man and His Meatballs, by John Lafemina

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 cup diced shallots
2 cups orzo
1/4 cup dry white wine
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon crème fraîche
1/4 cup chopped mint
1 tablespoon chipped flat-leaf parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat until hot, but not smoking. Add the butter, shallots, salt, and pinch of black pepper and sauté until the shallots are soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the orzo, stirring constantly until it begins to turn light brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the wine and continue stirring until the alcohol smell is gone and the wine is completely absorbed, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, stirring constantly until it is absorbed. Add more stock, a little at a time, until the orzo is creamy and firm (you may not need to use all the stock). Add the crème fraîche, mint, parsley, salt and pepper and mix well. Serve immediately.


Fennel with Orange and Sambuca
Adapted from Urban Italian, by Andrew Carmellini

For my full description, see here.

Serves 4

3 fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, peeled, halved, and sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed with the flat of a knife
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup Sambuca, plus 1 tablespoon for finishing [I don't use the latter]
1/4 cup golden raisins, soaked to rehydrate for 20 minutes and soaking water reserved
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Zest of one orange
2 tablespoons toasted and seasoned breadcrumbs [see Carmellini's recipe for "Crumb's Yo!"]

Cut the tops off the fennel where the green stalks meet the white bulb. Trim the ends off the bulbs and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the outer layers and anything that’s browned, and trim away any excess stem. Cut each half into eighths. Chop the fronds and reserve.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onion slices and sweat them, stirring, until they start to soften—but don’t let them brown.

Add the fennel, garlic, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper. Deglaze the pan with the Sambuca, and cook until the liquid in the pan has evaporated, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the raisins and the raisin-soaking water, orange juice, and chicken broth. Cook, periodically turning the fennel and glazing it with liquid from the pan, until the liquid is reduced by three quarters. (It should be a thin layer on the bottom of the pan.) The liquid will thicken and the fennel will be well glazed, shiny, fattened, and softened.

Remove the pan from the heat, pick out the garlic clove, and mix in the chopped fronds and 1 tablespoon of the Sambuca (if desired). Transfer the fennel to a serving platter and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and orange zest.

Monday, January 14, 2013

peanut butter cookies with milk chocolate chunks

Peanut Butter Cookies with Milk Chocolate Chunks
From Baked: New Frontiers in Baking, by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito

These chewy, chocolate-studded peanut butter cookies are nothing revelatory; they are satisfying in exactly the ways you would predict. Baked owners Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito are emphatic about using milk chocolate in this recipe, warning that "Semisweet chips taste almost bitter against the peanut butter."

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup creamy peanut butter
 6 ounces good-quality milk chocolate, coarsely chopped

Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside.

Beat the butter and both sugars together until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Add the vanilla and the peanut butter, and mix just until incorporated.

Add half the flour mixture and mix for about 15 seconds. Add the rest of the flour mixture, and mix until just incorporated. Gently fold in the chocolate with a spatula. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours,

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Use a tablespoon measure or small scoop to drop rounded balls onto prepared baking sheets, at least 2 inches apart. Very gently press each cookie with your hand to flatten just a bit. Don’t press them totally flat. Sprinkle tops of cookies with granulated sugar.

Bake for about 10 minutes or until tops of cookies just begin to brown, rotating the pans halfway through. Remove the cookies from the oven, and let them cool on the baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

Friday, January 11, 2013

mushroom ravioli with ginger-cremini cream sauce

You may find it hard to believe that a plate of ravioli could evoke both Wolfgang Puck and Marcel Proust, but that is exactly what this one did.

Wolfgang Puck, for its undeniable (and spectacular) 90s sensibility. (Asian-Italian fusion?) Marcel Proust, for its madeleine-like ability to summon memories of bygone meals. (Though in our case, the memories were entirely voluntary—it took me many moons to track down a recipe for the restaurant dish K. and I used to enjoy on a near-weekly basis.)  

Wild Mushroom Ravioli With Ginger-Cremini Cream Sauce
Inspired by 33rd Street Bistro; sauce adapted from Bon Appétit

Once you have the ingredients prepped, this dish comes together in about 5 minutes, making it an easy (if artery-clogging) weeknight meal.

3 packages mushroom ravioli
3 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup thinly sliced scallions, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, chopped
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms, stemmed, caps sliced
6 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1-2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Cook ravioli in a large pot of boiling water, according to instructions.

Meanwhile, add butter, sliced green onions, cilantro, ginger and chopped garlic to same skillet and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Mix in mushrooms and soy sauce and simmer 30 seconds. Add whipping cream and simmer until sauce lightly coats back of spoon, about 3 minutes. Stir in lime juice.

Drain ravioli and add to pan with sauce, tossing gently to coat. Spoon ravioli onto heated plates and garnish with scallions.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

gingerbread cake, turned trifle

"When life gives you lemons, make lemonade." Well, consider this trifle my lemonade—a last-minute menu change necessitated by technical difficulties with our gingerbread cake. (Despite generously buttering our non-stick bundt pan, the finished cake refused to detach itself.)

As delicious as they were, it didn't feel right to serve gingerbread scraps for Christmas Eve dessert. Enter the trifle—my attempt to bury our mistake in layers of whipped cream and pumpkin mousse.

It made for an impressive presentation (there is an aesthetic/geologic value to the trifle, if not a gastronomic one), and it was perfectly tasty, but, in the end, I think I would have preferred the scraps. I was still snacking on leftover gingerbread chunks days later, while the remaining trifle made its way to the trash.


Moist Gingerbread Cake
Adapted from Karen DeMasco

Despite my faith in Karen DeMasco (and the fact that I have tasted a delicious version of this cake at Locanda Verde), I was a little skeptical of this recipe at first. Between the molasses, the coffee, and the stout beer, the batter smelled a little bit like death. But somewhere in the baking process, it transformed into gingerbread perfection. Be sure to make this at least one day in advance; it improves with age. DeMasco's recipe also calls for a lemon glaze, though I omitted it here.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably fresh
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup, packed, dark brown sugar
3 tablespoons turbinado sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger (a 2-ounce piece, peeled)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1 large egg
3/4 cup stout beer
3/4 cup molasses
1/3 cup brewed coffee
3/4 teaspoon baking soda

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease an 8-inch springform cake pan and line bottom with parchment paper. [If you do choose to use a bundt pan, make sure you butter and flour the pan, and say a little prayer.]

In a bowl, whisk flour, cocoa, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl combine brown sugar, turbinado, ginger, lemon zest and oil. Beat in egg.

Place beer, molasses and coffee in a deep pot, at least 3 quarts. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda. Mixture will bubble up. Allow to cool 5 minutes.

Whisk flour mixture alternately with beer mixture into brown sugar mixture, in 3 shifts. Pour batter in pan and bake 40 minutes without opening oven. Give pan a 180-degree turn and bake another 15 minutes, until cake is springy and a tester comes out clean. Cool on a rack. When cool, remove sides of pan, invert briefly to remove bottom of pan and paper and set upright on a plate.


Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle
Adapted from Gourmet

The pumpkin mousse proved to be the weakest of this trifle's strata. I would have preferred a custard layer to provide some textural contrast with the whipped cream. While I won't be making this recipe again, I might be tempted to try Claudia Fleming's variation.

 For gingerbread:
1 recipe Karen DeMasco gingerbread cake (see above; or substitute gingerbread recipe of your choosing)

For pumpkin mousse:
1 (1/4-ounces) envelope unflavored gelatin
1/4 cup cold water
1 (15-ounces) can pure pumpkin
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For whipped cream:
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Chopped crystallized ginger, for garnish

Bake the gingerbread cake, according to recipe's instructions. Cut half of the gingerbead into 1-inch cubes; reserve the remainder for snacking. [You may need more or less depending on the dimensions of your trifle bowl.]

Make pumpkin mousse: Sprinkle gelatin over cold water in a small saucepan and let soften 1 minute. Bring to a simmer, stirring until gelatin has dissolved. Whisk together gelatin mixture, pumpkin, brown sugar, spices, and salt in a large bowl until combined well. Beat cream with vanilla using cleaned beaters until it holds soft peaks, then fold into pumpkin mixture gently but thoroughly.

Make whipped cream: Beat cream with sugar and vanilla using mixer until it holds soft peaks.

Assemble trifle: Put half of gingerbread cubes in 2-quart trifle bowl or other deep serving bowl. Top with half of pumpkin mousse, then half of whipped cream. Repeat layering once more with all of remaining gingerbread, mousse, and cream. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. [The trifle, without top layer of whipped cream, can be made 1 day ahead and chilled; whip half of cream just before serving.] Garnish with chopped crystallized ginger, if desired.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

christmas eve report

After a great deal of flip-flopping, K. and I found last-minute (and very serendipitous) Christmas Eve inspiration in the form of this Wall Street Journal article, promising "festive foods from far-flung lands" (and featuring Ana Sortun, our favorite Middleterrean chef).

Thankfully, it delivered. This was a memorably delicious (and, thanks to the sweet potato bisteeya, show-stopping) meal, worthy of any winter holiday.

The Menu:
Sweet Potato Bisteeya
Winter Salad With Spiced Buttermilk Dressing
Turkey Meatballs with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts
Mint Yogurt Sauce
Pumpkin Gingerbread Trifle 


Sweet Potato Bisteeya
Adapted from Spice, by Ana Sortun

A brilliant (and vegetarian) variation on my favorite Moroccan chicken-almond-confectioners sugar creation. It may be the best thing I've made this year.

2 pounds (about 4) sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in half crosswise
2 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, finely minced (about 2 cups)
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
Pinch of saffron (about 12 threads)
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
4 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
3/4 cup pine nuts
1/4 cup confectioners sugar plus 1 tablespoon for dusting
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 pound phyllo dough (you will need only 9 sheets)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan and cover them with water. Bring them to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes, until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a medium sauté pan over medium heat, melt and brown the butter. Stir in the onion, turmeric, and saffron. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft but not brown. Stir in the ginger and set aside.

Drain the potatoes, reserving ½ to ¾ cup of the cooking liquid.

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, purée the potatoes until they are creamy and, soft, adding the reserved cooking liquid. Depending on the size of your food processor, you may need to purée them in two batches. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Add the eggs, lemon juice, and herbs and blend again until smooth. Scrape the mixture into a large mixing bowl, stir in the onion mixture, and season with a little more salt to’ taste. Set aside.

Place the pine nuts on a heavy baking sheet and toast them for 8 to 10 minutes in the oven, until golden brown, Cool.

Coarsely chop the pine nuts by hand or in a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Place in a small mixing bowl and stir in ¼ cup of confectioners sugar and the cinnamon. Set aside.

Begin to assemble the bisteeya by brushing the bottom of a 9-inch pie pan with olive oil. Place one sheet of phyllo dough on the counter and brush generously with oil. Sprinkle with about a tablespoon of the pine nut mixture. Top with another sheet of phyllo dough and brush generously with oil. Add a third sheet and brush with oil.

Place these layers in the pie pan, allowing the edges of pastry to hang over the sides. Repeat the same process with another three layers of phyllo dough (one with nuts and two with oil only) and place over the other sheets in the opposite direction, so that the edges of the pan are completely covered and you have 4 equal flaps to eventually fold over.

Fill the dough with the sweet potato mixture. Make one last layer of 3 by repeating the same process of nuts and layered sheets. Place the dough on top of the sweet potato filling and fold the overlaying edges over on top so that the pie is completely covered.

Brush the top with oil and sprinkle the remaining nuts on top. Bake the pie for 40 to 45 minutes, until puffy and golden brown.

Cut the pie into slices and dust with more powdered sugar. Serve the bisteeya warm or at room temperature.


Turkey Meatballs with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts
Adapted from Orangette

I plan on incorporating these meatballs into my weeknight rotation. To minimize fuss, we prepped them in advance and baked them in the oven.

½ pound ground white-meat turkey
½ pound ground dark-meat turkey
1 small yellow onion, minced
1 egg
¼ cup finely chopped cilantro
½ cup toasted pine nuts
½ cup golden raisins (chopped if they’re large)
½ cup fine bread crumbs
A few pinches ground cumin
Salt and pepper
A few pinches freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
Mint yogurt yogurt sauce (see below)

Mix all ingredients except olive oil in a bowl, preferably using your hands. You don’t want to overwork the meat—that would make your final product tough—but you do want all ingredients to be evenly mixed. Form the mixture into balls (about 1½ inches).

Heat a thin film of olive oil in a heavy skillet over moderate heat, and sauté the meatballs in batches, so as not to crowd them. As they begin to color, turn them regularly so that they are golden on all sides. They should be done when they are evenly browned and feel medium firm—but not hard—to the touch. Place on a paper towel to catch excess oil. [Alternatively, to bake, arrange meatballs on an aluminum foil-lined sheet tray. Brush with one tablespoon oil, then bake in upper third of oven until meatballs are just cooked through, 15 to 20 minutes.]

Serve warm with mint yogurt sauce.

Mint Yogurt Sauce

2 cups plain yogurt
3-4 tablespoons minced mint
1-2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

Whisk together yogurt, mint, lemon juice, and salt to taste.


Winter Salad With Spiced Buttermilk Dressing
Adapted from Ana Sortun

A perfect winter salad—Green Goddess meets Waldorf, with an edge. We changed the proportions to make it a little leafier; the original recipe called for 5 cups of radishes and 1 cup of escarole. Adjust to your liking.

Serves 6

1 Hungarian wax pepper or jalapeño, seeded
2 cups cilantro leaves
½ cup parsley leaves
½ cup tarragon leaves
1 small clove garlic
½ teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or more to taste
1 tablespoon Sherry vinegar
3-4 tablespoons buttermilk or plain yogurt

1 head escarole (or other winter lettuce), dark outer leaves removed and pale green and yellow inner leaves torn into bite-size pieces
1-2 cups thinly sliced mixed radishes and turnips
2 cups thinly sliced crisp apples 
3/4 cup chopped dates
2/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts, finely chopped,

Combine first ten ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. You may need to add more buttermilk or olive oil—adjust to taste.

Place thinly sliced mixed radishes and turnips in a large mixing bowl and lightly season with salt. Let sit 5 minutes. Add apples, dates, escarole and dressing, and toss to coat. Sprinkle with walnuts.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

beet risotto with greens

For the beet-phobic, or even beet-indifferent, this risotto will be a tough sell.

It does not belong to the Jessica Seinfeld school of thought, in which vegetables conceal themselves to deceive small children (scrambled eggs with cauliflower puree! spinach and carrot brownies!). Instead, this risotto declares its beetiness quite forcibly, both in its flavor (sweet, earthy), and in its rich garnet color. It even takes a nose-to-tail approach, utilizing the oft-discarded (but very tasty) beet greens.

For all these reasons—and for the simple fact that it is delicious—this risotto has become an established favorite among beet-loving friends and family. It's simple enough to make on a weeknight (K. froze huge batches to survive early motherhood), but the visual impact makes it appropriate for occasions as well. This year I (somewhat mawkishly) made it for M. on Valentine's Day, and Jambo (somewhat awesomely) served it at her Saturated Color dinner party. The latter should be reason enough to try it.

Beet Risotto with Greens

Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison

Don't omit the lemon - it's brings brightness, and balance, to this dish.

6 cups vegetable or chicken stock
3 tablespoons butter or olive oil, or a mixture of the two
1/3 cup finely diced onion
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil
2 to 3 medium beets, peeled and grated (about 2 cups)
2 to 3 cups beet greens (or substitute Swiss chard, kale, or spinach), stems removed, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Grated zest and juice of one lemon
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, or to taste

Have the stock simmering on the storm. Heat the butter/olive oil in a pot. Add the onion, and cook over medium heat for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the rice, stir to coat it well, and cook for one minute. You should see a white fleck in the middle of each grain of rice.

Add the wine and simmer until it’s absorbed, then stir in the basil, half the parsley, the shredded beets, and the chard or kale, if using. (If you are using beet greens or spinach, see final step.) Add 2 cups stock, cover, and cook at a rapid simmer until the stock is absorbed.

Begin adding the remaining stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until each addition is absorbed before adding the next. When the risotto is nearly done, add the beet greens or spinach. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the lemon juice and zest, and the Parmesan. Garnish with additional cheese and the remaining parsley.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

blondies, redeemed

Brownie vs. Blondie.

For me, this debate has always verged on absurdity; a match-up so asymmetrical, its only value exists in affirming the brownie's obvious superiority.

I won't call these blondies an exception to that rule, but I will say that they transcend their genre, and approach cookie bar perfection. (Apparently cookie bar perfection = butter + brown sugar + booze + chocolate.) A very large hat-tip to Mollie, who served these to us at a birthday party, thereby redeeming the blondie—and inspiring me to make my own batch.


Adapted from Mark Bittman via Smitten Kitchen

I like these best fresh from the freezer, or warm over ice cream. The bourbon is optional but highly recommended. (If you decide to abstain, reduce the flour to one cup.) I've considered experimenting with mashed banana (1/2 cup folded in with chocolate chips), butterscotch chips or shredded coconut, but it would be hard to improve on this version.

8 tablespoons (4 ounces) butter, melted
1 cup light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Pinch salt
1 cup + 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 to 1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 to 1 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
1/4 cup bourbon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8×8 pan.

Whisk together the flour and salt.

Combine melted butter with brown sugar; beat until smooth. Add the egg, beating well, then the vanilla and bourbon. Reduce speed to low; then add the flour mixture.

Using a spatula, stir in the toasted nuts and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until set in the middle. Cool on rack.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


When A announced a few weeks ago that he loved tiramisu, I was simultaneously horrified that I had never made it and thrilled with the inspiration for his birthday dessert. After some initial research and consultation with C, it became clear that choosing the right recipe would be a challenge. There are numerous factions—mascarpone custard vs. mousse, type and quantity of liquor, ladyfingers vs. cake, homemade ladyfingers vs. store bought, wedge vs. square. We settled on Richard Sax’s version, adapted from Providence’s Al Forno restaurant, which ticks the boxes for custard/ modest rum or brandy/ homemade cake sliced into oozing, delightful wedges.

Richard Sax’s recipe raises the bar for this old classic but doesn’t set it. The custard was perfect—silky, rich, and flavorful without approaching boozy (a variety of tiramisu I don’t fancy). However, the custard to cake ratio seemed off—perhaps my baking execution failed, but the cake barely yielded 3 layers. As a result, it felt more like a pudding than cake, and I wanted a more toothsome bite.

The question this endeavor raised in my mind is whether tiramisu warrants a quest for its perfect form. I think it does. There was something deeply satisfying and homey about this dessert, that had me sneaking to the fridge with a spoon in hand, despite any flaws. I am already looking forward to round two.

A few notes: This recipe calls for a seemingly irresponsible amount of espresso—two whole cups. I mistakenly left some in the measuring cup. Use it all. It’s the textural contrast of soaked cake to custard that makes this dessert. The cake also cooked faster than instructed—start checking on it at 20 minutes. Finally, plan ahead—there are many steps, and this dessert only improves with time. I made the cake and custard the night before, and assembled the next morning.

Adapted from Richard Sax

1 recipe Marie’s Vanilla Spongecake (instructions below)
2 cups milk
3/4 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup light rum or cognac (I used brandy)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup mascarpone cheese
2 cups espresso (don’t substitute coffee)
3 -4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

In a saucepan over medium heat, scald all but two tablespoons of the milk with the sugar. Stir until sugar dissolves.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the reserved 2 tablespoons of milk and the flour.

Slowly pour 1/2 of the hot milk into the yolk mixture, whisking continuously. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring until it comes to a boil. Boil for 2 minutes—keep stirring! Remove from heat and strain the custard into a clean bowl. Avoid temptation to skip the straining. Whisk in the butter, liquor, and vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap pressed directly on the surface to prevent a "skin" from forming. Refrigerate until cold, at least 2 hours.

In a bowl, fold and mash mascarpone with a rubber spatula until lightened. Fold in cold custard. Cover and chill until you are ready for assembly.

With a serrated knife, carefully cut the cake horizontally into three layers. Place the bottom layer in the springform pan. Drizzle entire surface with part of the espresso, soaking it generously. Top the cake with 1/3 of the custard. Rinse and repeat with another layer of cake, more espresso, and more custard. For the top layer, place cut side of cake up, and moisten with espresso. Spread with the remaining custard and smooth the surface. Sift cocoa over the top of the cake. Refrigerate cake for at least one hour—I would recommend several hours to ensure adequate chilling and flavor melding.

Marie’s Vanilla Spongecake

4 large eggs, separated
1 pinch salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sifted cornstarch

Preheat oven to 375°F. Lightly butter 8- or 9-inch springform pan. Line bottom with parchment paper and lightly butter and flour.

In a bowl, combine the egg whites with the salt and beat until they form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the sugar and beat until whites are just stiff.

In another bowl, whisk the egg yolks and vanilla. Fold in 1/4 of the beaten whites.
Pour the egg yolk mixture into the beaten whites. Sprinkle the sifted flour and cornstarch through a strainer over the egg whites, and fold together. Do not overmix.

Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Bake until the edges are set and the cake is golden, about 25-30 minutes. Start checking after 20 minutes.

Cool the cake in the pan for a few minutes and invert the cake onto a wire rack to cool completely.

If making in advance, wrap in plastic wrap and store at room temperature.