Friday, April 24, 2009

cauliflower with almonds, capers and raisins

Dag. It wasn’t until posting the photo that I realized we omitted the bread crumbs from this dish. I can see them now, sitting in their ramekin all golden and toasty warm, just waiting to be showered over the cauliflower. Those poor little pankos.

Still, I think the dish was tasty without them (not that I'm encouraging that). And if by some miracle you’ve already exhausted the suite of cauliflower recipes I mentioned last week (yes, cauliflower recipes now comprise approximately 20% of this blog’s content), this is a pretty exciting alternative.

The original recipe, conceived by Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern, calls for cauliflower steaks, but we cut ours into florets in order to maximize the ratio of crispy caramelized bits.

Cauliflower with Almonds, Capers and Raisins

Adapted from Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern

Serves 4

1 head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into florets
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons fresh soft bread crumbs
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons whole almonds
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon capers, rinsed and drained
1-2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon
1 teaspoon finely sliced chives

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a mixing bowl, toss cauliflower with oil, salt and pepper until well coated. Spread in a single layer on baking sheet and roast, stirring and turning once or twice, until cauliflower is tender and crispy brown in spots, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, place a large ovenproof skillet over low heat and add 1 tablespoon butter. When it has melted, add bread crumbs and toss until toasted and golden brown, about 3 minutes. Transfer crumbs to a plate and wipe out pan.

Return pan to medium heat and add 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add almonds and toss until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer almonds to a plate, let cool, and cut each almond into three pieces; set aside.

In a small saucepan over low heat, melt remaining 1/2 tablespoon butter and add raisins, vinegar and 1 tablespoon water. Simmer until raisins are plump and soft, about 5 minutes; drain and set aside. In a small bowl, combine almonds, capers, raisins, parsley, tarragon and chives. Season with salt and pepper and toss to mix.

Toss the roasted cauliflower with the almond-herb mixture and sprinkle with toasted breadcrumbs. Serve immediately.

mint orzo

I was going to applaud our seamless pairing of braised lamb and mint orzo, but thought better of it. Because, really, I defy you to name a meat that wouldn't taste better with a side of mint-crème fraîche orzo.

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

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
¼ cup diced shallots
2 cups orzo
¼ cup dry white wine
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon crème fraîche
¼ 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.

braised lamb with garlic and lemon

I don’t own any Mark Bittman books. I tend to brush over his Minimalist columns in the Wednesday food section. As culinary authorities go, I’d prefer an expert in a particular field/cuisine to someone who cultivates a “jack of all trades” approach. (Sure, I could read Mark Bittman’s recipe for tomato sauce, but why not read Marcella Hazan’s instead?)

So the idea that The Best Recipes in the World would yield anything superlative is, to my mind, a bit counterintuitive. I realize that many people would disagree. In fact, two of them were responsible for introducing us to this recipe last year. They were also responsible for my subsequent reconsideration of the book’s merits. Because if any dish could make me a Mark Bittman convert, it’s this one.

It’s delicious and unfamiliar—tender chunks of lamb with a salty-sweet glaze from the cooked-down lemon. It’s logic-defying in its simplicity. (“I swear to god that’s it,” my friend promised, when I accused him of off-recipe improvisations.) I want to say that it over-delivers, but, given the title of its source, I guess that would be impossible.

Braised Lamb with Garlic and Lemon
Adapted from The Best Recipes in the World, by Mark Bittman

You may be inclined, as we were at first, to omit the final squeeze of fresh lemon juice—don’t.

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds boneless lamb, from the shoulder or leg, cut into 1- to 2-inch chunks
salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 or 6 garlic cloves, slivered
2 lemons
1 cup stock
3-4 sprigs of thyme (optional)

Heat the oil in a large deep skillet over medium-high heat. A minute later, add as many chunks of lamb as will fit without crowding (you will inevitably have to brown in batches). It will take 3 or 4 minutes for the pieces to brown; when they do, turn them over and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Adjust the heat so the pieces brown as rapidly as possible without burning. After each has browned on 2 sides, remove it from the pan and set aside. Repeat process with remaining lamb. The entire browning process will take 10 to 15 minutes.

When all the meat has been removed from the pan, turn off the heat and wait a minute for the pan to cool a bit. Turn the heat back to medium and add the garlic; wash and slice one of the lemons and add it also. Cook for about 30 seconds, then add the liquid. Raise the heat to high and let the liquid bubble away for a minute. Return the meat to the pan; adjust the heat so the mixture bubbles very gently.

Add the thyme, cover and cook, undisturbed, until the meat is very tender, about 1½ hours. [If it cooks too quickly, you may have to add a little water once or twice; if the sauce is too loose, remove the lamb from the pot and reduce until thick and syrupy.]

Taste and adjust the seasoning, then serve over rice with the other lemon cut into wedges.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

triple coconut cream pie

I daydream about Seattle more often than I'd like to admit.

What began as a quiet fascination with grunge rock and Pike Place fishmongers blossomed into a rich fantasy life spent kayaking on Puget Sound, foraging for wild blackberries, apprenticing with Armandino Batali and refining my signature latte art.

I should note: I’ve never been there. So when K. was assigned to the city on business, I prepared a short itinerary of food-related destinations for her to scout. (Salumi, Fran's Chocolates, Le Pichet, Quinn's, Cafe Lago, Poppy, How to Cook a Wolf, Matt's in the Market… okay, it was a rather exhaustive itinerary.)

Though, by admission, her reconnaissance was a little lacking (the aforementioned business was to blame), my efforts were rewarded with a box of Fran’s gray salt caramels and a very thorough report on Tom Douglas’s triple coconut cream pie.

As one might expect given the pie’s wide accolades, the report was glowing. So glowing in fact, that K. gamely agreed to recreate the recipe when I saw her last weekend. And, while I can’t speak to the original, this homespun version didn’t disappoint. The pie is a coconut triple threat: coconut crust, coconut pastry cream, and a generous stratum of whipped cream with coconut shavings. Even A. (aka Serious Turtle) enjoyed the combination, in spite of its “numerous faux pas.” (Like what? “First, it’s coconut,” he said.)

There were some quibbles regarding the amount of whipped cream prescribed by the recipe (copious, and we didn’t even use the full amount), but halfway through my second piece I pronounced it “perfect in every way.”

Triple Coconut Cream Pie
Adapted from Tom Douglas's Seattle Kitchen, by Tom Douglas

Makes one 9-inch pie

For the coconut pastry cream:
2 cups milk
2 cups sweetened shredded coconut
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise
2 large eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened

For the pie:
One 9-inch Coconut Pie Shell (recipe below), prebaked and cooled
2 1/2 cups heavy cream, chilled
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For the garnish:
2 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) unsweetened “chip” or large-shred coconut or sweetened shredded coconut
4-6 ounces good-quality white chocolate (to make 2 ounces of curls)

1. To make the pastry cream, combine the milk and coconut in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add both the seeds and pod to the milk mixture. Place the saucepan over medium-high heat and stir occasionally until the mixture almost comes to a boil.

2. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, and flour until well combined. Temper the eggs (to keep them from scrambling) by pouring a small amount (about 1/3 cup) of the scalded milk into the egg mixture while whisking. Then add the warmed egg mixture to the saucepan of milk and coconut. Whisk over medium-high heat until the pastry cream thickens and begins to bubble. Keep whisking until the mixture is very thick, 4 to 5 minutes more. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the butter and whisk until it melts. Remove and discard the vanilla pod. Transfer the pastry cream to a bowl and place it over a bowl of ice water. Stir occasionally until it is cool. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a crust from forming and refrigerate until completely cold. The pastry cream will thicken as it cools. [The coconut pastry cream can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap as described above.]

3. When the pastry cream is cold, fill the prebaked pie shell with it, smoothing the surface. In an electric mixer with the whisk, whip the heavy cream with the sugar and vanilla on medium speed. Gradually increase the speed to high and whip to peaks that are firm enough to hold their shape. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a star tip with the whipped cream and pipe it all over the surface of the pie, or spoon it over. [If not serving immediately, keep the pie refrigerated, covered with plastic wrap. The finished pie should be consumed within a day.]

4. For the garnish, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spread the coconut chips on a baking sheet and toast in the oven, stirring once or twice, until lightly browned, 7 to 8 minutes. Use a vegetable peeler to scrape about 2 ounces of the white chocolate into curls. Decorate the pie with white chocolate curls and the toasted coconut.

Coconut Pie Crust
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 teaspoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup ice water, or more as needed

In a food processor, combine the flour, coconut, diced butter, sugar, and salt. Pulse to form course crumbs. Gradually add the water while pulsing. Use only as much water as needed for the dough to hold together when gently pressed between your fingers. You don’t want to work the dough with your hands; you just want to make sure the dough is holding. The dough will be quite loose.

Place a large piece of plastic wrap on the counter and dump the coconut dough on top. Pull the edges of the wrap around the dough, forming a rough flat round. Chill for 30 minutes to an hour before rolling. [The dough can be made ahead and stored in the refrigerator for 1-2 days, or in the freezer for a few weeks.]

Once chilled, unwrap the dough and place onto a lightly floured surface. Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough into a 1/8-inch thick circle. Add more flour if the round sticks to the surface. Trim to a 12- to 13-inch circle.

Transfer dough to a 9-inch pie plate. Ease the dough into the plate. Take care to not stretch the dough as it will shrink during baking. Trim any excess dough to a 1- to 1 1/2-inch overhang. Turn the dough under the edge of the pie plate and flute the edge with your finger. Chill at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a sheet of foil or parchment paper in the pie shell and fill with pie weights to prevent bubbling. Bake 20 to 25 minutes until golden. Remove the pie weights and foil and continue to bake another 10 to 12 minutes, or until the bottom of the crust has golden brown patches. Allow to cool before filling.

Monday, April 20, 2009

a belated easter menu

Braised Lamb with Garlic and Lemon
Mint Orzo
Cauliflower with Almonds, Capers and Raisins


Triple Coconut Cream Pie

An unveiling of the wedding china...

Thursday, April 16, 2009

white gazpacho with pine nuts

[Voice over.]

In Córdoba, we realized the car was a mistake. Diverted by one-way / pedestrian-only streets, we drove in circles, spiraling farther and farther from our hostel until finally a parking lot opened on a back alley (“COMPLETO”, and then suddenly, when they spotted us, “LIBRE”)—a scam, most likely, but we were too frustrated to care if they stole our little Fiat Panda. We parked and walked the extra mile with our bags. Okay, just you had the bag. I left mine with the Fiat.

It was already evening—too late for the Mezquita, so instead we explored La Juderia and found that “Calleja de las Flores” lined with geraniums. Beautiful, with the minaret in the background, but we were distracted, hungry. Other restaurants were open already, but no, I insisted: El Churrasco was the one with the gazpacho.

We ordered.
You: the salmorejo: gazpacho's distilled essence (more a dip than a soup), with crumbled hard-boiled egg and serrano ham.
Me: the ajo blanco with pine nuts. We knew I'd made the better call—so did the server, it seemed, by the way he spooned plump sultana raisins and green apple into my bowl. The soup was creamy and resinous from the pine nuts, tart and sweet from the bits of bobbing fruit...


So you see, there's a reason why I've built up this soup in my mind. And even though I knew it would never taste the same outside of Spain, that my memory was informed by a whole constellation of factors (the pleasure of finally relaxing at a table, the shadows of the Mezquita, the lemony smell of geraniums), that didn’t deter me from trying the recipe when I spotted it in Paula Wolfert’s The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen.

El Churrasco, I wish I didn’t know your secret. What makes this soup so “voluptuous,” I discovered, is the addition of raw eggs yolks. You puree the nuts with soaked bread, then add two egg yolks, then slowly stream in one cup of olive oil. If the process sounds familiar, that’s because, basically, you’re building a nutty bread mayonnaise. I’ll admit that I lost my nerve when it came time to add the second egg yolk.

I made a few other changes to the recipe as well, but I’ve preserved Wolfert’s version below so that you can see its original form. (My comments are in italics.) Even though I prepared the currants as instructed, I ended up ditching them in favor of sultanas (plumped in warm water) and diced Granny Smith apple, since that is what I remember. I’m very glad I did because really, this soup depends on the garnish—you want something sweet and tart to cut through the richness. In fact, next time, I would ditch my soup shot idea and use spoons so it’s easier to excavate the raisins that fall to the bottom. Either that, or I’ll work on inventing a way to suspend them mid-soup. Perhaps an ajo blanco aspic? Or—damn—maybe that's why I was supposed to add the second egg yolk.

Also, I didn’t have enough pine nuts (and the ones I had weren’t the greatest), so I had to substitute 1/2 cup almonds (not too great a liberty, as almonds are the traditional nut of ajo blanco). As a result, some of that lovely resinous flavor was missing. Next time, I would use all pine nuts, and not just any pine nuts: the $23.99 pine nuts that I guffaw at every time I’m in Citarella but secretly covet. I think this soup deserves it.

El Churrasco’s White Gazpacho with Pine Nuts and Currants
Adapted from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert

Serves 6

1/4 cup dried currants
2 tablespoons aged sherry wine vinegar
1 3/4 cups dried crumbled stale bread, crusts removed
1 1/2 cups pine nuts
3 large garlic cloves (I used only 2)
1 teaspoon coarse salt
2 large egg yolks (I used only 2)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup dried sultana raisins, plumped in warm water
1 Granny Smith apple, chopped, for garnish

1. Soak the currants in the sherry vinegar and 2 tablespoons water until soft. Drain, reserving the currants and vinegar water separately.

2. Soak the bread in water until soft, then squeeze dry.

3. Process 1 1/3 cups of the pine nuts, the garlic, and the salt in a food processor until a paste forms. (The finer they are ground, the creamier the result will be.) Add the egg yolks and the bread and process to combine. With the machine on, slowly add the olive oil, as if making a mayonnaise. Dilute with 1 cup cold water and process for an instant. Press through a sieve into a bowl. Whisk in 4 cups more water, or enough so that the soup is the consistency of heavy cream.

4. Stir in the reserved vinegary water from the currants. Chill for at least half a day. (We strained the soup again before serving to get rid of the nut sediment.)

5. Just before serving, correct the seasoning with salt. Serve the soup garnished with the reserved currants (or the chopped apple and raisins) and remaining pine nuts.

Note: For a deeper flavor, slowly toast the pine nuts in a small, dry heavy-bottomed skillet, until fragrant but still pale.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

on the genius of madame constance

I need to unload something that’s been weighing on me, heavily, for several days now. It began when I was looking through Bill Smith’s Seasoned in the South, one of several superfluous purchases made at the James Beard Foundation’s recent cookbook sale. (It is much easier to indulge my appetite for cookbooks when they cost $1, like this one. In fact, given the circumstances, I think M. would agree that I demonstrated great restraint.)

Soon enough, I arrived at the recipe for Cashew Cake with Madame Constance's Maple Frosting (which, by the way, looks pretty fantastic). Describing his time with Madame Constance, the housemother of a youth hostel in Quebec, Smith writes:

“She had another maple sugar trick that I have never quite been able to duplicate. She served hot blueberry cobbler. On top she first put vanilla ice cream. Then she poured ice cold heavy cream. Then she immediately poured boiling hot maple sugar over the whole thing, creating a sort of web of taffy all over the cobbler.”

Whoa. Full stop. (That is the sound of my mind being blown.) Really, I haven’t been able to get this out of my head ever since.

The logical part of my brain knows that the effect can’t be too different from pouring hot caramel over a sundae. (Or can it??) But the other, much stronger part of my brain demands that I try this at once. My dreamscapes are festooned with maple caramel spiderwebs.
So, to the point: can someone who feels less guilty about using blackberries in April please experiment and report back?

The boiling hot maple sugar can be produced as follows:

3 /4 cup sugar
1 /2 cup Grade B pure maple syrup

Combine the sugar and the maple syrup in a saucepan and bring them to a boil that can't be stirred down, about 3 minutes.

As for the cobbler, how about Lee Bailey’s blackberry cobbler? (I've been meaning to re-make this--and next time, maybe not omit that extra 1 cup of sugar, which was clearly intended.) Or, for something a little more seasonal (but perhaps less conducive to a boiling maple-sugar bath), the strawberry rhubarb cobbler that K and I conceived last summer:

Buttermilk Strawberry Rhubarb Cobbler
Filling adapted from
The Black Dog Summer on the Vineyard Cookbook, by Joseph Hall; cobbler topping adapted from Lee Bailey

Serves 6 to 8

For the filling:
¾ pound rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
3 cups strawberries, halved
¾ cup water
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup cornstarch

For the topping:
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup buttermilk
1 egg (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Butter a deep 7 x 9-inch baking dish.

In saucepan, combine rhubarb, 1/2 cup sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, lemon. Bring to boil and summer for 2 minutes.

In a small bowl, mix cornstarch with 1/4 cup water. Add cornstarch mixture to rhubarb. Cook for 2 minutes, until thick. Fold in strawberries and cool completely. Spread mixture evenly in the dish.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Cut in 3 tablespoons of butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives. When the strawberry-rhubarb mixture is ready, stir the buttermilk into the dry ingredients and drop by large tablespoons onto the fruit mixture. Bake for 25 minutes, or until biscuits have browned. After 10 minutes, brush the biscuits with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.

Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Monday, April 13, 2009

ginger bundt cake

Despite my affection for most things kitsch, I remain loyal to the classic bundt design. Sure, I can get behind the occasional honeybee cake, but twin bells and butterflies? Nordic Ware, where is your dignity?

I don't know exactly where you stand on bundt design, but, as far as recipes go, I suspect you'd find everything you need in this one.

It's buttery and moist (but still buoyant), with a crackly skin of turbinado sugar, and spicy chunks of crystallized ginger. All this made even better by the fact that I did not bake it (the spoils of our recent potluck).

Double-Ginger Sour Cream and Bundt Cake
Adapted from Bon Appétit, April 2009

Softened butter (for brushing pan)
1/2 cup raw sugar
2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
4 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped crystallized ginger

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Brush softened butter generously all over inside of 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle raw sugar over butter in pan, tilting pan to coat completely.

Whisk flour, ground ginger, baking powder, and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat 1 cup butter in large bowl until smooth. Add 2 cups sugar; beat on medium-high speed until blended, about 2 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in 1 egg yolk and vanilla, stopping to scrape down bowl as needed. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with sour cream in 2 additions, beating on low speed just until blended after each addition. Mix in crystallized ginger. Spread batter in pan, being careful not to dislodge raw sugar.

Bake cake until top is light brown and tester inserted near center comes out with a few small crumbs attached, about 55 minutes. Transfer to rack; cool in pan 15 minutes. Gently tap bottom edge of pan on work surface while rotating pan until cake loosens. Place rack atop pan and invert cake onto rack; remove pan. Cool completely.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

butternut squash kibbeh with spiced feta

Kibbeh (or kibbe or kubbeh) is notorious shapeshifter (much like its name). Levantine cuisine includes over a hundred variations of these dumpling-like creations: fried, steamed, baked, boiled—even raw. The only constant is finely ground bulgur wheat, which serves as a binder for the meat or vegetable in question, the same way that flour/egg/cornstarch would otherwise.

Here the bulgur is steamed with butternut squash, doused in brown butter, and baked in tiny round molds. The result is something of a monolith in miniature, the soft grain yielding to a steaming center of spiced feta cheese. Think arancini, but more delicate.
We ended up making these in two sizes—one, in espresso cups (which we served as hors d'oeuvres on the accompanying espresso plates)—the other in cappuccino cups. Aesthetically, I preferred the former, but I suspect the results would be delicious even if you used a sand castle mold. (Wait, that's genius?) And the softball-sized versions made for very tasty leftovers the next night.

Butternut Squash Kibbeh With Spiced Feta
Adapted from "Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean," by Ana Sortun

Serves 8

3 pounds butternut squash
Salt and ground black pepper
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, finely c
1 large green pepper, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons baharat
1 1/2 cups fine bulgur
1/2 pound feta (preferably French), drained and crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground sumac
1/2 teaspoon Aleppo chilies
2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and bake, flesh side down, on a cookie sheet until tender, about 45 minutes. Let cool slightly, scrape out the flesh, then purée in a food processor until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Simmer the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until nut brown, about 10 minutes. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve and set aside.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and sauté the onion and pepper until tender, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Stir in the paprika and 1 teaspoon of baharat, followed by 2 cups of the squash. Bring to a simmer. Stir in the bulgur and remove from the heat. Cover tightly for 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in the brown butter.

4. Stir together the feta, the remaining baharat, sumac, chilies and parsley, making the mixture as creamy as possible. Season with salt and pepper.

5. Fill eight 1/2-cup ramekins each with a scant 1/2 cup of the bulgur mixture. With your fingers, compress the bulgur to form a large well in the center of each (the bulgur will creep up the sides). Fill each well with 2 heaping teaspoons of feta and use the displaced bulgur to seal in the cheese. Set the ramekins on a cookie sheet and bake until hot, about 15 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the inside of the ramekins, unmold the kibbeh and serve immediately.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

menu: a potluck

El Churrasco's Gazpacho with Pine Nuts and Currants

Butternut Squash Kibbeh with Spiced Feta

Fennel Risotto with Ricotta and Dried Chili
Kale Salad with Pine Nuts, Currants and Parmesan

Ginger Bundt Cake
Lemon Ice Cream

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

cauliflower, four ways

It began with Food and Wine’s "Best Restaurant Dishes of 2008" roundup, and my spontaneous inter-city crush on Zahav's Fried Cauliflower with Lebneh.

Then, there was Ubuntu's cast-iron pot cauliflower. Spiced with vadouvan (a revelation unto itself). Smeared on chickpea fries. Pure creamy, curried ridiculousness.

Together, these cauliflower epiphanies awakened some long-dormant or neglected part of me, and inspired a winter of brassica-fueled fantasies. They helped to stave off the discontent brought on by Seasonal Affective Disorder and the frequent refrain of “Stormy Weather” on NPR’s Marketplace.

It’s April now, and I’m nearly regretting the advent of spring as it spells the end of this seasonal romance. So here is my cauliflower swan song, an ode to the vegetable in its many forms: simply roasted, spiced with cumin and coriander, slathered in tahini, or Sicilian style.

Roasted Cauliflower with Lebneh
To write a recipe comprised only of a vegetable + olive oil + salt and pepper seems a bit absurd, as though one is seeking to lay claim to the wonderful caramelizing effects of a hot oven. So, I won’t call this is a recipe. But please trust that if you toss some cauliflower florets with a glug of olive oil and some salt and pepper, and roast them in a 400-degree oven for 40 minutes or so (tossing after 20 minutes to ensure they cook evenly), the results will be superlative. Á la Zahav, we serve these with lebneh or Greek yogurt, spiked with chopped dill, chives and mint.

Some noteworthy variations:
- Toss the just-roasted florets with 2 tablespoons of Dukkah.
- Sprinkle the florets with a combination of freshly ground cumin and coriander seeds (a 2:1 ratio), plus some cayenne or chili powder, before they go in the oven.

Roasted Cauliflower with Tahini Sauce
Adapted from “Olives & Oranges” by Sara Jenkins & Mindy Fox

1 large head cauliflower, cleaned, trimmed and cut into florets
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon medium-coarse sea salt, or more to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon tahini paste
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (approximately 1 lemon)
1 garlic clove, minced
Chopped parsley, for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a mixing bowl, toss cauliflower with oil, salt and pepper until well coated. Spread in a single layer on baking sheet and roast, stirring and turning once or twice, until cauliflower is tender and crispy brown in spots, about 45 minutes.

While cauliflower is roasting, puree tahini paste, water, lemon juice, garlic and remaining ¼ teaspoon salt in a blender until well combined.

Remove cauliflower from oven and immediately transfer to a serving bowl. Pour tahini over the cauliflower and toss to combine. Add chopped parsley, if desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Sicilian-Style Cauliflower
Adapted from Kim O’Donnel

1 head cauliflower, cleaned, trimmed and cut into florets, about 1 pound
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 cup raisins, soaked in 1 cup white wine
1/4 cup pine nuts
4 cloves garlic, smashed
3-4 anchovy fillets, chopped
At least 1/4 cup plain bread crumbs, up to 1/2 cup
1/2 pound short pasta, such as penne, farfalle or gemelli
1 teaspoon salt
Shaved parmigiano
Small handful chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place cauliflower in baking dish. Add olive oil to florets so that they are generously coated. Season with salt and pepper. Add raisins and wine, pine nuts, garlic and anchovies, and stir to combine. Sprinkle bread crumbs generously on top.

Bake uncovered until fork tender, approximately 45 minutes. After 20 minutes, check for liquid level; if wine is completely evaporated, add a few ounces of water to keep raisins from burning.

For pasta, bring a pot of water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and pour into serving bowl. Pour cauliflower and trimmings over pasta and mix to combine. Add parmigiano, if using, and garnish with parsley. Makes 3-4 servings.

Cauliflower in a Cast-Iron Pot
Adapted from Jeremy Fox, executive chef of Ubuntu

Serves 4

2 heads cauliflower, separated into florets and then cut into 1/8-inch slices (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup whole milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vadouvan (from
1 teaspoon Italian parsley
Day-old bread for toasting
Fine sea salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready a rimmed baking sheet. Reserve one-quarter of the sliced (raw) cauliflower in a medium bowl. Coat the remaining cauliflower slices with the oil and season lightly with salt. Spread them on the baking sheet. Roast for at total of 30 minutes, stirring well halfway through the roasting time.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat; this will take about 5 minutes, until it becomes foamy and starts to turn golden brown.

Remove from the heat and add the vadouvan, stirring to combine. Let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour; the butter will be absorbed. (You can make the vadouvan butter in advance and refrigerate.)

Reserve about 4 tablespoons of the remaining (raw) sliced cauliflower for garnish. Place the rest of the sliced cauliflower in a large saucepan over medium to medium-low heat. Add the milk and enough water to barely cover the cauliflower (this could be as much as 4 cups). Add salt to taste, stirring to dissolve. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, until the cauliflower has softened. Remove from the heat.

Use an immersion blender to puree the mixture until it is very smooth and creamy. Place over low heat to keep warm while you make the toast.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Have ready 4 individually sized cast-iron serving dishes (may substitute small casserole dishes). Cut slices of bread to your desired thickness and place them on an ungreased baking sheet. Brush the tops of the bread with some of the vadouvan butter. Bake for 5 to 6 minutes, until browned.

While the bread is toasting in the oven, taste and adjust the seasoning of the roasted and pureed cauliflower with salt and pepper as needed.

Season the reserved (raw) cauliflower with a little of the vadouvan butter, the parsley and salt to taste, stirring to coat evenly.

When ready to serve, divide the roasted cauliflower evenly among the small cast-iron serving dishes. Top each portion with equal amounts of the pureed cauliflower, then spoon small amounts of the vadouvan butter on top. Scatter the raw cauliflower slices over each portion; garnish with the greens, if using. Serve with the toasted bread slices on the side.

Other ways of looking at a cauliflower:

Cauliflower Risotto from Jamie Oliver
Farfalle with Cauliflower and Toasted Breadcrumbs
Cauliflower, White Bean, and Feta Salad from Bon Appétit

Sunday, April 5, 2009

momofuku ssäm bar brussels sprouts

Momofuku Ssäm Bar brussels sprouts. Photo by roboppy.

The first time we served these, they appeared alongside Moro’s butternut squash, chickpea and tahini salad.

It was a mistake.

The lesson—and this is as much a tribute to the dish as it is a criticism: these sprouts are lousy with fish sauce. That is the secret to their addictive, lip-smacking umaminess. But it’s also why they tend to drown out the nuance in any accompanying dish. I would recommend serving them with some rice, and maybe a roast chicken—something comfortable with a supporting role (or at least with a complementary palette of flavors).

Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Adapted from Gourmet, October 2007

I followed the recipe pretty closely but cut down on the fish sauce a bit, and just glazed the sprouts with the dressing (which meant lots of dressing leftover).

For brussels sprouts

2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved lengthwise
3 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce (preferably Tiparos brand)
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons finely chopped mint
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro stems
1 garlic clove, minced
1 (1 1/2-inch) fresh red Thai chile, thinly sliced crosswise, including seeds
Garnish: cilantro sprigs; torn mint leaves; chopped scallions

For puffed rice
1/2 cup crisp rice cereal such as Rice Krispies
1/4 teaspoon canola oil
1/4 teaspoon shichimi togarashi (Japanese seven-spice blend)

Roast brussels sprouts:

Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in upper third.

Toss Brussels sprouts with oil, then arrange, cut sides down, in a 17- by 12-inch shallow baking pan. Roast, without turning, until outer leaves are tender and very dark brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Add butter and toss to coat.

Make dressing:

Stir together all dressing ingredients until sugar has dissolved.

Make puffed rice while sprouts roast:

Cook cereal, oil, and shichimi togarashi in a small skillet over medium heat, shaking skillet and stirring, until rice is coated and begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally.

Finish dish:

Put Brussels sprouts in a serving bowl, then toss with just enough dressing to coat. Sprinkle with puffed rice and serve remaining dressing on the side.

Cooks' notes:
·Puffed rice can be made 3 days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature.
·Dressing, without mint and cilantro, can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature and add herbs before using.
·Brussels sprouts can be roasted 4 hours ahead. Chill, uncovered, until cool, then cover. Reheat, uncovered, in a 350°F oven until hot, 10 to 15 minutes.
Roast brussels sprouts:
Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in upper third. Toss Brussels sprouts with oil, then arrange, cut sides down, in a 17- by 12-inch shallow baking pan. Roast, without turning, until outer leaves are tender and very dark brown, 40 to 45 minutes. Add butter and toss to coat.

Make dressing:

Stir together all dressing ingredients until sugar has dissolved.

Make puffed rice while sprouts roast:
Cook cereal, oil, and shichimi togarashi in a small skillet over medium heat, shaking skillet and stirring, until rice is coated and begins to turn golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally.

Finish dish:

Put Brussels sprouts in a serving bowl, then toss with just enough dressing to coat. Sprinkle with puffed rice and serve remaining dressing on the side.

chocolate stout cake

I feel ambivalent about layer cakes. Of course, they have their place as nostalgic hallmarks of birthdays, weddings, etc., but I've never felt compelled to attempt one myself.

There are so many variables to consider—flavor, crumb consistency, cake-to-frosting ratio—and, even when all of these things align, the results are rarely earth-shattering. For the baker, it seemed, too little reward.

That's probably why, many years later, this marks my first frosted layer cake (not counting Lee Bailey's peach cake, with its cumulous layers of whipped cream).

Given its many adoring Epicurious fans, I expected to like the cake. What I didn't expect was that I'd enjoy the process of making it. With a bit of work in advance, it was surprisingly easy. Dangerously easy, even. As in why-don't-I-just-whip-up-a-multi-tiered-cake-on-a-whim easy.

And the cake itself? It was almost earth-shattering. Almost.

Chocolate Stout Cake
Adapted from Bon Appétit, September 2002; recipe originally from the Barrington Brewery in Great Barrington, MA

I halved this recipe (reflected below) and it still made for an imposing two-tier cake. (I can’t imagine what kind of mixing bowl could accommodate the original proportions.) The layers I made the night before and wrapped in tinfoil; the frosting (semisweet, which was far from cloying) I whipped up the morning of. Next time, I’d try a sour cream frosting, or perhaps a malted chocolate frosting—something to accent the stoutiness of the cake.

1 cup stout (such as Guinness)
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)
2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sour cream
1 1/3 cups whipping cream
3/4 pound semisweet chocolate, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter two 8-inch round cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Line with parchment paper. Butter paper. Bring 2 cups stout and 2 cups butter to simmer in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add cocoa powder and whisk until mixture is smooth. Cool slightly.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter equally among prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack; cool 10 minutes. Turn cakes out onto rack and cool completely.

For icing:

Bring cream to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours.

Place 1 cake layer on plate. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in large bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sour cream in another large bowl to blend. Add stout-chocolate mixture to egg mixture and beat just to combine. Add flour mixture and beat briefly on slow speed. Using rubber spatula, fold batter until completely combined. Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to rack; cool completely.

Bring cream to simmer in heavy medium saucepan. Remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Refrigerate until icing is spreadable, stirring frequently, about 2 hours.

Place 1 cake layer on plate. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with second cake layer. Spread 2/3 cup icing over. Top with third cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake.

green beans with crispy leeks and dill

Yes, these green beans were exactly what they advertised.

Vibrant Tasty Green Bean Recipe
Adapted from Heidi Swanson

Yield: 6 servings

4 leeks, well washed, root end and tops trimmed, sliced lengthwise into quarters and then chopped into 1/2-inch segments
1/3 cup chopped dill
3/4 pound green beans, tops and tails trimmed and cut into 1-inch segments
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt

In a large thick-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, add a splash of olive oil, then the leeks. Season with salt, and stir until the leeks are coated and glossy. Cook, stirring regularly until the leeks are golden and crispy (about 10 minutes). Stir in the dill, and add the green beans. Cook for a couple more minutes - just until the the beans brighten up and lose that raw bite. Transfer to a platter and serve immediately.

sicilian slow-roasted onion salad

Just the name "slow-roasted" conjures something vivid and primal (the urge to build a fire pit?). It is the language of moist and meltingly tender meats; of flavors that are rich and mellow. It's not a technique one usually thinks of with vegetables, but it should be.

Sicilian Slow-Roasted Onion Salad
Adapted from Paula Wolfert, 150 Best American Recipes

2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large onions (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons water
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf parsley
1/2 teaspoon red or white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and brush the foil with oil.

Cut off and discard the ends of the onions. Leaving outer skin intact, slice onions crosswise 1/2 inch thick. Lay slices on the prepared baking sheet and brush them with oil.

Bake onions for 1 hour, until just tender. Turn the onions and bake for 30 minutes more, or until deeply browned. Remove from oven and season with salt. Transfer to large shallow serving dish and let chill to room temperature. Discard onion skins and any dried-out rings.

Whisk together 2 tablespoons of olive oil, water, and remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Spoon the vinaigrette over the onions and serve.

braised chicken with mushrooms and almonds

You may wonder why I chose to begin this post with a photo of the dish in medias res. The answer is: pure vanity.

Pictured here, en braise, you can admire the chicken’s crispy golden skin.

On the plate, swallowed by a thick glaze of mushrooms, pureed almonds and caramelized onions, it acquired a sort of sickly, gray pallor. (Somehow, in Anne Burrell’s glossy Food Network universe, this was not so apparent.) Moreover, the pureed almonds were never fully absorbed by the sauce (my fault, for not pureeing them long enough?)—hence its unfortunate, freckled appearance:

Of course, the situation was not helped by my forgetting to apply the requisite greenery—chives, parsley—to the chicken thigh photographed here. But even with the herbs, and buttressed with green beans, this was not an attractive piece of poultry.

Forgoing appearances, the chicken was quite tasty, and very well received by our friends.

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Almonds
Adapted from Anne Burrell

Extra-virgin olive oil
8 chicken thighs
Kosher salt
1/2 pound pancetta, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 large onions, julienned
Pinch crushed red pepper flakes
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 pounds assorted mushrooms, such as shiitake, oyster or cremini, cleaned and sliced
2 cups dry white wine
4 to 6 cups chicken stock
1 bundle thyme
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds, toasted
Chopped chives, for garnish

Coat a large, wide, deep pan with olive oil and bring to a high heat. Pat the chicken skin dry with paper towels and season generously with salt. Add chicken skin side down to the pan. You should hear a big sizzle as the thighs hit the pan. Do not try to move the chicken, the skin will stick itself to the bottom of the pan and willunstick itself when it is ready. If the pan is smoking excessively turn the burner down and continue to cook. When the skin is brown and crispy, turn the chicken over and brown it on the other side. Remove the chicken from the pan and reserve.

Lower the heat if you have not already done so and ditch most of the excess fat. Add the pancetta and brown. When the pancetta has started to get brown and crispy add the onions. Season with salt and crushed red pepper and sweat over medium heat for 7 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms, season with salt and saute for 3 to 4 minutes or until they release their juices. Add the wine and reduce by half. Return the chicken to the pan. Add chicken stock to almost cover the chicken. Add the thyme and bay leaves. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the chicken for 30 to 35 minutes. Add more chicken stock, if needed.

While the chicken is cooking puree the almonds in the food processor. Drizzle in a little olive oil while the machine is running to make this a loose paste. Season with salt and reserve.

Once the chicken has cooked for 30 to 35 minutes, remove it from the pan and reserve. Taste the sauce for seasoning and stir in the almond puree. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer to thicken the sauce, if needed. The almond puree will help to thicken the sauce and to make it very rich.

Spoon the mushroom almond sauce over and garnish with chopped chives.

whipped ricotta with thyme and oregano

For such a simple recipe, this ricotta was nearly a disaster.

First there was the grilled country bread. Andrew Carmellini suggests two options for toasting the bread; on a grill, or in the broiler. And in an unexpected turn, we opted for the latter. It is a rare thing that I will willingly cook something in the broiler. Do you remember the furnace in “Home Alone” that turns into a fire-mouthed monster? Or that scene from “Elf” where Buddy is scared of the radiator?

Buddy: There's a horrible noise coming from the evil box underneath the window. It sounds like this kssstttowwwwwwoooooooo!
Walter: It’s not evil buddy it’s a radiator. It makes noise when it comes on.
Buddy: No it doesn’t it’s very evil! It’s scary to look at! Okay, I'm going...Wait, yes it is. It’s okay.

That pretty much summarizes my feelings for [read: irrational fear of] the broiler. As many times as I use it, I can never get over the slightly disconcerting smell, and sound, and smokiness of the production.

So I tend to avoid it. In this case, rightly so. Our first batch of grilled country bread, left in 30 seconds too long, turned to coal. Somehow, we recovered our nerve, and the next batch fared much better. In the end, we were left with perfectly crisp, charcoal-crusted bread.

Then, the ricotta. The ratio of milk to ricotta recommended in the recipe resulted in something more akin to thick ricotta soup, despite very vigorous whisking on the part of the immersion blender (with whisk attachment). We decided to substitute cow’s milk ricotta, which may have accounted for the off-texture, but I doubt it. Next time, I would add the milk a few tablespoons at a time.

And there will be a next time. Even in its near-liquid state, this was completely delicious. I believe Carmellini when he describes it as his “most popular antipasto ever.”

Whipped Ricotta with Thyme and Oregano
Adapted from Urban Italian, by Andrew Carmellini

2 cups Sardinian sheep’s milk ricotta (or regular cow's milk ricotta)
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
2 teaspoons coarse ground black pepper
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon dried oregano, on the branch if possible
2-3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Using a whisk or a KitchenAid with the paddle attachment, beat the ricotta and milk together until light and fluffy. Add the table salt and mix well. Place the mixture in a serving bowl; sprinkle generously with other seasonings. Top with olive oil and serve with grilled country bread.

Grilled Country Bread
Adapted from Urban Italian, by Andrew Carmellini

1 loaf Italian bread (ciabatta or semolina)
extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 garlic cloves, crushed

Preheat grill to highest setting, or put oven on broil and set the rack on the highest level. Cut the bread into thick slices. Drizzle each side with olive oil (about 1 tablespoon per slice), and season with salt and pepper.

Grill bread (or place under broiler) until crispy and charcoal-colored around the edges. Turn and repeat on other side. Remove bread and rub on both sides with fresh garlic clove. Serve warm.


Grilled Rustic Italian Loaf, Our Daily Bread
Whipped Lioni Ricotta with Thyme and Oregano

Braised Chicken with Mushrooms and Almonds
Sicilian Onion Salad
Green Beans with Leeks and Dill

Chocolate Stout Cake

2007 Donnafugata Anthilia Sicilia Bianco

2005 Williams Selyem Bucher Pinot Noir