Sunday, May 31, 2009

lemon cornmeal cake with blueberry sauce

I can't decide if this cake is ultimately forgettable or the fulfillment of all my weeknight dessert fantasies.

It probably won't haunt your dreams or inflame your senses; it's a cake of humble ingredients and simple preparation.

But that's not to say you shouldn't make it. You should.

Because really, it's very tasty.

And unusual.

Even elegant (behind its rustic facade).

Dressed up in some whipped cream and blueberry compote, I suspect it's just the kind of cake you're looking to make on a summer Wednesday.

Lemon Cornmeal Cake with Lemon Glaze and Blueberry Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appetit, April 2009

I drastically reduced the amount of confectioners sugar' in the glaze due to my ongoing vendetta against confectioners' sugar icing. (It dates back to Nigel Slater’s pistachio cake.) Mine was more like a lemon syrup, which I brushed over the cake while it was still warm.

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup yellow cornmeal
3/4 cup sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon peel
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled

1 tablespoon powdered sugar
2 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon Juice

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch cake pan with 2-inch-high sides; line the bottom with parchment. [I used a 9-inch springform pan.]

Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl; whisk to blend. Whisk buttermilk, eggs, lemon peel, and vanilla in small bowl. Pour buttermilk mixture and melted butter into flour mixture. Using rubber spatula, gently fold liquids into flour mixture until just blended (do not stir). Scrape batter into pan; spread evenly.

Bake cake until tester inserted into center comes out clean and cake pulls away from sides of pan, about 30 minutes.

Immediately run knife around sides of cake. Place rack atop cake in pan. Using oven mitts, hold pan and rack firmly together and invert cake onto rack. Remove pan from cake. Place another rack on bottom of cake; invert 1 more time so that cake is top side up.

Combine powdered sugar and lemon juice in small bowl. Whisk until combined; the glaze should be slightly opaque. (Add more sugar or lemon juice to taste.) Brush the glaze onto the warm cake and cool completely.

Serve with warmed blueberry sauce and whipped cream.

Blueberry Sauce
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries or frozen, thawed (13 to 14 ounces)
2/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
Pinch of salt

Combine ingredients in medium saucepan. Stir over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture comes to simmer, about 7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until berries are very soft and liquid is syrupy, stirring often, about 7 minutes. [Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. Rewarm before serving, if desired.]

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

roasted chicken, ramps and potatoes

[First, some mood music.]

I know that saying goodbye is natural. And, after many years spent acquainting myself with the seasons of the Northeast, I've learned how to say goodbye to certain foods. I accept that I will never eat asparagus in August, or tomatoes in February. In fact, I prefer it that way.

But last Saturday, when I saw Rick Bishop’s sign proclaiming the season’s “Last Ramps!” my only thought was:
It’s too soon.

This tends to happen with ramps. I file them alongside stinging nettles and fiddlehead ferns as examples of spring’s cruel transience. May becomes an anxiety-ridden race to enjoy these foods to their fullest.

Clearly, I could not ignore this last gasp of springtime, particularly given its source (for most New Yorkers, Rick Bishop pretty much invented the ramp). So I bought two bouquets of ramps and pledged to use them, in some form, before the weekend’s end. Ultimately, it came down to spaghetti with ramps and bread crumbs (a perennial favorite), or roasted chicken with ramps. In the interest of Sunday comfort food, we opted for the later.

I suppose you could call this a "one-pan wonder"—a genre I tend to avoid for some reason (latent snobbery?). But in this case, the single-pan synergy of ingredients was undeniable. The potatoes and ramp bulbs absorbed the chicken juices during cooking. The timing was seamless. (We kept the potatoes and ramps in the oven while making the sauce, which left them perfectly crisp—though it did add another pan to the equation.) And the entire dish—and room—was infused with the ramps' garlicky-leeky goodness.

As a recipe post, I realize it's a bit belated. But, if nothing else, I've given you the gift of Boyz II Men.

Roasted Chicken, Ramps and Potatoes
Adapted from Epicurious

Serves 4

3/4 pound ramps
1 (3- to 3 1/2-pound) chicken, cut into 8 pieces
1 pound small red potatoes, halved
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken broth

Preheat oven to 500 degrees.

Trim roots from ramps and slip off outer skin on bulbs if loose. Cut off and reserve leaves, leaving white bulbs attached to slender pink stems.

Put leaves and bulbs in separate bowls.

Pat chicken dry. Put in a flameproof large shallow roasting pan, without crowding, and surround with potatoes. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil and rub all over to coat evenly. Arrange chicken skin sides up and season with salt and pepper. Roast in upper third of oven 20 minutes.

Toss bulbs with remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil and season with salt. Scatter bulbs around chicken and roast mixture until breast pieces are just cooked through, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer breast pieces to a platter and keep warm. Roast remaining chicken and vegetables 5 minutes more, or until cooked through. Transfer to platter and keep warm, loosely covered with foil. (If crisper skin is desired, broil chicken only, skin sides up, about 2 minutes.)

Pour off fat from roasting pan and straddle pan across 2 burners. Add wine and deglaze pan by cooking over high heat, scraping up brown bits.

Boil wine until reduced to about 1/4 cup and add broth. When broth boils, add ramp leaves and stir until wilted and tender, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with tongs and add to chicken. Boil pan juices until reduced to about 1/2 cup and pour around chicken.

Friday, May 22, 2009

indian-spiced chickpea salad with yogurt and herbs

One letter can spell the difference between this simple chickpea salad and un petit desastre.

In my case, that letter is “h”—as in,“shimmering” versus “simmering.” Somehow, against all logic and culinary intuition, I managed to confuse the former for the latter when heating the peanut oil for this recipe.

Sure, that doesn’t sound like a big deal, except the moment I added mustard seeds to said “simmering” oil they immediately backfired, raining tiny pellets all over the stove.

The beauty of this recipe is that it took approximately two minutes to correct this mistake (well, that plus 15 minutes of sponging down the stove after dinner—also, my pride has not fully recovered). And the mustard seeds, when properly toasted with cumin and fennel, work to fantastic (and very fragrant) effect. I only wish I had more occasion to “pour hot oil and spices” over foodstuffs.

Indian-Spiced Chickpea Salad with Yogurt and Herbs
Adapted from Food & Wine

This recipes comes from Jerry Traunfeld, of Seattle’s Poppy restaurant. (Yes, it’s on my list.) It’s delicious as printed, though I reduced the amount of yogurt to about 1/2 cup.

Serves 4

Two 15-ounce cans chickpeas, rinsed, drained and patted dry
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
3/4 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
1½ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped mint
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Pour the chickpeas into a large bowl. In a small skillet, heat the peanut oil until shimmering. Add the mustard seeds, partially cover the skillet and cook over moderately high heat until the mustard seeds stop popping, about 1 minute. Add the cumin and fennel seeds and the crushed red pepper and cook until the mixture is fragrant, about 30 seconds. Pour the hot oil and spices over the chickpeas. Stir in the yogurt, lemon juice, sliced scallions, chopped cilantro and mint and salt. Serve the chickpea salad at room temperature.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

asparagus with citrus and oregano

I am not one of those technology-loathing Luddites who believes that nothing good can come from a microwave. I have too much respect for Stouffer’s Chicken à la King (a grade-school favorite) to make such a claim.

But, despite the endorsements of many respected chefs and grandmothers, the idea of cooking with a microwave never felt right.

That is, it never felt right until last week, when I decided to attempt Andrew Carmellini’s microwaved asparagus with orange and oregano. Less than ten minutes later, this was the result.

I’ll be honest, this is not the most delicious asparagus I’ve ever tasted. But, when you factor in the effort-to-reward ratio, it’s certainly up there. In its best moments, asparagus à la Carmellini gives chicken à la king a run for its money.

Asparagus with Citrus and Oregano
Adapted from
Urban Italian, by Andrew Carmellini

Serves 2-4

For the asparagus:
1 bunch thick asparagus
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Zest of 1 orange

For the dressing:
2 oranges
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 scallions, finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably on the branch
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Sea salt for sprinkling

Cut off an inch or two from the bottom of the asparagus discard. Place the asparagus in a microwave-safe dish with high sides. Add the olive oil and ¼ cup water. Using a Microplane, grate the orange zest over the top. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and put it in the microwave for 2 minutes on high. Rotate the dish and cook for approximately 2 more minutes, depending on the size of the asparagus. (The stalks should be bright green and crunchy-tender.)

Segment the oranges by slicing off the top and bottom of each, removing the peel and pith, and cutting the segments out from between the dividing membranes. Place segments in a bowl and squeeze the juice from the orange membranes over them. Add the olive oil, scallion, oregano, and lemon juice. Combine with a spoon and season to taste.

Remove the plastic wrap from the dish and drain any water. Spoon dressing over the asparagus and sprinkle with sea salt.

Monday, May 18, 2009

asparagus with lemon and parmesan

Remember when we talked about being loyal to the asparagus? Of seeking at once to preserve and enhance its inherent goodness?

This is what I meant. Parboiled to the perfect degree of tenderness, dressed in lemon zest, parmesan and extra-virgin olive oil—it's asparagus as Nature intended.

Asparagus for Loyalists
Adapted from Simply Recipes

This recipe comes from Selland's Market (yes, Selland's of Shrimp Louie fame), which means it's loyal to our hometown as well.

1 bunch of asparagus, woody stems removed
2 tablespoons good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 teaspoon lemon zest
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut the asparagus into 1- to 2-inch sections, slicing on the bias.

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Add the asparagus and reduce heat slightly to a simmer. Parboil the asparagus for exactly 2 minutes. Drain the hot water. While the asparagus are still hot, toss them with the olive oil, parmesan, and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

sautéed chicken with olives, capers and roasted lemons

About four months ago, I experimented with something called the Miracle Berry. I say that as if you don't already know what it is, which is unlikely, given that the Miracle Berry has become a cult phenomenon of late. Here’s how it works: Miraculin, the active ingredient, temporarily blocks certain taste receptors in the mouth, eliminating any sour or bitter qualities in food. In other words, for about 30 minutes, it will make anything you eat taste sweet.

Vinegar tastes like golden syrup. Tomatoes taste like nectarines. And lemons yield a citrus flavor sweeter and more delicious than Minute Maid could ever conceive.

In my Miraculin-altered state, I consumed approximately seven raw lemons, chewing the rinds to squeeze out every last bit of sweet juice. When the berries wore off, my mouth was raw and chapped, and my stomach was close to mutiny. As much as I enjoyed my victory over the lemons' natural defenses, I thought it dangerous to repeat.

Roasting lemons certainly can never duplicate the sweet effects of Miraculin. But it's another way to appreciate the lemon in its whole form. Combined with capers and olives, the lemons create a seriously potent sauce for chicken—at once salty, sweet and sour. (It’s the Italian lemon-caper combination, taken to the max.)

Occasionally the results are lip puckering—when you encounter a particularly pungent burst of caper juice, for instance. But most pleasure comes with a little pain. If you can’t handle it, pop some Miracle Berries beforehand—this dish will probably taste like Fruit Loops.

Sautéed Chicken with Olives, Capers and Roasted Lemons
Adapted from Food & Wine

Be careful not to overcook the chicken breasts in the browning stage. The flour should help achieve the desired color, but if they’re still not golden after six minutes, I’d move on. On a whim, I added about 2 tablespoons of plumped golden raisins when preparing the spinach, which provided a nice counterpoint to the saltiness of the dish. Were I to make this again, I'd add some to the caper-olive mixture as well.

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 lemons, sliced 1/4-inch thick
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Two 5-ounce bags baby spinach
2 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs
Four 6-ounce skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1/4 cup all-purpose flour, for dusting
1/2 cup pitted green Sicilian or Spanish olives, sliced
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small dice
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Drizzle olive oil on the parchment, then arrange the lemon slices in a single layer. Drizzle the lemons lightly with oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes, until the lemons begin to brown around the edges.

Meanwhile, heat a large, deep skillet. Add the spinach and cook over high heat, tossing, until wilted, about 2 minutes. Transfer the spinach to a strainer; press out the liquid. Wipe out the skillet and heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in it. Add the breadcrumbs and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until toasted, 2 minutes. Add the spinach, season with salt and pepper and cook for 1 minute.

In a deep medium skillet, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of oil. Season the chicken with salt and pepper and dust with the flour, shaking off the excess. Cook the chicken over high heat, turning once, until golden, about 6 minutes. Add the olives, capers, and stock and bring to a boil. Cook over high heat until the stock is reduced by about two-thirds, about 5 minutes. Add the roasted lemons, butter and parsley, season with salt and pepper and simmer just until the chicken is cooked through, about 1 minute.

Transfer the chicken to plates and spoon the sauce on top. Serve the spinach on the side.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

roasted asparagus with panko bread crumbs

I know what you're thinking: The first asparagus of the year—the asparagus you've been waiting for all winter, the only delicate green thing to enter your kitchen in months—and you opt for a Dijon-mayonnaise-breadcrumb coating?

Well, before you accuse me of compromising the integrity of our asparagus—of crudely defiling their bright spring flavor—a few points in my defense:

First, these weren't the slender, delicate spears of asparagus I usually seek out (and which perform best sans accoutrement). This was thick, big-boned asparagus. I thought: why not take advantage of that structural integrity?

Second, there was some question as to the origins of the asparagus, which was advertised as "Local" but sporting commercial tags. Asparagus with such dubious pedigree does not require a pedestal.

Third, I thought it would be a fitting (if slightly more sophisticated) homage to the mayonnaise-draped asparagus of my youth.

And last, well, I thought it sounded tasty.

Did I mention the Dijon-mayonnaise-breadcrumb coating? It delivered, in all the ways one might expect, and in other ways as well. Because the best thing about these asparagus is that they tasted like asparagus.

Roasted Asparagus with Panko Breadcrumbs
Adapted from The Way We Cook, by Sheryl Julian and Julie Riven

I took it easy on the Dijon-mayonnaise mixture, applying just enough to provide adherence for the breadcrumbs.

1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup panko bread crumbs
1 pound thick asparagus spears, tough ends removed (I also shaved down the stalks to remove some of the woody bits)
1-2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a baking sheet, or line with parchment.

In a large shallow bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice, salt and pepper. [Pie plates are good for this use.] Spread the panko crumbs in another shallow bowl or pan.

Roll the asparagus spears in the mustard mixture, then in the panko crumbs. Place the asparagus on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil. [The asparagus can be covered and refrigerated for several hours until roasting.]

Roast for about 15 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the cooking time. The crumbs should turn a golden brown. Sprinkle with salt (or another squeeze of lemon juice) and serve immediately.