Thursday, December 9, 2010

chocolate salty oats

They say a new child is born in the U.S. every seven seconds. I can’t be sure, but I suspect that, if you tracked the number of artisanal food stores popping up around Brooklyn, the statistic would be something close to that.

Of course, I’m not complaining; but, as much as I appreciate any opportunity to pick up a new small-batch jam or specialty vinegar, I’m resigned to the fact that none of these stores—not even their own tiny LES Market branch-let—can fill the void in my heart left by Formaggio Kitchen in Cambridge, MA.

What makes Formaggio so special? Maybe the cheese selection (perfectly curated and cared for), or the sidewalk barbecues, or the complimentary honey tastings, or the ham and cheese croissants, or the homemade stock, or the Mulino Marino flour, or the tea cakes, or the syrupy whole-candied fruit. It’s all of those things, certainly. But for me, you could probably narrow it down to just one item: the Salty Oats cookie.

Formaggio didn’t invent the Salty Oats cookie (credit for that goes to Terri Horn), but they did introduce me to it about five years ago, and they’re the only place I’ve found that keeps them regularly in stock.

Let’s be very clear—any pre-conceived notions of the oatmeal cookie do not apply here. Whether it's their original oatmeal-raisin (which manages to redeem a fatally flawed concept), or their coconut-flecked Chocolate Salty Oats, these are paradigm-shifting cookies to which I am deeply, fanatically devoted. Texturally, they’re perfect—equal parts chewy and crackly—not to mention the crystallized flakes of sea salt that pop in your mouth. (Introduced in the late 90s, Salty Oats were pioneers of the now ubiquitous sweet-and-salty movement.)

I love both variations, but, when forced to choose, will almost always opt for the Chocolate Salty Oats. (Because, well, it’s chocolate.) Until recently, our visits to Cambridge meant that I was able to get a regular fix. But since K. and A. moved, we’ve all been forced to acclimate to a world without Salty Oats. It’s not an easy thing.

Two weeks ago, when I was heading down to Baltimore for Thanksgiving and asked if there was anything I could bring, K. responded, a little wistfully, “Chocolate Salty Oats.” Usually I would not take this request to heart, but given her sleep-deprived state, I decided (with perhaps a little hubris) that I would step up to the challenge.

At first I considered ordering some online, but, in search of a more sustainable solution, instead went out in search of a plausible imitation recipe. I found one, finally, in Salty Sweets by Christie Matheson, a woman who, I gather, was equally affected by her first Salty Oats encounter (also at Formaggio). With hours to spare, I baked up a quick half-batch, hopped on the train, and delivered them into K.’s unsuspecting hands.

I was a little scared to taste the results honestly—afraid to dishonor the original—but these cookies were absolutely delicious, with an even deeper chocolate flavor (and a freshness that's hard to get in packaged form). Not exactly the same, but just close enough to tide me over until my next trip to Boston.


Chocolate Salty Oats
Adapted from Salty Sweets, by Christie Matheson; inspired by Kayak Cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened Valrhona cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup old-fashioned or quick-cooking rolled oats (not instant)
1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chunks (I used a combination of the two, mostly bittersweet)
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
Maldon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

Using a fork, stir together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and fine sea salt until well combined.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, sugars, and vanilla until creamy. Add the eggs one at a time.

Add the flour mixture in 4 to 5 increments, combing well after each addition. (Be sure not to overmix.) Stir in the oats, chocolate, and coconut.

Use an ice cream scoop to form balls of dough on the baking sheets. Sprinkle each ball very lightly with fine sea salt. (Keep in mind you will add more sea salt at the end, so use sparingly if at all.)

Bake for about 11 minutes, until the tops have just started to crack. Sprinkle with Maldon sea salt while still warm. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 1 minute, then remove to a wire rack to cool completely. [The cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to five days.]

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

thanksgiving report

The Bird
A Whole Foods frozen turkey (and 24 hours of defrosting) threw a wrench in my “Judy Bird” plan. But, as back-up plans go, Alton Brown’s Good Eats Roast Turkey is not so bad.


The Stuffing
Silver Palate's Cornbread stuffing made its second annual appearance. Flavor-wise, it’s still exactly what I’m looking for, but next year I may experiment with adding some stock during cooking. (I've resigned myself to the stand-alone stuffing, but I do miss the moisture imparted by a little jus de turkey...)


Delicata Squash, Potato and Celery Root Puree

This is about as far as A. would allow us to stray from the classic mashed potato. And, in the end, I think he was glad he did. For a streamlined Thanksgiving, this is a delicious alternative, marrying autumnal squash flavors with the traditional Russet.


Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts
For the requisite crunch.


Braised Pearl Onions
The perennial favorite, glazed with beef stock.


The Cranberry Sauce(s)
Following the results of last year’s rigorous trial and error, we served our three favorite cranberry sauces: cranberry-horseradish, cranberry fruit conserve, and triple cranberry sauce. Some may call three cranberry sauces redundant, I call it necessary.


Marcey’s Pumpkin Pie
Practically perfect in every way.


John Thorne's Best-Ever Pecan Pie
The new ceiling for pecan pie. (But there is still a ceiling.)


Good Eats Roast Turkey
Adapted from Alton Brown

1 (14 to 16 pound) frozen young turkey

For the brine:
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 gallon vegetable stock
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 1/2 teaspoons allspice berries
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped candied ginger
1 gallon heavily iced water

For the aromatics:
1 red apple, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup water
4 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
6 leaves sage
Canola oil

2 to 3 days before roasting: Begin thawing the turkey in the refrigerator or in a cooler kept at 38 degrees.

Combine the vegetable stock, salt, brown sugar, peppercorns, allspice berries, and candied ginger in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on the day or the night before you'd like to eat: Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the apple, onion, cinnamon stick, and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity along with the rosemary and sage. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees. A 14- to 16-pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.


Silver Palate Corn Bread-Sausage Stuffing With Apples
Adapted from The Silver Palate

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
3 tart apples, cored and chunked
1 pound lightly seasoned bulk sausage (preferably breakfast sausage with sage)
3 cups coarsely crumbled corn bread
3 cups coarsely crumbled whole-wheat bread
3 cups coarsely crumbled white bread (French or homemade preferred)
2 teaspoons thyme
1 teaspoon sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 1/2 cups shelled pecan halves

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Melt half of the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the chopped onions and cook, partially covered, until tender and lightly colored, about 25 minutes, Transfer the onions and butter to a large mixing bowl.

Melt the remaining butter in the same skillet. Add the apple chunks and cook over high heat until lightly colored but not mushy. Transfer the apples and butter to the mixing bowl.

Crumble the sausage into the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring, until lightly browned. With a slotted spoon, transfer the sausage to the mixing bowl and reserve the rendered fat.

Add the remaining ingredients to the ingredients in the mixing bowl and combine gently. Cool completely before stuffing the bird; refrigerate if not used promptly.

If you do not wish actually to stuff the bird, spoon it into a casserole. Cover the casserole and set into a large pan. Pour hot water around the casserole to come halfway up the sides, Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the cooking juices from the bird or with the reserved sausage fat if necessary.


Delicata Squash, Potato and Celery Root Puree
Adapted from Alice Waters

2 delicata squashes (about 1 pound)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
5 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic
4 russet potatoes
1 medium celery root
1/2 cup cream
1 bay leaf
4 tablespoons unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Split the squashes in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds and pulpy fiber with a spoon. Brush the squashes with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Put 1 sprig of the thyme and 1 clove of garlic in the cavity of each squash half, and bake on a baking sheet, cut-side down, for about 40 minutes, until tender.

Peel the potatoes, cut them into medium chunks, and put them in a pot of salted water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, until tender.

Peel the celery root, cut it into small chunks, and put them in a pot of water. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 30 minutes, until tender. In another saucepan heat the cream, the remaining sprig of thyme, the bay leaf, and the butter. Bring to a simmer, turn off the heat, and let the mixture steep.

When the potatoes are done, drain them and spread them out to dry on a baking sheet for about 10 minutes. When the celery root is done, drain it and pass it through a food mill or ricer. When the squash is done, remove it from the oven and discard the garlic and thyme. Scrape the flesh from the skin with a spoon. Put the squash, potatoes, and celery root purée through a food mill into a pot, or puree with immersion blender. Add more or less of the seasoned butter and cream mixture, and thin with milk or water, depending on the desired consistency. Adjust the seasoning, reheat, and serve.


Brown-Braised Pearl Onions
Adapted from Julia Child

18-24 pearl onions, about 1 inch in diameter
1½ tablespoons butter
1½ tablespoons olive oil
½ cup brown stock, or more [you can also experiment with dry white wine, red wine, or water]
Salt and pepper to taste
4 parsley sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme

To peel the onions, cut off the stems with a paring knife and cook in boiling water for 1 minute. Drain and immediately plunge blanched onions into a bowl of ice water. Squeeze each onion gently at root end; the skins should pop off.

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet. Add the onions and sauté over moderate heat for about 10 minutes, rolling the onions about so they will brown as evenly as possible. (You can't expect them to brown uniformly.) Be careful not to break their skins.

Pour in enough liquid to come halfway up the sides of the onions, season to taste, and add the herbs. Cover and simmer slowly for 30 to 50 minutes until the onions are perfectly tender but retain their shape, and the liquid has evaporated. Remove herbs, and serve warm. [The onions can be cooked hours in advance, and reheated before serving.]


Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts

2-3 pounds brussels sprouts, cleaned and halved lengthwise
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup peeled and roasted chestnuts, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon butter

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

Toss the brussels sprouts in a bowl with just enough olive oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

Arrange the sprouts in a single layer on the baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes, or until fork-tender and some of the leaves have become caramelized.

Heat the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the chestnuts and stir until glazed. Add the roasted brussels sprouts and thyme, if desired. Toss to combine. Test for seasoning and serve.


Cranberry-Horseradish Relish

1 (12-ounce) package cranberries, thawed
1 small onion, quartered [I usually end up using about 3/4 onion]
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light sour cream or plain low-fat yogurt
2 tablespoons drained prepared horseradish

Combine cranberries, onion and sugar in a food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and add sour cream, horseradish and salt to taste. Refrigerate until chilled, preferably overnight.

Cranberry Fruit Conserve
Adapted from Ina Garten

1 (12-ounce) bag of fresh cranberries, cleaned
1 3/4 cups sugar [I tend to use a little less]
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 orange, zest grated and juiced
1 lemon, zest grated and juiced
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Cook the cranberries, sugar, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the skins pop open. Add the apple, zests, and juices and cook for 15 more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the raisins and nuts. Let cool, and serve chilled.

Triple-Cranberry Sauce
Adapted from Bon Appétit

1 cup frozen cranberry juice cocktail concentrate, thawed
1/3 cup sugar 1 12-ounce package fresh or frozen cranberries, cleaned
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup dried cherries
3 tablespoons orange marmalade
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons minced orange peel
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cinnamon stick

Combine cranberry juice concentrate and sugar in heavy medium saucepan. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add fresh and dried cranberries and cook until dried berries begin to soften and fresh berries begin to pop, stirring often, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in orange marmalade, orange juice, orange peel, allspice and cinnamon stick. Cool completely. Cover; chill until cold, about 2 hours. Remove cinnamon stick and serve.


Perfect Pie Crust
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl. 

Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

To blind bake: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Remove pan from refrigerator, line crust with foil and fill with pie weights or pennies. Bake on rimmed baking sheet 15 minutes. Remove foil and weights, rotate plate. Bake 5 to 10 more minutes until crust is golden brown and crisp. Remove plate and baking sheet from oven.

Marcey’s Pumpkin Pie

1 3/4 cups pumpkin (one 15-ounce can)
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup half and half
3 eggs
2/3 cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
one 9-inch pie crust, blind baked
Sweetened whipped cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, spices and pumpkin. In another bowl, beat eggs then add half and half and heavy cream. Whisk until smooth. Combine wet and dry ingredients, and mix until well incorporated.

Strain mixture through fine-mesh strainer set over medium bowl, using a spatula to press solids through strainer.

Pour mixture into the pie shell and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the edges are set. If the custard only jiggles slightly in the center, it's done. Transfer the pie to a wire rack and cool to room temperature, 2 to 3 hours. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.


John Thorne's Best-Ever Pecan Pie

Adapted from Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts

1 pie crust, blind baked
1 cup raw cane dark muscovado sugar, turbinado sugar, or light brown sugar
2/3 cup Lyle's Golden Syrup
2 tablespoon dark rum
4 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 cups broken pecan meats

In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, Golden Syrup, rum, and butter. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove pan from the heat and set aside to cool until lukewarm, at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the lower third.

In a small bowl, beat the eggs until creamy. Beat the eggs into the cooled syrup; stir in the vanilla, salt, and pecans. Pour filling into the pie shell.

Bake until the filling is set but still slightly wobbly in the center, about 50 minutes. Cool the pie completely on a wire rack. Serve the pie at room temperature with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

Friday, November 19, 2010

pumpkin gooey butter cake

Help. I have fallen down the rabbit hole that is the Paula Deen. Whereas my first foray into Mrs. Deen’s pantry was more an exercise in novelty—a Halloween aberration—I have only idle curiosity (and the unqualified recommendations of 1,889 Food Network fans) to thank for this latest undertaking.

Behold, the Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake.

Apparently (read: magnificently) it is one of several gooey butter cakes in her oeuvre—an autumnal twist on an old St. Louis tradition. Pumpkin aside, the basic equation remains the same: a yellow butter cake base, topped by layer of baked goo. In that way, it’s very consistent with Deen’s culinary aesthetic. (One glance at the ingredients list will tell you as much: packaged cake mix, two sticks of butter and an entire box of confectioners’ sugar.) Which made it an interesting, if unnerving experiment in the kitchen.

As much as I appreciate the culture, and the concept of the gooey butter cake, I felt pretty ambivalent about the results. The cake was a little too cloying, I thought at first, with a piercing sweetness that called to mind caramelized marshmallow fluff, and a cardiac response akin to mainlining crack.

Fortunately, with the help of some crème fraiche and a generous sprinkling of Maldon sea salt, I was able to reconcile myself to eating a second slice. And it was delicious.

Like I said, please send help.

Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake
Adapted from Paula Deen

Were I ever to attempt the gooey butter cake again, I’d probably opt for Melissa Clark’s version, which abstains from prepackaged cake mix. That said, the genius of this cake is really the ease with which it all comes together. It might have a place at a future holiday party, cut into small squares and served with the aforementioned garnishes of sea salt crème fraiche whipped cream, but for my Thanksgiving or Christmas table, I would always rather have Marcey’s pumpkin pie, or Pichet Ong’s kabocha squash cheesecake.

For the cake:
1 (18 1/4-ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 egg
8 tablespoons butter, melted

For the filling:
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
8 tablespoons butter, melted
1 (16-ounce) box powdered sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch of ground cloves

To garnish:
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup crème fraiche
Maldon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the cake mix, egg, and butter and mix well with an electric mixer. Pat the mixture into the bottom of a lightly greased 13-by-9-inch baking pan.

To make the filling: In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese and pumpkin until smooth. Add the eggs, vanilla, and butter, and beat together. Next, add the powdered sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and mix well. Spread pumpkin mixture over cake batter and bake for 40 to 50 minutes. Make sure not to overbake as the center should be a little gooey.

Meanwhile, beat the heavy cream to soft peaks. Beat in crème fraiche.

Sprinkle each slice with sea salt and serve with crème fraiche whipped cream.

flour bakery banana bread with chocolate and crystallized ginger

We’ve all been doing a lot of thumb twiddling in the past few days, waiting for an overdue arrival. So when K. alerted me to the bunch of bananas idling in her kitchen, banana bread seemed as appropriate a way as any to pass the time. (It’s rare that our bananas make it ever to the sufficiently browned stage; the smell—and the craving for a breakfast smoothie—usually does them in before then.)

This recipe is a celebrity mash-up of sorts. The base comes from Flour Bakery’s deservedly famous banana bread (a Boston staple I’ve enjoyed several times over, and one of the signature items in Joanne Chang’s new cookbook); but I have Molly Wizenberg to thank for the inspired additions of chocolate and crystallized ginger.

These flourishes make the bread feel more dessert-y, than breakfast-y, in my book (which is exactly how we served it—with a little whipped cream). But the morning-after pieces were, if possible, even more delicious.

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger
Adapted from Flour, by Joanne Chang and A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

This banana bread only improves with a day's rest. If the chocolate and crystallized ginger are a little extreme for your tastes, substitute toasted walnuts and add an additional tablespoon of sugar for a more traditional loaf.

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 1/2 bananas, very ripe, mashed (I used an immersion blender to smooth out any lumps)
2 tablespoons crème fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch loaf pan.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment, beat the sugar and eggs on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Slowly drizzle in oil. Add mashed bananas, crème fraiche, and vanilla and mix on low speed until just combined.

Fold in flour mixture, then the chocolate chips and ginger. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until loaf the is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

indian spiced cauliflower and sweet potatoes

Some culinary inventions are born from trial and error, others from accidents. This was more a case of convenience—two languishing sweet potatoes that I thought might make a tasty riff on Aloo Gobi. Suspicions confirmed.


Indian Spiced Cauliflower and Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Gourmet

1 head cauliflower, cut into 3/4-inch-wide florets
2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
5 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
Kosher salt
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons minced fresh jalapeño, seeds optional
2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup water
Lemon wedges, for serving

Put oven rack in upper third of oven and place a shallow baking pan on rack. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Toss cauliflower and sweet potatoes together in a bowl with olive oil (enough to lightly coat), cumin seeds, and salt. Spread in hot baking pan and roast, stirring occasionally, until cauliflower is tender and browned in spots and potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes. (I gave the sweet potatoes a little extra time.)

While vegetables are roasting, cook onion, garlic, jalapeño, and ginger in 2 tablespoons oil in a large heavy skillet over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until very soft and beginning to turn golden, 8 to 10 minutes. Add ground cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring constantly, 2 minutes. Stir in water, scraping up any brown bits from bottom of skillet, then stir in roasted vegetables. Cook, covered, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Check for seasoning and serve.

Monday, November 1, 2010

salty peanut butter chocolate cookies

I didn’t dress up for Halloween this year. In fact, the holiday went relatively unobserved at our apartment aside from a pumpkin centerpiece and these cookies—the requisite Halloween treat.

In the spirit of the holiday—a night that celebrates the subversion of social norms—I decided to deviate from my own culinary conservatism and attempt my first ever Paula Deen recipe.

I’d be lying if I said this was a stretch for me—for one thing, the recipe came to me via another, more trusted source, and it is, by Paula Deen’s standards, relatively virtuous. (I’d like to think that she serves these cookies as a palate cleanser—the preamble to some grand, two-sticks-of-butter-minimum dessert.)

Regardless, the result was shockingly good—soft and caramelized, with a melting chocolate center. While I'll grant that Mrs. Deen knows her way around a peanut butter cookie, it's the modern additions of sea salt and orange zest that make these unforgettable.

Salty Peanut Butter Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Paula Deen via Amateur Gourmet

The flavor of these reminds me a little of the venerable Tagalong. We experimented with both milk and semisweet chocolate, to equal acclaim.

Yields about 16 cookies

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup white sugar
1 egg
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon orange zest
Semisweet or milk chocolate chunks
Maldon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, cream together peanut butter, sugars, egg, vanilla, orange zest and a pinch of sea salt until well integrated.

Roll the dough into tablespoon-sized balls and place on the cookie sheet. (Do no press them down.) Press the chocolate on top and sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, turning halfway through, until the bottoms are golden-brown. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheet for a few minutes, then transfer them to a cooling rack (or consume immediately).

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I wish I could say I’d been absent for good reason—that I’ve spent the last few months mastering a hundred-layer lasagna or jury-rigging our kitchen oven to produce perfect Neapolitan pizza.

Instead, I can only blame a full schedule, and my summer inclination toward spontaneous (and recipe-less) meals.

But today I’m brushing off the mothballs, beginning (as promised) with an old favorite: Amanda Hesser’s almond cake. Technically, it’s her mother-in-law’s, which feels appropriate given that I prepared it most recently for my own future in-laws.

Don’t expect the delicacy of a financier: this cake is decidedly less refined, with a craterous surface and an emphatic almond flavor. Which is exactly why I love it.

Almond Cake
Adapted from Cooking for Mr. Latte, by Amanda Hesser

1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1½ cups sugar
7 ounces almond paste
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

Combine the sour cream and baking soda in a small bowl. In another bowl, sift together the flour and salt.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the almond paste, a little at a time, beating at medium speed for 8 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time; mix until incorporated. (It may look curdled.) Blend in the almond and vanilla extracts, followed by the sour cream mixture. Mixing at low speed, gradually add the flour mixture; beat just until blended.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Bake about 1 hour; it is done when you press the top and it returns to its shape, and also shrinks from the sides of the pan.

Remove from the pan and cool on a cooling rack. The cake will sink in the middle as it cools. Dust with confectioners' sugar and serve with whipped cream.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

double chocolate cherry cookies

For years, I turned my back on the Black Forest Cake. Perhaps it was my loyalty to the Shirley Temple (my preferred cherry medium as a child); perhaps it was my general aversion to chocolate-fruit desserts (fruit, in most cases, seemed only to take up valuable chocolate real estate). Either way, the Black Forest concept struck me as particularly ill conceived.

I don’t know when things changed—but partial credit for my about-face must go to the Chukar Cherry. M. and I discovered Chukar Cherries while walking through Pike Place Market last August. Toward the end of the market, post-fish acrobatics and Beecher cheese curds, we paused in front of the Chukar display: bags filled with different varieties of dried cherries (Bing, Rainier, and Columbia River Tart—three more reasons to live in Seattle), in assorted sweet and savory combinations.

As is their nature, the salesclerks asked if we would like to try something, and, as is our nature, we said yes. M. and I proceeded to sample our way through the entire collection: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, chipotle, and cocoa-dusted. We left with at least three bags, and, in my case, a newfound appreciation for the chocolate-cherry combination.

So, where does the Black Forest Cake rank, after my Chukar epiphany? To be honest, I’m not sure; I've yet to taste one since that day. But, in the meantime, I have devoted considerable effort to exploring the flavor combination in another form: the chocolate-cherry cookie.

Here are two variations on the same theme. I’m partial to the first cookie—I love the addition of milk chocolate (another recent awakening), and the flavors seem in better balance. But both are delicious, and loyal to the Chukar spirit.

Cherry Double-Chocolate Cookies
Adapted from Gourmet

I upped the salty quotient of this cookie, using a liberal half-teaspoon and substituting sea salt.

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Rounded 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
3 1/2 oz fine-quality milk chocolate, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
1 cup dried sour cherries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees with racks in upper and lower thirds.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.

Beat together butter and brown sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, then add eggs 1 at a time, beating until combined well. Add vanilla.

Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Add chocolate chunks, pecans, and cherries and mix until just incorporated.

Drop 2 level tablespoons of dough per cookie about 2 inches apart onto 2 ungreased large baking sheets. With dampened fingers, flatten cookies slightly.

Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until puffed and set, 12 to 14 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool. [Cookies keep in an airtight container at cool room temperature 5 days.] Makes about 25 to 30 cookies.


Double Chocolate Cherry Truffle Cookies
Adapted from The Sweet Life: Desserts from Chanterelle, by Kate Zuckerman

For me, the coffee flavor was a little overwhelming here; it takes at least a day for the flavors to marry, and even then I would have been happy with a little less espresso in my cookie.

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (I sprinkled some sea salt on top)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate (62 to 70 percent cocoa solids)
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground coffee, or less according to your taste
4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup (4.5 ounces) dried cherries, chopped (I prefer them whole)

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and cream of tartar in a mixing bowl and set aside.

Melt the bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened chocolate, and butter in a metal bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and allow chocolate to cool for 10 minutes.

In a bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs on medium speed. Add the sugar and beat until the eggs triple in volume and hold the lines of the whisk, about ten minutes. Add the coffee and beat for another minute.

With the mixer on low speed, add the melted chocolate; beat until incorporated. Add the dry ingredients, chocolate chips, and dried cherries. Beat until just combined. Finish mixing by hand with a rubber spatula; the batter will be very runny. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least two hours, or up to two days.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line cookie sheets with parchment paper. Using two tablespoons, scoop the batter into large mounds arranged 2 inches apart. Bake 12 to 15 minutes. The cookies puff in the oven and fall a bit once removed. Allow the cookies to cool on the sheets. Makes 30 large cookies.

Monday, July 19, 2010

plum crumble with fennel ice cream

The “à la mode” concept always struck me as a bit unfair. It’s a phrase that, in its tacked-on-ness, inevitably makes ice cream feel like an afterthought, an indulgent gild-the-lily addition to another dessert.

The plain truth is, certain desserts—pies, crisps, crumbles, and cobblers among them—demand an ice cream accompaniment; they aren’t complete without one. (I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a blueberry cobbler on its own, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want to.) It’s why you can usually find an emergency pint of Häagen-Dazs in our freezer.

While I rarely stray from the prescribed rustic fruit dessert + vanilla ice cream formula, I’ve recently begun rethinking that convention—and investing a little more time and energy in the à la mode.

Such was the case this weekend, when I finally decided to make Marian Burros’s Plum Crumble. Marian Burros’s Plum Crumble may be the biggest dessert phenomenon since… well, Marian Burros's plum torte. (What can I say, the woman has a way with stone fruit.) For a while, Molly Wizenberg of Orangette even had it on the dessert menu at Delancey, which is exactly what I would do if I had a restaurant. It's the Platonic ideal of plum crumble (or, as Snarf says, “Plumble”; or as I say, “Plumbledore”): jammy, sweet-tart plums, occasional sparks of crystallized ginger, and a streusel-esque topping that owes its crackly surface to a last-minute melted butter bath.

In other words, it’s a recipe so good it deserves an ice cream to match. This fennel ice cream (a pairing that occurred to me en route to the Greenmarket) is the kind of thing that sounds more “out of the box” than delicious, but it somehow manages to be both, with a smooth, anise-y flavor that expresses itself at just the right decibel. Served with the crumble, it’s a game-changer—enough to put plain vanilla bean to shame.


Plum Crumble
Adapted from Marian Burros

Out of necessity, I substituted black plums for the recommended Italian / prune plums (and threw in a couple of extra ones), increasing the amount of sugar and spices in the filling accordingly. For the original measurements, see here.

8 large black plums, quartered
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons plus 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon plus 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
3-4 tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
Ice cream, not optional

Place plums in medium bowl. Heat oven to 375 degrees, with rack in center.

In a small bowl, thoroughly mix brown sugar, 3 tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground ginger and the candied ginger. Add to plums and mix well. Arrange plums skin side up in an ungreased, deep 9-inch pie plate.

In a small bowl, combine granulated sugar, baking powder, remaining flour and cinnamon and the salt. Mix well. Stir in egg. Using hands, mix thoroughly to produce little particles. Sprinkle over plums.

Drizzle butter evenly over crumb mixture and bake 30 to 35 minutes. Crumble is done when top is browned and plums yield easily when pricked with cake tester. Remove from oven and cool.

Serve crumble warm or refrigerate for up to two days or freeze, well covered. If reheating, bring to room temperature, then warm at 300 degrees. Serve with ice cream.


Fennel Ice Cream

Adapted from Gourmet

1 2/3 cups heavy cream
2 teaspoons fennel seeds, crushed
1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar, divided
4 large egg yolks
Pinch of salt

In a small heavy saucepan, combine the cream and fennel seeds and bring just to a simmer. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for about 30 minutes.

Bring milk, 1/2 cup sugar, and a pinch of salt to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring.

Prepare an ice bath.

Whisk together yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a large bowl, then add milk mixture in a slow stream, whisking. Return mixture to medium saucepan and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until mixture coats back of spoon and registers 175°F on an instant-read thermometer. (Do not let it boil.) Immediately strain the custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl, then set the bowl in an ice bath and stir occasionally until cool, about 15 minutes.

When the custard is cool, strain the fennel cream through a fine-mesh sieve into the custard, pressing on the solids. Continue to chill in the ice bath until the custard is cold, then cover and chill in the refrigerator overnight. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to a chilled airtight container, and place in the freezer to harden, about 1 hour.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Far Breton

I don't know when or why prunes became the designated whipping boy of the dried fruit kingdom. From what I can tell, it seems to be a particularly American prejudice. Somewhere along the line, in what I consider one of the great missteps of our national agenda, we stripped the pleasure away from prunes and made them merely an instrument of dietary upkeep. Let’s be quite clear: while this may sound un-American or borderline geriatric, I think prunes are absolutely delicious.

Which brings me to the Far Breton. The Far Breton is brilliant for many reasons: the delicate flan-meets-pancake consistency (think clafoutis, but better), the deliciously eggy batter, the mandatory sprinkling of powdered sugar; but it’s the prunes—deep purple, juicy prunes pregnant with Armagnac—that make this dish.

Far Breton
Adapted from Baking From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

Okay I lied—what I love most about the Far Breton may not be the prunes; it’s the fact that it is practically (and by my standards definitely) acceptable breakfast fare. This is what the pancake dreams of becoming. The Far Breton is perfect the day it is made, but delicious after a night in the refrigerator, too.

3 large eggs
2 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for pan
3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup good-quality pitted prunes (for instance, pruneaux d'Agen)
1/4 cup Armagnac plus 1/4 cup water or 1 cup hot Earl Grey tea
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

In a blender, combine the milk, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt and blend for 1 minute. Add the flour and pulse until just incorporated, scraping down the sides of the blender jar. Chill in the jar for at least three hours and up to one day.

For Armagnac-soaked prunes, combine the fruit and water in a small saucepan. Simmer over medium heat until the fruit is softened and water is almost evaporated, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and pour the brandy evenly over the fruit. Stand back and ignite the alcohol with a long match. Once the flame dies out, transfer the fruit and syrup to a bowl. Allow to come to room temperature, cover and set aside. For tea-soaked prunes, place the fruit in a heatproof bowl and add the hot tea. Allow to come to room temperature, cover and set aside. Steep prunes overnight.

Position rack in the center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line bottom of the pan with parchment or waxed paper, butter the paper then dust the pan with flour, tapping out excess.

Blend the batter again until smooth, about 5 seconds. Pour into the prepared cake pan. Drop the prunes evenly into batter. Place cake pan on a baking sheet and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until sides are browned and puffy and knife inserted into center comes out clean.

Cool cake completely on a cooling rack. Loosen cake from the pan by running a knife around the sides. Carefully invert pan onto a piece of wax or parchment paper, remove the pan and peel off parchment round. Place serving plate over cake and invert again. Dust cake with powdered sugar and serve.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Grind's the Thing (guest post)

Every year, I have the good fortune of attending a dinner at the home of a generous Bordeaux collector. The deal: I cook a meal for eight people, she opens eight bottles of great vintage wine. This year’s dinner, scheduled for mid-May, was the Fifth Annual. For the first four years, I had prepared menus that were decidedly old-wine-friendly—simply prepared neo-classical meat-and-potatoes meals that would not overshadow the wines, many of which were upwards of 40 years old, brickish in color, and transient in the strength of their flavor.

The problem was, in an effort to make the food second fiddle to the wine, I’d also made it, well, boring.

For the Fifth Annual dinner I called an eating audible and cooked a meal that seemed about as Bordeaux-worthy as Chinese takeout (perhaps that’s a bad example; I think Chinese takeout goes well with everything)--hamburgers and onion rings. Here was my logic: 1) I happened to know this to be the favorite food of the hostess; 2) the theme of this year’s dinner was a vertical of 1975 Bordeaux (including First Growth Chateaux Haut-Brion and Margaux), a controversial vintage, but one that might yield some full-flavored wines, even 35 years later; and 3) the problem with making the meal fancy was that it made everyone feel a bit on ceremony--and I figured some food you eat with your hands would make short work of that.

The dilemma: what kind of burger to make that would still feel special, and that would turn out as well in an urban kitchen as it would on a country grill. As usual, Mock Turtle came to the rescue with a recipe from Nancy Silverton (Mozza), published in the LA Times. It called for having the butcher grind a quirky blend of beef (mostly prime chuck, plus some sirloin fat—not meat, fat) on a coarse setting.

I must admit, I was a little skeptical as I insisted to the butcher that he go against normal protocol. He took a beautiful prime chuck roast (3.5 pounds) from the meat case and said, “Are you sure you want me to add fat to this? There’s already a lot on here.” I was sure. He took a whole side of sirloin from the walk-in and began to slice strips of pure fat from it. I was starting to become less sure, but figured I’d come this far. The butcher shook his head a little while changing the disc on the grinder from the small-holed standard to a dauntingly large-holed one; the resulting ground meat looked like ultra-wide bucatini as opposed to the more spaghetti-like ribbons I’m used to. I’m not going to lie; it looked gross.

Fast forward three hours: the guests and I are in the kitchen, snacking on 24-month-aged prosciutto, drinking Chateau Gruaud Larose (a second-growth from St. Julien that was surprisingly lively; a good omen for the evening), letting the cast iron double-burner grill pan that I’d lugged from home get really hot on high flame. I nervously formed loose patties, dusted them with kosher salt, and waited another few minutes. The recipe claimed that the burgers, despite their high fat content (about 25%) would not be greasy, and indeed my hands felt pretty clean after patty-making.

What happened next is a bit of a blur, in part because I was spending most of the burgers’ cooking time furiously removing liquid fat from the shallow moat around the edge of the pan (I used a turkey baster, but it was hard to keep up with the amount of fat coming off the burgers). Grease was splattering everywhere—the pan was unbelievably hot—and smoke was being sucked up by the range’s hood at a near-smoke-alarming rate.

But when the dust—er, grease—settled, I was left with an absolutely exceptional specimen of a hamburger. Crusted with a salty char on both sides, the burgers looked overcooked at best, hockey pucks at worst. But then, once we’d fixed them with toppings—cheese (aged cheddar; in my frenzy I’d forgotten to add it on the cooking burgers for those who had requested it), avocado (another Mock Turtle tip that changed my life), ketchup, mayo, mustard, onion rings (delicious, by the way; here’s the recipe), even some of the leftover prosciutto—we each bit in to discover a beautiful red, juicy (without being runny), flavorful patty. You could taste the difference—and I’m convinced it was all about the coarse grind.

I wish I had photos of the cooking process and the resulting crispy-but-juicy burgers (one guest at the dinner quoted a famed chef’s New Yorkerism that cooking is often about “taking something flabby and making it crunchy on the outside, tender on the inside”). Alas, there was no camera on hand.

However, two weeks later I tried to recreate the miracle burgers, this time adhering even closer to the recipe by grilling them outside. While I was not able to match the originals’ char (cast iron crisps better than a grill, I suspect because it’s an even, flat surface) or interior texture (the upstate butcher’s grind was not nearly so coarse), there was the element of “grill flavor” (not to be underestimated) and I did have a camera to capture some of it.

A word to the wise for those attempting these fatty (but again, somehow light and ungreasy) burgers: beware of grease spills/fires (cast iron) and major flare-ups (grill), and maybe keep a fire extinguisher and camera handy.

Nancy’s Burgers
Adapted from Nancy Silverton in the Los Angeles Times

Note from Nancy Silverton: Silverton says burgers are the perfect party food because the toppings can be done in advance, then guests use them to personalize their burgers. Though she offers three cheeses, she says that from experience, most takers are for Gruyere, 25% might take cheddar and one of a group will want blue. Crumble out enough blue to look pretty in a bowl, 2 to 3 ounces, and know it may go into salad dressing for the next meal. Ditto cheddar, but this may fill an omelet. The cheeses should be good-quality, such as Point Reyes Blue, aged Gruyere and Grafton cheddar from Vermont or Fiscalini or Straus cheddar from California. The buns should be good-quality soft sesame or poppy seed hamburger buns. For the beef, ask the butcher to grind 2 3/4 pounds of prime chuck (10% to 15% fat) with 4 to 6 ounces of prime sirloin fat (the combination should have 20% to 28% fat total).

Note from Le Snarf: I used Arnold supermarket buns and they were delicious. I skipped the tomatoes (never liked them on burgers), bacon, and blue cheese, and I don’t think they were missed--the burger has so much flavor, bacon (dare I say this?) isn’t even warranted.

Serves 6

12 strips applewood-smoked bacon, fried crisp
2 ripe avocados, sliced and sprinkled with lemon juice to avoid discoloration
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large, ripe heirloom tomato
1/2 red onion
3 ounces blue cheese
3 ounces cheddar
3 ounces Gruyere
6 iceberg lettuce leaves, each about 5 inches wide
Heinz ketchup
Best Foods mayonnaise (or Hellman's east of the Rockies)
Dijon mustard, smooth and coarse-grained

Burgers and assembly:
6 large sesame or poppy seed hamburger buns
Extra virgin olive oil
About 3 pounds ground beef (see note)
3 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Brush the cut side of each bun with olive oil and set aside. Light an outdoor grill or place a seasoned cast-iron skillet over high heat.

2. Being careful not to overwork the meat, shape it into 6 patties, about 2 inches thick and 4 inches in diameter. Sprinkle each side of each patty with about one-fourth teaspoon of kosher salt and 4 to 6 grindings of freshly ground black pepper.

3. Place the burgers on the hot grill or in the hot cast-iron skillet. Sear them until they can be turned without sticking, then turn them. For rare, cook about 4 minutes, then flip and cook another 4 minutes (for medium-rare, 5 minutes on each side; for medium, 6 minutes).

4. As the burgers are cooking, toast the buns, cut side on grill or pan, for a minute or two. Just before the burgers are done cooking, garnish with a little good-quality sea salt, then top with cheese and let it melt. Have guests place lettuce, onion, tomato, bacon and avocado on the bottom half of their toasted bun. Place the burger on top, then the top of the bun. Serve ketchup, mayonnaise, and mustard with burgers.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake with Fleur de Sel

Of all the First Family perks that Sasha and Malia enjoy—twenty-four Christmas trees, two private jets, daily harvests from the new White House garden—I think private pastry chef is probably the one I most envy. Even Bo the Portuguese Water dog can't compete with Bill Yosses, at least when the latter is on-call to cater to one's every dessert craving.

My sweet tooth has had a serious crush on Yosses for some time now—I think it started when I tasted a version of his lemon pound cake (it puts other lemon pound cakes to shame), or perhaps with his recipe for hazelnut-paste-infused chocolate chip cookies. And, while I don't expect an invitation to the White House anytime soon, thanks to Yosses's new cookbook, The Perfect Finish (to my mind, he's earned the superlative), I can at least achieve part of my Obama family fantasy.

This recipe for a Sicilian-inspired orange cake immediately jumped out at me—for the technique (Yosses maximizes citrus flavor by simmering and then pureeing the entire fruit), the Mediterranean sensibility (read: olive oil), and—of course—the fleur de sel.

As promised, the cake filled our kitchen with a bright orange aroma. And, while the texture was a little inconsistent (at times a little too spongy, at times overly moist—my fault?), it tasted vibrant, with a delicious finishing crunch of flaky fleur de sel. I added a swipe of dark chocolate ganache to the plate (which may upset the Sicilian grandmothers among you, but I’d do all over again) and some whipped cream (because most desserts just seem empty without it).

Orange-Scented Olive Oil Cake with Fleur de Sel

Adapted from The Perfect Finish, by Bill Yosses

2 navel oranges
2 1/3 cups sugar
Unsalted butter, for greasing
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fleur de sel, or to taste

In a large pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil. Slice the tops and bottoms off the oranges and quarter lengthwise; add to the pot. Bring water back to a boil; drain. Repeat boiling process twice more with fresh water. (This removes the bitterness from the rind.)

Combine oranges with 1 cup sugar and 4 cups water in a pot over medium-high heat. Simmer, stirring often, until sugar dissolves and orange rind can be easily pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes. Remove pan from heat and let cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch cake pan with butter and dust with flour.

Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.

Remove orange quarters from syrup, remove and discard any seeds, and put oranges into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until oranges form a chunky purée, 10 to 12 pulses. Add remaining sugar, reserved flour mixture, vanilla, and eggs and process until incorporated, about 2 minutes. Add olive oil; process until combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan; bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes, then remove onto a wire rack. The cake should cool for at least 30 minutes more before serving.

Sprinkle fleur de sel over the cake just before serving, and garnish with whipped cream or chocolate ganache as desired.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

caramelized black pepper chicken

Sometimes I possess the willful obstinacy of a small child. No sooner did the Food and Drug Administration announce their new anti-sodium campaign than I dusted off our suite of Kikkoman products. It’s as though an umami bomb exploded in our kitchen, and I’m kind of enjoying it. (Even if my blood pressure isn’t.)

This recipe comes from Charles Phan, of the appropriately beloved Slanted Door restaurant in San Francisco. While it may not rival my meals there (which have been, for the most part, transcendent), it’s simple enough to be on the plate in 20 minutes, and tasty enough to rival most take-out.

Caramelized Black Pepper Chicken
Adapted from Charles Phan

Serves 4

Don’t skimp on the black pepper or Thai chilis—they provide the requisite heat to counterbalance the caramelized chicken.

2/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup fish sauce
1/3 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced ginger
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 fresh Thai chilis, halved, or red chile flakes to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
Chopped cilantro

In a small bowl, combine the sugar, fish sauce, water, rice vinegar, garlic, ginger, pepper and chiles. Adjust ingredients to taste.

Heat the oil in a large deep skillet. Add the shallot and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the fish sauce mixture and the chicken and simmer over high heat until the chicken is cooked through, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl, garnish with the cilantro and serve.

Monday, May 10, 2010

miso-glazed sweet potatoes

My sixth-grade teacher would often recount the story of her neighbors’ German shepherd—let’s call him Max. Max was a notoriously gluttonous dog. At first, people were tempted to blame hubris—a canine “Diamond” Jim Brady complex—but it turns out there was some faulty wiring in Max’s brain. His appetite was literally insatiable.

This, apparently, is a more serious problem than you might think. Max’s owners were forced to monitor his diet, carefully restricting his daily intake. And one day, left alone during the couple’s vacation (with a neglectful dog-sitter), Max ate his way through a week-long ration of food in one sitting. His stomach exploded.

Needless to say, the story haunted me for some time. Whether it was intended as some kind of case study in canine physiology, an allegory to warn against overeating, or merely as an urban legend to torment pre-teens, I still don’t know. What I do know is that last Sunday I felt deep empathy for that German shepherd. No, not because of some brain mis-wiring; in my case, the awareness of one’s own physical limitations was simply overridden by a far greater imperative: deliciousness.

The culprit? These miso-tahini glazed sweet potatoes, whose appeal was undeniable and, in retrospect, totally predictable. (Given my love for miso and tahini—both well documented here—the combination would naturally prove irresistible.)

Sweet and nutty and packed with umami, they are dangerously good—as in, I-literally-can’t-stop-eating-this-good. Google informs me that this whole “exploding stomach” thing is unlikely (at least in humans), but don’t be surprised if you end up in a state of miso-tahini-glazed delirium.

Miso-Glazed Sweet Potatoes
Adapted from Teaism, via Washingtonian Magazine

This recipe claims to serve eight people. Eight people! I am so ashamed.

4 large sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
Canola oil, as needed
1/3 cup yellow miso paste
1/3 cup tahini
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup mirin
1-2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2-3 tablespoons sugar

Make the dressing: Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk until completely blended. Taste and adjust seasoning. This dressing is best if it’s prepared and kept overnight in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to mingle. Bring to room temperature before serving.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the sweet potatoes with just enough canola oil to coat. Season with salt. Add the potatoes to a small baking pan; you want to crowd the potatoes in the pan to help them steam. Bake for 30 minutes, or until done. Set aside to cool.

Drizzle the dressing over sweet potatoes and serve.

Monday, May 3, 2010

roasted sunchokes with rosemary and lemon butter

How to describe the flavor of a sunchoke?

• Sweet and tuber-esque.
• Occasionally artichoke-y, though no, the two are not related.
• Jicama-like, when raw. (Try shaving them over the escarole with pickled red onions—a nod to my favorite Otto salad.)
• Deeply chesnutty, especially when roasted.

To be honest, a precise description eludes me. In fact, it may be that elusive quality that appeals to me most. The sunchoke is its own very particular, and very haunting breed of delicious—one you have to discover for yourself.

Roasted Sunchokes with Rosemary and Lemon Butter

You may be tempted to peel these knobbly little fellows, but you'd be missing out. (The skin has great flavor.) Better to scrub them clean under cold water, as you would a potato. If you're looking to up the caramelized ante, cut the sunchokes into 1/4-inch coins or strips and decrease the baking time to 15 to 20 minutes.

Serves 4

1 pound sunchokes (a.k.a. Jerusalem artichokes), cleaned and cut into 1/2-inch chunks
Olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3-4 sprigs of rosemary

1-2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Chopped parsley, to garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the sunchokes with olive oil (just enough to coat) and season with salt and pepper. Place on baking sheet with the rosemary sprigs.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the sunchokes are tender and caramelized. Shake the pan halfway through baking to ensure even browning.

When the sunchokes are done, melt the butter in a large skillet over low heat. Add the lemon juice, then the sunchokes, tossing them to coat. Season to taste, then transfer to a warm plate and serve.

P.S. I didn't want to include this disclaimer, lest you be deterred in trying these, but I should warn you that sunchokes have a particular reputation. John Goodyer, the first person to cultivate sunchokes in England, wrote, “Which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men.” I say, throw caution to the loathsome stinking wind.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

chocolate sorbet with minted citrus salad

The first time I tasted this dessert (or at least its prototype), I was at a dinner party, where our host prepared a Kurt Gutenbrunner-inspired cod strudel. Expecting an equally elaborate dessert, I was surprised (and a little disappointed) when she instead set out a carton of Ciao Bella chocolate sorbet and a bowl of stewed citrus. To say the dessert over-delivered would be an understatement. It has been in the back of my mind ever since.

This is a wonderfully new (or perhaps very old) take on the chocolate and citrus combination—the frozen equivalent of an orangette. After stewing in a mint simple syrup, the citrus segments are mellowed, but still puckering. They pair perfectly with the rich chocolate.

Chocolate Sorbet with Minted Citrus Salad
Citrus salad adapted from The Last Course, by Claudia Fleming

Feel free to substitute other citrus—clementines, grapefruit, etc.—this is just a basic formula. For the chocolate-averse, vanilla ice cream would make an acceptable (but more…vanilla?) substitute.

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped
1/2 cup loosely packed mint sprigs
3 blood oranges
3 navel oranges
3 lemons
1-2 pints chocolate sorbet (preferably Ciao Bella) or ice cream
Chopped mint, for garnish

In a small saucepan, bring 1/4 cup water to a boil. Add the sugar, vanilla bean and seeds, and mint sprigs and reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Continue to simmer gently until it thickens, about 7 minutes longer. Let the syrup cool completely, then strain into a large bowl, discarding the solids.

Peel the citrus fruits, removing the white membranes around the segments. Add the citrus segments to the mint syrup and toss to combine. Chill, covered, at least 1 hour.

Spoon the citrus salad over chocolate sorbet. Sprinkle with chopped mint, if desired.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

upside-down pear chocolate cake

Gender politics aside, little brings me more pleasure than watching M. consume something I’ve baked. You can imagine my extreme satisfaction, then, in seeing him sneak a fourth serving of this cake. Yes, fourth, though this is a less gluttonous offense than it sounds. (The servings were all very modest, and the cake was very difficult to resist.)

Given his enthusiastic response (okay, I confess—I had multiple servings as well), it’s hard to believe that I was moments away from giving up on this cake. After two botched batches of caramel, I nearly threw in the towel. Well, never has personal perseverance been so deliciously rewarded. Because that caramel, however frustrating, is the true genius of this dessert (well, beyond the obvious genius of the pear-chocolate pairing). Inverted, the caramel seeps into the cake and lends it a syrupy, British sensibility. Think sticky toffee pudding, but with pears and chocolate. It’s an effect that will bring you back for seconds, thirds, and yes, maybe fourths.

Upside Down Pear Chocolate Cake
Adapted from Rustic Fruit Desserts, by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson

Pack the pears tightly in the pan; they will spread out during baking. (I left some space between mine, and the cake came out looking a little gap-toothed.) We served this with vanilla Häagen-Dazs, but next time I might experiment with homemade caramel or brown butter ice cream.

For the topping:
1 cup (7 ounces) granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
3 firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored, and each cut into 12 slices (1 pound prepped)

For the cake:
1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (1 ounce) unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup whole milk
Vanilla ice cream or chantilly cream, for serving (optional)

Butter a 9-inch round baking pan.

To make the fruit topping, put the sugar and water in a heavy saucepan and stir until the sugar dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, then cover and cook for 2 minutes. (Covering in this way allows the steam to wash down the sides of pan, which will prevent sugar crystals from forming.) Uncover the saucepan and continue to boil the sugar, gently and slowly swirling the pan as needed to cook the caramel evenly, until it becomes a rich amber color. (This will take about 10 minutes.) Occasionally wash down the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water.

Carefully pour the caramel into the prepared pan and allow it to harden. Fan the pear slices on top of the caramel in a circle around the perimeter, filling in the center with the remaining slices.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To make the cake, place the butter and chocolate in a small saucepan over low heat and melt, stirring occasionally. Sift the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl. Transfer the melted chocolate to a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer and add the sugar. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat on medium speed for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at time, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Stir in the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the milk in two additions, beginning and ending with the flour and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in the middle of the oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the cake bounces back slightly when touched. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then invert the cake onto a plate, leaving the pan on top of the cake for 5 minutes before you remove it. Serve the cake warm, topped with a small dollop of Chantilly cream or a scoop of Vanilla Bean Ice Cream. Wrapped in plastic wrap, the cake will keep at room temperature for up to 3 days.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

weeknight menu

Given my aforementioned menu hang-ups—a kitchen mentality that is equal parts wayward and micro-managing—it would be reasonable to assume that I don't cook well with others. And yes, that may be true, but only up to a point.

I am much more amenable, for instance, if they come bearing a picnic basket full of Kerrygold products. Such was the case with Mollie, a relatively new guest to our kitchen, but one who quickly endeared herself—first with her spoon cookies, and more recently with the aforementioned Kerrygold products.

Of course, it also helps that she and I seem to dog-ear the exact same recipes, whether they be from the latest issue of Saveur (Moroccan Chicken with Carrot Puree), or a new cookbook. So it didn’t surprise me when, in planning a weeknight dinner, we both immediately thought of Mark Bittman’s pan-fried chickpeas with chorizo. Or that she would propose a dessert from David Lebovitz’s still-unpublished (at the time) cookbook—the same one I’ve been coveting for months.

The resulting menu went off entirely without a hitch—a feat that was celebrated with many wedges of Kerrygold cheddar.


Fried Chickpeas With Chorizo and Spinach

At the time, the fact that Mollie and I were craving the exact same dish struck me as further evidence of our culinary kindred spirit-hood. But objectively, it’s hard to imagine someone who saw the NY Times photograph accompanying this recipe and wouldn’t want to make it. And rightly so—it’s very tasty, with the chickpeas and spinach absorbing the brininess of the chorizo. But next time I will experiment more—perhaps substituting ramps for the spinach, or seasoning the oil with garlic (see below). I’ve also ditched Bittman’s broiler method in favor of toasted breadcrumbs, as our broiler was a bit too petit for the task.

Serves 4

1 cup breadcrumbs (homemade or panko)
6-7 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, rinsed and dried
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces chorizo, diced
1/2 pound spinach, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sherry

In a small sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat and toast the breadcrumbs until golden brown, seasoning to taste. Set aside.

Heat 3 of tablespoons of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the smashed garlic cloves, if desired. (If not, proceed to next step.) Once the garlic has turned golden brown, remove from the pan and discard.

Add the chickpeas (they should fit in one layer) and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until chickpeas begin to brown, about 10 minutes, then add chorizo. Continue cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes or until chickpeas are crisp; use a slotted spoon to remove chickpeas and chorizo from pan and set aside.

Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to the pan; when it’s hot, add spinach and sherry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook spinach over medium-low heat until very soft and the liquid has evaporated. Add chickpeas and chorizo back to the pan and toss quickly to combine; top with bread crumbs. Serve hot or at room temperature.


Black Bass with Sicilian-Style Pesto
Adapted from Urban Italian, by Andrew Carmellini

While it doesn’t have the same country of origin as Bittman’s pan-fried chickpeas, this Sicilian-style pesto shares a Mediterranean sensibility. The sauce is reminiscent of a romesco, with a bright flavor that's amplified by sun-dried tomatoes and basil.

Serves 4

For the bass:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 boneless black bass fillets (about 2 pounds total)
salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 scallions, whites only, chopped very fine
1/4 cup white vermouth or white wine
1 tablespoon butter

For the pesto:
3/4 cup oil-packed sun dried tomatoes
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 cup sliced blanched almonds
1/2 cup fresh basil (about 15 leaves), chopped
1/2 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 cup celery leaf, chopped

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Pour the olive oil into a baking dish.

Using a sharp knife, make 4 shallow diagonal incisions in the skin side of each fillet. (This keeps the fish from curling up and getting tough.) Season the fillets with salt, pepper, oregano, and citrus zest and sprinkle the scallions over the top. Lay them in the baking dish skin-side up.

Pour the vermouth or wine over the fish. Break up the butter with your fingers and place little bits across the fish. Bake the fish, uncovered, until the flesh turns just white and is semi-firm to the touch, about 5 to 8 minutes. When you cut into the fish, the center should be just opaque.

Meanwhile, make the pesto: Drain the sun-dried tomatoes and put them in the blender with the olive oil, garlic, almonds, and 1 cup of hot tap water. Blend on high until the ingredients have combined into a chunky sauce, about 1 minute.

Transfer the fish from the baking dish to a plate but do not discard the juices in the bottom of the pan. Add half the pesto to the juices in the baking dish and mix together over low heat until everything is combined. Add the chopped basil, parsley, and celery leaf, and mix to combine all the ingredients.

Spoon a portion of the pesto onto the bottom of each serving plate and place a fish fillet on top. Drizzle more extra-virgin olive oil over the top. Serve immediately.


Maple-Walnut Pear Cake

Adapted from Ready for Dessert, by David Lebovitz

I have a particular affection for upside down cakes, especially those baked in a cast iron skillet—and those that lend themselves to morning-after snacking. (Pears and maple syrup? You had to see that coming.) This cake comes from David Lebovitz’s just-released Ready for Dessert, a compendium of his all-time favorite recipes that I’ve been waiting for all winter.

For the topping:
1/3 cup (80 ml) maple syrup
1/4 cup (60 g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (50g) walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
3 ripe Bosc pears, peeled, quartered and cut lengthwise into ¼-inch slices

For the cake:
1½ cups (210 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (115 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup (100 g) sugar
1/4 cup (60g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/2 cup (125 ml) whole milk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Make the topping: combine the maple syrup and brown sugar in a 9-inch round cake pan or cast iron skillet over low heat. Once the mixture begins to bubble, simmer gently for 1 minute, stirring frequently. Remove from heat.

Sprinkle the walnuts evenly over the mixture and lightly press them in. Arrange the pear slices over the walnuts in an overlapping pinwheel pattern.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and eggs, one at a time, beating until fully incorporated. Gradually mix in half the dry ingredients, then the milk, followed by the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix until just combined.

Carefully scrape the batter onto the pears and smooth it into an even layer. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes.

Run a knife around the sides of the cake to loosen it from the pan, then invert onto a serving platter. (Any walnuts that are stuck to the pan can nestled back into the cake.) Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream. The cake will keep for 2 days at room temperature. Reheat before serving.