Tuesday, March 30, 2010

flourless chocolate cake with meringue topping

Though there were many happy distractions on our recent visit to Concord, we remained single-minded in purpose: to celebrate Serious Turtle’s 30th birthday. It was an occasion that demanded not only our attendance, but also our most earnest culinary efforts.

The week before, K. devised the birthday menu—a retrospective of Turtle's most-requested dishes: Daniel Boulud smoked salmon (with accoutrements), Suzanne Goin’s ragout of morels with crème fraîche and toasted brioche; Jeremiah Tower’s pork tenderloin with caramel and crystallized ginger sauce; Molly Stevens’s cream-braised brussels sprouts; roasted carrots with garlic, and… ?

The cake—to my mind, a birthday’s raison d'être—was a lingering question mark.

It wasn’t until the birthday morning (after the requisite round of ebelskivers) that K. and I sat down to narrow our options. In a nod to nostalgia, we looked into recreating Turtle’s childhood favorite (a semi-homemade vanilla layer cake + chocolate frosting), but agreed that something chocolate, and sans cake mix, was more appropriate. We considered multiple layers, but limited time and oven space suggested it was wiser not to.

So, to review: we wanted something chocolate and homemade, with the festivity of a layer cake, but no layers. (Oh, and it had to be relatively low maintenance.) It seemed like an impossible wish list—or at least it did until, flipping through the pages of Desserts by The Yard, we discovered a recipe that seemed to check every box:

Flourless chocolate cake. I know what you’re thinking: That’s the solution? Where’s the panache? The architectural flourish?

And fair enough. Unadorned as you see here, the cake is nothing special—a standard variation on a stale concept. But this was only the beginning. A substratum. A confectionery bedrock. On top of which we spooned a veritable Matterhorn of whipped meringue.

The final product was not just beautiful, it was a study in topography—one part dark chocolate and four parts wispy meringue. (The golden meringue crackles, then dissolves on your tongue, leaving you with a spoonful of warm fudge.) It was gooey chocolate tar pit meets cumulus sugar cloud.

It was a cake worthy of the occasion.

Flourless Chocolate Cake with Meringue Topping
Adapted from Desserts by the Yard, by Sherry Yard

For the cake:
8½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

For the meringue:
8 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1½ cups sugar

Make the cake: Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Butter a 9- or 10-inch fluted tart pan or 9-inch springform pan. The pan must be at least 1 inch deep or the batter will overflow.

Melt the butter and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl or in the bowl of a double boiler, stirring together until smooth.

Beat together the eggs and sugar on medium speed until pale and the mixture forms a ribbon when lifted from the bowl with a spatula, about 2 minutes. On low speed, slowly add the cocoa powder and the chocolate mixture and combine well. Pour into the prepared pan.

Bake for 15 minutes, rotate the pan and continue to bake for another 8 minutes, or until the cake is slightly firm to the touch. Remove and slow to cool on a rack to room temperature.

Prior to serving, preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and increase the speed to medium. Continue beating while you gradually add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Beat the mixture to stiff, satiny peaks.

Spoon the meringue over the chocolate cake, creating decorative swirls. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the meringue is golden brown. Serve from the pan. Refrigerate leftovers.

Monday, March 22, 2010

roasted cauliflower and sesame spread

I love Middle Eastern food for many reasons—the spices, the smoky char of grilled meats, the culture of sharing—but perhaps foremost among these is the central place of tahini. In ancient Persia, the ground sesame paste originated as ardeh (“holy food”), and let me just say: those people knew what was up.

My introduction to tahini was fairly commonplace: like most people, I knew it only as a key ingredient to dips like hummus and baba ghanouj. And I didn’t feel the need to take the relationship any further.

What a difference a couple of years make. Somewhere between Ana Sortun’s parsnip hummus, Sara Jenkins’s roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce (one of my favorite discoveries of 2009) and Casa Moro’s beet and tahini dip, I developed a deep, abiding love for tahini. Seriously, I am hard-pressed to name a vegetable that wouldn’t benefit from its creamy sesame flavor. (Don’t even get me started on sweet applications. Just go to Russ & Daughters and try their seven-layer halva.)

This recipe comes from Jerry Traunfeld of Seattle’s Poppy restaurant, and, given my previous success with the cauliflower and tahini combination, it seemed natural to adapt it to puree form. After all, pureeing brings me one step closer to mainlining the stuff.

Texturally, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it—the spread is coarse, almost sandy from the roasted florets. But it tastes as delicious as I would have expected.

Roasted Cauliflower and Sesame Spread
Adapted from Food & Wine

1 head of cauliflower, halved crosswise and thinly sliced
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground coriander
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons tahini
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Sesame seeds, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the cauliflower with the oil, ginger and coriander and season with salt. Spread the cauliflower on a rimmed baking sheet and roast for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tender and lightly browned in spots. Let cool slightly.

Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor. Add the tahini and lemon juice and pulse to a chunky puree; season with salt. Add the cilantro and pulse just until incorporated. Transfer the spread to a bowl and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Serve warm with pita bread.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

curry-roasted butternut squash and chickpeas

This dish was initially conceived as an “Indian twist” on a Thanksgiving side. And, while I’m in no hurry to see it on my holiday table (for me, gravy-compatibility is a Thanksgiving prerequisite), I would happily eat it just about any other night of the year.

Curry-Roasted Butternut Squash and Chickpeas
Adapted from Food & Wine

Floyd Cardoz’s bhoondi raita made a perfect substitute for the cilantro-yogurt sauce recommended below, but this one does quite well in a pinch.

2 large butternut squash (5 1/2 pounds)—peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch dice
One 19-ounce can chickpeas—drained, rinsed and dried
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon mild curry powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
3 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
3/4 cup finely chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, toss the butternut squash with the chickpeas, olive oil, curry and cayenne and season with salt and pepper. Spread the squash cubes on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast for 1 hour, or until tender.

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, stir the yogurt with the cilantro and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper.

Spoon the roasted butternut squash and chickpeas onto a platter and drizzle with 1/2 cup of the yogurt sauce. Sprinkle with cilantro, and serve the remaining yogurt sauce on the side.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

cucumber raita with chickpea puffs

Floyd Cardoz's bhoondi raita so far transcends "condiment" status it's hard to know what to call it. Yes, it's a raita in all the traditional senses—a cooling yogurt sauce scented with cumin and mixed with shredded cucumber. But to that base, Cardoz adds adorable bhoondi—tiny chickpea flour dumplings that pop and crunch in your mouth.

It may not have been the centerpiece, but bhoondi raita was the definitely keystone to our Indian meal—a perfect counterpoint to cafreal chicken and curried butternut squash and chickpeas.

In other (immortal) words, it really tied the room together.


Cucumber Raita with Chickpea Puffs

Adapted from One Spice, Two Spice, by Floyd Cardoz

If you don't feel like frying up chickpea flour dumplings (what??), the cucumber raita is delicious on its own. But seriously, make the bhoondi, if only for snacking’s sake.

For the bhoondi:
1/2 cup chickpea flour
1 scant tablespoon minced mild fresh green chile
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons water
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 scant tablespoon minced cilantro
2 cups canola oil

For the raita:
1/2 pound cucumbers, preferably seedless or Kirby
2 1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cups plain yogurt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon
Kosher salt

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, chile, and water. Whisk in the spices and cilantro. Let the batter sit for 15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a heavy in a heavy 2-quart pot over moderately high heat until the oil shimmers.

Whisk the batter and pour a small amount through a slotted spoon into the oil. The bhoondi will bob to the surface almost immediately, but continue to fry them until they are golden and crisp, about 1 minute. Transfer the bhoondi with a slotted spoon to paper towels and sprinkle with salt. Repeat with remaining batter. [Bhoondi keep in an airtight container for 2 weeks.]

If using Kirby cucumbers, peel and grate them into a medium bowl. If using seedless cucumbers, leave the peel on and grate into the bowl. Squeeze excess moisture out of the cucumber with your hands and discard the liquid. You should have a packed 2/3 cup grated, squeezed cucumber

Toast the cumin seeds in a dry skillet over moderately low heat until they turn a couple of shades darker, about 3 minutes. Coarsely crush them with a mortar and pestle.

Whisk the yogurt into the cucumber. Add the chile, cumin seeds, cayenne, lime juice, sugar, and salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to two days. Just before serving, adjust seasoning to taste. Stir in the bhoondi and serve.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

chicken cafreal

When I first started cooking, my process of recipe selection was fairly accidental; menu planning meant simply shoehorning various new and tasty-sounding dishes into one meal. It took a few memorable failures—e.g., the aforementioned dinner of Momofuku Brussels sprouts and butternut squash and tahini salad (two delicious, but laughably discordant recipes)—for me to rethink my approach.

Since then, my menu planning process has evolved considerably—which is to say, it’s become considerably more anal—transforming what was once a relatively spur-of-the-moment decision into a subject of rigorous analysis.

This new system has drawbacks. For one, it means that, however willing I am to improvise during the act of cooking, the cooking itself demands significant forethought. (Our spontaneous, simple weeknight dinners are usually neither spontaneous nor simple.) Also, I’ve become a bit of a menu tyrant.

The good news is that every once and a while it yields a winning combination of dishes and flavors—a meal where everything on the plate conspires toward some greater whole.

Such was the case last weekend, when M. and I had some friends over for an Indian-inspired dinner. Spicy cilantro-marinated chicken, curried butternut squash and chickpeas, cool cucumber raita, roasted cauliflower-tahini spread: every component of the meal was delicious—they can and will be repeated independently—but the ensemble itself is worth celebrating.

Chicken Cafreal
Adapted from One Spice, Two Spice, by Floyd Cardoz

This is not a marinade for the cilantro-ambivalent. (The recipe calls for ½ pound of the stuff.) But for everyone else, it's delicious—spicy and bright, and sinus-clearing, to boot. Next time, I'll reserve the excess for roasted root vegetables.

Serves 6

5-6 pounds chicken parts (or two 3-pound, butterflied chickens)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 pound cilantro (including stems), coarsely chopped
10 whole garlic cloves, peeled
¼ cup thinly sliced peeled ginger
1 mild green chile, seeded and cut into pieces
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1½ teaspoons black peppercorns
4 cloves
½ cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon kosher salt

Place lime juice, cilantro, garlic, ginger and chile in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.

With a mortar and pestle or in an electric grinder, finely grind cumin seeds, peppercorns, cloves and cinnamon.

Pour cilantro puree into a large bowl and stir in ground spices and salt. Rub chicken with enough marinade to thoroughly cover. Refrigerate leftover marinade for serving at the table or for another dish. [Sweet potatoes, perhaps?]

Put chicken in large resealable plastic bag and refrigerate. Marinate chicken for at least six hours and up to 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a tiny amount of water (about 1/8 inch) in a large roasting pan and fit the chicken into the pan. Lightly pat remaining marinade on top of the chicken with a paper towel.

Roast chickens until done, about 1 hour, 15 minutes [less for chicken parts]. Allow to rest for a few minutes and slice. Serve with pan juices.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

guest post: potato chip cookies

I'm very excited to introduce a fantastic guest post (and a fantastic recipe), straight from our nation's Corn Belt. In addition to authoring brilliant debut novels, Jambo moonlights as a master cookie decorator at a neighborhood bakery. Here she brings us a more humble, but no less delicious breed of cookie.


Let me start by saying that these cookies won first place at the Iowa State Fair. No sub-categories about it. Not: "novelty" cookie. Not "variation on the basic theme of chocolate chip" cookie. Not: "not like your Grandma ever made" cookie. Not "taking low-brow and making it cool" cookies. Best overall. That's huge.

I thought I knew what it meant to win at the Iowa State Fair—just from reading the web traffic—but I didn't really know until I went.

Let me tell you what happened to me at the Iowa State Fair: I witnessed a mullet competition. I witnessed a llama competition. I witnessed a man eat an entire funnel cake in two bites. I received a tiny paper cup from a tiny old lady ladling samples of ostrich stew. I saw a lot of anti-Barack T-shirts. I circled back to the old lady for another go-round. I tried to get a deep-fried Twinkie and got an electrical fire instead. The place is totally intense. But not as intense as these cookies.

What makes them so good? The old yin-yang of sweet and salty, for starters. The slight crunch of chip-shards yields a mouth-feel that is mildly perilous and totally exciting. Put in plenty of potato chips, and don't grind them too small. You want to confront them. Don't shy away. I must confess: I've never tried Ruffles. Or Fritos. Both would be daring new frontiers. I have tried peanut butter chips, and didn't regret it.

I brought them to the big city to justify my arrival. I brought them to my lovely host, known here as Mock Turtle, because I like to bring her everything wonderful I encounter. We used to share an apartment. Now we just share a kindred-ness of spirit that refuses to recognize state boundaries.

Potato Chip Cookies
Adapted from the Iowa State Fair Cookbook

3/4 cup unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups crushed potato chips
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Beat the butter and sugars [LOVE it whenever sugar is plural] together, using an electric mixer set at medium-high speed, until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to medium and beat in eggs and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and mix in the flour, salt, and baking soda. Gently stir in the potato chips and chocolate chips.

Drop the dough (tablespoon size) about 2 inches apart, on ungreased sheets, for 14 to 16 minutes. Transfer to wire rack after another 2 minutes on the sheet.