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.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

birthday menu

While all of these recipes easily merit their own post, it seems more appropriate (and more efficient) to present the remainder of A's all-star birthday menu in situ.


Ragoût of Morels with Crème Fraîche, Herbs and Toasted Brioche
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin

Brioche, butter, crème fraîche, heavy cream, morel mushrooms...more butter. This dish does not demand a lot of imagination. It's delicious because, well, how could it not be? As with most of Goin's recipes, the ingredient list is more aspirational than compulsory. We made do without the chervil, for instance.

1 tablespoon tarragon
1 tablespoon chervil sprigs
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves
2 tablespoons 1/2-inch-snipped chives
3/4 pound fresh morels, trimmed and cleaned
5 tablespoons butter, softened
1 teaspoon thyme leaves
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1 cup mushroom or chicken stock
Three 3/4-inch-thick slices brioche
1/2 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons crème fraîche
kosher salt and black pepper

Toss the tarragon, chervil, parsley leaves and chives together in a small bowl and set aside, covered with a damp paper towel, in the refrigerator. If the morels are large, cut them in half lengthwise.

Heat a large sauté pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons butter, and when it foams, scatter the morals into the pan. (Do not overcrowd them.) sauté 2 to 3 minutes, stirring often. Turn down the heat to medium, and add the thyme, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and black pepper. Cook until the mushrooms are crispy on the outside, yet still tender—about 6 to 8 minutes.

Add 1 tablespoon butter, and stir in the shallots. Cook about 2 minutes, until the shallots are translucent and tender. Turn the heat up to high, add the broth, and reduce by half. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, lightly butter the brioche on both sides. Heat a large cast-iron pan over medium-high heat and toast the slices on both sides until golden brown. Cut each slice in half diagonally, and divide between six plates.

When the brioche is ready, return the mushrooms to medium heat for a minute or two. Stir in the cream and season to taste.

Spoon the morels over and around the toast. Dollop each toast with crème fraîche and scatter the herbs over the top.


Pork Tenderloin with Crystallized Sugar and Ginger Sauce
Adapted from Jeremiah Tower Cooks, by Jeremiah Tower

Given my penchant for sweet things, it's only natural that I would respect a recipe calling for a “crystallized sugar and ginger sauce”—even when applied to pork tenderloin. I think this may be the savory, 1980s equivalent to the current bacon-caramel trend. The original recipe calls for a 45-minute brine prior to the marinade—a step which we omitted. Likewise, K. wisely did away with the “jasmine-ginger-chili oil” garnish. Like I said, totally 80s. But also extremely tasty.

Two 1-pound pork tenderloins, trimmed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
1 tablespoons chopped fresh garlic
1 large stalk fresh basil, stemmed, stems chopped, leaves reserved
1/2 cup superfine sugar
6 star anise
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sesame oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the ginger, garlic, and chopped basil stems in a small bowl, mix together, and then rub onto the tenderloins. Cover them and let marinate for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, put the sugar in a 10-inch nonstick sauté pan and heat slowly until it caramelized and just turns light brown (but beyond gold). Add the star anise. Let the caramel cool for 2 minutes, then add the stock and vinegar [be careful: it may spatter] and cook until the sugar is completely dissolved. Remove the star anise.

Preheat the grill.

Wipe the marinade off the tenderloins. Season them lightly with salt and pepper, rub with the olive oil, and grill for 8 to 10 minutes, until done. Let rest for 5 minutes.

Chop the fresh basil leaves. Bring the sauce to a simmer, then turn off the heat. Stir in the crystallized ginger, basil, and sesame oil and season to taste.

Slice the tenderloins and pour some of the sauce over the slices, passing the rest.


Cream-Braised Brussels Sprouts

Adapted from All About Braising, by Molly Stevens

Contrary to popular belief, you can over-braise a Brussels sprout—particularly mid-board game. These sprouts spent a bit too long in their simmering cream bath, making them more spoon-tender than fork-tender. But, while I wouldn’t recommend repeating our mistake, I can't say I regret it. I now know what creamy mashed Brussels sprouts taste like, and they’re pretty freaking great. Don't omit the lemon—it makes the dish.

Serves 4

1¼ pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed
3 tablespoons butter
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper (preferably white pepper)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 lemon

Cut the Brussels sprouts in half from stem end to tip, and then cut each half in half again. Ultimately, you want little wedges, no more than ½-inch across.

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the Brussels sprouts and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the sprouts are nicely browned in spots, about 5 minutes.

Pour in the cream, stir to mix, and then cover the pot. Reduce to a low simmer. Braise until the sprouts are tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a paring knife, about 30-35 minutes. The cream will have reduced some and will have taken on a creamy tan color.

Remove the lid, and add the lemon zest and juice (or to taste). Adjust seasonings. Let the pan simmer, uncovered, for a minute or two to thicken the cream to a glaze. Serve immediately.


Roasted Carrots with Garlic and Thyme
Adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison

I don't think this would make my shortlist for best-ever carrot recipes, but it's simple and classic. Next time, I might add some toasted almonds for additional texture, or substitute a few sprigs of rosemary.

Serves 4

1 1/2 lb carrots, peeled
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
10 cloves garlic
Several thyme sprigs
Chopped thyme or parsley
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Toss the carrots with the oil, and season with salt and pepper. Put them in a baking dish or roasting pan with the garlic and thyme sprigs. Add 2 tablespoons water; cover tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until tender, 25 to 45 minutes. Check at least twice while they are cooking to make sure there is a little moisture in the pan—and give the pan a shake to redistribute the carrots.

Toward the end, remove the foil and continue roasting until the liquid is reduced and the carrots are browned. Serve with chopped thyme or parsley.