Sunday, December 20, 2009

Stollen Moment

Of all the Christmas culinary traditions my mom has taught me--homemade biscotti, stuffed escarole, cinnamon buns--there's one that just never stuck. Despite not having an ounce of German blood, my mom loves stollen. I know, you're thinking, "What the hell is that?" Until recently, I honestly couldn't tell you much more than that it's a bread-like loaf filled with candied fruit and covered in so much powdered sugar that it almost looks like petrified wood. Mom buys herself a stollen from a bakery every Christmas, has a slice or two (my Dad, sister and I never touch the stuff) and then I guess she tosses the rest.

I started thinking about stollen this holiday season, and wondered what it was that my mom loves so much about it. I respect her taste; when she says something's good, it usually is. I looked through my cookbooks and found a recipe in The Joy of Cooking that didn't list any wacky ingredients. Pretty much a German version of pannetone, which I love. So as a surprise for Mom this year, I decided I'd make her a stollen. (Actually, I made six stollens--the recipe yield was huge. Moms going to be eating this stuff 'till July.)

I went with a recipe from a new book on artisan baking, figuring the detail would be helpful. Granted, the detail also meant I'd be involved with the project for the better part of 24 hours, but much of that time was unattended while the dough proofed. Turns out stollen's really not that complicated. It's a sweet yeast bread, with some lemon zest and cinnamon worked into the dough. It's studded with chopped bits of dried apricots, dark and golden raisins, and dried cranberries (which soaked overnight in dark rum and simple syrup; see picture above), plus some slivered almonds. It also has a ribbon of lemony almond paste running through it, a nice little surprise when you later cut a slice. I brushed each loaf with butter and sprinkled it with granulated sugar when it was just out of the oven. The recipe instructs you to then dust it with powdered sugar, but I was having visions of petrified stollen, so I skipped it.

Mom will be the real judge (since I have zero basis for comparison), but I actually think this turned out well. I toasted a slice this afternoon and ate it next to the fire as the snow swirled outside. Sure, the cozy environment helped, but I had to admit, the stollen was tasty. Heavier than pannetone, yes. But more substantial and complex, with a decent crust and a richness, thanks to the almond paste (see this rundown of international holiday sweets to put stollen in some context). I'll report back with Mom's review, so stay tuned.--S

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

A Holiday Cookie Bonanza

Last December I did some holiday baking, but was a little too preoccupied with wedding planning to jump into a full day, multi-recipe extravaganza. Not this year! Last weekend, my friend Kate and I churned out three varieties of holiday cookies in a tradition that I'm so glad we resurrected.

On the menu: one repeat from two years ago, Trios. They're just so cute, we couldn't resist. Definitely the labor-intensive entry in the field, but they're worth it. And as Kate pointed out, once you have the right tools (e.g., the right size cylander-shaped object to bore holes for the jelly; a tiny spoon to hold 1/8 of a teaspoon of jam), things go fairly quickly. Making them made me miss Gourmet's always gorgeous holiday cookie spread. I keep thinking the editors probably had their December package all ready to go when the magazine folded in October... and that it's probably lurking on some discarded computer's hard drive.

But onto the new! We went with two cookies Kate had spotted on other food blogs. First up: Sparkling Ginger Chip Cookies from 101 Cookbooks. True, Heidi Swanson's instructions are a tad on the persnickety side (come on--1/2 cup turbinado sugar for the cookie dough, and then an additional 2/3 cup fine grain natural cane sugar--sifted--for the exterior? who sifts sugar?). But I think we have to let her OCD slide here, because these cookies are fabulous. Definitely a sophisticated holiday sweet, with bittersweet chocolate, ground ginger, unsulphured molasses and grated fresh ginger. But so tasty! (They're pictured above, before going into the oven, and at the top of this post, after baking.)

The other recipe, for Maple Cookies from Simply Recipes, was a lot more straightforward. It was almost like a chocolate chip cookie in dough consistency (below) and technique, plus a nice glug of maple syrup (we used Stonewall Kitchen Grade A) and chopped walnuts. The smell of these babies baking was fantastic, so warm and delicious--like pancakes, actually. And the finished cookies? Excellent. Towards the end of the bowl, I guess the batter got a bit thin, so some cookies turned out sans nuts--which is a bit of a disappointment, because the nuts really compliment the maple flavor (and add texture, obviously). But the nut-less cookies would probably work nicely if you felt like having a maple-vanilla ice cream sandwich.

So there you have it. Happy baking!--S

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Simplicity

Amid the bonanza that is Thanksgiving, a little simplicity is welcome. (Heck, after that last post, I think a no-brainer recipe is in order.) And when it comes to cranberry sauce, I know some people go to extreme measures to keep things simple. But I prefer a more homemade approach. Enter Anna Thomas' Cranberry Sauce.

I discovered this beautifully miniamlist recipe on Cookstr.com while researching a story for work, and was immediately taken with its five-ingredient list (and you only need a "dash" of one of those ingredients, so it's really more like four ingredients plus a smidge). As longtime S&F readers know, I have a bit of a sweet tooth, so this cranberry sauce's sugary tang is right up my alley. Toss in a bit of warm cinnamon and kicky cloves? Sign me up! The recipe originally appeared in Thomas' book The New Vegetarian Epicure, which sounds worth checking out, if only for its recipe for Wild Mushroom and Charred Tomato Soup (yum!).

Make this cranberry sauce throughout the fall and winter, fill your home with a citrusy/spicy aroma, and enjoy keeping things simple.--S

Monday, November 23, 2009

Spoon and Fork Take a Break, The Quest for Good Food Continues...

We interrupt your regularly scheduled Spoon + Fork blogging to bring you this special announcement: Spoon finds herself a bit busy organizing onesies, mapping out baby furniture, figuring out how to collapse this bad boy, and prepping the world for the arrival of blueberry (oh, and she looks fab doing it). And fork? Fork is battling some unfortunate jetlag after flying to South Korea to enlighten Asian bibliophiles with his immeasurable knowledge of the future of the publishing industry . Call him Chop Sticks for now. Forks are out. Chop sticks are in.

Luckily, two of S+F’s inner circle of food aficionados have taken over for the week, because you, dear reader, have been deprived since Spoon’s last post about those decadent hazelnut and chocolate buns. Enter your guest bloggers: Fillet Knife and Butcher Twine. Yes, two very underrated kitchen utensils, ones that you may own, but that are probably relegated to that lower utensil drawer amongst the Krustbuster and Bacon Genie. Yet, when it comes to the highfalutin chops of one Julia Child, these two tools should be deemed indispensable.


A little background info so you know we’re legit:


Fillet Knife and Butcher Twine (FK and BT) grew up down the block from each other. They were in the same class from kindergarten through high school, were known throughout Northeastern New Jersey for their tennis court managerial skills, and even battled each other in the annual Gingerbread Throwdown Invitational, in which BT once made a highly impressive gingerbread Parthenon and FK (along with Spoon) showed off a stirring rendition of a gingerbread tiki hut. But we digress...


One night over Checker Cabs at the neighborhood fave Almond, FK and BT discussed the recent Julie and Julia film starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams.

“I mean, did you see that duck? That thing was crazy. Stuffed with all that….stuff….and then wrapped in dough?,” pondered FK.

“I don’t think it’s that hard,” commented BT, “I mean, I bet we could do it”.


Keep in mind neither of us owns Mastering the Art of French Cooking (for shame!), nor has either ever attempted such a feat. We’re fans of simpler, dare we say, healthier alternatives. Never ones to turn down a challenge, however, we hatched our plan.


Pâté de Canard en Croûte, is what you’d call Duck, Stuffed with Pork, Veal, Pork Fat and Then Wrapped Up in Pastry Dough in the vernacular. (Sounds prettier – and less caloric - in French, doesn’t it?)


We won’t bore you with the details, but here’s the basic synopsis of how this all went down.


1. BT expertly put together the dough ahead of time. While doing so, BT realized two things. First, Julia Child’s cookbook predates the days of Kitchen Aid mixers. And second, that Julia seemingly forgot to say when to put the eggs in the recipe. Luckily, BT inherited his mother’s baking / pastry skills and was able to correctly guess when they needed to be added to the dough.

2. FK assembled the stuffing – veal/pork/salt pork (cured pork fat), eggs, spices, and a marsala/port reduction with butter and chopped onion. (cue the music).



The reduction made FK smile and think of one of Julia’s best-known lines, “I love cooking with wine—sometimes I even put it in the food.”






These two steps, if ever you decide to make this dish, are best done ahead of time. Consider them your mise en place. That way, you'll feel like a Top Chef, and Tom Colicchio can tell you that your flavor profiles are spot on, you'll win a billion dollars and enough Glad plastic wrap to last you a lifetime. Since this recipe takes up a good five or six pages in the original Mastering… know that it’s a long process, and might take 4-5 hours in all.


FK and BT got together on a rainy Saturday night with the recipe, tools, and ingredients necessary. They brought their A game. Parched before they even began, BT poured a few glasses of wine.


The first step of this recipe has you bone the duck. We took Donald (a 5-pounder from the renowned Otomanelli Brothers) out of his packaging (note the funny “I’m gonna carve myself up now!” logo below)



...and began the dissection dismemberment butchering.




Using a very sharp fillet knife, FK and BT skillfully carved down the backbone and along the rib cage, marveling at how easily the breast meat fell away from the bone. And heavens, what fat! Those ducks obviously haven't heard of heart-healthy eating.




Navigating our way through the wing and thigh joints, however, was a bit tricky. “When you come to the ball joints connecting the wings and the second joints to the carcass, sever them,” says Julia.


But on which side? Perplexed, we decided to wing it (pun intended), and using some nifty kitchen shears, cut the joints down the middle.



Pretty confident and proud of ourselves, we scanned over the recipe and chuckled at our favorite line of the night, “By the time you have completed half of this, the carcass frame, dangling legs, wings and skin will appear to be an unrecognizable mass of confusion and you will wonder how in the world any sense can be made of it all.”


Oh Julia, you have such a way with words.


The following conversation ensued:

BT: This whole butchering thing isn’t all that hard.

FK: (carving here, trimming there) Top off that wine glass and let’s figure out how to take the cavity out of the bird. Eww, this is so gross.

BT: I think we need to be extra careful when cutting between the skin and the breastbone. Julia says the skin is very thin and can be easily slit.

FK: I’m sure we can figure it…oh…yeah…I see…she’s right. Hmm. I don’t really know how we can cut it out without cutting some of the skin.

BT: Well, I think we already botched it when we cut a few holes in the skin to remove the wings, so we’ll just wrap it in extra twine.



Relieved, duck cavity removed (along with the bag of undesirable organ meats, the neck, and God knows what else…), we threw it in a bowl and set it aside (looks scrumptious, doesn’t it?!)


FK brought out the stuffing and BT took over, chopping up some of the breast meat we had removed, and mixed it with yet more marsala, port, salt, pepper, etc. (We think at this point, you could veer from the original recipe and add any type of herbs you like, chopped mushrooms, perhaps, even some toasted breadcrumbs if you wanted to make it less dense).

We amassed the, um, mass, and molded it into a meatloaf-shaped pile inside the duck. So far, so good. Protein inside protein inside pastry. What could go wrong?



Here is the point at which we realized a few important details:

a) our duck was bigger than the one in the recipe, thus making it heavier, and all around bulkier (balkier? No, bulkier).

b) we had a few unfortunate holes, which allowed the stuffing to kinda peek out.

But we're quick. We know the drill, so we wrapped the heck out of our duck with a lot of twine, and instead of browning it in a frying pan (maybe a paella pan would've worked, but alas, we were without one), we put it on a baking sheet and stuck it under the broiler for a few minutes, getting a little crispiness to appear on each side.








Once out of the oven, we let it cool, and BT rolled out 2/3 of the chilled dough, which we then wrapped around the bottom portion of the duck. It came up pretty far, and kinda looked like a papoose (not to be confused with capital P Papoose).


The top third was rolled out and put on top.

At this point, we were tired, but having a good time. Julia, always the consummate connoisseur of the kitchen, suggested we use the leftover dough to cut out some pretty flowers. The explanation and accompanying pictures took up almost an entire page. We decided instead to adorn our pièce de résistance with our real life initials.



The masterpiece went into the oven on a rack over a pan (enough fat oozed out to fill 1/2 coffee can. Nice!) for about 2 1/2 hours. We let the meat cool for over an hour (during which time, steam poured out of the steam hole we had put on top of the duck (per Julia) at a ferocious speed.)





Thankfully, one very kind soul joined us for a taste. And guess what! It wasn't all that bad. It reminded FK of a very meaty, sumptuous calzone. BT thought it was similar to a fancy meatloaf wrapped in pastry dough (and since BT is a meatloaf fan, that is a compliment). The dough was crunchy on the outside, (shiny from an egg wash) hiding moist stuffing inside.


The real gem, though, was the back of the duck, the tender pieces of thigh that were hidden under layers of flaky pastry, surrounded by the stuffing.


Would you whip this up on a Tuesday night? Probably not. Was it worth the 4+ hours of work? Possibly.








Did it inspire us to try a turducken? Oh yes. But it's definitely tastier than its Tex-Mex successors, the Cheesy Gordita Crunch Supreme or whatever it is they serve over at Taco Town these days.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Better Buns

The smell of a cinnamon roll is a pretty great thing. I haven't had a Cinnabon since high school, but whenever I pass a shop at a mall or a highway rest stop, the sweet, yeasty aroma tempts me (and then I walk on by, knowing that three bites in I'll feel stuffed and sugared into a coma). Even though Chocolate and Hazelnut Buns don't have cinnamon in them, this morning, they filled our apartment with that delicious, bready, buttery scent. It didn't hurt that it was cold and rainy outside, so our home, with the scent of the buns plus a freshly brewed pot of coffee, was a pretty heavenly place to be.

Okay, enough olfactory descriptions. The recipe for these rolls comes from a forthcoming cookbook on baking around the world, and is a nice twist (ha) on the traditional cinnamon bun. Instead of lacing the buttery dough with cinnamon, you use a blend of finely chopped hazelnuts, cocoa powder and sugar. Other than that, things are pretty straightforward: make a dough from flour, yeast, sugar, salt, melted butter, an egg and lukewarm milk. Knead, then let it rise. Roll it out into a big rectangle, spread it with butter and top that with the filling. Then roll the whole thing up, slice it and pack each bun into a baking pan. And get ready for some mighty fine smells to come out of your kitchen.

The rolls are very good, not too sweet but perfect with coffee. I'm not sure how they'll taste at room temperature, but five minutes after baking, they're pretty perfect. And much better than a Cinnabon.--S

Chocolate and Hazelnut Buns
Makes 9 buns [I got 9 large buns and 3 mini buns out of the recipe]

Dough
2 1/3 c white bread flour
1 1/2 t active dry yeast
2 t sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 stick butter, melted and cooled [I used unsalted]
1 egg, beaten
About 2/3 c milk, lukewarm

Filling
2/3 c hazelnuts
1/3 c granulated sugar
1/4 c cocoa powder
1/2 stick butter, very well softened

1. Place all the ingredients for the dough in a large bowl and mix to moisten the dry ingredients. Use a heavy-duty mixer fitted with a dough hook to knead thoroughly until smooth and supple. Alternatively, turn out onto a floured surface or a non-stick silicone mat and knead until smooth and supple. Bring together in a ball and return to the bowl. [I used a plastic bowl because I've heard dough doesn't rise as quickly in a metal bowl.] Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp dish towel and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size.

2. For the filling, pulse all the ingredients except the butter in a food processor until the nuts are very finely chopped. Set aside until needed.

3. Punch down the dough and knead briefly until it is smooth. On a lightly floured surface, roll it out to a rectangle about 16" x 12". Use a pastry brush or your fingers to spread the butter over the dough, leaving about 3/4" clear on all sides. Sprinkle the filling evenly over this. It is a generous amount, but the butter will eventually absorb it. Roll up from one long end. Trim the roll so that it measures 14" and discard the end pieces [I used the ends to make mini rolls with the filling that fell out as I cut the main roll.] Cut the resulting log at intervals of 1 1/2", so that you end up with 9 pieces.

4. Grease and line an 8" square baking pan, then arrange the dough pieces in three rows of three [I tucked the mini rolls in there too]. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave it in a warm place until almost doubled in size. The buns will now be pressing cozily against each other; this slight over-crowding gives nice soft sides.

5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Leave in the pan for about 5 minutes before turning out in its entirety onto a wire rack. Break the buns off as needed. That way, the sides stay softer for longer.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

It's Good to Be Home

I may have been sipping passion fruit and acai juices last week in Brazil, but I had fall on my mind. It was the middle of September and I couldn't wait to get home to go apple picking. I'd already made plans to drive up to an orchard near Warwick, NY, the day after I got back, and thankfully, when the day came, it was gorgeous.

My sister and I headed to Jessup Road Orchard and spent a beautiful morning picking half a bushel of apples. Though the woman working at the shop gave us a map explaining which varieties were ready for picking, we got a little lost once we were out in the orchard, so we aren't exactly sure what kind of apples we wound up with. Our m.o. went something like this: pull an apple off a tree, polish it on our shirt, take a bite. If it was crisp and sweet and maybe a little tart, too, we'd go to town and pick a dozen or more. If it didn't have quite as sharp a bite, we tossed it and moved on. It was a flawless system.

I've been eating about four apples a day since Sunday, and tonight I wanted to do something different. After a long day at work and an hour of tennis, I didn't have the energy for a pie. What I did have, though, was butter, buttermilk and kitchen staples like flour, sugar, brown sugar and cinnamon. And plenty of apples! Just the things for Apple Upside-Down Biscuit Cake.

This tarte tatin-like dessert is super-simple. You melt butter in a skillet, stir in brown sugar, and lay apple slices on top. Then you drop a basic biscuit dough on top, spreading it all over the apples, and bake it for 20 minutes or so. The only tricky part comes when the cake's out of the oven, since you have to invert it onto a plate. I advise waiting longer than the recipe's suggested three minutes, and I actually let Fork do the heavy lifting (and he did singe a few arm hairs in the process). But the end result is a delicious cake, light and rustic. This is the perfect weeknight dessert, or the ideal sweet for people who say they don't bake. And it's making me so glad to be back home.--S

Apple Upside-Down Biscuit Cake

For topping:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 lb Granny Smith apples [or other tart apples], peeled, cored, and cut into thin wedges

For cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk

Accompaniment: crème fraîche or sour cream (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 425°F. Heat butter in an ovenproof 10-inch heavy skillet (preferably well-seasoned cast-iron) over moderate heat until foam subsides. Stir in brown sugar and remove from heat. Spread mixture evenly in skillet and arrange apples, overlapping, in 1 layer.
2. Blend flour, sugar, baking powder and soda, salt, and cinnamon in a food processor. Add butter and pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer to a bowl and add buttermilk, stirring just until mixture is moistened.
3. Drop batter on top of apples and gently spread, leaving a 1-inch border around edge of skillet. (Cake needs room to expand.)
4. Bake cake in middle of oven until golden brown and firm to the touch, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cake in skillet on a rack 3 minutes [I suggest 10 minutes], then invert onto a platter. Replace any apples that stick to skillet on cake. Serve warm.

Recipe courtesy of Gourmet

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Corn! Part 2

Here's a really fabulous recipe for these last few weeks of summer. It combines seafood, corn and a little spice, is easy to put together, and pretty much constitutes a full meal on its own, though you could make a tomato or green salad alongside it. And then you're set: a summery, (reasonably) healthy, easy, seasonal dish that--bonus!--looks pretty on the plate, too. (And you don't need a grill to make it; I used a cast-iron grill pan and it worked marvelously.)

To make Grilled Scallops with Mexican Corn Salad, you start by grilling ears of corn, letting the kernels get charred in places and a little blistery in others. Once they're done and cool enough to handle, you cut the kernels off the cob, and mix them with a light dressing of garlic, red onion, lime juice, mayonnaise (I said this dish was reasonably healthy) and chile powder. You can add cotija or ricotta salata cheese, though I skipped it, since I thought the mayo would lend the dish enough creaminess (which it did--for our taste, anyway).

Corn salad done, you grill sea scallops, which takes all of six or so minutes, and lay them atop the corn. Squirt a little lime juice on top, and voila! The corn salad has a fantastic kick (I did add a touch of hot sauce in addition to the chile powder), and a little heft from the mayo. The kernels of corn are the perfect springy contrast to the tender scallops. Fork and I ate every last bite of this terrific meal on a recent weeknight, alongside a green salad, and then enjoyed some watermelon sorbet for dessert. Ah, summer!--S

Grilled Scallops with Mexican Corn Salad

serves 4

1 garlic clove, minced
1 T minced red onion
2 T fresh lime juice
8 small ears of corn, husked
Vegetable oil, for brushing
1/3 c mayonnaise
1 t pure ancho chile powder
4 oz cotija or ricotta salata cheese, crumbled (1 1/4 c)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Hot sauce
12 large sea scallops
Lime wedges, for serving

1. Light a grill. In a large bowl, toss the garlic and onion with the lime juice and let stand for 10 minutes.
2. Brush the corn with oil and grill over moderate heat until charred and just tender, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a work surface and cut the kernels off the cobs.
3. Whisk the mayonnaise and chile powder into the garlic, onion and lime juice. Add the cheese and corn to the bowl and toss. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce.
4. Brush the scallops with vegetable oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill over high heat until nicely browned and barely cooked through, about 3 minutes per side. Spoon the corn salad onto 4 plates and top with the scallops. Serve with lime wedges.

Recipe courtesy of Food & Wine

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Corn!

'Tis the season. For corn, that is. I know corn gets such a bad rap these days, but I am still in love with fresh summer corn on the cob. Boil it, broil it, grill it, whatever. I love it. But here's a new take on fresh summer corn: baked with cream, cheese and herbs, bubbling and brown in its own little crock. I couldn't resist.

The recipe for Farm-Fresh Taleggio Creamed Corn, from Hudson Valley Mediterranean, is pretty simple and allows for lots of variation. You slice corn kernels off the cob and saute them with shallots, garlic and herbs (in this case, thyme and parsley). Add wine or sugar if desired, then some sort of milk/cream (I used whole milk). A little thickener in the form of a flour/water paste, and then stir in cheese and more herbs (chives). A this point you've got a really nice vegetable side. But if you really want to do it right, you portion the corn into ramekins, top them with grated parmesan, and put them under the broiler for a few minutes.

The result is a sort of summer mac 'n cheese, obviously a little more toothsome than pasta, but just as comforting and rich. Like I said, I couldn't resist.--S

Farm-Fresh Taleggio Creamed Corn

Makes 6 to 8 servings

6 ears fresh corn
3 T olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 T chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 t fresh thyme leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c dry white wine (optional)
2 t sugar (optional—taste a kernel of corn to see if it’s needed)
1 T all-purpose flour
1 1/3 c milk or half-and-half
3 oz Taleggio cheese, cut into small pieces
2 T fresh chives
1/4 c grated Grana Padano or Parmesan cheese (optional)

Slice the kernels from the corncobs; you should have 4 to 5 cups of kernels. Then scrape the cobs with a sharp knife to get all the milk and pulp. Reserve the kernels separately from the milk and pulp.

Add the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and garlic and cook, stirring, until the shallots soften, 3 to 4 minutes. Increase the heat to medium-high, and stir in the corn kernels, 2 tablespoons of the parsley, and the thyme. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook, tossing or stirring often, until the kernels are cooked and lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Add the reserved corn milk and pulp. Stir in the white wine and the sugar, if using, and cook until the liquid has almost completely evaporated, 3 to 4 minutes.

Blend the flour with 2 tablespoons water, and stir the mixture into the corn. Then whisk in the milk or half-and-half. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook, stirring, until thickened, about 3 minutes. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed, and stir in the remaining parsley. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the Taleggio and chives.

Serve immediately, or transfer the mixture to ovenproof crocks or ramekins, sprinkle the tops with the Grana Padano, and broil under high heat until the tops are bubbly and browned.

Recipe courtesy of Hudson Valley Mediterranean

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Lovely Rita

In my devotion to Rita's Water Ice and keen interest in making homemade ice creams and sorbets, I've always wished I could find a way to make a frozen dessert that had the vibrant fruit flavor and perfectly slushy texture of Rita's at home. I never had much success. Until now.

I'd torn a recipe for Watermelon Sorbet from Patricia Wells out of Runner's World earlier this summer, impressed by its simplicity. All you needed to make it was watermelon, simple syrup and lemon or lime juice. Wells said you didn't even need to an ice cream maker. I knew that with such a straightforward ingredient list, and watermelons being so tasty right now, that the sorbet would be good. I just didn't know it would taste just like Rita's.

The freezers at a typical Rita's store keep the water ice at the perfect firmness, between frozen and slushy. This watermelon sorbet somehow manages to achieve that same consistency, both fresh out of the ice cream maker and after having been in the freezer for a day. Maybe the simple syrup lends it a cohesiveness, rather than icing up into a frozen mass like sugar would. Or maybe it's the watermelon, the texture of which is kind of fibrous compared to other fruits. Whatever it is, it's delicious.--S

Watermelon Sorbet

Cube eight to 10 cups of watermelon (discard seeds). Puree in a blender until you have four cups. Mix with two tablespoons fresh lemon or lime juice and one cup simple syrup (boil equal parts water and sugar until sugar dissolves; then let syrup cool). Chill in an ice-cream maker, or leave in your freezer until slushy.

Recipe courtesy of Runner's World

Monday, July 27, 2009

Don't Judge a Casserole...

I admit Chile Relleno Casserole does not have "Spoon" written all over it. It's true that it doesn't require a long list of ingredients and can be prepared fairly quickly--two qualities I often look for in a recipe. But I'm generally not a casserole kind of girl (Italian casseroles like baked ziti, lasagna and baked macaroni not withstanding). Also, since "relleno" means "stuffed" or "filled," I couldn't figure out what was stuffed in this recipe. I envisioned the labor-intensive task of stuffing individual chilies with some sort of complicated mixture. Still, when I met cookbook author and publisher Tod Davies and she singled this recipe out as one that epitomized her approach to cooking, I knew I had to give it a try.

This is definitely a case of "you don't know until you try it," because Chile Relleno Casserole is actually quite good. It's essentially a layered vegetable-cheese-egg dish, a sort of twist on huevos rancheros. The bottom layer is shredded jack cheese. On top of that are diced roasted green peppers, then canned green chilies, then shredded cheddar. Over this you pour a mixture of beaten eggs and milk, seasoned with salt, and then top it with paprika. You bake it in a 350-degree oven for 40 minutes or so, and that's it.

I used smoky Spanish paprika (Fork came home about halfway through the cooking and said, "Smells like bacon"--ha!), which I think gave the dish a little depth. We topped our servings with chopped scallion and cilantro, and a squirt of lime juice. With some blue corn tortilla chips, this made a light, easy supper. Here's to trying new things...--S

Chile Relleno Casserole

Serves 4-6

1. Roast 2 large green peppers. Seed them. Dice into large pieces.
2. Get about 1 1/2 seven-ounce cans Ortega green chiles, whole or diced, about 11 ounces.
3. Grate 10 ounces Jack cheese (.63 lb.) and 10 ounces sharp Cheddar.
4. 1 1/3 c. of milk.
5. In a huge, flat casserole that's been greased, spread the Jack, the peppers, the chile, the Cheddar.
6. Beat 3 large eggs. Add the milk and 1/2 t salt. Pour over casserole mixture. Paprika top.
7. Bake at 350 for about 40-50 minutes.

Note: I halved the recipe, using one can of chilies, about 4 ounces of each of the cheeses, and one egg.

Recipe courtesy of
Jam Today.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

My New Favorite Cut

Fork's favorite cut of beef is a tie between flank steak and skirt steak. He says they're the most flavorful cuts and "just taste the best." They're also very forgiving, he says. Dedicated readers of this blog will notice I don't cook a lot of beef, but it's not because I don't like it. I just don't really know what I'm doing. But flank steak and skirt steak are forgiving! And flavorful! And I am here to tell you Fork was absolutely right. (Duh!)

I picked up just under a pound of Skirt Steak and marinated it for an hour in a Ziploc bag filled with a delicious puree made from olive oil, soy sauce, scallions, red onions, garlic, lemon juice, red pepper flakes, cumin and brown sugar. After an hour, I took the meat out, blotted it semi-dry with a paper towel, and fired up my griddle on the highest flame for a full five minutes. And then, I laid the meat onto the sizzling hot pan, and sizzle it did. The sizzle was very dramatic and meaty, I have to say. It made me feel like a serious chef. Or it did for just a few minutes, anyway, because the steak didn't take very long to cook. About two minutes per side (I'd cut the meat into three pieces), and then I took it off the pan to rest.

The steak had taken on a black char in parts, I'm guessing from the sugar in the marinade hitting the super-hot pan. But inside, it was perfectly medium rare. The marinade gave the steak a little bit of heat, but also a subtle sweetness. It was pretty fantastic, actually. I think I may have a new favorite cut of beef now, too.--S

Skirt Steak

1/2 c olive oil
1/3 c soy sauce
4 scallions, washed and cut in 1/2
2 large cloves garlic
1/4 c lime juice [I used lemon juice, only because I didn't have any limes]
1/2 t red pepper flakes
1/2 t ground cumin
3 T dark brown sugar or Mexican brown sugar
2 pounds inside skirt steak, cut into 3 equal pieces

1. In a blender, put in oil, soy sauce, scallions, garlic, lime juice, red pepper, cumin, and sugar and puree. In a large heavy duty, zip top bag, put pieces of skirt steak and pour in marinade. Seal bag, removing as much air as possible. Allow steak to marinate for 1 hour in refrigerator.

2. Remove steak from bag and pat dry with paper towels.

3. Heat griddle at highest flame and let it heat up for five minutes. Put steak on griddle and cook about two minutes per side. Let rest 10 minutes.

Marinade from Alton Brown

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Dinner at Home, Finally

After spending three days schlepping around the Javits Center for BookExpo, I wanted nothing more tonight than a home-cooked meal. This year's show did entail some good eats, including a wonderful party hosted by the Lee Bros., which featured boiled peanuts, fried chicken and Dogfish Head beer. But it also entailed choking down a squished turkey sandwich in the basement of the convention center as I filed stories on deadline.

So a homemade dinner was definitely on the menu. I decided to make Hunter's-Style Chicken with Rosemary, which sounds much better in Italian: Pollo alla Cacciatora. I'll save my grandfather's legendary version for another post, but this version, from Lidia's Italy, is very, very good. It fit the bill nicely. The ingredient list is brief (chicken, garlic, rosemary, red pepper flakes, plum tomatoes). The procedure couldn't be simpler (brown chicken in olive oil; add garlic, rosemary, hot pepper, crushed tomatoes and water; simmer). And the finished dish was satisfying and delicious.

I made a pot of polenta while the chicken simmered (whisk 1 cup cornmeal with 1 cup water and a dash of salt; stir in 2 cups boiling water; cook over medium heat, stirring, until desired consistency). As Lidia advises (and you know how I trust her), it's nice to spoon the chicken--which, once finished, is falling off the bone--and tomato sauce on top. The polenta soaks up the sauce, everything melds together, and you've got a wonderful meal. Happiness.--S

Hunter’s-Style Chicken with Rosemary

4-lb chicken cut into 8-10 pieces (I used thighs and drumsticks)
1 1/2 t sea salt or kosher salt or to taste
1/2 c extra virgin olive oil
8 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced in half
2 short branches fresh rosemary with lots of needles
1/2 ts peperoncino flakes or to taste
4 c or a 35 oz can of canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, crushed by hand

1. Rinse chicken and pat dry. Season with salt. Pour olive oil in pan and set over medium high heat. Place chicken skin side down in pan to brown for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn them over and brown another 2 to 3 minutes. Scatter the garlic into the hot fat in between chicken and then drop in rosemary stems and sprinkle peperoncino over.
2. Keep turning chicken until nicely browned all over, 10 minutes or so, then pour in tomatoes slowly. Slosh the tomato can with a cup of water and pour that in too. Sprinkle another 1/2 tsp salt, raise heat, and turn and stir chicken in juices as they come to a boil.
3. Cover pan, leaving slightly ajar. Adjust heat to maintain steady bubbling. Cook for 20 minutes stirring occasionally and turning chicken. Remove cover and cook another 20 minutes until chicken is tender and cooked through.

Recipe courtesy of Lidia's Italy

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Culture Club

Yogurt doesn't really get the props it deserves. Obviously it's an easy, healthy breakfast food (my fave: honey, blueberries and some clumps of granola). It's also a great dessert (sprinkle some sugar on top; serve with bananas and a dash of cinnamon). But I also use it as a sauce (stir in some feta, chopped scallions, salt and pepper; or just swirl in some cumin and salt). Plus, you can make it into cheese! With such endless possibilities, I buy a lot of yogurt. And a few months ago I started thinking about making my own.

So I got a yogurt maker. I'm still playing around with the length of time I keep the yogurt in the machine, but the most recent batch I made was delicious. After catching a yogurt-centric episode of Good Eats, I followed a recipe from Alton Brown, and I was impressed. He calls for organic milk, a bit of powdered milk, a dash of honey and a little bit of actual yogurt (so you can build upon the cultures to make your own). The yogurt turned out tangy, smooth and thick but pour-able. I hadn't had yogurt this tasty since our favorite breakfast spot in Tulum.

I know people say appliances that have only one function are a waste. And I know that in a New York City apartment I should probably be judicious about what new gadgets I bring in to my kitchen. But this yogurt maker is kind of cool looking ("Euro Cuisine!"), and, well, I'll admit I was pretty taken with the little glass jars with lids that have an adjustable window for you to change the date (so you know how old the yogurt is when you store it in your refrigerator). I'm such a sucker!

But aside from the fun gadgetry, this yogurt really is delicious. I'm going to try some variations in the next few weeks, so stay tuned. -S

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Whoopee

First let me say that my Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies looked nothing like the picture in Martha Stewart's Cookies (not the first time that's happened). I followed the recipe, but they were not smooth and flat, did not resemble chocolate pancakes, and were instead kind of bulging, amorphous blobs. I used a cookie scoop to make sure each one was the same size, so I don't think that was the problem. I think it had something to do with my oven, which doesn't recover too well when I open the door (as in, the temperature drops and doesn't come back up for, like, 20 minutes. I need to deal with this problem, I know).

Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way: these whoopie pies really are tasty. A decadent dessert, no doubt--there's a lot of butter between the cakes and the frosting, not to mention buttermilk and lots of sugar. But chocolate and peanut butter go well together, as you might have heard. The cakes are light, and the frosting's divine--especially with a dash of sea salt mixed into it. If you're making these for a party, you might want to make each cake with just a tablespoon of batter, so your pies are a little more bite-sized and manageable. If you're making them for a smaller group, go big. Your friends won't complain, I promise.--S

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Forget Cornflakes

I've heard of using crushed cornflakes to coat chicken, but crushed tortilla chips? That's a new one. Turns out it's a really good one, too.

To make Tortilla Chicken Drumsticks, you whirl corn tortilla chips in a food processor with chili powder, cumin and salt (though you'll want to watch your salt since the chips are pretty salty themselves) until they're coarsely ground. Then you dip chicken drumsticks in a mixture of egg and chili powder (I used cayenne), let the excess drip off, and roll the drumsticks in the ground chip mixture. It adheres quite nicely, thanks to the egg, though you may want to press it on to any spots that didn't pick it up. And into a hot oven they go. After 40 or so minutes, you have crispy, moist, spicy, delicious chicken that could become your new favorite weeknight dinner. No huge ingredient list, items that are easy to find, and inexpensive, to boot.

On the side, roast some potato wedges, and serve everything with Cilantro-Lime Mayonnaise, which tempers the chicken's heat really nicely, and a squeeze of lime juice. You can keep your cornflakes. I'm sticking with tortilla chips.--S

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

All Hail Mikey G

At a talent show-themed birthday party when I was a kid, my cousin Mike dressed up as Julia Child and gave a cooking demonstration. He was about 10 years old. I don't remember what he made but it entailed him telling us to "Set your flame at a nice speed," in a high-pitched voice. Fast-forward about 20 years, and Mike's living in California wine country and still loves to cook. Whether it's lobster bisque or a simple tomato sauce and meatballs, the kid does it really well. The only recipe I have of his is for Caesar Salad Dressing, and though that may seem like a throwaway, it's actually become a staple in my kitchen.

The dressing is just garlicky enough and the perfect consistency for dressing on crisp romaine. I make a few adjustments, like toning down the anchovies, and rarely make an entire recipe, since a halved recipe is usually more than enough for a salad that serves four. You must use a blender or mini-food processor, first to make sure you've pureed the garlic and anchovy, but second because a blender aerates the dressing somewhat, so it's a little frothy and not at all gooey (it's beyond me how waiters who prepare Caesar Salad tableside in fancy restaurants achieve this consistency).

I seriously urge you to make this dressing next time you're having friends, Romans, countrymen over (ha). They'll be hailing you.--S


Caesar Salad

(in blender)
1 c olive oil
4-5 cloves garlic
1 can anchovies [I use only 3 or 4 anchovies]
1 heaping t Dijon mustard
5-6 shakes Worcestershire sauce
1 egg
1/2 c grated parmesan cheese
1/4 to 1/3 c red wine vinegar
Juice from 1/2 lemon
Pinch of salt
Pepper

Friday, May 08, 2009

Back to Basics

After three attempts at vegan baking (in addition to these, I also made a so-so banana bread), I was anxious to get back to what I knew. You know: eggs, butter, sugar, buttermilk. So I reached for a cookbook that never fails me: Kathleen's Bake Shop Cookbook. Aunt Betty had placed a "very good" note on the recipe for Orange Poppy Seed Muffins. I've always liked the lemon-poppy seed combination and had a feeling I'd like orange-poppy, too.

I was right: these muffins are delicious. They are moist, thanks to buttermilk; and light, since the recipe instructs you to beat the egg yolks into the batter, then separately whip the egg whites until they form soft peaks and fold them into the batter. Orange zest brightens the flavor, and the soft crunch of poppy seeds is really nice.

Of course, you will note that the muffin in the photo looks a little well done. I'm still trying to figure out my new oven, although I'm not entirely sure it's a matter of me getting used to it (I think it may need recalibration). But even with their toasty tops, these muffins are pretty terrific. If you know what you're doing with your oven, they'll be even better.--S
Orange Poppy Seed Muffins
1 1/4 c all-purpose flour
1 1/4 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1/2 c butter, softened
3/4 c granulated sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 T freshly grated orange rind
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 c buttermilk
2 T poppy seeds
1. Preheat oven to 400 F. Grease nine 3" x 1 1/2" muffin cups.
2. In a medium-sized bowl, stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the orange rind and vanilla.
4. Add flour mixture and buttermilk alternately to the butter mixture. Fold in the poppy seeds. Beat egg whites to soft peaks and fold into batter. Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling them to the top.
5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in center of one muffin comes out clean.
Recipe courtesy of Kathleen's Bake Shop Cookbook

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Veal Burger

You know what to do when life gives you lemons... but what about when life gives you leftover ground veal? Make Veal Burgers Stuffed with Mozzarella Cheese.

I'd always thought a cheese-stuffed burger sounded a bit over-the-top. But ground veal has a pretty subtle flavor, so adding cheese (and chopped green onions) gives it a little oomph. Also, it's fun to make little cheese sandwiches with two patties of meat as bread! I'd never had a veal burger before, and it turns out that veal is actually a terrific meat for burgers because it's moist and holds together nicely. It's on the leaner side, so adding some fat--in this case fresh mozzarella--is perfectly justified, in my mind.

This recipe has you whip up a mustard-mayo sauce with lemon zest and sage, which you spread atop the burgers. It also advises you to roast some portobello mushrooms with olive oil and garlic, and put those on your burger, too. I endorse this without hesitation.

"We hated that," Fork commented at the end of dinner. Our plates were wiped clean.--S

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Adventures in Veganism

I'm pretty sure that the photo at left is not vegan-friendly. For one, the milk is from a cow. And secondly, the chocolate chips in that delicious little brownie bite are not vegan chocolate chips. But other than that, I think the vegans would be proud: I am experimenting with vegan baking. Not because I want to become a vegan (I just picked up some sausage for dinner), but because I recently visited BabyCakes NYC, a bakery on the Lower East Side where baker Erin McKenna makes vegan cupcakes, cookies, brownies, scones, muffins and other baked goods. And here's the thing: everything I tasted there was really good.

So I was curious about trying a few recipes from Erin's new book, BabyCakes. Unfortunately, this meant spending about $40 at the health food store on things like xanthan gum and arrowroot. I know: xan-what? Arrowhead? Seriously. This is all brand-new to me, and I'm not quite sold on it yet. But I'm up for the experiment.

The first thing I tried was the Apple-Cinnamon Toastie quickbread. Weird ingredients: garbanzo-fava bean flour, potato starch, arrowroot, xanthan gum, coconut oil ($12 a jar!) and evaporated cane juice (which I learned is a fancy way of saying natural cane sugar--so I guess it's not weird after all). Not weird: baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, applesauce, vanilla extract and roasted apples. The bread was terrific out of the oven: moist and not overly sweet. But the next morning it was a soggy mess. A tasty soggy mess, but still. Was it because I wrapped it with plastic wrap? Maybe it needed a little air. Or was it some sort of vegan thing?

At least I had most of the ingredients I needed for Brownies. The only thing I needed to buy were chocolate chips (of course, the recipe specifies vegan chocolate chips, but--guess what?--Gristede's doesn't sell them, and I wasn't up for another trip to the completely disorienting baking aisle of the health food store). So in went all the wacky vegan ingredients like garbanzo bean flour and arrowroot (which smells pretty great, actually), and... the brownies turned out great. I mean, delicious. Really! Rich, chocolate-y and the perfect thing with an ice cold glass of... milk. Like I said, I am not going vegan. But I'll eat their brownies!--S