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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Anticipation


I'm so excited.  I'm thrilled.  I'm waiting for the UPS guy like a kid anxiously awaiting the appearance of Santa Claus down the chimney.  Today's the day Ina Garten's new cookbook, Make It Ahead, comes out.

Needless to say, I preordered from Amazon.  Early this morning, I got my UPS status update text reporting that said Amazon package will be arriving on my doorstep by the end of business today.

Woo-Hoo.

Let's be honest here.  Not that much happens on a daily basis around here.  Life chugs along at a pretty predictable pace.  This isn't a bad thing.  In fact, for the most part, no news is good news.  But, when something as easily satisfying as a new cookbook by a cookbook author I love comes out, it's cause for at least a little anticipation.  It's the little things.

Ina is reliable.  Her recipes always work.  They are always delicious.  More than that even, Ina instills a sense of fun in the kitchen.  I always think that being in the kitchen with Ina would be a complete blast.  Ina has made me a better cook, because she's really just a person (albeit a very successful person) who loves feeding people.  Ask my kids.  Feeding people is what I do best.

So, fasten your seat belts. Once I peruse my new cookbook, you will no doubt be seining lots of Ina's recipes.  Better yet, go out and buy a copy yourself and cook along with me!


Sunday, October 26, 2014

Overcoming Fears


For several years I have had an irrational fear of spaghetti carbonara.  I could blame it on the raw eggs, but that would be true because things like raw eggs dot generally bother me.  Nope.  My irrational fear of spaghetti carbonara is because of Mark Bittman.

Mark Bittman, you ask?  Yes, Mark Bittman.

Now, I have nothing personal against Mark Bittman.  He's a great cook, a compelling food writer, and probably an all around nice guy, although I am not personally acquainted with him.  He's really never done anything to me.

Then why do I blame my irrational fear of spaghetti carbonara on Mr. Bittman?

I'll tell you why.

Back, several years ago, when Mark Bittman was retiring his Wednesday food column from the New York Times, he published, as a sort of farewell article, a list of his 50 favorite recipes.  Included in that list was a carbonara like spaghetti dish that included not only the eggs, but anchovies (I think), and bread crumbs.  It sounded good.  I tried it.

My results were disastrous.  The spaghetti cooked into a big clump of somewhat greasy goo.  It was completely inedible.

Okay.  So the recipe didn't work for me.  Big deal.

This was back in the days when Kate would come home from tennis and plop her tennis bag in the middle of the entry hall.  It seemed like that gigantic albatross of a bag was everywhere I stepped.  On this particular day, it was right in my path as I carried the uneaten remains of this gooey mess back into the kitchen.  One false step and I tripped, the greasy mess landing plop, not only all over Kate's tennis bag, but inside her tennis bag as well.  (She had the courtesy to leave the bag wide open,  thus welcoming the greasy pasta.)

There was spaghetti everywhere.  It was a mess to end all messes.  I was screaming because it was such a mess.  She was screaming because there was spaghetti in her tennis bag.  Ted was doing his calming thing, which only made Kate and I scream more.

Needless to say, after that I swore off anything even remotely resembling spaghetti carbonara.  There were just too many memories.

Fast forward to tonight and the need to come up with something for dinner without going to the grocery store.

I felt bold.  I felt invincible.  I am food professional, hear me roar.  Enough was enough.  I wasn't going to let the all too vivid memories of a tennis bag full of spaghetti hold me back from conquering spaghetti carbonara.

And I didn't.  I followed the instructions to the letter.  I wasn't quite bold enough to try Mr. Bittman's recipe again.  Instead, I went for the big guns:  Anna Del Conte.  I've always had good luck with her recipes, and I knew if I was going to succeed, it was going to be with Anna's clear, concise instructions.

And succeed I did.  I managed to get the plates to and from the dining room with nary a spill.  The carbonara was delicious: rich from the eggs, and salty from the pancetta.

Take that carbonara.




Recipe:  Anna Del Conte's Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic cloves, peeled and bruised
4 sage leaves
4 ounces unsmoked pancetta (or bacon) cut into short strips or cubes
12 ounces dried spaghetti
3 eggs
6 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
4 tbsp unsalted butter

Directions:

Heat the oil, sage leaves, and the garlic in a large frying-pan over medium high heat.  Add the pancetta to the pan and cook for 10-15 minutes, stirring frequently, until the pancetta is golden brown.  Discard the garlic and sage.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water.

While the pasta cooks, lightly beat the eggs in a bowl, and add the Parmesan, a little salt, and a generous amount of black pepper.

When the pasta is done, drain it, reserving a cup of the cooking water.

Return the spaghetti to the saucepan and toss with the butter, and then add to the frying pan.  Stir-fry for a minute or so.  Mix 3 or 4 tablespoonfuls of the reserved pasta water into the egg and cheese mixture, then tip into the spaghetti.

Toss very well, adding a little more water if necessary. Adjust seasonings and serve immediately.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Today It's A Tart

Today we're going savory.  And instead of a cake, we're going with a tart.  A savory tart, filled with potatoes.  I didn't say anything about this being a low cal dish.  I just said it wasn't a cake.

Oh, I know.  Your jaw has dropped.  A tart filled with potatoes?  And potatoes au gratin to boot.

Yup.  You heard me right.

Starch on starch.  Oy vey.

Now, before you have a coronary, hear me out.  This potato tart is totally worth it.  Well, it might not be worth a coronary, but anything short of that, it's worth it.

First of all, it's delicious, although we already kind of knew that.  Second, it's beautiful.  This tart makes a stunning presentation alongside roasted meats, on a buffet table, or as a light lunch with a little salad.




Most of all, this tart falls into the why didn't I think of this category.  A potato tart.  Genius.

And yummy, to boot.

Recipe:  Savory Potato Tart
David Tanis, New York Times

Ingredients:

For the pastry:

2 cups/250 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
½ teaspoon salt
½ pound (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter cut in 1/2-inch chunks
½ cup ice water

For the filling:
2 pounds medium yellow-fleshed potatoes, such as Yukon Gold, peeled
1 ¼ cups crème fraîche
1 tablespoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
 Pinch of grated nutmeg
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

For the egg wash:
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon cream or crème fraîche

Directions:

Make the pastry:
Put flour and salt in a mixing bowl (or use a food processor or a stand mixer with paddle attachment). Add half the butter and mix well, until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add remaining butter chunks and the water and mix until dough comes together. Remove dough, divide into two equal pieces and dust with flour. Quickly form each piece into a ball, then press down to make two 1-inch-thick disks. Wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour. (May be made a day in advance or frozen for up to 2 weeks.)

Make the filling:
Slice potatoes as thinly as possible, using a sharp knife, mandolin or food processor. Put potato slices in a large bowl and add crème fraîche, salt, pepper, nutmeg, garlic and thyme. Mix well with hands, making sure all slices are coated and seasoning is well distributed. Set aside.

Heat oven to 425 degrees. On a well-floured surface, roll out each pastry disk to 12 1/2 inches in diameter. Line an 11-inch fluted French tart pan (with removable bottom) with one sheet of pastry, pressing in at the sides and leaving a 1-inch overlap hanging.

Add the potatoes to the tart pan in even layers, making sure to scrape in all remaining crème fraîche with a rubber spatula. Lay the second pastry sheet on top. With a paring knife, trim excess dough and crimp the edges all around to seal. Make a few slits in the dough to allow steam to escape. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and set tart on it. Stir egg yolk and cream together and paint the top of the tart generously.


Bake for 10 minutes at 425 degrees, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for 1 hour more, until top is golden and potatoes are tender when probed with a paring knife. Cool slightly, then set tart pan over a small, sturdy bowl, so that the bottom of the tart pan is elevated and the fluted ring comes off. Carefully transfer tart to a plate. Serve small slices, hot or at room temperature. May be cooled completely and reheated if desired.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

It's a Cake! It's A Bread! It's Delicious!


I've been in a cakey mood lately.  I realize that this flies in the face of all good judgment.  After all, isn't it I who recently cut way back on my carbs so as to regain my svelte thirty years ago body?

Yes, that would be me.  But as everyone always says, you only live once.  What good is all that carb cutting if you can't splurge every so often and enjoy a nice little piece of cake.  It's no good at all.  That's what I always say.  But that's just me.  In my ever so humble opinion.  (For the record, Ted is now coughing and choking at the mere implication that I would consider any of my opinions ever so humble.  Or, for that matter, humble at all.)

But back to today's recipe.

This carrot concoction isn't a cake so much as a quick bread, although my sister always says that quick breaks and muffins are just cakes in a different format.  And she's probably right about that.  In fact, she's right about a lot of things, but I'm going to cling to the word bread here and pretend that this isn't really a cake at all.

That this carrot cake/bread is is delicious.  And it was the best ever use for those meaty carrots I received in last week's CSA basket.  Although I could have done lots of other things with those pretty carrots, somehow baking them into something sweet and special seemed just right.

Smear this baby with a little cream cheese or a delicious jam, or both, pour yourself a cup of tea, and sit back and enjoy yourself.  To hell with those nasty little carbs.

Recipe:  Carrot Cake with Cider and Olive Oil
Smitten Kitchen

Note:  I added 1/4 cup of golden raisins and 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped to the batter because in my world, carrot cake always includes raisins and walnuts.  But that's just me.

Ingredients:

2 1/3 cups (290 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) table or fine sea salt
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder (I prefer aluminum-free)
1 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground or a bunch of gratings of whole nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil
3/4 cup (145 grams) dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (205 ml) apple cider (updated and reduced to help cake bake through; see suggestions below)
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
2 cups packed coarsely grated carrots from about 12 ounces (3 meaty/large or 6 to 7 slim or 340 grams) whole, peeled ones
Olive oil or nonstick cooking spray for baking pan

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9×5-inch loaf pan* with olive oil or a nonstick cooking spray. If yours is old and you’re nervous about the cake sticking, it cannot hurt to line yours with a fitted rectangle of parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil, brown sugar, eggs, cider and vanilla. Stir grated carrots into wet ingredients until evenly coated, then stir wet ingredients into dry just until no floury bits remain.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 60 to 70 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out batter-free. Let cool in loaf pan for 20 minutes, then cool the rest of the way on a rack. Loaf should keep at room temperature for a few days, and longer in the fridge. It’s even more moist on the second day.

Whatever you do, definitely avoid making a cream cheese frosting-like spread whipped together from 4 ounces of softened cream cheese, 2 tablespoons softened unsalted butter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extra and 6 tablespoons powdered sugar, some of which can be replaced with honey or maple syrup but will make for a softer spread. It will unquestionably compromise this cake’s dairy-free status. It might be dangerously good.


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Flipping for Apple Cake


Last night our dear friends Deborah and Larry stopped by for dinner in Pittsburgh.  You might not think that stopping by for dinner is any big deal, but they live in Los Angeles, so it was a big deal.  Since we moved to Pittsburgh a dozen or so years ago, it's been hard to see each other regularly.

As you may recall, I visited Deborah in Los Angeles in June.  While I was there, she threw one of her fabulous dinner parties.  I needed to reciprocate.

But it was a Monday, and they were just with us for one night on their way to Florida, so instead of a dinner for eight or 10,  I made a dinner for the four of us.

For dessert I made this amazing, if I do say so myself, upside down apple cake from one of my fav bakers, Joanne Chang of Flour fame.  I found this recipe quite by accident.  When we were flying home from Maine on Sunday evening, I looked on my iPhone for a recipe for upside down apple cake, just thinking it would be good.  I knew there was such a thing as upside down pineapple cake, but I'd never seen (or rather looked for) an apple cake recipe.

I'm not going to tell you this was quick, although tarte tartin would have been a whole lot more effort.  The busiest part of this recipe was cutting up the apples, but I did that while the maple syrup was reducing.




If you decide to make this, splurge on the really good maple syrup.  Being regular visitors to Maine, we have an abundance of the stuff, so I was in good shape.  If you don't have any around the house, go out and buy a nice dark amber maple syrup (no maple flavoring for this cake) and then be prepared to taste autumn with your first bite.

And sharing it with good friends makes it all the more delicious.

Recipe:  Maple-Apple Upside-Down Cake
Joanne Chang

Ingredients:

1 cup pure maple syrup
3 Granny Smith apples—peeled, cored and cut into eighths
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
1 1/3 cups sugar
Crème fraîche, for serving

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°. Butter and flour a 10-inch round cake pan. In a large saucepan, bring the maple syrup to a boil over high heat, then simmer over low heat until very thick and reduced to 3/4 cup, about 20 minutes. Pour the thickened syrup into the cake pan. Arrange the apples in the pan in 2 concentric circles, overlapping them slightly.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a glass measuring cup, whisk the eggs with the buttermilk and vanilla. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the dry and wet ingredients in 3 alternating batches until the batter is smooth; scrape down the side of the bowl.

Scrape the batter over the apples and spread it in an even layer. Bake the cake for 1 1/2 hours, until golden on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool on a rack for 45 minutes.


Place a plate on top of the cake and invert the cake onto the plate; tap lightly to release the cake. Remove the pan. Let the cake cool slightly, then cut into wedges and serve with crème fraîche.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Shorter Days Bring Chili Weather


I never make chili in the summer.  It's just not a summer food.  At least not for me.  In the deep recesses of my somewhat age addled mind, I recall reading that in some parts of the country (and the world, for that matter), highly spicy food is summer fare.  That may be, but not for me.

The good news is that it's getting to be chili weather.  Summer is over, and although it's still not frigid outside, a nice pot of chili isn't out of the question.

As luck would have it, today the cooking segment on The Today Show featured Padma Lakshmi making three different chili recipes.  Aside from looking far too gorgeous at 8:15 in the morning, that chick knows her food.  (Just as an aside, apparently she and Richard Gere recently split.  I'm sure it was his fault, because she is far too good a cook and far too perfect and beautiful to have done anything wrong enough to warrant a breakup.)

Before you get all high and mighty (as in I only cook from cookbooks), let me just tell you that I have been getting excited about cooking segments on The Today Show for years.  Where else would I ever be able to withstand Mark Bittman's holier than thou dissertations on eating local and having a well stocked pantry?  Certainly not in print, that's for sure.



But I digress.

One of Padma's recipes featured turkey, which oddly enough is my favorite protein when making chili.  It's a little lighter than beef, and really takes on the flavors of all the delicious seasonings.

This recipe was quick and easy.  Once all the chopping and dicing is done, it goes relatively quickly and really makes the kitchen smell good.  On top of that, it tastes far more decadent than the ingredients would suggest, making it the perfect treat as the days grow shorter and the evenings get cooler.

Recipe:  Turkey Chili
Padma Lashmi

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 cups finely chopped yellow onions
5 medium garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
1/2 cup packed shredded carrots (about 2.25 oz)
1 cup finely chopped celery
1 serrano or jalapeño chile, finely chopped (including seeds)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 pound ground turkey breast
1 14 1/2-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 tablespoon double-concentrated tomato paste dissolved in 1 1/2 cups hot water
2 tablespoons chipotles in adobo, chopped
1/2 cup distilled white vinegar
Kosher salt
1 cup chopped cilantro
1 cup non-fat plain yogurt
Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat.

Directions:

Add the cumin seeds, stir for a minute or so. Now add the onions, garlic, chiles and oregano. Cook until the onions are glassy and just beginning to brown, about 5 minutes. Now add carrots and celery and bell peppers.

Increasing the heat to medium high, add the turkey, stirring well and breaking it up with a wooden spoon as you go; cook until it's lightly brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the tomatoes, tomato water, chipotles, vinegar and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir and cover, cooking for 5 minutes.

Lower heat to a simmer, then cook, uncovered, maintaining a steady simmer and stirring occasionally until the chili looks moist but no longer soupy, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Season to taste with more salt if needed, stir in most of the cilantro, and divide among four big bowls. Top each bowl with a generous dollop of the yogurt (about 1/4 cup) and sprinkle on the remaining cilantro.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

I'm All About the Savory



As you may have noticed, I've been on a bit of a savory campaign.  What's up with that?  Here's another food that my only experience with has been sweet: Rugelach.

I grew up on Bea's Bakery's chocolate chip rugelach.  I was especially fond of the chocolate chip, but there were lots of other flavors as well: apricot, cinnamon sugar, cherry, and prune.  Yes, prune.  But for Jews' love of prune filling, I suspect that it would be a thing of the past.  But thanks to Jewish bakeries across the world, prune filling is alive and well and thriving in a bakery near you.

My mother was a lover of bakery.  That's what she called it.  Bakery.  Once a week, usually on Fridays,  she would go to Bea's and stock up on bakery.  Sometimes she would buy a coffee cake, sometimes those delicious little butter sandwich cookies that were spread with raspberry jam and then dipped thickly in chocolate.  And often, she would buy my favorite: chocolate rugelach.  (She called them delcos.  Why?  I'll never know because the ladies at Bea's called them rugelach.)

Anyway, although  my love affair with rugelach/delcos began years and years ago., I had never, and I mean never, had anything but sweet rugelach.



That is until the other day, when  this recipe for pumpkin rugelach appeared on the Food 52 website.

So, I'm going to skip over what a pain in the ass making rugelach is.  They're little tiny rolled cookies.  Of course they're labor intensive and a pain in the ass to make.  That's a given.  So let's move on to why you should make these.

You should make these rugelach because they are so delicious that they're worth the effort.  It's that simple.  They're worth it.  You're not going to find anything like these in your local bakery.  They're too, shall we say,  outside the box.  It doesn't matter.  They are divine.  And they are worth all the mixing, rolling, and more rolling.

Trust me on this.  Go ahead.  Set aside an afternoon.  Thing of it as a adventure into a whole new savory culinary world.  You won't be sorry.

Recipe:  Pumpkin Rugelach with Sage and Walnuts
Food52

Makes 32 small rugelach

Ingredients:

2 sticks unsalted butter
8 ounces cream cheese
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves, chopped finely
2 large shallots, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 teaspoon aleppo or chile flakes
1 cup pure pumpkin puree (or squash or sweet potato puree)
2 healthy pinches kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
1 egg
1 teaspoon water
flaky sea salt or finely shredded parmesan, for sprinkling

Directions:

Prepare the dough. Cut the butter and cream cheese into tablespoon-sized pats and let soften for 10-15 minutes. Pulse the flour and salt in the food processor, and then add the semi-softened butter and cream cheese and pulse several times, until the mixture has formed large crumbly chunks (this can also be done very easily with a pastry knife, if you've got a sleeping baby and don't want to use the food processor). Gather the dough together into two large balls, flatten into disks and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for two hours or up to overnight.

While the dough is chilling, prepare the filling. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until shimmery. Toss in the chopped shallots, sage, and aleppo and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the pumpkin puree and cook for 5 minutes more, to help evaporate some of the water in the pumpkin. Season with two healthy pinches of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove from the heat to cool down (the filling should not be hot when you spread it on the dough).

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. When the dough has chilled, roll each disk into a 12" circle on a well-floured board. Make sure you flour the underside of the dough often, so that it doesn't stick. Spread half of the cooled pumpkin filling onto each disk, and then distribute half of the finely chopped walnuts over each disk. Using a bench scraper (or knife, or pizza cutter), cut the dough into 16 triangles. Roll up each triangle, starting from the base, to form a crescent, and place on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.

Beat the egg with a teaspoon of water and brush lightly onto the rugelach. Top each rugelach with flaky sea salt or finely grated parmesan (I prefer the sea salt, my husband prefers parmesan, so I make half of each kind). Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm, if possible.