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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Eating My Books

Eat Your Books

They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step in solving a problem.  Okay.  Here goes.

I have a cookbook problem.  Yes, that's right.  I just can't get enough.  And shelf space is becoming a problem.  As is keeping track of said cookbook collection.

I love cookbooks, maybe even more than I love luxury leather goods.  For those of you who know me, and who know of my vast and wide ranging shoe and handbag collection, admitting that cookbooks may be more of a problem is, well, probably quite shocking.

The truth is that I actually use my cookbooks, which sets this collection apart from my shoe collection.  I cook from a cookbook everyday.  Really.  I'm not just saying that the justify the collection.  I don't make a roasted potato without looking for a new way to make them more delicious.  Maybe a higher heat?  More garlic?  Thyme instead of rosemary?  The possibilities are endless and I am determined to try and try again until the absolute deliciousness completely overwhelms me.

My real problem isn't that I buy a lot of cookbooks.  For heaven's sake.  I could have worse vices.  I don't really drink and I don't smoke.  I don't cavort around town with unsuitable people.  Okay, maybe my shoe addiction is a little out of hand, but on a scale of one to 10 in the vice department, I'd say I'm at the low end of trouble.

My real problem is keeping track of which cookbooks I already own.  After buying my second copy of David Lebovitz's My Paris Kitchen, I knew I had to take action.  (If you don't own it, you really should consider it.  The Chicken Lady Chicken alone is worth the purchase.)

Enter Eat Your Books.  For a small fee, this website provides a fantastic indexing and management system for cookbooks, blogs, and other recipes.  It doesn't give you recipes, but instead what it does do is provide you with a listing of which recipes are in which cookbooks.  So, if I want to make Coq au Vin for dinner (oh, that does sound good, doesn't it?) Eat Your Books will give me a listing of all of my cookbooks that include recipes for Coq au Vin.  Genius.

Now, there's a catch.  I had the enter all of my cookbooks in the database, but it's so worth it.  First of all, it was kind of fun to go through all my books, and second of all, it reminded me of a lot of cookbooks I own that I used to cook from and that have somehow moved to the bottom of the pile.

It's a win-win!

Now I have a system down.  When I add a book to my collection, the first thing I do is enter it into my personal database on Eat Your Books.  It's easy.  And then I start cooking.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Joining the Rotation


My friend Lisa was coming to visit for a couple of days and I thought it would be nice to whip up a batch of muffins to serve at breakfast.  Why not?  Who doesn't love a muffin?

Right around that time, I was chatting with my sister Jill on the phone.  I mentioned that I was in the mood for an almond poppy seed muffin.  Did she have a good recipe?

Jill gave me a great recipe: "Use your favorite basic recipe and adapt".

Adapt?  I don't adapt.  I religiously follow recipes, to the letter.  I do not adapt.

Still, Jill thought I could adapt.  I thought, "Well, if Jill thinks I can be adaptable, then why not?"   I'm nothing if not adventurous.

Once I got started, I found that a favorite basic recipe really can be just a jumping off point.  I could do anything.  I could make the almond and poppy seed muffin of my dreams.  In fact, I could indulge my wildest muffin fantasies.   Wow.

So, here it is.  My own adaptation of Almond Poppy Seed muffins.  They were delicious, and I think they may just become one of my rotating muffin recipes.

It pays to be adaptable.  Stay tuned for more...

Recipe:  Almond Poppy Seed Muffins
Adapted from The Daring Gourmet

Ingredients:

2 cups all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup white granulated sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter
¼ cup virgin coconut oil
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon good quality almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup buttermilk
2 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds
Sliced almonds
Turbinado Sugar

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners.

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, coconut oil, and sugar for at least 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, almond and vanilla extract, and buttermilk and beat until combined.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and beat just until combined, being careful not to over-beat.   Add the poppy seeds and stir gently until combined.  Fill muffin cups to about 2/3 full.  Sprinkle with a few sliced almonds and a little turbinado sugar.

Bake for approximately 20 or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean but moist.  Let cool for about 10 minutes in the muffin tin, and then transfer to a wire cooling rack to finish.




Monday, November 10, 2014

Comments on Condiments


There's really nothing I like better than a good condiment.  Just ask my family.  For years they have been deriving enormous humor from my hotdog preparation at Pirates games.  I think of the hotdog and its accompanying bun as the delivery system for the condiments.  Ted and the kids think the whole things turns out to be pretty messy and gross.  I think it's perfect.  The more mustard, onions, relish, and kraut, the better.  I like it that way.  No apologies.

My love of condiments extends far beyond hotdog fixings.  I love all condiments, and that includes even the weird ones like chutney.  Is it sweet?  Is it savory?  It's a little of both.  And that suits me fine.

Generally speaking, chutneys are served with roasted meats.  They add a nice sweetness and spice -- think Major Grey's Mango Chutney.  I'm a renegade though.  I like to serve chutney in unexpected ways. This particular apple chutney is really nice on toasted  multigrain bread or cornbread.  Think of it as an interesting fruit compote.  It adds an interesting little something something to everything it touches.

This is an Ina Garten recipe so you know (1) it'll be good, and (2) it'll be fairly easy.  For the record, I was out of raisins.  (Who runs out of raisins?  Running out of raisins is like being out of milk.  It just doesn't happen.)  I used currants instead and it was still tasty as can be.  The chutney took just minutes to whip up and the leftovers kept for a week or so in the refrigerator.

So, spread your condiment wings.  Live a little.  This chutney could be your new favorite condiment.

Ina Garten's Sweet and Savory Apple Chutney
Make It Ahead, 2014

Ingredients:

6 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and half-inch diced
1 cup chopped yellow onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (2 oranges)
3/4 cup good cider vinegar
1 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1 teaspoon whole dried mustard seeds
1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 cup raisins

Directions:

Combine the apples, onion, ginger, orange juice, vinegar, brown sugar, mustard seeds, pepper flakes and salt and in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat to simmer and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 50 minutes to 1 hour, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Take off the heat and add the raisins.

Set aside to cool and store covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.







Thursday, October 30, 2014

Picture Perfect






I think we can all agree that I am no food stylist.  I think I am also safe in assuming that none of you thinks I am a gifted food photographer either.  That's okay.  I know my limitations.

Let's face it.  There's only so much you can do with an iPhone.  Yes, there are those people out there that are gifted selfie takers.  I get that.  I've watched Keeping Up With the Kardashians.  I am pretty much convinced that besides parading around with her boobs hanging out, all Kim Kardashian does is take selfies.  It's no wonder she's good at it.  She gets a lot of practice, what with all the Selfie Books she makes for Kanye.  Everyone needs a skill, and I suppose that selfie taking is as good a skill as any.  True, Kim isn't solving world hunger, but it's important to work with what you've got.

But back to me.

I've often thought about how I might make the photos on my blog better.  First and foremost, I could do a better job of staging them.  Charlie's girlfriend has suggested I take the pictures from above, but that would require moving a step stool or some other something to stand on.  I could also veto the really bad pictures and not use them.  I don't do that either.  I always think all my pictures are artistic, which is really just an excuse for pictures that off center or blurry. Maybe it's that I don't have a good eye for these things.  Who knows.

My overall photography approach is quick and dirty.  I snap, I download, I post.  I guess I think that the food should speak for itself.  Sometimes this works.  Sometimes not.

Today was a good day.  Not only is Yotum Ottolenghi's Cauliflower Cake beyond divine in terms of taste, it also came out looking looks picture perfect.  I'm not kidding.  I took these pictures of the actual cake I baked.  Right out of the oven.  Honestly, I don't think I've ever made anything that spoke for itself better than these pictures.  (If you disagree please don't tell me.  I'm on a high from the sheer thrill of it all.)

I'm sure these and every other photo I've ever taken could be improved.  Maybe someday either (a) I'll get better at the whole food styling/photography thing, or (b) become so wildly successful that I can hire someone to do it for me. (Personally I'm voting for option (b), but I wouldn't mind a little smattering of option (a) either.)

Until then, bear with me.  And enjoy this picture perfect treat as either a light main course or a really special side dish.





Recipe:  Yotum Ottolenghi's Cauliflower Cake
Plenty More, 2014

Ingredients:

1 medium cauliflower
1 large red onion, peeled
5 tablespoons olive oil
½ teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
7  eggs
½ cup chopped basil
1 cup all purpose flour
1½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground turmeric
1½ cups grated parmesan
Salt and black pepper
Melted butter, for greasing
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 tablespoon white sesame seeds

Directions:

Heat the oven to 350F.

 Break the cauliflower into medium florets, put them in a pot with 1 teaspoon of salt, cover with water and simmer for 15 minutes, until quite soft. Strain, and leave in the colander for a few minutes to dry.

While the cauliflower's cooking, prepare the batter. Cut 2 or 3 rings off one end of the onion and set aside (these will go on top of the cake); coarsely chop the rest. Heat the oil in a pan and on a low heat sauté the chopped onion and rosemary for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, leave to cool down, add the eggs and basil, and whisk.

Sift the flour, baking powder and turmeric into a large bowl, and add the parmesan, one and a half teaspoons of salt and plenty of black pepper. Add the egg mix and whisk to eliminate lumps. Add the cauliflower and stir gently, trying to keep some florets whole.

Use baking parchment to line the bottom of a 24cm round cake tin with a loose base. Brush the sides with butter, put in the sesame seeds and toss them around so they stick to the sides. Tip in the cauliflower mix and arrange the onion rings on top.

Bake the cake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes, until golden brown and set. Serve just warm or at room temperature.



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.