Monday, December 29, 2008

I've been away, but now I'm back.

Hi, friends! Sorry I was away for so long and didn't mention it beforehand. I've been in A LOT of airports, and also spent some quality time in Oklahoma. And Kansas. And Missouri, I guess. Anyway, I'll be back with real posting soon, and I hope you all had lovely holidays!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Making Cassoulet With Regina

Oh, hi! I'm so glad you're still here, and I'm sorry I've been a bit of a slacker lately. It's just that So! Many! Exciting! Things! have been going on and I've been pretty busy. One of the exciting things was the visit of my good friend Regina aaaaall the way from Istanbul, Turkey. She had been planning a trip to the US and emailed me to ask if we could "hang out and cook something for the blog," so that is precisely what we did last Wednesday night. Before I tell you about it, here's Regina:
Isn't she cute? She's making garlic crumbs! Oh yes, delicious garlicky bread crumbs [Aside: I like how the word garlic gets a "k" when you turn it into an adjective.] And here we are waiting patiently for the deliciousness to come out of the oven:

But what deliciousness? A tasty, beany, sausagey, garlicky (!) cassoulet, which I adapted from four or five different cassoulet recipes I found on the interwebs. Traditionally cassoulet has duck breast AND sausage with the beans and vegetables, but just the sausage was puh-lenty of meat for me. Here's the basic process:

Cook the beans (do this the day before if you can, it'll save you HOURS, skip it if you're using canned).
Cook the bacon until fat is rendered thoroughly, remove from pot.
Cook the sausage in the bacon fat until browned, remove from pot.
Cook the vegetables in the remaining fat.
Add tomatoes, tomato paste, and beans, stir.
Crumble bacon, slice sausage, add to pot, simmer.
Add HALF the breadcrumbs, bake 10 minutes.
Squash breadcrumbs into the stew, sacrificing them to sogginess.
Top with the rest of the breadcrumbs. Bake 10 minutes, broil until browned.

Ok, so that summary didn't turn out quite as succinct as I thought, but you get the idea. The best part about this is that it's just one pot which makes clean up pretty straightforward. If you've got a stock of delicious dried beans, they really shine here - I used Rancho Gordo runner cannellinis which are just HUGE and delicious. And you definitely want to use fresh bread crumbs rather than boxed. Just save stale bread in the freezer and when you have a bag full, zip it through a food processor. The crumbs will keep fine in the freezer too, and I think coarse crumbs are important here.

Cassoulet with Beans and Sausage

1 lb hot Italian sausage links (use sweet sausage if you don't like spicy food)
2 strips bacon (optional)
3 medium leeks (white and pale green parts only), halved lengthwise, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces, washed and dried (use a salad spinner)
4 medium carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
4 thyme sprigs
2 parsley sprigs
1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
4 1/2 cups cooked dried beans (or 3 cans cannellini or Great Northern
beans, rinsed and drained)
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes, with their juice3 tablespoons tomato paste1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
salt & pepper

For crumb top:
4 cups fresh bread crumbs
1-3 cloves garlic, chopped (or to taste)
small handful parsley, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil

In a medium dutch oven (I think mine is in the 4-6 quart range), cook the bacon to desired crispiness to render out the fat. Remove and set aside, leaving fat in the pan. If you don't want to use bacon, just heat a little olive oil on medium - add the sausage (still in casing) and brown on all sides over medium heat. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add the leeks, carrots, garlic and celery to the fat remaining in the pan, stir to coat. Add 1/2 a teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and add the herb sprigs. Sauté until vegetables are becoming tender, 10-15 minutes. Stir in beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and stock, and simmer, partially covered, about 20 minutes (make sure the carrots are tender).

Combine the crumbs, chopped garlic, chopped parsley and olive oil in a bowl and stir to coat crumbs.

Preheat the oven to 350. Slice the sausage links on the diagonal into 1/2 inch slices. Add the bacon and sausage back into the stew and simmer another 5-10 minutes until the sausage is heated through. Add 1/3 to 1/2 the crumb mixture to the top of the stew, bake for 10 minutes uncovered. Remove from the oven and use a spatula to squish the crumbs into the stew - this creates a soggy layer of crumbs on which to build your crispy top. Add the rest of the bread crumbs, and bake for another 10-15 minutes, uncovered until the crumbs are golden brown. If not browned to your liking, switch on the broiler for a couple of minutes, but stand near the stove and watch it carefully - you don't want your cassoulet spoiled by a burnt top!

Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serves 4-6, or 8 if you like small servings.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Citizen Bean

Do you guys know about Citizen Bean? I think it would make a pretty cool gift for the coffee-snob in your life (no, I'm not talking about me). I just think it's a neat idea. Has anybody out there ever used them? How was your experience?

Monday, December 8, 2008

Dude, I made bagels.

Remember how I said you should check out Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day? Yeah, you still should. I made these bagels from the classic boule dough a couple of weekends ago, guided by this post on their website, Not the traditional New York Style bagel, but I'm not sure you can beat a fresh-from-the-oven bagel no matter WHO makes it. So. Delicious.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pizza, Pizza!

Oh man. Do you guys have Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day yet? PLEASE go buy it. Or ask Santa. Or get it from the library. I bought it a few weeks ago, and so far I've made their classic boule, pain d'epi which I brought to Thanksgiving dinner and now PIZZA. And I'm not even really a bread person!*

Megan and I usually try to figure out a couple of meals we'll make this week when we're on the way to the grocery store, though we're not often home for dinner together more than twice a week. I never did make the soup I intended to make on Wednesday because we got an invite to dinner from some friends who recently moved into the neighborhood. Maybe Sunday?

Last night, however, I was not to be deterred. I had whipped up a batch of AB5MD's olive oil dough on Sunday afternoon and it's been lurking in the fridge all week. A batch makes about four pounds of dough, which is enough for four pizzas. So naturally, I made four pizzas.

Megan took the Hawaiian with her to watch the Rangers game, which left Adam and I to tackle the Mushroom & Potato Pizza Provencale (a recipe from the book), the classic Tomato Sauce & Mozzarella, and (this is for you dad!) the black olive and anchovy. Oof. We had to take a quick jaunt up the North End to get a cell phone charger from Becca, so we brought some to her, and there was still enough left over for two breakfasts, two lunches and probably a pre-dinner snack. Heh. The dough is tasty, not tooooo crispy (though crispier when reheated in the toaster oven) and easy to work with. Did I mention you should go buy this book?

Olive Oil Dough
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day

Makes 4 pounds of dough, enough for 4 pizzas (easily halved)

2 3/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons active dry yeast
1 1/2 Tablespoons salt
6 1/2 cups unbleached AP flour

Mix the water, olive oil, yeast and salt in a large bowl or food storage container (I use a 6 quart square plastic food storage container). With a sturdy wooden spoon, mix in the flour until moistened; do not knead. Allow to rise at room temperature for about two hours, then stick it in the fridge and use it over the next week to ten days. The dough is much easier to work with after a few hours of chilling, as it's a very wet dough.

For pizzas, make sure you have your toppings ready before you roll the dough. I used a favorite tomato sauce recipe that only takes 5 minutes, pre-shredded cheese, canned pineapple chunks (in juice not syrup, please!), and I cut up the ham, olives, anchovies beforehand. You'll also need cornmeal for your peel (i.e. overturned cookie sheet) so the pizza slides off into the oven.
Preheat the oven to 500, or 550 if you can, with a pizza stone or overturned cookie sheet in the middle rack for at least 20 minutes. High heat and hot stone is the best way to get good pizza!

When your toppings are assembled, dust a large work surface with flour. Dust the surface of the dough with flour, then pull and cut off a 1 lb chunk (about the size of a grapefruit). With floured hands, form the dough into a ball, pulling the edges to the bottom and rotating the ball as you go. Pat the ball flat with your hands and use a rolling pin to stretch it out to about 1/8 inch thick. If you're feeling fancy, bounce it on your knuckles and toss it in the air a few times.

Lay the dough on a cornmeal dusted peel or cookie sheet and working quickly, top it lightly with your choice of toppings. Don't go crazy - using too much or too many toppings will sog down your pizza in a big way. Carefully slide the pizza from the peel to the hot stone/cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes until the edges are golden brown and the cheese is toasty. Remove (again, carefully!) from the hot box and let the pizza cool a few minutes on a rack to give the cheese opportunity to set. Cut and enjoy!

*A "bread person" is one of those people who wants bread with every meal or finds extraordinary pleasure in eating bread. I think I'm a "baking person;" I like eating bread, but I love baking it. Which one are you?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Savory Squash Pasta

Did you have a nice Thanksgiving? I hope so. Mine was very very nice: quality time with the extended fam in Connecticut, tasty food, games. Aaaand a four day weekend doesn't hurt.

If you're back at work for a FULL FIVE DAYS AARGH, like me, may I suggest you take out some of that latent holiday aggression on an acorn squash?Weeks ago I had bought a couple of winter squashes (this acorn, an already eaten butternut, and a sugar baby pumpkin which has yet to be consumed) and decorated the mantle with them, but since December 1st marks the start of the transition time from decorating with squash and corn to decorating with pine cones and berries, I ate the acorn squash last week.

I was bad at taking photos in the middle of the process, so you'll just have to guess at how I got from here to there.

Just kidding! I've adapted a recipe from The Kitchn. Hope you enjoy it!

Savory Squash and Sage Pasta with Pine Nuts

1 medium acorn squash, peeled, seeded and chopped to a half inch dice (approximately)
1 small onion, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
1/3-1/2 cup fresh sage leaves
1/2-3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
olive oil
salt & pepper
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 pound short cut pasta such as penne

1. Heat oven to 375. Toss the cubes of squash, onion, and half the sage leaves, minced, in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and spread in one layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes, until the squash is tender when pierced with the tip of a knife.

2. As the squash is roasting, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta to al dente, drain, and set aside. A few minutes before the squash is done, heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large saute pan and fry the remaining sage leaves (whole) until they shrivel, about a minute. Remove to paper towel to drain and salt lightly.

3. Add the cooked pasta to the pan along with the squash mixture, and crumble in the fried sage. Saute for about five minutes until the pasta is getting slightly crispy. Add the pine nuts and saute another minute. Stir in the Parmesan and serve.

Serves 2-4

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies

So I know today is like some big important American Holiday, but it's also another important day: it's the Puma's birthday!

This last weekend while rehearsing bread recipes for T-day (I was in charge of bread, weee!) I also made these cookies to put in the mail to the ATL.

They are a little complicated, yes, but they are supremely delicious - moist, chewy, crinkly outside and infused with amazing hazelnut flavor. The classic chocolate crinkle is good, but if you want to kick it up, hazelnut ain't a bad way to go.

I've been making them since their first appearance in Gourmet in December of 2006, and they haven't disappointed yet. If the snowy white outside is very important to you, be very liberal with the powdered sugar. I hope you like them!

Chocolate Hazelnut Crinkle Cookies
adapted from Gourmet, December 2006

2/3 cup hazelnuts
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup confectioners sugar

Make dough:
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan in oven until skins split and nuts are pale golden, about 10 minutes. Remove from oven (turn oven off), then wrap hazelnuts in a kitchen towel and rub to remove any loose skins. Cool nuts completely. Pulse nuts with granulated sugar in a food processor until finely chopped.

Melt chocolate in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water or in top of a double boiler, stirring until smooth. Remove bowl from heat and set aside.

Whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt in a bowl.

Beat together butter and brown sugar in another bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in melted chocolate until combined. Add milk and vanilla, beating to incorporate. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined. Stir in nut mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill dough until firm, 2 to 3 hours.

Form and bake cookies:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

Sift confectioners sugar into a bowl. Halve dough and chill 1 half, wrapped in plastic wrap. Roll remaining half into 1-inch balls, placing them on a sheet of wax paper as rolled. Roll balls, 3 or 4 at a time, in confectioners sugar to coat generously and arrange 2 inches apart on lined baking sheets.

Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are puffed and cracked and edges feel dry (but centers are still slightly soft), 12 to 18 minutes total. Transfer cookies (still on parchment) to racks to cool completely.

While first batch is baking, roll remaining dough into balls. Line cooled cookie sheets with fresh parchment, then coat balls with confectioners sugar and bake in same manner.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake

Hello, lover. Chocolate. Peanut Butter. Cake. Are there any more beautiful words in the English language? Sigh...
Oof, sorry, I was in a reverie. A peanut butter cream cheese frosting induced reverie. I know, weird, right? Peanut butter and cream cheese, and it is SO good. I ate the leftovers on graham crackers once the cake was thoroughly frosted.

I've been eyeing this recipe for months, but I didn't have any occasion to make it, until Michelle at work announced she's having a baby, and she didn't mean getting another puppy.

This was the finale of the baby shower Hugh and I hosted last week, and I think it was quite well received... though we did manage to save a piece for Jack (the husband/baby daddy).

If you like peanut butter cups and rich desserts, give it a try. Oh! Or try it as cupcakes... I bet they would be easier to frost. You could skip the glaze, too... hm. I'm giving myself ideas.

Sour Cream-Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting and Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
adapted from Sky High, Irresistible Triple Layer Cakes, via Smitten Kitchen

Makes an 8-inch triple-layer cake; serves 16 or more

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral vegetable oil, such as canola
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cakepans. Line the bottom of each pan with a round of parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into a large bowl. Whisk to combine them well. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk to blend. Gradually beat in the water. Blend in the vinegar and vanilla. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well blended. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and be sure the batter is well mixed. Divide among the 3 prepared cake pans.

3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out almost clean. Let cool in the pans for about 20 minutes. Invert onto wire racks, carefully peel off the paper liners, and let cool completely. I took Deb's advice here and froze the layers on paper plates, thank goodness, because this is a very very soft cake.

4. To frost the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or large serving plate. Spread 2/3 cup cup of the Peanut Butter Frosting evenly over the top. Repeat with the next layer. Place the last layer on top and frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining frosting. Chill the frosted cake thoroughly.

5. To decorate with the Chocolate–Peanut Butter Glaze, simply pour the warm glaze over the top of the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread it evenly over the top just to the edges so that it runs down the sides of the cake in long drips. Refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to allow the glaze and frosting to set completely. Remove about 1 hour before serving.

Peanut Butter Frosting aka the frosting that killed my hand mixer
Makes about 5 cups

10 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
2/3 cup smooth peanut butter, preferably a commercial brand (because oil doesn’t separate out)

1. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the confectioners’ sugar 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl often. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes.

2. Add the peanut butter and beat until thoroughly blended.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Glaze
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

8 ounces seimsweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup half-and-half

1. In the top of d double boiler or in a bowl set over simmering water, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Cook, whisking often, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Yellow Eye Bean Salad

So, do you guys remember that bean salad my mom made back in July? And how I said I was going to make it "soon"? Ooooh, hee hee heee! Right. It's been nearly 5 months, but I did! I made it! Hugh and I hosted a baby shower on Monday so I took the day off (naughty Bruno, very bad) and cooked... for like 8 hours. It was excellent.

Seriously though, I was happy to have an excuse to revisit the recipe. It's based on a recipe by BAM! himself, though he calls for black eyed peas. Instead, I used Rancho Gordo yellow eyes.

It's pretty straightforward: cook the beans, chop the veggies, add the dressing & seasoning and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours. If you're in Boston and you have a fridge full of beer, you could also put it on your back deck because IT'S ONLY 30 DEGREES. You know, if you want. Just a suggestion. You should give it a stir every hour or so, too.

Take it out an hour before you want to eat it, stir again, and put it in the pretty bowl you thought you lost. I would caution that you should use good beans here, since they are the star of the show, but if you use canned... well, I won't tell.

PS - there's bacon. Did I mention that?

Yellow Eye Bean Salad
adapted from Emeril Lagasse

1 lb dried beans of your choice, soaked for a few hours, cooked and cooled or three 15 oz cans
4-5 slices of bacon, crisp cooked and crumbled
1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, chopped fine
1 medium red bell pepper, chopped fine
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped (leave a few seeds if you want more heat)
1/4 cup parsley, leaves only, chopped
2 small or 1 large clove garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp creole seasoning (see below)
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Combine all ingredients and refrigerate (or porch-erate) 3-4 hours or overnight, stirring occasionally. Let sit at room temp for 45 minutes before serving.

Serves many.

For DIY creole seasoning, combine the following thoroughly and store in an airtight container:

2.5 parts paprika
2 parts salt
2 parts garlic powder
1 part dried oregano
1 part black pepper
1 part dried thyme
1 part cayenne pepper
1 part onion powder

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

What I did yesterday

I made a three layer peanut butter chocolate cake, a yellow eye bean salad, and chicken empanadas. I did NOT go to work. Today I DO have to go to work, but I'll tell you all about the deliciousness this week!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Rosemary Cracker Bread

It's sort of a strange thing, this, cracker. Bread? Cracker bread? I saw it over on Smitten Kitchen first, she referred to it as a Crisp Rosemary Flatbread, and apparently that's what they called it in Gourmet this summer. I don't know guys, I think it's too shattery to be called a flatbread. There's virtually no chewiness, and it makes crumbs like CRAZY. Crumbs like I only eat it standing over the sink in the kitchen, and then I clean the counter. Absolutely NOT the sort of thing you'd want to eat in bed.

But it is the sort of thing you want to EAT, period. It's flaky and crispy and salty, which I love, and the rosemary gives it a delightful herby punch. It comes together in approximately no time at all, and I bet it would be delicious smeared with goat cheese or sundried tomato spread or tapenade. I've been eating it instead of toast with my scrambled eggs all week! If you've got half an hour (including baking time!) you should give this cracker/bread a shot.

Rosemary Cracker Bread

1 3/4 unbleached AP flour
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup oil plus more for drizzling
flaky sea salt (I used Maldon)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees with a heavy baking sheet upside down on the middle rack.

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, chopped rosemary, baking powder, and salt. Add water and oil and gently stir into flour with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Knead dough gently in the bowl 4 or 5 times until the dough ball is cohesive.

Divide dough into 3 pieces and roll out 1 piece on a sheet of parchment paper into a 10-inch round or oval or whatever wonky puzzle piece shape you can. It should be thin, and you should keep the other pieces covered until you're ready to roll them out.

Brush the top lightly with additional oil and if you want, scatter small clusters of rosemary leaves on top, pressing in slightly. Sprinkle with sea salt (don't skip this part!). Slide round (still on parchment) onto preheated baking sheet and bake until pale golden and browned in spots, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer bread to a rack to cool, then make 2 more rounds (1 at a time) on fresh parchment, brush with oil and salt and bake each round. Break into pieces if you want.

If cooled completely, cracker bread will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Creamy Sweet Potato Soup

It's finally starting to get chilly on the regular here in Boston, and I find myself craving the old standby soup and crusty bread dinner at least once a week. I had picked up a few sweet potatoes on a whim at the farmer's market last week so I browsed around the interwebs for some ideas and decided sweet potato soup was just the ticket.

Loosely based on Elise's sweet potato soup from an old issue of Bon Appetit and cut way down in proportions, this warm and faintly sweet bowl of yum was *almost* exactly what I was after. I didn't have any maple syrup, so I added a tiny bit of brown sugar, but I think I added too much. I'm leaving it off the ingredient list here, but if you taste yours and it's missing something, try sweetening it up a bit. Next time I think I will also add more aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes to up the spiciness, which I find myself enjoying more and more lately.

This was also my first attempt at using plain soy milk in cooking, but I thought it would work since soup is generally forgiving. The sweet potatoes add body and creaminess to the soup when blended anyway, so I didn't need to add much. As a result of that substitution, I find myself with one of the few truly vegan offerings in my humble vegetarian/vegan label. Sweet.

Sweet Potato Soup
adapted from Simply Recipes

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 lg celery stalk, chopped, leaves reserved for garnish
1 lg garlic clove, chopped
just over 1 lb sweet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1 inch chunks
2 cups vegetable broth or stock
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp aleppo pepper or crushed red pepper
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup soy milk

Heat the olive oil in a medium sauce pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion, celery stalk, and garlic and saute until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Adjust the heat down if necessary so the garlic doesn't brown. Add the sweet potato chunks, broth and spices and simmer over low heat, covered, until the sweet potato is tender all the way through, 15-20 minutes. Add the soy milk and taste, season with salt and pepper.

Turn off the soup and let it cool for 5-10 minutes before pureeing in batches in a blender. You could also use an immersion blender, if yours had not broken the second time you used it. Serve topped with chopped celery leaves

Serves 2-3

Friday, November 7, 2008

Boiled Kale

So I know this doesn't look much like a celebratory meal, but how about if I just tell you that on Tuesday we stayed up very late eating Hugh's crab dip and Adam's black bean dip and hummus and I put my hand upon your hip, when I dip, you dip, we dip so much DIP. Wow. That sentence really got away from me, huh? ANYWAY. Between planning for the people coming over to watch the election results and then watching the election results and then being really tired from staying up so late, I did not do a very good job documenting my meals over the last week. I made some turkey chili. It was ok.

A couple of weeks ago, though, I took Molly's advice: I boiled some kale. I toasted some bread. I fried an egg.

It was a cold night, and this was a soul-satisfying meal for such an evening. It was simple and filling. I won't tell you the method, because Molly does a better job of interpreting Zuni than I could, but I will suggest you give it a try. I'm heading up to Maine this weekend, but I will be back next week with plenty to discuss - Hugh and I are hosting a baby shower this month and I'm doing the food... chocolate peanut butter cake, anyone?

Monday, November 3, 2008

Impromptu Veggie Soup

Over the summer I took Kalyn's advice and pureed a lot of the bounty from my basil plant to stick in the freezer. It came in awfully handy last weekend when I made myself this tasty two-serving pot of soup for dinner. I realize it's sort of mean to tell you about that now since it's NOVEMBER OMG HOW'D THAT HAPPEN??, but the idea is if you have some tasty things around, soup is easy! Check your crisper for veggies. Saute said veggies. Add Some stock and maybe some canned tomatoes. Add beans. (Or leftover rice, or small pasta... you get the idea.) Taste and season and hey look! Soup!

Aside: Not that you could POSSIBLY forget what tomorrow is, unless you've been under the proverbial rock for the last two years, but DON'T forget to vote. Seriously. It's important.

Clean out the crisper veggie soup

2T olive oil
1 rib celery, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 small carrots, sliced into rounds
1 sprig of thyme, leaves only, minced if you like
1 14 oz can tomatoes, diced (I used fire roasted)
3/4 can white beans
1/3 c basil puree
2 c chicken stock

In a medium pot over medium heat, cook the celery, carrots and onion until the onion is translucent. Add the tomatoes and stock, turn heat to medium-low and simmer until the carrots are tender but not mushy 10-15 minutes. Add the thyme leaves, basil puree and white beans plus salt and pepper to taste and let simmer until heated through, about 2 minutes.

Serves 2-3 (or if you're home by yourself on a Sunday, 1 big dinner and 1 lunch.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Lemon Risotto with Shrimp

Aah, risotto. You've had it before, right? So creamy you think they MUST have dumped half a gallon of heavy cream in, salty and just a touch chewy and all around delicious. I freaking love the stuff. The best part is that it's SO much easier than you think. Time consuming, yes. Challenging, not so much.

Ok sure, it takes a little while, but it's such a neat process. Look at that photo above: grains of rice swimming in chicken broth. Now look at the one below it: creamy and smooth. And the RICE did that. Not me! I swear I only added a little cheese at the end, and no cream! You don't have to use arborio or carnaroli (two types of short grain white rice) but they're easy to find (especially arborio) and they're the standard rices for this particular application. Oh, and don't even THINK about throwing out your parmesan rinds. Stick 'em in a bag in the freezer when the cheese is gone, and drop one in the pot with the rice. (See the triangle in the photo above.) You'll get every speck of creamy delicious cheesiness out of it before you throw it away.
Plain risotto made with an onion, chicken broth, and a little parmesan cheese is all well and good, but it also makes an excellent canvas for whatever flavors you're in the mood for. The other night, I wanted something light tasting and fresh, so I added the juice and zest of a lemon and some herbs. On top of the rice went some simple sauteed shrimp et voilĂ ! Dinner, she is served! (YES I know this is an Italian dish. Whatever dudes, I'm feeling the French at the moment.)

Lemon Risotto with Shrimp
serves 4
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
5 c chicken broth
one small onion, finely chopped
olive oil
parmesan rind (optional but highly recommended)
1/2 - 3/4 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper
one lemon, juice & finely chopped zest
1 T mint, finely chopped (or basil, but I had mint on hand)
3 T parsley, finely chopped
Peeled, deveined shrimp, 5-6 per serving, sauteed
Heat the chicken broth in a medium sized pot over low heat, just to keep it warm. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil to a large pot over medium heat, add the onion and saute a couple of minutes until the onion is translucent but not browning. Add the rice and saute for about two minutes until you can smell it getting nutty. A few touches of gold on the grains is fine, but keep the rice moving at this point so it doesn't brown.
Add the parmesan rind (whole) and a ladelful of chicken broth to the rice and stir it in. Leave it alone for a couple seconds and stir again. At first the rice will absorb the broth quickly. When you scrape the spoon against the bottom of the pot and no liquid rushes in to cover it, you need to add more broth. Continue adding broth a ladelful at a time until the rice is creamy, 25-35 minutes. It may take longer depending on your exact heat level, your rice, and your stirring. Just go till it's done, and if you run out of broth use water - you can add more salt at the end if it needs it.
Meanwhile, chop the herbs and zest the lemon. Reserve a little bit of the herbs and zest for garnish if you like. Saute the shrimp in a touch of olive oil in another pan towards the end of the cooking process and cover to keep warm.
When the risotto is creamy (taste it to be sure the rice is cooked to your liking), add the grated cheese, lemon juice, lemon zest and herbs, salt and pepper to taste. Taste it again and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve on a plate or in a shallow bowl with shrimp on top and garnished with reserved herbs and lemon zest.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Brussel Sprouts are NOT icky.

Things are getting slow at the Farmers' Market in Government Center. A lot of the vendors pack it in at the end of October, but the heartiest will stick it out until Thanksgiving. I'm pretty bummed out about the idea of five months without super-fresh-just-picked vegetables, but I'm making the most of what's there now, and that includes Brussels Sprouts. Now don't run screaming for the hills you big baby - they're delicious! You just have to be nice to them.

I picked up a branch of these eensy weensy specimens last Wednesday. The small ones, once trimmed, were the size of my thumb nail, so I just threw them in the pan whole, and I cut some of the larger ones (large being totally relative here, they were still no bigger than a ping pong ball) in half so they would be closer in size.

Roasted in the oven with simple seasoning and oil, these mini cabbages make for a totally delicious and unbelievably good for you side dish. This bowl above was full, but I only remembered half way through that I wanted a photo of the finished goods. If you can't find dollhouse sized sprouts, just cut the regular ones in quarters.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Brussels Sprouts
Olive Oil

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Wash the sprouts, removing any tough or discolored outer leaves. If you bought them on the branch, be sure to trim the stem end off as well. If using regular sized sprouts, cut them in quarters or in half. Place in a pan, season generously with salt and pepper, and toss with a few tablespoons of olive oil. Roast until golden brown with darker spots, stirring once, at lest 20 minutes. Larger sprouts will take longer.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Key Lime Cheesecake for Hugh's Birthday

The week before I went to Atlanta, Hugh celebrated a slightly momentous birthday - not one that ends in a 0 or anything, but a birthday nonetheless. A few months earlier, she had inquired about key lime pie, but when I suggested it for the Big Event, she said "how about cheesecake?" How ABOUT cheesecake? Yes! I've never made a cheesecake before, but key lime cheesecake sounded like the perfect compromise.

Step one: Obtain graham cracker crumbs. I accomplished this by giving Hugh a baggie full of crackers and a stick with which to beat them.

Step two: Take wonky picture for your blog so people can see you are not insane and did not juice 1,304,798 teeensy weeensy key limes. Couldn't find them, actually. I went with bottled key lime juice and do not feel bad about it. I do feel bad about the crookedness of this photo, though. Oy.

Step three: Stop describing this in steps, because it could get very annoying. I like that this recipe only had half a stick of butter in it, so I took a picture of it. Oookay.

As previously mentioned, I had never made a cheesecake before, but it wasn't that scary. The crust only has three ingredients, and the filling was easy enough to pull together with my trusty handheld mixer. Plus there's cream cheese. Mmm.

I had read all the reviews on the original Epicurious recipe (reviews are the best part of Epicurious, for sure), and a lot of people mentioned the trouble they had getting the cake to set. I didn't really have any such trouble, but as you can see from one of the photos below the top of my cake had some pretty hefty cracks across it.

Luckily, they were covered up with the whipped cream topping. Oh and a note about that - if you make this, make more than the recipe calls for. I wanted more.

I also skipped the whole 'mango ribbon' thing. It seemed rather fussy to me, and I knew I would have to wait to top the cake until just before we ate it. What that means is there would be people hanging out in my apartment, silently shaking their heads as I photograph the dessert they are waiting to eat.

Add in the fact that good mangoes are tough to find in New England no matter what time of year, and it seemed that raspberries would be an easier way to lovelify (lovely-ify? can you spell it 'wrong' if it's a made up word?), so that's what I did.

How'd it go? Well it's cheesecake, so it's hard to imagine it was BAD, right? Oh my friends it was so the opposite of bad. It was delicious. I loved the tang from the lime juice, and the barely sweetened whipped cream cut through it very nicely, the raspberries were juicy and delicious and the crust was tender and crumbly. I liked it. Hugh liked. Birthday cake success is mine!

If you have a cheesecake lover in your life and you've never tried it before, let me repeat: don't be scared. You can do it, and you won't regret it.

Key Lime Cheesecake

adapted from Epicurious

1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs (5 oz)
3 Tbsp sugar
1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted

2 (8 oz) packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp sugar
3/4 cup Key lime juice, bottled or fresh
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 Tbsp AP flour
1/4 tsp salt
3 eggs

1/2 cup chilled heavy cream
1 Tbsp sugar

Special equipment: a 9- to 9 1/2-inch springform pan
1. Preheat oven to 350 and butter then sides and bottom of the springform pan. In a bowl combine the crumbs, sugar and butter, then use your fingers to press it evenly onto the bottom of the pan and about 1/3 of the way up the sides. Bake for 6-8 minutes, just until golden. I took mine out after six minutes because several reviewers had mentioned their crust got overcooked while they waited for the center to set.

2. Reduce oven temp to 325. Beat the cream cheese with an electric mixer until very fluffy, then beat in the sugar; be thorough so your cake won't be too heavy. Add sour cream, lime juice and vanilla; beat until smooth. Add eggs (all at once!) and mix just until incorporated.

3. Pour the filling into the crust and put the springform pan onto a baking sheet (in case of leaks). Bake until cake is set in the center, 60-70 minutes. I went to 70, but my cake had just the slightest bit of jiggle in the middle. Knowing it will continue to set up as it cools, I didn't want to overdo it. Cool cake completely in the springform pan on a rack. When cake is completely cool, run a thin knife around the edge of the cake before releasing the pan. Chill in fridge for at least 8 hours (or two days, if you're me).

4. When read to serve, beat cream and sugar in a bowl with an electric mixture until it just holds stiff peaks, then spread over top of cheesecake. Dot with raspberries, and serve. I like cheesecake cold, so I served it straight from the fridge, but you could also let it come up to room temp before topping and serving.