Monday, December 29, 2008

Rugelach wassailing

He'd been keeping it a secret from me since we met that he knows how to make rugelach, but D revealed it to me before this Christmas vacation. So we packed up the ingredients and made some here at our friend's country house in Lackawaxen. We were going to visit friends of our friends who are an artist and a caterer by trade (but many more things than that), and we decided to bring some rugelach with us for the visit. Hence, rugelach wassailing. Wassailing is defined in some texts as visiting-while-carolling, so we went rugelach wassailing over to Hawley and got a tour of the incredible toll house that they've made into a beautiful home.

Here's how we made the rugelach.

Rugelach

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup unsalted butter
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins

Cut cold butter or margarine and cream cheese into bits. In food processor pulse flour, salt, butter or margarine, cream cheese and sour cream until crumbly. Shape crumbly mixture into four equal disks...wrap each disk and chill 2 hours or up to 2 days.

Roll each disk into a 9 inch round keeping other disks chilled until ready to roll them.

Combine sugar, cinnamon, chopped walnuts, and finely chopped raisins (may substitute miniature chocolate chips for raisins).

Roll each disk into a 9 inch round keeping other disks chilled until ready to roll them. Sprinkle round with sugar/nut mixture. Press lightly into dough. With chefs knife or pizza cutter, cut each round into 12 wedges. Roll wedges from wide to narrow, you will end up with point on outside of cookie. Place on ungreased baking sheets and chill rugelach 20 minutes before baking.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C).

After rugelach are chilled, bake them in the center rack of your oven 22 minutes until lightly golden. Cool on wire racks.


If you wrap them up in some plastic wrap and tie them with a bow, they make nice house-calling gifts.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Baking Bread on a Rainy Day

Baking is not my strong suit, especially baking things that require rising and yeast. But I thought, while I have the time and patience away from the city, let me try again to make bread. It's been rainy and dank here, so it was the perfect day to try it out. I used cake yeast this time, having had little luck with the powdered yeast the last few times I tried. It seemed to help.

Buttermilk Honey Wheat Bread

2 ½ tsp (one third of a package) of fresh/cake yeast
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups all purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp honey
1 ½ tbsp vegetable oil
1 ½ cups buttermilk

Gently heat the buttermilk and the honey in a saucepan over a low flame. Do not boil. Add the yeast when the buttermilk has reached room temperature. Add the rest of the ingredients. The dough will be really sticky, but try to knead it for a bit. Place the dough in a greased bread pan and let rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size, whichever is longer. Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for about 25 minutes, or until bottom sounds hollow when tapped.


We served the bread alongside roasted chicken (which was brined and smothered in parsley and yucatan spice rub) and roasted for a long time at a high temperature with shallots, carrots, and beets. It was delicious and soaked up the juice perfectly.

Yucatan Empanadas

My favorite Christmas present this year was a set of empanada makers from D's sister. I've been thinking about making empanadas since before Thanksgiving. Frozen ground turkey from an organic bird was just waiting in the freezer to get doctored up into some spicy turkey empanadas. I'd never made them before, so I kept putting it off, mostly because I am not usually graceful enough with dough. But I threw a bag of the frozen turkey meat in our cooler for the few days we were staying at our friends' country house in PA between Christmas and New Year. Just before we left, D's sister dropped off some presents, and the empanada makers were among them. I researched some recipes, packed together the ingredients, and off we went.

This is the recipe for the dough, and followed by a website that gives a step-by-step tutorial on how to make empanadas.

Cornmeal Whole Wheat Crust

1 cup flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 minus 2 tbsp cup yellow cornmeal
2 tbsp almonds
1 1/2 t baking powder
1 t salt
1/2 t nutmeg
6 whole coriander seeds
1/2 cup cold water (or more as necessary)
1 stick cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg, lightly beaten

Combine flours, cornmeal, baking powder, seasonings and salt in a blender or food processor; pulse just til combined.

Add water, butter, and egg; pulse just til combined, adding additional water if needed. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface; knead gently 4 to 5 times. Place in a bowl, cover and refrigerate 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 425°. Spray two large cookie sheets with cooking spray.

Divide dough into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into an approximately 6" circle on a lightly floured surface. Spoon 1/4 cup of filling into center of each circle.


This is what I did for the filling, but you could do so many things with empanadas....

1 lb ground turkey
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
½ cup currants
1 cup chopped mushrooms
2 tbsp Yucatan spice mix
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt

Bake at 400 degrees F for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and continue baking until the crust is browned.

Step-by-step instructions: http://latinfood.about.com/od/appetizersandsnacks/tp/empanadas.htm

And this is how we served it:

Choux Pastry Heart

One of my favorite bands is one I rarely ever listen to anymore. They exist in a particular time for me, but every once in a while, I remember a lyric or a particular melody that conjures up all kinds of complicated memories. The Cocteau Twins had a song, perhaps it was on Four Calendar Cafe, which came out in 1993, that contains "choux pastry heart" in the lyrics. I remember it, but I can't find it anywhere. Anyway, I have a favorite recipe for Mushroom Gougere that uses a choux pastry dough with gruyere cheese. It's delicious, but now I can only hum Corinne Bailey Rae's Choux Pastry Heart when I make it; the Cocteau Twins lyrics are lost to me.

My friends asked me to make a gougere for brunch over the holidays. I hadn't made it for a while, but it always gets rave reviews, so I was game.

Here's how to make it, somewhat adapted from the Vegetarian Gourmet by Roz Denny (1995):

Mushroom Gougere

Choux Pastry Crust

1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
6 tbsp butter
3/4 cup cold water
3 beaten eggs
3/4 cup diced Gruyere cheese (you can substitute any kind of Swiss)

Filling

1 small onion, sliced
1 carrot, coarsely grated
8 oz crimini mushrooms (or any kind of mushroom)
1 tbsp butter
1 tsp curry paste (mild or hot, according to your taste)
2 tbsp flour
1 1/4 cup milk
1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
2 tbsp flaked almonds

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease a round 9 inch glass pan.

Sift the flour and salt onto a large sheet of waxed paper. In a large saucepan, heat butter and water until the butter just melts. Do not let the water boil. Fold the paper and shoot the flour into the pan all at once. With a wooden spoon, beat the mixture rapidly until the lumps become smooth and the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan. Cool for 10 minutes. Beat the eggs gradually into the mixture until you have a soft, but still quite stiff, dropping consistency. You may not need all the egg. Stir in the cheese, then spoon the mixture round the sides of the greased pan.

To make the filling, saute the onion, carrot, and mushroom in butter (or olive oil) until the onion is carmelized. Stir in the curry paste, then the flour. Gradually stir in the milk and heat until thickened. Mix the parsley, season well, then pour into the center of the choux pastry. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the dough has risen, but before it turns golden brown, add the flaked almonds. Continue to bake until the pastry is golden brown, and the mixture inside is somewhat stiff. Serve warm.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Happy Boxing Day!

There are so many different holidays this time of year.  It was just Christmas, and Chaunnakah, and Kwaanza, and now it's Boxing Day!  We were at our friends' country house and we all hosted ten friends for brunch.  After feasting and drinking champagne for a few hours, I had to lie down with the cat and take a nap.  Later that evening, we were here with just four of us, and one of our friends prepared leftover plates with parsnip puree, smoked salmon pasta salad, and a green salad on the side.  He served up sandwiches with sliced duck on french bread with mustard.  After dinner, I rehabilitated the pizelle batter and made these for dessert that we served with jasmine tea.

Italian Pizzelles

3 eggs
1 3/4 c. flour
1 1/2 tsp. bourbon vanilla, or a very good vanilla, extract
1/2 c. butter
2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 c. sugar


Beat eggs and sugar. Add cooled melted butter and vanilla. Sift flour and baking powder and add to egg mixture. Batter will be stiff, but supple enough to be dropped by spoon. Batter can be refrigerated to be used at a later time. Makes 30 pizzelles.

My mother gave me a pizzelle iron a few years ago, so that's what I used. I dropped a heaping teaspoon of the batter onto the greased iron, and let cook until they steamed. I removed them with a knife. They weren't as neat as they could be; it takes practice.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Ducks

I never really ate duck breast before. Last year, D. made duck confit for my birthday, but I don't really remember what it tasted like and besides, it was just duck legs. This year, our friends suggested that we have duck for Christmas dinner at their country house in Pennsylvania. They said they would prepare duck breasts for the guests, there were to be about a dozen of us. D. volunteered to get the duck from the butcher he knows, so that meant that they couldn't start the duck until we got to the country house. We were lazy that morning, and didn't really get on the road until the afternoon. When we arrived at the house at dusk, I had to deal with getting the cat all set up, and D. brought in the cooler. He ended up preparing the duck himself, though our friend had made a currant sauce to go along with it. I wouldn't know how to do it if you left me alone with a duck breast, but from what I recall, D. cut checkers into the fat of the duck breast, though not so far in that the meat itself was punctured. He seasoned them with salt and pepper, and let them cook in olive oil on the stove in a cast iron pan until the skin was crispy and brown. 

Then he popped them in the oven and cooked until they were medium-rare. He sliced the breasts and arranged them a on plate in the center of the table, and everyone passed around sides of the currant sauce, string beans, parsnip puree, and brussel sprout gratin. It was a delicious meal. The duck breast slices were wonderful on french bread with mustard and cheese the next day.


Wednesday, December 24, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life

I know that sounds pretty corny, but I'm actually watching It's a Wonderful Life for the first time in my life.  I can't believe I never saw this before. So complicated and compelling...I always thought it was going to be some simple sentimental movie. What a time.

The calmest night of the year turned into a task-filled evening: I was able to come home early from work but I had to pick up laundry, pack, wrap some presents, and make some things before the morning. I made pureed parsnips, batter for pizzelles, and cinnamon rolls for the morning. I didn't trust myself with the dough, so I enlisted D for some help. When the dough wouldn't rise, we turned on the oven and sat the bowl on top. The dough started to rise almost immediately.

My mother finally shared the recipe for cinnamon rolls that she's been making for the past few years on Christmas morning. I'm trying it for myself this year.

Ingredients

1 cup milk
1/3 cup butter
1 Tablespoon yeast
1/2 cup white sugar
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 t. salt
3 eggs

filling
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 T ground cinnamon
1/2 cup raisins

glaze
1 t. light corn syrup
1/2 t. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
2 T half and half


Heat the milk in a small saucepan until it bubbles, then remove from heat. Add the butter and stir until melted, let cool until lukewarm.

In large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in the milk mixture. Add the sugar, 3 cups of flour, salt and eggs. stir well to combine. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and supple, about 8 minutes.

Lightly oil a large mixing bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth or saran wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 10x14" rectangle. Lightly brush the far edge with water. Brush the dough with melted butter. In a small bowl combine the cinnamon and the brown sugar and sprinkle over the rectangle. Then sprinkle the raisins over the dough. Roll up the dough into a log and seal the seam.

Cut the dough into 12 equal pieces, place the pieces in two greased cake pans or whatever you have to hold all the pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to rise overnight.

The next morning preheat oven to 375 degrees Take the rolls out of the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Bake the rolls for 25-30 minutes or until golden.

Combine corn syrup with the vanilla in a small bowl. Whisk in the powdered sugar and enough cream to make a thick glaze, set aside. When rolls are done let cool a bit then drizzle the glaze over the rolls and serve warm.

You really don't have to put in the corn syrup for the glaze if you don't have it. and you can also sprinkle on chopped nuts with the raisins if you like. They freeze well. It sounds like a lot to do, but it is really easy.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Best of the Leftovers

Tuesdays were never meant to be this easy. D and I came home a bit late and a bit short on planning tonite. I thought I'd make turkey legs with mushroom masala sauce, but D said he was sick of turkey. We've eaten it every day since Thursday. That's five straight days: turkey slices, turkey soup, turkey slices, turkey soup (again), turkey stuffed in delicata squash boats . . . I knew I was pushing the limit. So I asked him to defrost the sirloin I have in the freezer, and to pick up some lettuce and mushrooms so that I could make a beef and ginger stir fry and a salad. But when I got home, he said he had just gotten home and didn't have a chance to do it. Well, I said, I kinda wanted to order Atomic Wings anyway, and I started getting together some money to give him so he could pick them up on the way back from the gym.

But then I thought: damn, I have so much food in this fridge right now why can't I just make something...it doesn't even have to have turkey in it! So I started taking out the cubed butternut squash that I had from the other night, the chopped kale, the ginger, an onion, some quinoa; I figured I'd make a stir fry. But then I thought: why not add some ground turkey that I haven't yet stuck in the freezer. Add some leftover ricotta cheese in there to make it all mushy. Maybe he won't even notice. And I could bake it in some of the phyllo dough that we used the other night.

I swear, this must be the best leftover turkey recipe I've ever dreamt up. I cooked it while I was listening to this awesome online service called Pandora radio (www. pandora.com, thanks so much to Ariel for the tip!) which takes a musician who you like, and collects all of the music that is like that music that you like, as rated by other pandora service users, and you just listen to it as though it is a radio station. You get to say whether or not you like the songs you hear, and pandora promises that it will not play songs like that one again. Anyway, I've been playing my Matt Nathanson station since this afternoon at work and I love it. What a great way to discover new music, seeing as how there is not a single consistently decent radio station that plays music that I like here in NYC.

I talked to an old friend while I was doing the dishes, and poured a glass of new Brooklyn Oeneology Motley Cru (very interesting...made by a local vintner so small they don't even have a website! I get my B.O. wines from LeNell's Wine & Likker (http://www.lenells.com/). Then I cooked up this thing:

Turkey Phyllo Torte

1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
2 tbsp minced ginger
1 cup turkey
2-3 cups shredded kale
1 cup cubed butternut squash (uncooked)
1/4 cup chopped mushrooms
2 tbsp small black currants
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cracked black pepper
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp paprika
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1 pkg (8 oz) phyllo dough
olive oil

Saute the onion until it becomes a golden brown and gives off a heady scent. Add the diced ginger and garlic and saute until tender. Add the ground turkey, brown for a bit, and then add in the butternut squash, kale, and mushrooms. Add some water or broth as needed to keep the mixture moist. Toss in a handful of currants. Then season with salt, pepper, cinnamon, and paprika. Saute until everything is cooked through and the butternut squash is a bit mushy, but not too mushy. Take off the heat and set aside until it is no longer too hot to work with. Line a springform pan (or a pie pan, but it won't turn out as a torte). Layer phyllo dough sheets, about five atop one another arranged to cover the pan, spraying some olive oil in between each layer.

Scoop in half of your turkey/kale/squash mixture and spread at the bottom generously but evenly. Dollop your ricotta cheese atop that layer, and repeat with another layer of turkey/kale/squash. Pat evenly, and layer another five phyllo dough sheets evenly over the filling.

Pop it in the oven at 350 for 45 minutes, then 400 for 15 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned. Serve with a dollop of yogurt and some nuts (pistacchios). But if we were to make this recipe again (which seems likely) we'd sprinkle a handful of pistaccio nuts in the middle of the torte.

What a perfect meal.

The leftovers make a great lunch for the next day. I packed ours with a few olives, a slice of mango, and a handful of pecans. If you heat everything up together, it's delicious.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Ginger Agave Cashews

Every once in a while, I splurge on some seasoned nuts at the farmer's market on 5th Ave & 3rd St. in Brooklyn.  There's a stand that sells all kinds of spiced and sweetened roasted nuts--unfortunately, she imports them from somewhere outside NY. I don't know why she's able to have a stand there, but the nuts are sure good!  I wanted to try to make them on my own.  I tried this recipe, and while the nuts were tasty, it wasn't exactly what I was looking for.  I'll keep trying . . . 

Ginger Agave Cashews

3 tablespoons agave nectar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp powdered ginger
1 cup cashews

Heat the agave nectar in a cast iron pan on the stove.  When it begins to bubble just a bit, add the cashews, salt, and ginger and toss until coated and heated through.  Pop the entire pan in the oven at 350, and roast for about 8 minutes, checking once at 4 minutes and stirring to shift cashew positions.  Be careful not to let the nuts burn.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ginger Squash Muffins

Two people, even if they have a few guests over for dinner, cannot eat seven whole butternut squashes in any decent amount of time.  I know how much the people in my office appreciate fresh baked yummies, so I decided to try a butternut squash muffin recipe.  Since I had so much ginger on hand, I decided to spice up a basic recipe.  The consistency was absolutely perfect.  I made mini muffins in a cast-iron tart pan and they were spongy and moist.  The recipe made about 48 mini muffins, and they went fast.

Ginger Squash Muffins

2 medium egg
3 cups of flour
1 1/2 cup of milk
1 cup roasted, cooled, and pureed butternut squash
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
1 cup of sugar
2 tablespoons melted butter
4 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C).

Sift together the flour, salt, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon and powdered ginger. Beat the egg, then stir in the milk, squash, grated ginger, and melted butter.  Stir into the dry ingredients.

Pour into a greased muffin tin, then bake for 25 minutes or until done.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gingered Butternut Squash Relish

With seven butternut squashes staring me down, I had to try to find a pickle-related recipe because this blog is starting to veer from it's mission.  I've never had a squash relish before, and I had a bunch of ginger I haven't been able to use, so I thought I'd try this recipe.  So simple and tasty....but I am looking for suggestions about what to eat it with.  Any readers out there have any ideas?  Pork chops?  Leftover turkey?  In a ground turkey empanada?  In whole wheat burritos?  On a piece of broiled bluefish?

I have to say, I'm proudest of the photo, which I think turned out particularly well.

Ginger Squash Relish

1/2 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
2 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and coarsely shredded (5 cups)
2 medium onions, grated (2/3 cup)

Stir together vinegar, sugar, and salt in a large bowl until sugar and salt are dissolved, then add remaining ingredients and toss well.  Spoon relish into clean glass jars and cover quickly to let set.  The flavors will mix well after about two days.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cranberry Chutney


I've been making cranberry chutney for several years as a defiant alternative to those wiggly molds of gelatinous cranberry goop that plop out of a can. The first time I made it, I set aside several jars for D's mother and my family, but then forgot them on that fated Thanksgiving day. As a result, we were eating cranberry chutney with pork chops for the rest of the year. I've used recipes with more ingredients, but this time I made it simply. For interesting variations, you can add chopped apple, raisins, figs, jalapeno peppers, and even nuts. You can also substitute honey for the sugar, and up the ginger input.

Cranberry Chutney

2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 (12-oz) bag fresh cranberries
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Saute the onions, garlic, and ginger in a bit of olive oil until they are browning and near carmelized. Add the rest of the ingredients all at once and simmer on medium-low heat until the cranberries have all popped. You should stir the mixture constantly towards the end as it thickens, because it will definitely start to stick to the bottom of the pan. Once all the cranberries have popped, and the mixture reaches a consistency that you're happy with, spoon it while hot into clean glass jars and seal with air-tight lids. Perfect for your Thanksgiving turkey, but awesome with all kinds of turkey and pork chop dishes all year long.

Butternut Squash Soup, Hold the Cream Please!

Everybody wants a recipe for butternut squash soup that does not need cream. This is a good one.

Butternut Squash, Sage & Roasted Garlic Soup

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
4 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled seeded butternut squash
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt
2 - 4 garlic cloves, roasted
5 to 6 cups of chicken (or vegetable) stock

Start out by roasting some garlic in the oven at about 400F. I love roasted garlic, so I just go ahead and roast a whole damn head of garlic, and then save the rest for another dish (garlic bread?) It roasts in about 20 minutes. While the garlic is roasting, melt butter with oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, parsley, and sage; sauté until onions are softened, about 5 minutes. Add squash and coarse salt; sauté until squash softens and onions are golden, about 6 minutes. Add roasted garlic (to taste) by cutting one end of a clove and squeezing out the garlic paste; stir 1 minute. Add 5 cups stock; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until squash is very soft, about 25 minutes. Cool slightly. Working in batches, puree soup in blender, allowing some texture to remain. Return soup to pot. Thin with stock if the soup is too thick for your tastes. Season with pepper and more salt. Serve with roasted pepitas, yogurt or sour cream, and a handful of chopped parsely. I also like to add droplets of sriracha sauce to mine.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Butternut Bonanza

We recently visited friends in Buffalo, New York who belong to a farming cooperative. They pay a yearly fee up front to the farmer, then visit the farm once in the year to do a 6-hour work shift, picking beans, weeding, or whatever, and they get fresh, organic produce every week. Someone in their neighborhood drives to the farm, picks all of the food up, packs it in individual bags, and leaves it on her porch. All my friends have to do is walk a couple of blocks to the neighbor's house, pick up the bag, and go. It's a great deal for everyone. Only thing is, you have to use up whatever's available, and sometimes that means having 7 huge butternut squash in your house for a week.

These friends left for a 10-day cruise while we were there, so they gave us the address and asked if we would pick up and use the produce. Of course we would.

I spent the morning when we returned looking up recipes for butternut squash, and so the next four entries or so here will chronicle what I did with the squash. I made three quarts of butternut squash and sage soup, a few jars of butternut squash and ginger relish, and two dozen butternut squash and walnut muffins. We had friends over for dinner last night, and this is one of the things we made. I found the recipe on Epicurious and realized that if I adapted the recipe a bit, I had all of the ingredients in my fridge except for the phyllo dough, which my friends picked up on the way over. You could probably substitute something for the bacon (seitan, perhaps? Nuts? Seasoned tofu?) to make the dish vegetarian.

Beet Greens, Butternut Squash, and Bacon Pie

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3.5 cups)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 (1/8-inch-thick) slices bacon (the recipe called for pancetta, but I couldn't be bothered)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh sage
1 1/2 pounds beet greens, stems and center ribs discarded and leaves coarsely chopped (16 cups. The recipe called for kale, but I had a bunch of beet greens, so I used those)
1/4 cup water
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
8 (17- by 12-inch) phyllo sheets, thawed if frozen
1 ounces finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/2 cup)

Special equipment: a 9-inch round heavy nonstick springform pan

Put oven rack in the middle position and preheat oven to 425°F.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat and sauté squash with 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, stirring frequently, until browned and just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.

Add remaining tablespoon oil to skillet and reduce heat to moderate, then cook onion, bacon, garlic, sage, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, stirring frequently, until onion begins to brown and carmelize. Stir in beet greens and water and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until greens are just tender.  Cool, uncovered, to room temperature.

Brush springform pan with some of butter. Unroll phyllo and, working quickly, gently fit 1 sheet into pan with ends overhanging and brush with butter (including overhang). Rotate pan slightly and top with another sheet (sheets should not align) and brush in same manner. Repeat with 5 more sheets, rotating pan each time so sheets cover entire rim.

Gently stir together squash and cheese in a bowl.  Spread half of greens mixture in phyllo shell. and spread half of the squash mixture evenly over the greens. Top with remaining greens, then top with the remaining squash.

Put remaining sheet of phyllo on a work surface and brush with butter. Fold in half crosswise and butter again. Fold again (to quarter) and brush with butter, then lay over center of filling. Bring edges of phyllo up over filling (over quartered sheet of phyllo) to enclose. Brush top with butter and bake until deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool pie in pan on a rack 5 minutes. Remove side of pan and transfer to a platter. Cut into wedges (leave bottom of pan under pie)

Serve with a generous dollop of thick yogurt.  The flavor is so rich that you don't need to season the yogurt at all.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Ethiopian Beet & Potato Salad

My friend Becca travels all the time. She works for an international human rights organization, and if she's not in Geneva, she's in Jamaica, or Eastern Europe, or Mexico . . . it's hard to plan things with her, but our mutual friend tricked her into a dinner-for-two celebration for her birthday. Little did she know that our friend used a party planning thing on Facebook to get Becca's friends to a surprise birthday party for her. It was a success! She was surprised and the food was great. Our friend made injera, sour flatbread from Ethiopia that is used both as a food and a utensil....stews and meats are scooped up from a communal plate with pieces of injera. It's delicious, and I was hugely impressed with our friend's efforts. You can read more about injera here: http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/bread/recipe-injera.html

I made a beet and potato salad to go along with the meal. I found the recipe on epicurious, but it originally comes from a great Ethiopian restaurant in Washington, D.C., Meskerem. It's so simple to make, and it's a great accompaniment to spicy stews. You can see it amidst the pots of food above: it's the bright purple dish.

Beet-Potato Salad with Lemon

1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 jalapeño chili, seeded, minced
1 pound red-skinned potatoes
1 pound beets

Combine onion, lemon juice, oil and jalapeño in large bowl. Set aside.

Cook potatoes and beets in separate large saucepans of boiling salted water until just tender, about 30 minutes for potatoes and 45 minutes for beets. Drain. Cool slightly. Peel and cut into 1/2-inch cubes.

Add beets and potatoes to lemon mixture and toss to coat. Season generously with salt and pepper. You can serve this dish warm, at room temperature, or even cold.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Red Lentil Tofu Curry

It's fun to have friends who are vegetarians come and visit.  I cook a lot of vegetarian food, but when I have guests, I always try to dig around for something new and interesting.  Someone clued me into this squash-scallop garam masala dish, but since I couldn't make the shellfish, I tried to find another recipe using garam masala. The recipe was really simple, warm and filling after a long day out in the cold.  We shared a bottle of Malbec, which was a great accompaniment.

Red Lentil Tofu Curry

1 medium onion
1 red bell pepper
1 carrot
2 garlic cloves
½ inch piece of ginger
1 cup red lentils
4 tbsp olive oil
4 cups water
1 lb tofu
1 tsp garam masala (Indian spice mixture)*
1 tsp salt
1 pinch cayenne
½ cup chopped cilantro

Thinly slice the onion and mince the garlic. Peel the gingerroot and mince. Rinse the red rinse lentils and drain. In a 2-quart heavy saucepan cook onion and garlic in 1 tablespoon oil over moderate heat until golden. Add gingerroot and cook, stirring for1 minute. Add lentils and water and gently boil, uncovered, until lentils fall apart. This might take about 20 minutes.

While the lentils are boiling, rinse the tofu. Cut tofu into 1/2-inch cubes and gently press between paper towels to remove excess moisture

In a small heavy skillet heat remaining tablespoon oil over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and cook cumin seeds, stirring, until a shade darker, about 1 minute. Add garam masala, salt, and cayenne and cook, stirring, until fragrant, 15 to 30 seconds. Stir hot spice oil into lentils and gently stir in tofu cubes. Let curry stand, covered, 5 minutes to allow flavors to develop.

Heat another tablespoon in an iron skillet and sautee the tofu until golden brown. When cooked, stir the tofu into the red lentil mixture and serve with a large pinch of cilantro with salt on the side.

* You can make it yourself if you have the ingredients, the time, and the energy. Unfortunately, I have to admit that I got mine from Zabar’s…and I didn’t even buy it myself, I sent my friend to buy it for me.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Autumn Birthday Treats

My dear friends Tim and Brownie had birthdays this week, and I decided to surprise them with these cupcakes for their birthday when we met friends for after-work cocktails this Friday. We met at a dark, sultry lounge in the East Village, and had to beg the image-conscious boys at the bar to eat our leftover cupcakes. Transporting the cupcakes from home to work to bar was the most complicated part of the whole endeavor.

Chocolate Cupcakes

1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons of butter, softened
1 1/2 cups white sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup milk
1 cup yogurt (plain or vanilla)

Preheat oven to 350. Line a muffin pan with paper liners, and then spray or coat with butter. Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cocoa, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition, then stir in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the yogurt and the milk, and beat well. Fill the muffin cups 3/4 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Frost with a buttercream frosting when cool.


Serve to some of your best friends. And some strangers.

Pumpkin Soup

People in England don't eat nearly as much squash as we do. When my dear friend from London comes over, I seem to always have a new squash dish for him. This time, I made a vegetarian roasted pumpkin soup, which was a warm welcome for him after a day of travel. Our holiday pumpkin, which we didn't carve for Hallowe'en because we were out of town, had been on the table for at least two weeks--and it worked great. I even made a batch of agave-ginger pumpkin seeds to nosh on as well. Here's the pumpkin soup recipe I used:

Pumpkin Soup

2 tablespoon olive oil to saute the vegetables.
2 large carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
4 Cloves Garlic
1 2-pound pumpkin peeled, seeded, quartered, roasted, and then chopped up (about 6 cups)
6 cups (or more) vegetable stock

Quarter your pumpkin, spray with olive oil, and season with your favorite spice mixture. I used cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and paprika. Roast at about 400 until the flesh of the pumpkin is tender. Saute the carrots, celery, onion and garlic about 8 minutes just until it starts to show some browning. Add the chopped-up roasted pumpkin and the stock, and some red pepper flaks and turmeric for color and spice. Simmer until the mixture is quite mushy. Allow the mixture to ccool slightly and then puree in a blender until very smooth. Finish with 1 cup of heavy cream.

Garnish with chopped cilantro, toasted pepitas, a dollop of sour cream (or labne), and some specks of sriracha sauce if you like it spicy.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Post-election detox

If you celebrated as much as I did on election night, or worked as hard as so many to make Obama's victory happen in the past few weeks/months/years, then there has never been a better time for a delicious, healthy, home-cooked meal to nourish your junk-food- and alcohol-sodden body.

We danced and drank and shot off bottle rockets on the streets of Brooklyn when Obama won. Last night, although I was still hung over and exhausted, I pulled together a tempeh stir-fry with quinoa that did me a world of good. I chose the flax tempeh because flax is super good for you: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flax#Possible_medical_benefits

Tempeh Stir Fry with Quinoa
1 package of flax tempeh
1 medium onion
1 small head of cabbage
2 carrots
2 cloves garlic
salt, pepper, cumin, coriander, paprika, red pepper flakes, tamari, water
olive oil

Carmelize the onion and garlic in a cast-iron pan. Add the tempeh and brown. Add the carrots, cabbage, and spices, along with tamari and some splashes of water to keep it all moist. The tempeh may break up a bit, but unless you're concerned with aesthetics, no need to worry. Prepare the quinoa simply: 1 cup quinoa (rinsed and toasted), 2 cups vegetable broth, sprinke of salt. Cook until there are tiny white tendril surrounding the quinoa. Serve with a fresh green salad and a very big glass of water. And then go to bed early. Don't even think about washing the dishes.

Other ideas for healthy detox foods: raw vegetables, especially celery; hot water with ground flax seeds and lemon juice; food without sauces; baked fish; steamed vegetables; soup with clear broth (wonton, vegetable, miso).

Home cooking in an efficiency condo on the beach

I took a much-needed vacation in Siesta Key, Florida last week. D and I rented a condo right on the beach, and it was lovely. I spent days on the beach watching pelicans dive into the water, spent nights in fun Sarasota restaurants, went to an Obama rally and saw the man speak in person, and visited the Sarasota farmer's market. Our efficiency condo had the worst cooking implements--terrible pots and pans, not a single good knife, not even salt and pepper!--so we ate out much of the time. I just had to have a home-cooked meal after visiting the farmer's market, though. This market really rivaled some of the best I've seen, and it was great to see citrus fruit there. We bought a nice pound of grouper from the fish monger, along with a little bag of herbs; a couple of lemons, a lime, a tomato, an onion, a small bag of red potatoes, a bunch of parsley, and two ears of fresh corn. We baked everything in the little electric oven: the grouper with lemon, onion, and tomato; the halved red potatoes with parsley and olive oil; and the corn in their husks. All we did was squeeze lime over the corn when we shucked it, and then we served it up. You can actually cook a great meal in any kind of kitchen!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Pulled Pork Burritos

I loved pulled pork. I especially love it because it seems so labor-intensive, but it's exactly the opposite. You can prepare it in the morning, let it cook in the crock pot (slow cooker) all day, and then shred it and toss it with sauce when you get home. It cooks itself! We used it for burritos.

I stopped at Trader Joe's on the way home from work tonite. The new one in Brooklyn is at Court and Atlantic, and it is lovely. The Trader Joe's at Union Square is heinous compared to this one. The store, built into an old bank, is spacious and clean...the aisles are wide, and the staff is really friendly. I have to think that the calmness of the shoppers has to do with the fact that they're in Brooklyn; the shoppers in Manhattan are rude and they fly through the aisles mindlessly. I picked up some brown rice tortillas, organic pepper jack cheese, and arugula (and some dark chocolate pistaccio toffee!).

Ingredients

2 lb pork butt (with bone)
2 onions
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
salt & pepper
Barbeque sauce (I used the tamarind barbeque sauce from the salmon dish described in an earlier post)
Tortillas
Pepper Jack cheese
Diced tomato
Diced onion
Hot sauce (optional)


Season the pork butt with salt and pepper, then brown the butt in a cast iron skilet with olive oil. Cut up the onions, carrots, and celery--they're just for flavor, so you don't have to cut them neatly--and put them in your slow cooker. Set the roast on top. If the pork butt left pieces in the cast iron skillet, deglaze with about 1/4 cup of beer, scraping up any bits stuck to the pan. Pour the liquid, and remaining beer, over the roast. Cook on low for about 8 hours. This is perfect for those of us who try to work 8 hour days....I don't know what to tell the rest of you who work for 12, 14 hours straight except: "chill out!"

When you get home, turn off the crock pot and remove roast. When it is cool enough to work with, shred the meat with 2 forks until it is completely pulled apart, discarding any chunks of fat you come across. Heat the barbeque sauce, and when it is warm, stir it into the meat. Return the shredded bbq pork to the crock pot and keep it on warm.

Heat the tortillas over an open flame and layer with shredded cheese, pork, tomato, and onion. Fold up and bite!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Zucchini Kofte with Beet-Bulghur Pilaf

There are a bunch of women in my office who cook amazing dishes....going into the lunchroom on any given weekday is like reaching into a culinary treasure chest. There's one woman that grows her own vegetables and herbs and belongs to a cooking club where she and six of her friends cook food on Sunday and then exchange the leftovers so that everyone has a new dish to bring for lunch each day. And then there's another woman who experiments with healthy vegetarian fare, like this Zucchini Köfte with Beet-Bulgur Pilaf that everyone was raving about. I didn't actually see it on the day she brought it in, but I saw the recipe printed out at the copier and I snatched it up. Turns out everyone wanted the recipe, and for good reason. This was a delicious find, definitely a keeper. The recipe is originally from the October 2008 Gourmet magazine, I adapted it a bit. The original recipe made way too much bulghur pilaf for the kofte balls it yielded. So unless you want a ton of bulghur pilaf left over (not such a bad idea because it's so yummy!), I would halve the recipe for the bulghur.

Zucchini Köfte (Mediterranean vegetarian meatballs)

1 pound zucchini (3 medium)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup rinsed and drained canned chickpeas
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 cup panko
About 4 cups vegetable oil for frying

Beet-Bulghur Pilaf

1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/4 cups bulgur
1 pound medium beets with greens, beets peeled and diced (1/4 inch), stems discarded, and greens coarsely chopped
4 cups water
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted

Yogurt sauce

1 cup plain yogurt (preferably Greek)
1 teaspooon minced garlic
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Make köfte by coarsely grate zucchini in a food processor fitted with the medium shredding disk. Toss with 1 teaspoon salt in a colander. Let stand 10 minutes.
Pulse garlic, parsley, and cilantro in food processor until finely chopped.
Wrap zucchini in a kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and twist to wring out as much liquid as possible. Mash chickpeas with a fork, then toss with zucchini, garlic mixture, spices, bread crumbs, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl. Roll 2-tablespoons portions into balls and chill köfte in a 4-sided sheet pan while making bulghur.

Make bulghur by cooking onion and garlic in oil in a deep 10-inch heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in bulghur, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/8 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant and a shade darker, about 4 minutes. Stir in beets (but not greens) and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, until water is absorbed and beets are tender, about 20 minutes. Stir in greens and cook until just wilted, about 1 minute. Fluff bulghur with a fork, then sprinkle with almonds.

Fry köfte balls by heating 1 inch of oil in a deep 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Fry köfte in 2 batches, turning once, until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

To make the yogurt sauce, stir together yogurt, garlic, cilantro, and 1/8 teaspoon salt.

Serve warm köfte and bulghur with sauce.

james

We rarely go out to restaurants these days--what with trying to save some money, and the fact that we rarely find dishes that are better than what we prepare ourselves--but when we do go out, we try to choose our restaurants well. Lately, we've been dining out at places that use local ingredients or have seasonal menus. james, a restaurant right around the corner from where D grew up in Prospect Heights, was a great choice. The ambience in a restaurant is always very important to me--the only thing missing from this place was little Christmas lights. It was decorated beautifully, very rustic, with whitewashed walls and an antique mirror. They also had this cool back-lighting behind the seating booths that created a really warm feel.

We loved the selections on the menu, but could not settle on anything, so we shared three appetizers and an entree. The Heirloom Tomato with Globe Basil, Sea Salt, Warm Chèvre Fondue tasted great, although the presentation could have been better. The tomato slices were all stacked up on top of one another. I thought it would have been better to lay them out in an array so that you could appreciate the different colors. The chevre was awesome. The Seared Diver Scallops with Watercress Puree was also very good--the scallops were cooked to perfection, and the watercress puree was a simple and clean compliment. Our served offered a special tuna tartare appetizer which we couldn't resist. It was simply four thinly sliced pieces of fish over fresh sprouty-greens with serrano pepper and a vinagrette. The tast combination was amazing...we savored every bite. Perfection. For our shared entree, we had the butternut squash ravioli. The taste was great, but the entree wasn't really worth the price ($19 for four raviolis). The Ricotta Beignets with Raspberry Red Wine Coulis were light and delicious, a great way to end the meal. I would definitely come back to james again. Maybe around the holidays they'll have Christmas lights.

http://jamesrestaurantny.squarespace.com/info/

Maple-Roasted Chicken with Apple-Mushroom Wild Rice and Lentil Pilaf

The only things you should have to do on Sunday are: watch Meet the Press, read your favorite parts of the New York Times, go on a bike ride, and make a nice dinner. If those are the criteria for a perfect Sunday, I outdid myself and had a more perfect Sunday. Colin Powell started my morning by giving the most eloquent and poignant endorsement of Barack Obama, the Times had an awesome feature on Rachel Maddow, the park was at its fall best and my new bike was awesome (so was my partner, who encouraged me to keep going up those hills!), and the dinner we chose was soul-warming. On the way home from the park, we stopped by a Barack O'Bake Sale run by four neighborhood kids. Their enthusiasm was something else!

I got a free-range chicken at Fairway and brined it in water, kosher salt, a chopped up onion, and a sprig of rosemary. I left the chicken in the fridge in its brine for about 8 hours. When I took it out of the fridge, I rinsed it throughly, rubbed it with olive oil, and coated it with a spice mixture I got from a poultry-seller at the Grand Army Plaza Farmer's Market in Prospect Park. The spice mixture uses maple crystals as its base, so it was nice and sweet. We didn't do anything else to the chicken--just roasted it at 400 degrees for about an hour.

For the Apple-Mushroom Wild Rice and Lentil Pilaf, we didn't follow a recipe really. I got the idea from a fall recipe newsletter that advertised an Apple-Leek Stuffing. I couldn't find leeks anywhere this weekend, so I just used the apple part to inspire a nice side dish. In general, the pilaf was made this way:

Combine wild rice with a touch of olive oil in a small bowl. Sautee onion and garlic in a sauce pan. Once they are carmelized, add chopped mushrooms and celery. When they are soft, add the wild rice, chicken stock, and about 1/2 cup of lentils. Add salt and pepper and simmer, covered, for about 45 minutes. When the rice is nearly done, add chopped apples to the mixture. Uncover and continue to cook until the rice is tender and the water is absorbed.

The dish is even better for lunch the next day.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Simple Brown Bread

I am so loving the chill in the air. I like to open all the windows in the house and wrap up in a sweater and fuzzy slippers and putter about the house doing little things on days like this. Smelling bread baking in this kind of air is so comforting. I found this really basic recipe in the October Cooking Light magazine. The issue had a whole section devoted to recipes from the American Shaker community from the 1800s....really simple, wholesome food. So I adapted this one for Steamed Brown Bread.

Steamed Brown Bread

Just over one cup of whole wheat flour
1 cup rye flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup raisins
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups buttermilk
1/2 cup molasses
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons butter, melted
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flours, cornmeal, raisins, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl; stir with a whisk. Combine buttermilk, molasses, honey, and butter. Add to dry ingredients; stir just until moistened. Divide batter evenly between 2 (8-inch) loaf pans coated with cooking spray. Tightly cover each pan with foil. Place pans in a 13 x 9–inch baking pan. Add boiling water to a depth of 1 inch. Cover larger pan with foil. Bake at 350° for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean. (Top of bread will feel slightly sticky.) Remove pans from water. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pans; cool completely.

Enjoy with a steaming cup of Earl Grey tea with milk, and some good friends. Delicious.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Coconut Crusted Salmon with Tamarind Barbeque Sauce

I got this recipe from Cooking Light magazine, October 2008. It was delicious. I paired it with roasted cauliflower and garlic for D's birthday. I spent weeks looking for tamarind extract, but ultimately I didn't need it. Tamarind concentrate worked, and tamarind paste would have worked just as well. We found the tamarind concentrate at Sahadi's.

Barbeque Sauce

1 tsp canola oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots
1 tblsp peeled and chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tblsp tomato paste
1 cup hot water
1 tblsp mirin (sweet cooking wine)
3 tblsp tamarind concentrate
3 tblsp brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground red pepper
1 tblsp tamari
1 tsp toasted sesame oil

Salmon

1 lb nice piece of salmon
3 tblsp panko
3 tblsp flaked coconut*
1/8 tsp ground tumeric
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
olive oil cooking spray

To make the barbeque sauce, heat oil in a cast iron pan. Add shallots, sautee 2 minutes; add the ginger and the garlic and sautee for another minute, stirring constantly. They will start to key sticky. Add tomato paste, cook another minute, stirring constantly. Add 1 cup of hot water, tamarind extract, mirin, brown sugar and ground red pepper, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and then stir in tamari and sesame oil. Set aside or refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. To prepare the salmon, combine the panko, coconut and tumeric in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle the salmon evenly with salt, coriander, and pepper. Dredge fillets in panko mixture. Heat your cast iron pan again and pour in about 2 tblsp oil. Add salmon to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Carefully turn the fish over and cook the same on the other side. Stick in the oven for about 6 minutes. Serve with a tblsp of the barbeque sauce and a nice, roasted vegetable (I used cauliflower).

*The recipe called for sweetened coconut. I used 2 tblsp unsweetened coconut and 1 tblsp sweetened coconut.

Crazy Birthday Cake

This was the funniest birthday cake I've ever made. Chocolate cake made from unsweetened chocolate from Guatemala, kahlua, buttercream with vanilla from beans I brought back from Mexico, ganache, and white chocolate from Whole Foods. I was looking around for about a month for the recipe I wanted and just couldn't find one. I cobbled and adapted until I got what I wanted. It wasn't pretty, and there were some issues with the cake, but it sure is tasty.

The night before I made the cake, I had to buy another cake for my uncle's birthday at Whole Foods. I asked them to write "Happy Birthday" on the cake, and when they showed it to me, I asked the guy whether he had to pass a calligraphy test to get the job. He said, "You can do it, too," but I found his instructions (buy some parchment paper, melt white chocolate, build a tube, pour the chocolate in, work some magic to make it into a writing instrument...) too much to handle. I asked if he'd sell me one of his. He called his manager over and they just gave me the tube of white chocolate. So nice.

Chocolate Layer Cake with Vanilla Buttercream Frosting and
Dark Chocolate Ganache


Cake

3 oz. unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate
½ cup water
½ cup butter
1 ½ cup sugar
3 eggs
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
1 cup sour cream
2 cups flour
1 1/4 teaspoons soda
½ teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease two 8-inch cake pans. Melt the chocolate in water over low heat and set aside to cool. Mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add eggs to butter and sugar one at a time, beating well after each egg is added. Fold in the cooled chocolate and the vanilla. Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt. Add the dry ingredients alternating with the sour cream, beating after each addition. Bake at 350° for 30-35 minutes until the cake center springs back to the touch. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans. Allow to cool completely before adding the frosting.

Vanilla Bean Buttercream Frosting




1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
softened
1 vanilla bean, scraped

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1/2 tsp. salt

1/3 cup milk
3 cups confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream

Cream the butter in a medium-size bowl until very smooth. Stir in the vanilla-bean seeds until they're evenly distributed. Add the salt, milk and vanilla extract, and stir until combined. Sift the sugar over the butter mixture and stir the mixture until it's perfectly smooth. If the frosting is too loose, add a few more tablespoons of confectioner's sugar, and stir until smooth. Add whipping cream and beat until really smooth. Cover with plastic wrap until you're ready to use; mix well just before using.

Ganache

8 ounces (227 grams) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup (180 ml) heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons (28 grams) unsalted butter

Place the chopped chocolate in a medium sized stainless steel bowl. Set aside. Heat the cream and butter in a medium sized saucepan over medium heat. Bring just to a boil. Immediately pour the boiling cream over the chocolate and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Stir with a whisk until smooth. If desired, add the liqueur.

Makes enough ganache to cover a 9 inch (23 cm) cake or torte.

Now, to assemble: Cut each of the round cakes in half to make four equal rounds. Frost the top of the bottom layer with the buttercream, place the next round on top. Then frost the next top layer, and place the third layer on top. Now, here you have a choice: you can take the fourth round and set it aside to eat all by yourself, or you can make a fourth layer...and a really tall cake! Once the layers are assembled, spread the buttercream all over the cake and smooth out with a metal spatula. Pop it in the fridge and let it sit for an hour or so. When you've made the ganache, cool it down a bit, and then pour some over the top of the buttercream frosted cake. Smooth out with a clean spatula to make a nice, shiny top. Let it sit for a bit and harden, and then decorate with a tube of icing. I used white chocolate. The advice I got from the Whole Foods guy? Don't do it as though you are writing with the icing, think of it as laying the icing down in script.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Red Lentil Veggie Cakes

This is not a dish for the low-on-energy, it's a lot of different steps, and a lot of dirty pots and pans. But I think it's worth it. It's a great fall meal, and could be easily adapted to different seasons. I got the original idea from Cooking Light magazine, but of course, I embellished. I wasn't thrilled about the salsa on the side that the magazine suggested, so I served them with my signature yogurt-cumin sauce.

Ingredients

5 cups water, divided
1 cup dried small red lentils
1/2 cup uncooked basmati rice
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped red bell pepper
1 cup of chopped chard
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1 teaspoon cumin
1 tsp paprika
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp minced jalapeno
3/4 cup (3 ounces) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
3/4 cup panko (1/2 for mixture; 1/4 for rolling the cakes in)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten

To prepare cakes, bring 4 cups water and lentils to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat, and simmer for 20 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain. Place lentils in a large bowl.

Combine remaining 1 cup water and rice in pan; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 18 minutes or until liquid is absorbed. Add cooked rice to lentils.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add bell pepper, onion, and garlic to pan, along with cumin and paprika; saute 2 minutes or until tender. Add in the chard and the chopped celery and saute until wilted and cooked. Add to rice mixture. Let the entire mixture cool for about 15 minutes.

Add mozzarella cheese and remaining ingredients, stirring until well combined. Using an ice-cream scoop, make cakes and roll each one in a bit of panko. Pop in the fridge for a few minutes until cool.

Heat 2 teaspoons olive oil in skillet over medium heat. Cook each cake for 5 minutes or until lightly browned. Carefully turn cakes over; cook 5 minutes on other side. Remove cakes from pan. Repeat procedure with remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and remaining rice mixture. Serve with yogurt sauce.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Curried Apple & Leek Soup with Sausage

If I may be so bold, I have to say that this is the best soup I've ever made--and I made it up, too! I've been looking for a nice vegetarian soup for a friend who's joining us for an evening tomorrow in the country, and found a curried apple soup online. Then I find out that, no, the friend is NOT a vegetarian and would eat any meat we put in front of him. So I went to Whole Foods and picked up some fresh Curried Thai Chicken Sausage, as well as a bottle of organic apple juice. I also visited the Union Square Farmer's Market and picked up some Matsui apples, leeks, and celery. Farmer's market celery is almost too good to be true. Just smelling it is amazing. This soup would be delicious without the meat, too. Here's the recipe.

Curried Apple & Leek Soup

1 large leek, chopped
4 apples, peeled, cored, and diced
4 stalks of celery, chopped
3 tbsp curry powder
2 tbsp butter
2 cups of vegetable broth
1 cup of orange/red lentils
1 cup of apple juice

Boil the lentils with 2 cups of vegetable broth. Heat the butter and the curry powder in a large sautee pan. Add the chopped leek, apples, and celery. Cook until just starting to brown a bit and then add the lentils to the mix along with the cup of apple juice. Simmer until everything is super tender. Turn off the heat and cool a bit. Once manageable, place the mixture in a blender and blend until it reaches your desired smoothness. Taste it. It should be super yummy. If you like, sautee 1 lb of sausage on the side and dump it into the soup. OMG. Delicious.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Chicken Legs with Roasted Leeks & Parsnips

I adapted this recipe from the latest Delicious Living Magazine. Parsnips aren't in season, so that's the only thing here that I didn't either buy from the farmer's market or from Fairway (free range chicken legs). This is a nice dish for the beginning of the fall; earthy flavors, savory and completely yum.

Ingredients

2 medium leeks
3 medium parsnips
2-3 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 chicken legs
1 sprig rosemary, leaves removed & chopped
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 cup flour
3 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
1/3 cup Masala
2 tbsp soy sauce
rosemary sprig to garnish
1/2 cup vegetable broth

Preparation

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Slice the leeks and parsnips into spears and toss with 1 tbsp olive oil, 1-2 tsp chopped thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Place in a casserole dish and set aside.

Combine flour with chopped thyme and the rest of the rosemary, salt and pepper. Heat the rest of the oil in a cast iron pan and heat until smoking hot. Dredge the chicken legs in the flour, and place in the smoking oil. Brown on each side for about 3 minutes. When both sides are brown, add the masala wine and turn the heat down. When the masala starts to bubble, remove the chicken legs and place them on top of the leek/parsnip mixture and pop in the oven.

Add the remainder of the flour you used for dredging to the gunk in the cast iron pan, add 1/2 cup of vegetable broth and simmer. Remove from heat when sufficiently thick and set aside. When the mixture is cool, blend it until smooth and set it aside as gravy for your chicken dish.

When the chicken is falling from the bone (or cooked however you like it) remove from the oven and arrange on your plate. Serve with gravy. Enjoy!

Steak Dinner & Steak Tacos: Two Meals in One

My best friend came to visit this weekend, and we decided to barbeque up on the roof under an almost-full moon on Saturday night. It was great to just go up there with plates and beer and eat this meal right off the grill. The leftovers we turned into dinner on Monday night.

Ingredients

2 lb (2 nice thick pieces) of hanger steak
3 Tbsp cilantro or parsley
3 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp fresh chopped thyme
1 Tbsp fresh chopped rosemary
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 portobello mushrooms
4 pieces of corn in their husks
4 taco shells (wrap-sized)
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 ripe red tomato, diced
1 avocado, cut into slices
1/2 cup yogurt
1 scallion, chopped
cumin, paprika, salt and pepper to taste

Grilled Steak Dinner

Place ingredients 2-6 in a mini-chopper or food processor. Marinate the hanger steak in a mixture of the oil, garlic and herbs for several hours, or overnight. Fire up the grill! Place the marinated steaks, the mushrooms, and the corn (still in the husks) on the grill, cover and let cook for a while until as done as you’d like them. Serve this simple meal outside under the stars: a healthy portion of steak (about the size of a deck of cards), a piece of corn, and half a portobello. You can add some steak sauce, but the meat should be seasoned just fine to eat by itself.

Place the leftovers in the fridge for the following night.

Steak Tacos

For the second meal, combine ½ cup of yogurt with diced scallion, cumin, paprika, and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside. Cut the remainder of the steak (and mushroom if you have any left!) into strip-sized pieces. Sautee the chopped onion in a cast iron pan until carmelized, and then add strips of red bell pepper. Sautee until the bell pepper is tender, and then add the already-grilled-but-now-chopped-up-steak to the pepper and onion mixture. Arrange equally on four taco shells (I like spinach ones for this one myself, but roasted red pepper ones would be terrific, too) the meat/onion/pepper mixture, some avocado slices, some diced tomato. Fold the taco and top with a dollop of yogurt sauce. (Option: you can add cheese to the taco if you want: Pepper Jack cheese works well).

Eat one taco and a piece of corn for dinner. You can wrap up the extra taco for lunch the next day, or go nuts and eat the second one for dinner!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Stuffed Poblano Peppers & Potato-Leek Soup

I went to a new farmer's market this weekend 'cause I missed Saturday at Grand Army Plaza. This one was on 5th Avenue between 3rd and 4th Street--much smaller than the Saturday morning one, but serviceable for the week. I planned to roast a chicken this week with beets, leeks, and potatoes, so I picked up an extra leek and few extra potatoes to make some soup. I'd never made it before, so I had to fish around on the internet for a recipe. Epicurious came through, with a recipe from Gourmet magazine. I added some touches of my own. I had to really improvise my stuffed peppers, though. I can never find a good recipe. This one turned out pretty well, but I wish I had used pork for the filling.

Stuffed Poblanos

4 small-medium poblano peppers
3 tbsp ricotta cheese
1 lb lean ground turkey meat
1 medium onion, diced
salt, pepper, cumin, paprika
2 tbsp cilantro

Roast the peppers over an open flame, and while they are still hot, pop them in a plastic bag and stick it in the fridge. I'm not sure what this really does to the peppers, but my boyfriend does it and it seems to work to make it easier to peel the black off the roasted peppers. While the peppers are cooling, sautee the onion in a bit of olive oil until carmelized. Add the turkey meat and seasonings. Sautee until browned. Cool the meat mixture, and then grind the meat in a food processor until finely chopped and consistent. Combine the meat mixture with the ricotta cheese and cilantro. Peel and open the peppers, making little hats out of the stem part. Stuff the peppers, attach the hats (you might need toothpicks), and stick 'em on a baking sheet in the oven at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. Accompanied nicely by a fresh tomato slice.

Potato-Leek Soup

1 leek, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup chicken broth
2 medium red potatoes, diced
salt, pepper
1/4 cup cream

In a large saucepan sautee the leeks and the garlic cloves in the butter with salt and pepper to taste, covered, over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally until they are softened but not browned. Add the potatoes and brown just a bit. Add the water and the broth and simmer the mixture for about 20 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. In a blender purée the soup. You can store it this way (either in the fridge or the freezer) and then add the cream as you're heating the soup up.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Lamb Patties with Seasoned Yogurt

This is my favorite recipe from the New York Times magazine's Eat, Memory article series: Saratbhai's Shammi Kebabs. I've adapted them somewhat, and even though the recipe is a bit labor intensive, I have made them several times. This time I paired them with some naan and roasted eggplant. Next time, pickled eggplant on the side. I buy lamb from a stand at the Grand Army Plaza Farmer's Market--pricey, but definitely worth it.

Lamb Patties with Seasoned Yogurt

For the lamb
1 lb ground lamb
2 tbsp olive oil, or a blend of canola/olive
6 green cardamom seeds
1 1-inch cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
1 tsp grated ginger (or more, according to your taste)
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tbsp red/orange lentils
pinches of salt
1 tsp ground nutmeg
1 jalapeno chile pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
1 beaten egg
1 tbsp roasted chickpea flour or felafel

For the yogurt
1 cup of plain yogurt (non fat or not, your preference)
2 scallions
1 tbsp cilantro, chopped
cumin, coriander, paprika, salt and pepper

Combine the all ingredients up to and including nutmeg in a saucepan with 2 cups of water. Boil over medium heat until all of the water is evaporated (about 45 minutes). Be careful to not let the contents burn at the bottom, so stir frequently at the end. Just before all water is evaporated, add the chiles, coriander, cumin, and some salt. Let cool a bit, and remove cloves and cinnamon stick.

Grind the cooked meat mixture in a food processor or mini chopper until it is finely ground, but not completely smooth.

Return the meat to the saucepan and cook over medium heat until the mixture is drier and more pliable, about 10-15 minutes. Let the mixture cool. When cool, stir in cilantro, egg, and flour. Roll the meat into balls and press into patties.

Cook the patties in a cast-iron pan in olive oil. Flip gently, they will be delicate.

Season plain yogurt with cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, and paprika. You can add some chopped scallions and more cilantro if you like, but not necessary.

Serve with a vegetable side and/or naan.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Savory Bacon 'n Cheddar Scones

A friend is having a brunch party "When Pigs Fly" in celebration of bacon, Brooklyn, and her birthday this afternoon, and we've all been asked to bring some bacon. I tried to get some bacon from the Flying Pig organic farm at the Farmer's Market on Saturday morning, but the stand was mysteriously not there. So we bought normal bacon at Fairway in Redhook (after an awesome dinner at Hope & Anchor), and this is what I came up with.

Savory Bacon 'n Cheddar Scones

2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon baking powder

2 teaspoons sugar

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick, 2 oz) cold butter

1 cup (4 oz) diced cheddar cheese

1/3 cup fresh chives, or finely diced scallion tops

1/2 pound bacon, cooked, cooled, and crumbled (about 1 cup)

3/4 cup (7 oz) heavy cream, or enough to make the dough cohesive

Preheat the oven to 425° and lightly grease a baking sheet.

Whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar. 

Work the butter into the flour until the mixture is unevenly crumbly. 

Mix in the cheese, chives, and bacon till evenly distributed. 

Add ¾ cup of the cream, stirring to combine. Mush the dough together with clean hands. If it won't go together or if it's too dry, add a little bit of cream. Shape the dough into a smooth mound, about 3/4 inch thick. Put the dough onto the baking sheet and cut the mound into 8 wedges, spreading the wedges apart. Brush the scones with some milk or cream and sprinkle with just a hint of sea salt.

Bake for 20-25 minutes, depending on your oven, until they are golden brown.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Friday Night Fare

It's been a long week. The convention, house guests, working overtime, the debut of a huge campaign (www.nyclu.org/vote), today's big news from McCain...all ending well with a scrimmage against Crescendo in Prospect Park (big disappointment: I struck out). We needed a simple dinner. I love stopping for chicken wings after a softball game, but we came home (after a margarita at Rachel's) and made a standard Friday night dinner. (Nice Christian girl, fish on Fridays...)

Marinated Salmon & Sauteed Broccoli
(serves 2)
1 lb fresh piece of salmon
Tamari
2 tbsp sugar
pinch of ginger
Salt and pepper
Half a head of broccoli
3 cloves garlic
1/2 cup yogurt
3 scallions

Marinate the salmon in a mixture of tamari, sugar, ginger, salt and pepper for a few hours.

Heat a cast iron pan and sear the salmon in some olive oil. Stick the salmon in a dish in the stove at about 350 degrees.

Sautee some chopped garlic, add broccoli florets and chopped stem. Add 1 1/2 chopped scallions. Season with salt and pepper.

Mix 1 1/2 chopped scallions with yogurt and season with salt and pepper.

Serve a piece of salmon with some broccoli pieces and a dollop of seasoned yogurt. Chomp it up.

Obama Acceptance Speech Celebration Dinner

Since we didn't make it out to one of the group viewings of Obama's speech, I figured we ought to celebrate the way that we usually do at home with an insanely yummy healthy dinner. This sounds like it would be a lot of preparation, but you can do a bunch of stuff ahead of time (over the weekend, for example) that makes it super easy. Everything on the menu was local, most of it organic. I purchased the lamb from one of my favorite meat vendors at the Grand Army Plaza Farmer's Market. I brought the figs back with me directly from Berkeley, California.

Lamb steak with fig chutney, pureed parsnips, and sauteed dandelion greens

1 1lb lamb steak
1 bunch dandelion greens
3 parsnips
1/4 cup of milk
4 cloves of garlic
salt and pepper
8 oz mission figs
1 small onion
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
one cinnamon stick
pinch of fresh thyme and rosemary
olive oil

Marinate the lamb steak in olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme and rosemary. You can freeze it just like that after it's done sitting in the mix for a little while.

Peel and boil the parsnips until tender. Put in a blender when tepid with 1/4 cup of milk, salt and pepper, and I used a touch of truffle oil, which is not essential, but is super yummy. Puree. You can put that in a freezer-safe container or a freezer bag, too.

Cut figs into bite sized pieces and boil them in a mixture of chopped onion, sugar, vinegar, and cinnamon stick until jam-like. Put in a jar and refrigerate.

The dandelion greens you can't freeze, so that's what you have to prepare just before the meal. Cut the dandelion greens into bite sized pieces and sautee in olive oil, chopped garlic, and salt and pepper. I added toasted sesame seeds, but again, not essential.

I couldn't resist some sweet, local corn, but it may have overloaded our plates. I definitely felt gluttonous.

Enjoy!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Pollo en Mole Poblano

This isn't the most appetizing of photos, but let me tell you, mole paste directly from Mexico is no joke. I find it so strange that I couldn't find a good recipe for using it on the web, and even when I tried asking a restaurant chef in Xochimilco how to use it, his advice was sketchy. He leaned in and said, "I'll tell you my secret: I break sweet cookies up into the mixture." I was like, well, thank you, but I am never going to do that. So I brought home a recipe last night for mole negro just to get an idea of proportions, and then I played around with it a bit. This mole, as I mentioned in a previous post, is from Xochimilco, and it was Mole Poblano, which means that it was made with poblano peppers. It cost about $1.70 for 5 ounces of it, which I used in this recipe that serves 4 well.

This is what I came up with, and it was really very delicious.

Pollo en Mole Poblano

4 skinned, boneless chicken breasts
olive oil
salt & pepper
4 medium sized tomatoes
2 cups of chicken stock
5 ounces of mole poblano paste (or any mole negro)
sliced almonds or pepitas

2 cast iron pans and a small food processor or blender for liquifying the roasted tomatoes.

Start out by browning the chicken breasts in a cast iron pan with some olive oil. When they are well browned, but not cooked all the way through, place the entire pan in the oven at about 325 F.

Next, cut the tomatoes into quarters and heat another dry cast iron pan until it is smoking. Fry the tomatoes in the dry pan until the juices have all come out and you get a nice fragrance. Take the tomatoes out of the pan when they are done and set aside in a bowl.

Rinse out the tomato pan and put it back on the fire to dry a bit. Once dry, put some olive oil in the pan and put the mole paste in and quickly break it up into small pieces. Add a bit of stock tot he mixture until the pieces are nearly all broken down. Don't let the mole burn. Turn the heat to low, and turn back to your tomatoes, which should be no longer steaming hot. Place them in the food processor or blender and make a liquid out of the tomatoes. One recipe suggested straining them, but why waste the nice tomato seeds?

Keep heating the mole and adding stock and pureed tomatoes until you get the consistency you want (it should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon) and the desired heat intensity (mole can be very spicy).

When it is nice and thick and smooth and soupy, take the chicken out of the oven and pour the mole sauce over the four breasts. Place back on the stove and simmer on low until the chicken is tender. I like mine well cooked so that it is nearly falling apart, you can cook your to the degree that you want.

Spoon a bit of the mole onto a plate and then place a chicken breast on top. Then dollop with a little bit more mole sauce. I didn't sprinkle almonds or pepitas on top, but I would like to have. So you should. If you like them. I served the pollo en mole with plain steamed veggies as a nice clean contrast to the complexity of the sauce.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Long, Hot Labors of Pepper Relish

This is the product of my labors on Saturday. Several jars of sweet pickles for a barbeque in San Francisco this coming weekend, several jars of Mexican Pepper Relish, and one experiment in gherkins that I am less than optimistic about.

I didn't keep perfect track of my recipe for the relish, but this is what I remember I did. In addition to the peppers I brought back from Mexico, I shopped at the Grand Army Plaza Farmer's Market for the tomatillos, bell peppers, and onions.

Mexican Hot Pepper Relish

10 hot peppers of various shapes, sizes and colors
2 green bell peppers
1 red bell pepper
1 large onion
5 medium-sized tomatillos
1 cup of sugar
2 cups of vinegar
2 cups of water
3/4 cup of canning salt

Cut the hot peppers with a sharp knife into tiny pieces. Your fingers will be burning, but its better than putting them through a processor...too much juice and you lose too much of the meat of the peppers. Put aside in a small bowl. I suggest putting half of the bell peppers, half of the onions, and all of the tomatillos in a little food chopper and handcutting the rest. Mix them all together in a bowl and sprinkle with 3/4 cup of canning salt. Stir up to ensure that the peppers are covered in the salt, and then cover with boiling water. Let stand for about 2 hours.

When the peppers are brined, rinse them lightly and then drain them (you can save the liquid). If you want, you can substitute some or all of the pepper liquid for the water to make the relish syrup.

Combine the water (or pepper juice), vinegar, and sugar and bring to a boil.

Spoon the pepper mixture into small jars, cover with boiling syrup, and seal the jars. They should be good after three days of setting.

Enjoy some on scrambled eggs, steak, hot dogs . . . and remember to share with your friends!