Archive for April, 2011

Roasted Shallots

April 17, 2011

A student in one of my recent classes told me that her favorite vegetable is shallots.  I was amused at first – I mean, who puts shallots at the top of their list?  And then I started thinking about it.  Shallots are pretty amazing.  They are sweeter than onions with more complex flavor.  They are delicious simply pan-fried, add so much to any soup or stew, they are a mainstay in my salad dressings, and they turn into something downright addictive when allowed to get crispy and set atop something like a rice bowl or even a green bean casserole.  That is one pretty awesome vegetable.  Broccoli is my favorite and I don’t think it brings nearly as much to the party as the shallot.

I had never roasted shallots and I figured, after realizing how much I love them, that it was time.  Time to roast them with thyme.  Sorry.  I’m a little punchy these days.  Ahem.  This is what I think of as a well-behaved side dish.  It is easy, not time consuming, has few ingredients, and can be made in advance.  They come out of the oven soft, smoky, sweet, and with that wonderful sour wine-i-ness that comes from balsamic vinegar put in a hot oven.  As they sit, they mellow even more.  I tend to think of side dishes as green vegetables, but this dish was such a welcome change.  I served these alongside a filo dish with artichokes and sun-dried tomatoes and they were perfect.

One Year AgoCrostini with Goat Cheese and Leek Confit
Two Years Ago: Gruyère Gougères

Roasted Shallots
Adapted from Fields of Greens
Serves 4

1 pound shallots
Olive oil
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 fresh thyme sprigs

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Cut the ends off the shallots and peel them.  If you are struggling with getting the skin off, make a shallow cut along the length of the shallot and then peel.  Place them on a small baking sheet and drizzle them lightly with olive oil.  Pour on the balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper.  Use a rubber spatula or your hands to mix well.  Lay down the time sprigs and cover the pan with foil.  Bake for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake for another 15 minutes.  Remove and discard the thyme sprigs.  Allow to cool and serve.

Unusual but Delicious

April 14, 2011

Sometimes I find myself at a recipe crossroads.  I happen upon something that sounds really interesting, really different.  I pause and realize that it could either go very right or very wrong.  I saw Carrot Pancakes with Hummus and a Feta Salad and I was intrigued.  I thought it could be great.  And I was right.  So right that I made it twice in a week.

Here is a little window into my life.  I have this food blog.  I cook a lot.  We entertain a lot.  I make things for dinner parties that are totally blog worthy but I only photograph those dishes a very small percentage of the time.  When people are hungry and I’m trying to pull everything together, my camera is not the first thing on my mind.  I will have a fleeting thought, “Oh, I would love to write about this!” and then I notice an empty wine glass or a smudge the dishwasher left on a dinner plate or a pot of soup about to bubble over and before I know it, dinner is over and the camera stayed in its case.

This one, though.  This one I had to make again.  And not only so I could share it with you, although that is important to me.  I had to make it again because I wanted to eat it again.  To be fair, this was done easily because the recipe gives you a generous amount of hummus so I had some left over.  Usually I am a hummus purist.  I love hummus and I don’t like it gussied up with anything other than the basics.  Roasted carrots though?  Yes please.

There are many things I can tell you about this dish but I will try and keep it simple.  I served this as an appetizer for our dinner party last week and as more of a main course for dinner last night.  You can do either and just vary the size of the pancakes.  I got about 8 “pancake” size ones last night.  I would imagine you can make the pancakes early in the day and just reheat them in a low oven.  I threw together the feta salad last night based on what I had in my refrigerator.  Add any kind of sprouts, little bits of lettuce, herbs – it will all taste good.  I would say the must-haves are a really good feta and the almonds.

One Year Ago: Tabasco and Asparagus Quinoa
Two Years Ago: Southwestern Sweet Potato Gratin

Carrot Pancake with Hummus and a Feta Salad
Adapted from The Modern Vegetarian
Serves 4-6

Please do not be scared off by the long list of ingredients.  This is an easy recipe.  You can make the hummus days before and the dressing up to a week before. You can even mix together the pancake ingredients (except for the water) early in the day so they are almost all ready to go. You can use the leftover dressing for your salads during the week.

For the pancakes
1 1/3 cups grated carrots (about 2 medium)
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 jalapeño chile, seeded and finely chopped
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1 tsp. baking powder
1 cup chickpea flour
¼ cup semolina
2 tsp. salt
2/3-¾ cup water
Olive oil

For the hummus
3 large carrots, peeled
Olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp. tahini
1 tsp. ground cumin

For the salad
Few leaves of arugula
Few large pinches of different kinds of sprouts
2 tbsp. cilantro leaves, torn
12 mint leaves, torn
¼ cup chopped almonds
Pinch of ground cinnamon
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese

For the dressing
2 tbsp. sherry vinegar
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
Pinch of sugar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tbsp. good olive oil

Make the hummus
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Cut the carrots into thin slices, drizzle with a bit of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Place on a baking sheet and roast for about 20 minutes or until softened.  While still hot, put them into a food processor with the remaining hummus ingredients and pulse to a smooth purée, adding a little olive oil or water if too thick.  Taste and adjust the seasoning as necessary.  Set aside.

Make the pancakes
Mix all the ingredients together, except the olive oil, to form a thick batter.  Heat just a bit of oil in a large non-stick skillet and spoon in bits of batter, a couple of tablespoons or so.  I found it best to use a large soup spoon and used the back of it to smooth the pancakes into more or less a round shape.  Cook on one side until golden and then flip.  Remove to a rack and repeat with the rest of the batter.

Make the salad
Place all the dressing ingredients in a wide mouth jar, put on the lid, and shake vigorously.  (Alternatively, whisk the ingredients together in a bowl.)  Put all the salad ingredients together in a medium size bowl and drizzle in a bit of dressing.  Use a light hand and toss gently.

Place one or two pancakes on a plate.  Top with a dollop of hummus and a large pinch of the salad.

Banana-Date Tea Cake

April 13, 2011

Periodically, I want to make banana bread.  I can’t really explain why since I’m not even that fond of banana bread.  Maybe it is the ease of preparation, the ingredients seemingly always on hand, the satisfying and great smelling loaf that comes out of your oven after so little effort.  There is one problem with my desire to make banana bread.  We never have any bananas.

I buy bananas each week and my kids devour them.  Spencer (4) has been known to eat three in a day.  No matter how many I buy, they are eaten.  We never get close to over-ripe bananas.  I read about people who freeze bananas that are too brown to eat for future banana bread making days.  All I have to say is, can I have some of your stash?

Paging through Tartine, I came across this recipe.  Instead of a banana bread, this is a banana tea cake, made different by the use of butter (rather than oil), and the addition of chopped dates.  Immediately I glanced at my fruit basket.  For some crazy reason, I had not one, not two, but eight ripe bananas.  Meaning I could double the recipe and have two cakes.   How did this happen?  Clearly this recipe was meant to be made in my kitchen.  I even had dates in the refrigerator from some catering last week.

So, also periodically, I like to keep it real here.  I have disasters in my kitchen.  They usually involve cake.  Cake that either decides to stay in a pan because of an insufficient grease job, or cake that seems like it is baked through, only to have the middle of it puddle out after being removed from the pan.  I had a bit of both with one of these cakes.  And here is where I will tell you that sometimes equipment does matter, and that paying a bit more is worth it.  I have two 9×5 loaf pans.  One is really old and one is brand new.  The old one I bought in a grocery store years ago for about $7.  The new one came to me from the King Arthur Flour web site and set me back $16.95.  I baked my two loaves side by side in my oven, both were filled with the same amount of batter, and one turned out perfectly.  The other gave me this for a middle.

I will let you guess which was which.

Here is my pretty cake with the two salvageable ends of the ugly cake behind it.  Disasters do happen.

The cake, no surprise, was delicious – even the mushy part.  I served slices to four children, ages 6, 5, 4, and 3 (my boys and their two best buddies).  I don’t really think of this as kid cake or kid dessert but it was all I had and I have a reputation for my treats not only with adults, but with kids as well.  All four of them cleaned their plates.  So did the adults.  Kendall, age 5, was dismayed that she didn’t get to take the leftovers home with her, as they were destined for Randy’s office.  “But you always send us home with treats!”

One Year Ago: Cinnamon Chocolate Ribbon Cake
Two Years Ago: Orange Cinnamon Biscotti

Banana-Date Tea Cake
Makes 1 large loaf

1 cup + 2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3 medium bananas, very ripe
2 large eggs
1½ tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt
6 tbsp. (¾ stick) unsalted butter
¾ cup + 2 tbsp. sugar
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
1¾ cups (about 8 oz.) dates, pitted and coarsely chopped

1 medium banana
2 tbsp. sugar

Preheat the oven to 325ºF.  Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

This recipe is easily mixed by stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed or by hand with a wooden spoon.  In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, cornstarch, cinnamon, baking powder, and baking soda and stir too  mix.  Set aside.  Peel the bananas and place in a second bowl.  Mash with a fork until you have a chunky purée.  Add the eggs, vanilla, and salt to the bananas and stir to mix well.  Set aside.

In a third mixing bowl, beat the butter until light and creamy, about 2 minutes.  Slowly add the sugar and beat until light in color and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Scrape down the side of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Slowly add the banana mixture and beat until incorporated.  Again scrape down the sides of the bowl, and then mix for anther 30 seconds to make sure all the ingredients are incorporated.

Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the banana mixture.  Then fold in the nuts and dates.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix again, making sure all the ingredients are fully incorporated.

Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and smooth the surface with an offset spatula.  To top the cake, peel the banana and cut in half lengthwise.  Then place each half cut side down and cut in half lengthwise, to yield 4 long slices.  (DT: I didn’t do this quite right.)  Lay the slices on top of the batter.  Sprinkle with sugar.

Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour.  Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, and then invert onto rack, turn right side up, and let cool completely.  Serve the cake at room temperature.  It will keep, well wrapped, at room temperature for 2 days or in the refrigerator for about 1 week.

I’m a Believer

April 12, 2011

I have been keeping something from you.  Well, not keeping from you per se, but just not sharing.  It is time to come clean.  I’ve been baking a lot of bread.

No-knead bread to be exact.  I’ve been making loaves to to serve to my classes and for every dinner party in recent memory.  I know, no-knead bread is so 2008 (2006 is actually when it first graced the pages of the New York Times).  What can I say?  I’m a late adopter.

(This is the dough after the first rise.)

The fact that everyone was writing about it and raving about it is precisely why I decided not to make it.  I was so over hearing and reading about it, so over it I didn’t even want to attempt making the bread.  Which is a shame because this, as you have no doubt heard many times before, is the best bread I have ever made.  And by far the easiest.

Jim Lahey’s wonderful book My Bread has wonderful step by step photos and includes many delectable variations of his masterpiece.  Until recently, I did not feel any need to stray from the original.  Why mess with perfection?  But the cheese bread was calling my name.  I decided to use, on Lahey’s recommendation, a young Pecorino.  When I found myself in a cheese shop, I realized I had no idea of how much I was supposed to buy and decided to err on the side of too much.  So, if you are attending one of my upcoming classes or coming to my house for a dinner party in the near future, you will be having cheese bread.  There are worse things.

In my mind, there are only two tricky things about making this or any of the other no-knead breads in this book.  One is timing and the other is getting the dough out of the towel and into the extremely hot pot without burning yourself.  I can’t really give you any advice on the latter except be really careful.  As for the former, this is what works for me.  I start my dough at around 8pm the night before I want to serve the bread.  That way, it will be done with it’s first (very long) rise around 2pm.  I let it rise for another two hours which puts in the oven at around 4pm.  After almost an hour of baking, it’s done around 5pm.  That way, it has plenty of time to cool before I want to serve it.  If you think starting a dough after you have already made and cleaned up dinner (and possibly given your kids a bath and read them stories) sounds daunting, it takes literally 2 minutes of your time to do.

One Year Ago: Black Bean Tostadas (Several people have told me they made these recently.  Now I am craving them.)
Two Years Ago: Butterscotch Spiral Coffee Cake

Pane con Formaggio (Cheese Bread)
My Bread
Makes one 10-inch loaf

Most good bakers will tell you to measure by weight, not by volume.  I admit to usually resorting to my good old measuring cups – except with this recipe.  I encourage you to try it here – even fewer dishes to wash!

3 cups bread flour, 400 grams
2½ cups pecorino Toscano, Asiago, or aged Fontina, cut into ½-inch cubes, 200 grams
1 tsp. table salt, 6 grams
¾ tsp. instant or other active dry yeast, 3 grams
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper, 2 grams
1 1/3 cups cool water, 300 grams
wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting

1.  In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, cheese, salt, yeast, and pepper.  Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds.  Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.

2.  When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour.  Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece.  Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center.  Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

3.  Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour.  (DT: I always use cornmeal for this step.  I like the added crunch.)  Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down.  If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with flour.  Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours.  The dough is ready when it is almost doubled.  If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression.  If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

4.  Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475ºF, with a rack in the lower third and place a covered 4½ to 5½ quart heavy pot in the center of the rack.  (DT: I use a 4 quart Le Crueset pot with great success.)

5.  Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it.  Unfold the tea towel and quickly but gently invert the dough into the pot, seam side up.  Cover the pot and bake for 30 minutes.

6.  Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt, 15 to 20 minutes more.  Use a heatproof spatula or pot holders to gently lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly.

Why I Made Dinner (and Dessert)

April 10, 2011

Thank you all for your sympathy over my challenging week.  First let me tell you that my kids are fine.  I took Graham to the ER at 4am on Tuesday because he had been complaining for days of a tummy ache and woke up in the middle of the night crying.  Since that is completely unlike him, I started to really worry.  After many hours and tests, he is fine and fond of telling anyone who will listen how brave he was with the doctor.

Second, I have to be honest and tell you the only reason that I persevered and made that Pasticcio and this most favorite lemon tart is because I had friends coming over for dinner.  If it had just been Randy and me, I would not have hesitated to punt on cooking and ordered in.  I even considered take-out for my dinner guests but I already had all the ingredients on hand and we needed to celebrate one in our midst.

This small group is friends from a co-op preschool.  We attended for two years when Graham was one and two years old.  I met an amazing group of women there and a few of us have remained close.  We try to get together at least monthly and our evening usually (ok, always) revolve around food and drink.  I will often offer to host when Randy is out of town because I do so love these women and it gives me something to look forward to.

One of our group is about to give birth to her fourth child.  Yes, fourth.  She, more than almost anyone I know, is equipped with the energy, the boundless love, and the sense of humor that four children requires.  It is just a couple of weeks before her due date and I thought a special dinner was in order before all hell breaks loose in her house.  Again.

So you see, I had to make dinner.  And dessert.  I can’t send a dear friend off to infant-land on a dinner of takeout pizza and boxed cookies, right?  Plus I needed an excuse to make this lemon tart.  A few weeks ago, I received an email from a reader saying she had a plethora of Meyer lemons and wondered what to do with them.  I didn’t hesitate to tell her she should make this tart from the Tartine cookbook.  And then I realized that I had not posted the recipe.  I wrote about it, way back in May of 2008, the second post ever on this blog, but there was no photo and no recipe.  Considering this a fall-back recipe, one I make over and over, it really needs to be here in all its glory.

Until I started making this particular tart, all the other lemon tarts in my life featured lemon curd as a filling.  I like lemon curd as much as the next person, but something about all those tarts just did not taste right.  A little metallic, a little funky.  This tart uses lemon cream and the addition of butter makes all the difference.  The cream is silky smooth but with over a half cup of lemon juice, it has the perfect amount of pucker.  The sour marries perfectly with the Tartine sweet crust.  For last week’s tart, I had a round of my favorite tart dough in the freezer and a hole in my ceiling, so I decided to save myself the step of making the Tartine crust.  But truthfully, for this tart, theirs is better.  It is sweeter and the balance against the sour lemon is intoxicating.

A few notes.  This dough recipe will yield 4 tart crusts.  They freeze beautifully, so don’t be tempted to scale down the recipe.  Just set one aside in the fridge and wrap the other three, separately, in plastic wrap and then foil.  Put them in a Ziploc bag, date it, and put in the freezer.  They will keep at least one month and possibly two.  You can use this crust for any sweet tart that goes in a 9-inch tart pan (which is the most common size).  Also, I use my immersion blender to mix the butter into the lemon cream and while that might sound strange, it works really well.

One Year Ago:  Baked Rice with Chiles and Pinto Beans
Two Years Ago:  Pasta with Broccoli Rabe and Chickpeas

Lemon Cream Tart
Adapted from Tartine
Makes one 9-inch tart, 8 to 12 servings

I made a few changes in the recipe just in terms of streamlining and personal taste.

For the crust
9 ounces (1 cup + 2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
¼ tsp. salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3½ cups all purpose flour

For the lemon cream
½ cup + 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
3 whole large eggs
1 large egg yolk
¾ cup sugar
Pinch salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

To finish the tart
1 cup heavy cream, very cold
2 tsp. sugar

Make the crust
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, sugar, and salt and mix on medium speed until smooth.  Mix in 1 egg.  Add the remaining egg and mix until smooth.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.  Add the flour all at once and mix on low speed just until incorporated.

On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough into 4 equal balls and shape each ball into a disk ½ inch thick.  Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.  (At this point, unless you are planning to make four lemon tarts, make sure three of your crusts are well-wrapped in plastic and then foil, then put them in the freezer.)

Place the dough on a lightly floured work surface and roll out to 1/8-inch thick round, rolling from the center toward the edge in all directions.  Lift and rotate the dough a quarter turn after every few strokes, dusting underneath as necessary to discourage sticking, and work quickly to prevent the dough from becoming too warm.  Roll the dough out to an 11-inch circle.  If the dough becomes too soft to work with, place it in the refrigerator briefly.  Loosely roll the dough onto the rolling pin and then unroll it into a 9-inch tart pan.  Carefully coax the dough into the pan without stretching it, but making sure it is touching the whole bottom of the pan and is in the “corners”.  Fold the excess dough over to double the thickness of the sides.  Dock (make small holes in) the bottom of the pan with a fork or a knife and place the pastry shell in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325ºF.  Place in the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown.  Let cool completely on a wire rack.

Make the lemon cream
Pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer.  Combine the lemon juice, whole eggs, egg yolk, sugar, and salt in a stainless-steel bowl that will rest securely in the rim of saucepan over, not touching, the water.  Whisk the lemon juice, eggs, yolk, sugar, and salt together.  (Never let the egg yolks and sugar sit together for more than a moment without stirring; the eggs will “cook” the yolks and turn them granular.)  Place the bowl over the saucepan and continue to whisk until the mixture becomes very thick and registers 180ºF on a thermometer.  This will take 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove the bowl from over the water and let cool to 140ºF, stirring occasionally from time to time to release the heat.

Meanwhile, cut the butter into 1 tablespoon pieces.  When the cream is ready, leave it in the bowl if using an immersion blender, or pour it into a counter top blender.  With the blender running, add the butter 1 tablespoon at at time, blending after each addition until incorporated before adding the next piece.  The cream will be pale yellow and opaque and quite thick.  You can use the cream immediately, or pour it into a storage container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for up to 5 days.  To use after refrigeration, gently heat in a stainless-steel bowl set over simmer water until it has softened.

Finish the tart
Make sure the tart shell is completely cool.  Pour the lemon cream filling into the crust and smooth the top.  Chill the tart until firm, about 2 hours, before serving.  It will keep for up to 3 days in the refrigerator.

To serve the tart, in a mixing bowl, whip the cream with a whisk until thickened.  (DT: I used my hand mixer.)  Add the sugar and whip until the cream holds soft peaks.  Top the tart with the whipped cream.  Serve the tart cool.

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