Saturday, June 19, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Sorbet with Salted Caramel and Grand Mariner Whipped Cream

Some confirmed chocoholics were coming to dinner, so I was charged with finding a dessert that was relatively summery but still rich and chocolatey. Perhaps some people wouldn't have found this to be problematic, but I tend to think of chocolate desserts as Wintery or Fall-y, or even Spring-y. Summery, not so much. In the summer time I want a dessert oozing with fresh fruit, perhaps wrapped in flaky crust or drowning in a pool of creme anglaise.

'Well,' I thought, 'I can at least make it cold.' I have to give credit for my inspiration to Garrett of Vanilla Garlic, as the recipe is his. He states that the peanut butter in the recipe gives the sorbet a creamy texture, which I suppose it does, but I also found that it imparted a strong peanut butter flavor to the sorbet.

I'm not complaining, though. I mean, chocolate and peanut butter were practically made for each other, right?

(As you can see, the sorbet melts quickly. That's okay, though, because you'll probably eat it quickly, too.)

However, I might next time leave the peanut butter out just to see how the plain old chocolate sorbet tastes. As it was, the chocolate was very rich and decadent, but it wasn't overpoweringly rich the way some chocolate desserts can be. Rather, it was like the distillation of chocolate.

You know how coffee frequently smells better than it tastes and therefore sometimes the idea of coffee is better than the reality of coffee? I feel like some chocolate desserts work in a similar manner. For example, I once made a chocolate tart covered with a chocolate ganache. It was delicious, but it was so rich that the chocolate flavor became almost tainted--like chocolate polluted with too much chocolaty-ness. That probably doesn't make any sense, so I'll just say that this sorbet was like the essence of chocolate without being too overwhelming.

So while I might next time leave out the peanut butter; I would not leave out the caramel. That stuff was awesome, but more on that later.

You know what else I wouldn't do next time? Bring the sorbet mixture up to a boil in a large saucepan. Let this serve as a warning to you if you decide to make this recipe--you need a really large pot. Like 6 quarts large.

Otherwise, you might find that you turn your back for a second, and in that second, the mixture has gone from almost boiling to exploding all over the stove in a sucky-to-clean-up-mess.

Why is it that stuff only seems to explode in the kitchen when you're already in a foul mood? And why were we in a foul mood? Because of the weather. I know it seems silly, but it was Nick's one day off this week, the weather had been cloudy, and the forecast promised a clear, beautiful, sunny day. When we woke up, our mutual reaction to the pervasive gloominess was 'WTF?' and it took a while of moping around and glaring hatefully at the cloudy, grey sky to get over it.

We did, however, eventually get over our foul little moods and we moved on to making caramel. Making it without another explosion, that is. I knew that caramel is prone to boiling over, i.e. exploding, and we didn't feel like another massive cleanup, particularly because this one would be even more sticky and unpleasant.
But I couldn't remember ever having successfully made caramel before, particularly salted caramel, so I consulted that all-knowing entity known as the Internet. A post on Smitten Kitchen seemed to have it exactly right, and she also referred the reader to posts by David Lebovitz (How to Make the Perfect Caramel and Ten Tips for Making Caramel).

David Lebovitz confirmed my suspicion that attempting to make caramel can indeed result in a disastrous, burned, bubbling mess, which is exactly what I didn't need.
He writes:
'Wear oven mitts and a long sleeve shirt. Caramel is hot and can splatter, especially when adding other ingredients to it.Use a sturdy large pot or pan that won't overflow. Keep a deep bowl of icy water nearby to plunge your hand in if caramelized sugar lands on it. If you have glasses, wear them.'

Oh, my. This is when I started to think, 'Is this a bad idea? Should I have made something else? Should I run to the store right now?'

Luckily, it turned out just fine. Delicious in fact. It was the deep, copper Frenchy-style caramel preferred by both Deb of Smitten Kitchen and by David Lebovitz. In the past, I haven't been much of a caramel fan. It tends to be a milky, cloying, one-dimensional stickiness, but I knew that it could be better. In the more deeply browned French-style caramel, this sweet realizes its potential--the cloying sugariness tuns to a deep, toasty nuttiness complimented by the creamy smoothness imparted by the heavy cream, and the tiny tinge of salt serves to tame the sugariness even more.

So the caramel turned out to be a delicious experiment, but I do have one more cautionary bon mot to add:
Do not attempt to do a taste test when the caramel is hot. It will bond to the skin of your finger and/or tongue in a seemingly supernatural manner, and you'll feel stupid trying to act like you didn't just burn the s... out of yourself.

You're probably thinking; No s...., dumba...
Well....I have nothing to say to defend myself. Hopefully you're smarter than I am.

Eventually, with the dinner dishes cleared, we whipped up some whipped cream and sat down to dessert. At this point, our pregnant friend told us that the previous night, she had dreamt all night long about eating Rollos. Wow. What can I say--I'm a mind reader.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Sorbet
(From Vanilla Garlic)

  • 75g cocoa powder
  • 300g sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 45g of peanut butter (organic works best)
  • 300g chocolate (60%-70% cacao), broken into pieces
Pour 750ml water into a very large saucepan with cocoa, sugar, vanilla extract and peanut butter. Bring to a boil while whisking then remove from heat. Add chocolate and a pinch of salt and leave for a minute, then stir until chocolate has melted and you have a glossy mixture. Cool in the fridge for four hours or overnight and then transfer to an ice-cream mixture and freeze per the manufacturer's instructions.

Garrett states that if you don't have an ice cream maker, you can pour the mixture into a shallow pan and stir periodically until it reaches the desired consistency.

Salted Caramel
(Makes about 1 1/3 cups, from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 ounces (6 tablespoons) salted butter, the better you can get, the better it will taste
  • 1/2 cup plus two tablespoons heavy cream, at room temperature
  • If you only have unsalted butter, a pinch of salt.

Melt the sugar over medium to moderately high heat in a larger pot than you think you’ll need–at least three quarts (I used six), whisking or stirring the sugar as it melts to ensure it heats evenly. Cook the liquefied sugar to a nice, dark copper color. Add the butter all at once and stir it in. Before turning off the stove pour in the heavy cream (and salt if you're adding it) and turn off the heat (the sauce will foam up quite a bit when you add it; this is why you want the larger pot.), whisking it until you get a smooth sauce.

Use it right away or pour it into a jar and store it in the fridge for up to two weeks. When you take it out, the caramel will likely have thickened a bit but a few seconds in the microwave brings it right back to pouring consistency. We microwaved it covered, in 10 second increments.

Grand Mariner Whipped Cream

  • 1 cup heavy cream, preferably pasteurized as opposed to ultra-pasteurized
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Mariner
  • Pinch of powdered sugar (optional)
Combine the ingredients in a large bowl and whip with a hand-held mixer or a stand mixer until soft peaks form. Do not overwhip, or you'll have some sweetened butter on your hands. Taste and add more vanilla or a pinch of powdered sugar if you would like more sweetness. Likewise, add more Grand Mariner if you would like a stronger GM flavor.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Cilantro Pepita Pesto

This is another versatile sauce that has me drooling all over myself when attempting to describe its awesomeness. Fear not, cilantro haters. The nuttiness of the pepitas washes away cilantro's soapiness and turns it into the essence of fresh-cut grass and sunshine.

That's only the way I describe it right now, though, because it's summertime. In the fall, this pesto morphs into the essence of crisp air and comforting nights by the fire. Likewise in the winter and spring, this pesto recalls the best of what the season has to offer. It's a chameleon in its taste profile and it gets along with all manner of foodstuffs.

I particularly love this pesto with crackers, but that's because I love everything with crackers. This pesto is perfect with roasted vegetables such as butternut squash and cauliflower, and you could of course pair it with pasta, either as a sauce or filling. Like Romesco, you can use it to accompany fish, chicken, and pork, as well. Also like Romesco and the sandard basil pesto, you can freeze this stuff in tiny little portions, take it out when you crave it, and have it defrosted almost instantly.

This recipe doesn't make an especially big batch, though, so there's a good chance you'll eat it all before it sees the frosty depths of the freezer.

And there's one more thing I love about this sauce--it's insanely cheap to make. I mean, even pesto is cheap when you break down its use-to-cost ratio, especially if you grow your own basil, but this stuff is even nicer on the wallet. Why? Because cilantro is inexpensive and a good portion of the stems can be used, pepitas are cheaper than pine nuts, only a little bit of olive oil is needed, and no expensive Parmesan is required. I'll still always love basil pesto, but this pesto also holds a special place in my heart.

Cilantro Pepita Pesto
(Adapted from Epicurious)

  • 1/2 cup green (hulled) pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
  • 1/2 cup packed cilantro sprigs
  • 1 samll garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice

If your pepitas are not already toasted, toast the seeds in 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until seeds are puffed and beginning to brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a large plate and cool. 

Pulse cooled seeds in a food processor until relatively smooth. Add cilantro, lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and olive oil and puree mixture to a coarse paste.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Texas-Style Barbecued Baby Back Ribs

Last week was a major fatty-fat week. We ate, and we ate, and we ate some more. So this week, we were going to be healthy. Chicken breasts and vegetables, fish and plain rice, no cheese before dinner, fruit for dessert. That's why we bought ribs at the grocery store.

Well, we meant to be healthy. There's always next week.

We used to use a recipe for bourbon ribs from Epicurious, but as it calls for apple butter and apple cider, it's really more of a Fall-ish desert. Daniel Boulud had the answer, though, in the form of his Texas-Style Baby Back Ribs. Now, there's really nothing barbecued about these ribs. They're not slowly cooked and smoked over low, indirect heat after being rubbed with a variety of spices. These ribs are in a barbecue-style sauce, but they're not even supposed to see the grill. What can I say?-- he's French.

And honestly, we're not worried about authenticity. We actually like recipes that call for braising ribs because it results in succulent, falling-off-the-bone-tenderness. In order to accomplish this with dry heat, we would have to cook the meat at a very low temperature for a very long time. This wasn't appealing on this particular day for a number of reasons, so we figured we would braise the ribs and finish them on the grill.

Daniel's recipe had all of the elements we were looking for--a yummy sauce, no seasonally inappropriate ingredients, a wet cooking method, a cooking method that didn't require having the grill on for 5 hours, etc. We figured we'd throw the ribs on the grill for a few minutes at the end and we'd have just what we were looking for.

Now, one of the best things about eating ribs is the fact that it's perfectly acceptable to eat them with your hands. Everything is better when eaten with the hands--crabs, cake, etc. So we wanted a side that was also finger-friendly. For a veggie we came up with green beans, which are another post, and oven fries. Meat and potatoes, we love you.

Our all-time oven fries are the Bistro French Fries from Epicurious. They're tasty without being too unhealthy, and the best part is the way they're tossed with garlic and parsley when they're fresh out of the oven. The sharp tang of the garlic with the soothing green of the parsley are the perfect counterpoint to the crispy brown exterior and fluffy warm interior of the fries. They've become a part of the regular rotation in our house, and if you try them you'll see why. I especially love them with some apple cider vinegar.

Texas-Style Barbecued Baby Back Rib
(Adapted from Daniel Boulud's Braise)

For the Ribs:

-2 racks (about 4 pounds) baby back ribs, each cut in two pieces.
-1 onion, peeled and halved
-1 leek, white part only, split in half and cleaned well
-1 stalk celery
-1 carrot
-3 juniper berries
-1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or Kosher salt
-1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Rub:
-3 tablespoons smoked Spanish paprika
-1 tablespoon cumin seeds
-2 teaspoons regular oregano or dried Mexican oregano
-1 tablespoon black peppercorns
-2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
-2 tablespoons chili powder
-2 teaspoons garlic powder
-2 teaspoons onion powder
-2 teaspoons dry mustard
-Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

For the Sauce:

-1 large onion, peeled and diced
-4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
-1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
-Splash of chili sauce, to taste
-1/2 cup Worcestershire sauce
-1/4 cup molasses
-1/4 cup cider vinegar
-Small pinch freshly grated peeled fresh ginger root
-1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or Kosher salt
-3/4 cup espresso or strong coffee
-1 tablespoon canola oil, for searing the ribs

Place the ribs in a large pot with the onion, leek, celery, carrot, juniper berries, bay leaves, salt, and black pepper and pour in enough water to cover. Bring the water to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for 30 minutes. Using tongs, transfer the ribs to a plate and pat dry.

Strain the liquid in the pot through a fine-mesh sieve. Return the strained liquid to the pot, bring it to a boil, and cook, skimming the fat from the surface occasionally, until the liquid has reduced to 2 1/2 cups. This might take a lot linger than you would anticipate--as much as 45 minutes. Remove from the heat.

To make the rub, grind all the rub ingredients together in a spice grinder. Rub 2 tablespoons of the mixture over the ribs.

To make the sauce, combine all the sauce ingredients with the reduced poaching liquid.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a large cast iron skillet or Dutch oven over high heat, heat the oil. Add the ribs (in batches if necessary) and sear until browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the sauce and bring to a simmer. Cover the pot, transfer it to the oven, and braise until the ribs are meltingly tender, about 1 hour 45 minutes.

Carefully remove the pot from the oven and transfer the ribs to a plate. Preheat the grill.

Reduce the sauce until it is the proper consistency for barbecue sauce and slather it on the ribs.

Cook the ribs quickly over the flames--just enough to caramelize the sauce without burning. Remove from the grill and serve, with extra sauce on the side if desired.

Bistro French Fries with Parsley and Garlic 
(Adapted from Epicurious)

-4 medium russet potatoes (about 2 pounds), roughly peeled
-1 teaspoon peanut oil
-1 teaspoon canola oil, more if fries are not coated
-1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
-3 garlic cloves, minced
-Coarse salt

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 425°F. Cut potatoes lengthwise into 1/3-inch-thick slices, then cut lengthwise into 1/3-inch-wide strips. Submerge potatoes in large bowl filled with hot water and allow to soak for 10 minutes.

Remove the potatoes from the water and pat dry with paper towels. Combine potatoes and oil in large bowl; toss to coat well. Divide potatoes between 2 large parchment paper-lined baking sheets; spread in single layer. Bake until potatoes are golden brown and soft in the center, turning and rearranging potatoes frequently, about 50 minutes.

Transfer potatoes back to the bowl. Toss with parsley, garlic and coarse salt.

The Best Green Beans in the WHOLE WORLD (Sort Of)

When we lived in Upstate New York in 2000, there wasn't too much to do. The closest town had one stop sign, and the next closest town had one street light. One thing that was fun to do, though, was go to a restaurant near Woodstock called New World Home Cooking.

This restaurant has the best green beans in the whole wide world, which was part of its overall appeal. They're blackened in a super-flavorful spice mix that's just hot enough to keep you eating more and more and more. The green beans are ordered more often than any other dish the restaurant serves, and we got them every time we went there. We were, in fact, so enamored of these green beans that we used to fantasize about them.

We'd be folding laundry or driving to Deep Creek for a family visit and one of us would say, 'You know what I could go for right now? The Green Beans.'

We actually once drove from Baltimore, MD to Woodstock, NY just for these green beans. Well, really it was also to get out of town for a little mental health break, but the green beans were part of the decision-making process.

We dreamed about these tender pods of spiciness for years, and frequently discussed how they must be made. We speculated that they were most likely blackened and that the cooking process most likely resulted in a lot of smoke. We even speculated that maybe they were created accidentally.

All these questions were recently answered when a blogger posted the recipe. It turns out it's been on the restaurant's website for who knows how long, but I swear it wasn't there when I last checked about 3 or 4 years ago.

Really, though, all that mattered was that I now possessed the answers I had been seeking--they aredo create a lot of smoke, and they were created by accident. Best of all, I now knew what was in the spice mix. blackened, they

I was so excited by this discovery that I wanted to call Nick immediately to let him know that we would soon be in possession of these tasty veggies, without having to drive 5 hours for them. It was 4 in the morning, though, so I resisted the urge and instead waited to spring this revelation on my significant other until I got home in the morning.

We finally got around to trying this recipe the other night because it seemed just right with the ribs that were part of our Healthy Week menu. That is a joke, by the way.

So why are they now just 'sort of' the best green beans in the whole world? Well, there are a few reasons. First of all, we never really thought that a home-made version would be as good as the restaurant version. Sadly, restaurant dishes that are recreated at home are rarely as good as the original. These were pretty close though.

The other two problems were the spiciness and the spiciness. Now, we love hot foods, but these little guys were just a little too hot to easily enjoy. The restaurant beans will certainly light a fire in your mouth, but these beans were so spicy that, as Nick said, they'll make you pound your beer in about two minutes flat. We don't really like to play vegetable drinking games, so the recipe below has less Cayenne than the recipe on the website.

And speaking of Cayenne (the second spiciness problem), ours seems to be polluted. We long ago jettisoned the spice jars in favor of a more compact system, so our spices are kept in alphabetical order in plastic bags. For a while now, though, I've been thinking that I wanted to switch to a system of little metal canisters like these ones, primarily because I was afraid that the plastic bags would become permeable and lead to stale spices and/or spice contamination.

I guess I should have gotten on that little project sooner because our green beans tasted overwhelmingly of cloves. This was not a pleasant thing. First of all, you just don't want these green beans to taste like a Christmas dessert. Secondly, the cloves intensified the already too-hot heat of the cayenne.

So, when these beans are properly spiced, they'll compete with our standard roasted green beans (recipe also below) for the title of The Best Green Beans in the Whole World.

Blackened Green Beans
(Adapted from New World Home Cooking's Website)

-2 pounds fresh string beans, stems picked off
-2 tablespoons safflower, sunflower, or corn oil
-1/2 teaspoon cayenne
-4 teaspoons ancho chili powder
-3 teaspoons cornmeal
-1 teaspoon dry oregano
-1 teaspoon dry thyme
-3 teaspoons Kosher salt
-3 teaspoons finely ground black pepper
-1 teaspoon paprika
-1 teaspoon onion powder (not flakes)
-1 1/2 teaspoons garlic powder (not granules)

Be sure that your kitchen is properly ventilated before you attempt to blacken any food indoors. Open the windows and doors and disable the smoke detectors. (Don't forget to hook them back up again afterward!)

In a small bowl, fold all the seasonings together thoroughly.
Fill a large pot three-quarters full of water and salt as you would for pasta. Bring to a rolling boil while you preheat a cast-iron skillet or heavy wok until very hot, about ten minutes, over high heat.

Plunge the string beans into the boiling water and cook them for 2 minutes, until they are bright green, tender but still a bit crisp. Drain the beans but do not rinse them, and put them in a work bowl big enough to toss them around. Add the oil and toss to coat them evenly. Sprinkle the seasonings over the beans and toss to coat evenly.

When you are ready to blacken them, dump the beans into the hot skillet. If your skillet is small, this may need to be done in batches. Don't overload the skillet. Using tongs, move the beans around to blacken the seasoning evenly. The idea here is to char the spices, not the beans themselves. 

Serve the beans garnished with lemon wedges, with 1/2 cup of Mustard Remoulade Sauce (see recipe below) for dipping.

Ric's Mustard Remoulade Sauce

-2 tablespoons paprika
-3/4 tablespoons Tabasco sauce
-1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
-1/4 teaspoon celery salt
-1/4 cup Pommerey or grainy mustard
-1/3 cup Dijon mustard
-1/2 teaspoon gumbo file powder
-1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
-1 teaspoon grated or finely minced onion
-1 teaspoon grated or finely minced scallion
-1 teaspoon grated or finely minced celery
-1 cup safflower, sunflower or other neutral-flavored oil

In a food processor, combine all the ingredients except the oil and process well. Then, with the machine running, add the oil in a steady stream to emulsify.

Roasted Green Beans

We've tried many recipes for green beans, some of which included a lot of fancy ingredients and cooking techniques. We think, though, (and a lot of our friends agree) that these simply roasted green beans win hands-down every time both for ease of preparation and, more importantly--taste.

-2 pounds green beans, tough ends snapped off
-Olive oil
-Salt to taste
-Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425°F.
Rinse the beans and dry in a salad spinner and/or on spread out on a roasting pan set on top of the preheating oven.
Toss beans with oil and salt to taste. Roast in a large heavy-bottomed baking pan, stirring occasionally, until spotted here and there with dark brown and thinner beans are crisp, 45 to 55 minutes total (depending on size of beans). Season with salt. Serve immediately.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Ideal Summer Pie: Mixed Berries with a Streusel Topping

If you make this pie, your friends and family will love you. Well, hopefully they do anyway, but they'll love you even more after you give them some of this heavenly dessert.

This is easy to make, partially because the recipe for the crust is fabulously easy to work with, and it's the perfect summer pie because you can use whatever bounty the season of summer happens to be sharing with you at any given moment. For example, I used blueberries, blackberries and strawberries this time because that's what happens to be yummy right now. But you could use raspberries, mulberries, and even diced peaches. 

The buttery, crumbly, slightly crisp streusel topping is always a crowd-pleaser, and if you serve this with some home-made maple ice cream, your loved ones will love you even more. You'll just be burgeoning with love, but the maple ice cream is another post.

Mixed Berry Streusel Pie
(Adapted from Epicurious)
-2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
-1 tablespoon sugar-1 teaspoon salt
-7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
-1/3 cup chilled solid vegetable shortening, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
-6 tablespoons (about) ice water
-6 tablespoons (packed) golden brown sugar
-6 tablespoons whole almonds
-6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
-4 1/2 tablespoons old-fashioned oats
-4 1/2 tablespoons all purpose flour

-1 cup sugar (less if your fruit is very sweet)
 -scant 1/4 cup quick-cooking tapioca
-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
 -5 cups assorted fresh berries (such as strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries; about 8 ounces of each)

For crust:

Blend flour, sugar, and salt in processor. Add butter and pulse about 4 times until the butter is broken into pea-sized lumps.

Add the shortening and pulse about 6 times until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Turn the mixture out into a large bowl. Sprinkle with 5 tablespoons ice water and mix with a spatula, using pressing motions, until moist clumps form, adding more water by teaspoonfuls if mixture is dry. Gather dough into ball; flatten into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill at least half an hour.
For topping:

Combine all ingredients in processor. Process until moist clumps form. (Dough and topping can be made 1 day ahead. Cover topping and chill; keep dough chilled. Soften dough slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)
For filling:

Mix sugar, tapioca, and lemon juice in large bowl. Add berries and toss gently to combine. Let stand until tapioca softens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes.
In the meantime, preheat oven to 350°F. Roll out dough on lightly floured surface to 15-inch round. Transfer to 9-inch-diameter glass pie dish. Trim dough overhang to 1 inch. Fold overhang under and crimp decoratively, forming high-standing rim. Freeze crust 20 minutes.

Spoon filling into crust. Crumble topping evenly over filling. Bake pie on a foil-covered cookie sheet until crust and topping are golden brown and filling is bubbling, covering loosely with sheet of foil if topping browns too quickly. This will take about an hour and 10 minutes, maybe longer. The pie is finished when the crust and topping are golden brown and the filling is bubbling.
Transfer pie to rack and cool at least 2 hours. (Can be made 8 hours ahead. If it's humid where you live, cover and refrigerate the pie.) Cut pie into wedges and serve.

(The Bay Bridge on the way home from enjoying the pie.)

The Zucchini Obsession, Continued: Zucchini Rice Gratin

So I've previously mentioned that I'm having zucchini issues. I made this recipe because not only did I want to eat some zucchini, but I also needed a way to dispose of the 4 pounds of it that I had inadvertently bought the other day. I know--how do you 'inadvertantly' buy something? In this case, I blame it on my zucchini addiction, but I don't have a good explanation for how I accidentally bought some bacon.

If you, like me, are having a zucchini issue and need a way to disguise it when serving it to your family so that you maybe don't hear, "Zucchini again?" then this might be the dish for you. The zucchini is sufficiently present to satisfy an addiction, but because it's layered with other ingredients, you might be able to pass it by your family without too many complaints.

This recipe was adapted from Epicurious and lightened in the process. It has a small amount of rice, which can be just right when you want a side that will be satisfying but not too heavy. If fact, you could probably even make this dish as a light meal. With the tomatoes, zucchini and fresh herbs, it has some of the best flavors of summer all rolled into one.

Zucchini Rice Gratin
(Adapted from Epicurious)

-1/2 cup rice (white or brown, your choice)
-3 pounds zucchini (about 6 medium), sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
-Olive oil
-1/2 pounds plum tomatoes, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
-1 medium onion, diced
-4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
-1 large egg, lightly beaten
-1 teaspoon chopped thyme
-1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
-1 tablespoon chiffonade of fresh basil
-1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
-Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F with racks in upper and lower thirds.
Cook rice according to package instructions

While rice cooks, toss zucchini with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a foil-lined, shallow baking pan. Toss tomatoes with 1/2 tablespoon oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt in another foil-lined baking pan.

Roast zucchini and tomatoes in the oven, turning vegetables once halfway through roasting, until tender and light golden, about 10 minutes for tomatoes; 20 minutes for zucchini. Leave oven on. 

Meanwhile, cook onion and garlic with 1/2 teaspoon salt in 1 tablespoon oil in a large heavy skillet, over low heat, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir together onion mixture, cooked rice, eggs, thyme, oregano, cheese, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Spread the rice mixture in a shallow 2-quart baking dish, then top with the tomatoes. Top with the zucchini. Sprinkle the top with the basil.
Bake in upper third of oven until set and golden brown, about 20 minutes.

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread

                        I've mentioned this method and recipe before, but I'm feeling the need to post the recipe. Why? Because every time that I bring this bread to a party, people rave about it. I tell them that I made it, and they say things like: "Oh, I hate you. I could never do that." Or: "I don't have time to do that."
But I promise them, and I promise you that you can totally do this. It's so easy and takes almost no active time. All you have to do is plan ahead a little bit.

And I've promised this before, but I swear that if you bring this to a party, people will love you.

Here's a little recap of Jim Lahey's explanation of the science behind this miraculous bread:

The long, slow rise brings the gluten molecules into side-by-side alignment, to maximize their opportunity to bind to each other and produce a strong, elastic network. The wetness of the dough is an important piece of this because the gluten molecules are more mobile when there is a sufficient quantity of water, and so can move into alignment easier and faster than if the dough was stiff."
Basically, this results in a bread with far more flavor than any bread you'll find in a supermarket or in the Baltimore area. The bread has structure, chewiness, a large airy crumb, and a substantial crust. It's really worth a try.


-3 cups or 400 grams bread flour
-2 teaspoons table salt
-1/4 teaspoon or 1 gram instant or other active dry yeast
-1 1/3 cups or 300 grams cool (55 to 65 degrees F) water
-wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast. Add the water and mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size. This will take at least 12 hours and up to 18, the longer the better.

When the first fermentation is complete, generously dust a work surface (I like to use a large wooden cutting board) with flour. Use your hands or a spatula to scrape the dough onto the board in one piece. The dough will seem very sticky and wet at this point, and you may think that it doesn't seem right. It is, though, so don't add more flour.

Using lightly floured hands, lift the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round. Place a cotton or linen (not terrycloth) tea towel on the work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently lift the dough onto the tea towel so that the seam side is down. If the dough is tacky, lightly dust it with the bran, cornmeal or flour. Fold the ends of the towel over the dough and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it's almost doubled. If you gently poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it doesn't, let it rise for 15 more minutes.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F with a rack in the lower third of the oven, and place a covered 4-6 quart heavy pot in the center of the rack. If your pot has a rubber handle, cover it with a double layer of tinfoil with the dull side facing out.

Using pot holders, carefully remove the preheated pot from the oven and uncover it. Unfold the tea towel, lightly dust the dough with flour, cornmeal or bran, lift up the dough, and quickly but gently invert it into the pot, seam side up.

The pot will be very hot , so be very careful when you replace the lid and put the pot back in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes with the lid on. Remove the lid and continue baking until the bread is a deep chestnut color but not burnt. Use a heatproof spatula to carefully lift the bread out of the pot and place it on a rack to cool thoroughly. If you're not sure if it's done, hold the bread with a tea towel and knock on the bottom--if it makes a hollow-sounding thump, it's done.

You'll be tempted, but don't slice or tear into the bread until it's completely cool, which usually takes about an hour.


-3 cups or 400 grams bread flour
-2 teaspoons table salt
-1/4 teaspoon or 1 gram instant or other active dry yeast
-1 1/2 cups or 350 grams cool (55 to 65 degrees F) water
-additional flour for dusting
-optional: 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, salt and yeast. If you're using the rosemary, add it at this point. Add the water and 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.

When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour and scrape the dough out of the bowl onto the work surface. Dust the dough with flour and, with lightly floured hands, nudge the dough into roughly a 14 inch square. Fold the dough in half, then crosswise in half again, so you have a square, roughly 7 inches on each side.

Place the dough in a warm, draft-free spot, cover it with a tea towel, and let rise for 1 hour. The dough is ready when it's almost doubled and it holds the impression when poked with your finger. If not, let it rise another 15 minutes.

Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F, with a rack in the center. On the rack should be a pizza stone and your 4-6 quart heavy-bottomed pot, without its lid.

Using pot holders, very carefully remove the hot pot from the oven. Using a dough cutter or sharp serrated knife, cut the dough in half. Shape each piece into a long flat loaf. Generously dust each loaf with flour.

Pick up 1 loaf with both hands, and quickly but gently stretch it to almost the length of the heavy pot, and place it on the stone. Using pot holders, carefully cover the loaf with the inverted pot and bake for 20 minutes.

Inverting the heavy pot is the trickiest part and must be done very carefully. I haven't yet burned myself while performing this maneuver, but I figure it's just a matter of time. So please be careful.

Uncover the loaf and place the pot on another rack in the oven in order to keep it hot for the next loaf. Continue to bake the first loaf for 10 to 20 minutes, checking the color of the loaf occasionally. It is done when the crust is a light chestnut color and it makes the hollow knocking sound.
Transfer the ciabatta to a rack to cool completely, and cook the second loaf the same way.