Monday, August 23, 2010

Salt, Pepper and Sesame Crackers

I have a cracker problem. Unlike the zucchini problem and the corn problem, the cracker problem is pan-seasonal, and it knows no limits. Specifically, I really really love Kashi's crackers (and they're not paying me to say that).

According to the normal laws of food addiction, after pounding them for years, I should be vomitously sick of Kashi crackers. But I'm not. I think that they put crack in them or something, like along the lines of blueberry bar and grill bread crack.

You know how chefs play the last meal game? As in, if you knew that this was to be your last meal on Earth, what would you eat? Well, contrary to expectations, a lot of chefs do not choose foie gras, truffles, or caviar--they choose fried chicken, peanut butter and jelly, cheese burgers, macaroni and cheese, or a nice steak...

Well, my last meal would have to include crackers; heck, it could maybe even be crackers, as a vehicle for some sort of fattiness, whether it be cheese, pesto, or romesco. Therefore, I figured that it's probably time to move beyond the Kashi. Shouldn't I have my own, homemade cracker to obsess over?

That's where these crackers come in. There's nothing especially exceptional about them, but they seemed like a good place to start because they're very approachable--all you do is mix some simple stuff together, roll out the resulting dough, and bake it. 

The original recipe came from Chocolate and Zucchini, and I altered it a bit based on the ingredients I had on hand. You may also notice that my crackers are way thicker than the ones on the Chocolate and Zucchini site. I, being the genius that I am, thought that I would prefer a thicker cracker (like the Kashi ones), as opposed to the light, thin, shattery ones from the original recipe. 

Well, my crackers were pretty yummy, but they're a bit dry and tough. So it's probably best to keep these on the thin side, thus the pasta roller method suggested below. But despite their toughness, Nick still described them as being 'pretty good.' That's saying a lot from someone who does not hear the Cracker Siren Call as I do. The Mister, of course, loves them, but he gets so excited that he looks like he's having a seizure any time there's any cracker in his general vicinity, so that's not saying too much.

If you do feel the need to modify though, I would suggest adding some fresh herbs like some rosemary or sage, or some spices, like anything from cayenne to cumin seeds to cardamom.

Salt, Pepper, and Sesame Crackers
(Adapted from Zucchini and Chocolate)

  • 150 grams (5 1/3 ounces) all-purpose flour 
  • 150 grams (5 1/3 ounces) white whole wheat or whole wheat flour (or you can use all regular flour)
  • 20 grams (3 tablespoons) toasted sesame seeds
  • 9 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) fine sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 120 ml (1/2 cup) water

Place the flours, seeds and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the olive oil and stir it in with a fork. Add the water and mix it in.

When the water is absorbed, turn the mixture out on a clean work surface and knead the dough gently to gather into a smooth ball. Add a touch more water if the dough feels too dry to come together, but the consistency you're shooting for is smooth, not at all sticky or tacky.

Divide the dough into 3 pieces of (roughly) equal size, and cover with a kitchen towel.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F) and prepare two baking sheets lined with parchment paper or silicon baking mats -- this is so you can bake two batches of crackers at a time, but if you only have one baking sheet, that's fine, too. If you have a rectangular or square bread stone, place it in the oven as it preheats; you'll need only one baking sheet in addition to the stone then.

Take one piece of dough (keep the others covered to prevent them from drying out) and flatten it into an oval disk between the palms of your hands. Set a pasta roller on the widest setting, and slip the disk of dough in the roller to thin it out. Fold both ends of the dough back over each other like a business letter and slip the dough in again. Repeat 3 or 4 times until the dough feels supple; you are essentially kneading the dough in the process. If it gets sticky at any point, dust it with a little flour.

Switch the pasta roller to the next (= narrower) setting and slip the dough in (just once this time) to thin it out. Repeat with the subsequent settings until you reach setting #5, and get a thin (I also think that 4 might work), long rectangularish sheet of dough. Place it on one of the prepared baking sheets, or a flour-dusted peel if you're using a bread stone.

(I think that if you don't have a pasta roller, you can probably roll these out by hand. Just make sure that the dough is relatively even, so that you don't end up with burnt spots interspersed with doughy spots.)

Repeat with more pieces of dough until there is no room left on your baking sheets. Using a dough cutter, a pastry wheel or just a knife, score the sheets of dough into square or triangular pieces so they'll be easier to break off.

Insert the baking sheets into the oven (or, if you're using a pizza stone, slide the dough in using the pizza peel) and bake for 7 to 10 minutes, or until golden to golden brown.

Transfer to a cooling rack, and repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.
The crackers will keep for a few weeks in an airtight container.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Julia Child's Caesar Salad

There was a time when I didn't really like Caesar salads. I thought that they were one-dimensional, greasy, gloppy, and bland. Of course, there are plenty of Caesar salads out there that do fit this description, but there are also some exceptional and thoroughly delicious specimens. 

On the subject of Caesar salads, my mind was completely and forever changed when I tried the grilled Caesar salad at La Scala. This salad is a work of art--smoky but crisp lettuce draped with a creamy, luscious dressing with just enough of a hint of garlic and anchovy, topped with homemade breadcrumbs and exceptional Parmesan Reggiano.

Then there's the iconic steakhouse Caesar. I worked in fine dining steakhouses for a few years, and I suppose that in that time I became enamored of the concept of the old-school tableside presentation where the server cracked an egg in a wooden bowl and proceeded to make Caesar salad magic. 

As much as this bit of nostalgia struck my fancy, I was glad that our litigious society and large contingent of salmonella fearers had swept this step of service into the realm of antiquity. It was bad enough that I had to do a tableside bananas foster; I really didn't want to have to perform that Caesar salad bit. However, if I had, I would now know how to make the perfect Caesar salad. What I do know is how to make is a mediocre, campy dessert, and I know how to put out fires, thanks to frequently flambeing with a portable workstation.

I decided that I wanted to make an old school Caesar, and upon some recipe searching, I found that Julia Child and Jacques Pepin had the answer. In this recipe, you gently coddle an egg before embarking on  dressing-making alchemy, which may or may not pasteurize the egg a bit. Probably not, but it might make some people feel better. (I realize that the timing of this post is not ideal, as there is at this moment a huge recall on eggs due to salmonella contamination. If you buy some eggs from a small local producer, though, you should be fine. Or you could just wait a while to indulge in semi-raw egg preparations.)

The only thing missing in this recipe is some fishy goodness, so if I make it again, I'll probably slip some anchovy paste in there somewhere. And, I have to admit that I cut up the leaves. In the quote below, it is explained that this was not part of the original Caesar salad concept, but I just didn't feel like being that old-school.

Also posted below is a recipe for a more vinaigrette-style Caesar. I'm kind of a purist with this salad, and I think that a creamy dressing is generally the way to go, but I was pleasantly surprised by this non-creamy dressing. It grew on me with its bold, bright, assertive flavors, and I have to admit that it is in some ways easier to make than the Julia and Jacques concoction below. Plus, unlike Julia's version, you can whip up a batch of this dressing and have it on hand for whenever you want a quick, simple salad.

Julia's Caesar Salad
(From Epicurious, originally from Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home)
When Caesar Cardini first served his famous salad in the early 1920s, he used just the hearts of the romaine lettuce, the tender short leaves in the center, and he presented them whole. The salad was tossed and dressed, then arranged on each plate so that you could pick up a leaf by its short end and chew it down bit by bit, then pick up another. However, many customers didn't like to get their fingers covered with egg-and-cheese-and-garlic dressing, and he changed to the conventional torn leaf. Too bad, since the salad lost much of its individuality and drama. You can certainly serve it the original way at home — just provide your guests with plenty of big paper napkins. And plan to be extravagant.
  • 18 to 24 crisp, narrow leaves from the hearts of 2 heads of romaine lettuce, or a package of romaine hearts (about 1 pound)
  • 1 cup plain toasted croutons (recipe below)
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled
  • 1/4 cup or more excellent olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 large egg
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 whole lemon, halved and seeded
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan cheese, imported Parmigiano-Reggiano only
Preparing the salad components:
You will probably need 2 large heads of romaine for 3 people — or use a commercially prepared package of "romaine hearts," if they appear fresh and fine. From a large head remove the outside leaves until you get down to the cone where the leaves are 4 to 7 inches in length — you'll want 6 to 8 of these leaves per serving. Separate the leaves and wash them carefully to keep them whole, roll them loosely in clean towels, and keep refrigerated until serving time. (Save the remains for other salads — fortunately, romaine keeps reasonably well under refrigeration.

To flavor the croutons, crush the garlic clove with the flat of a chef's knife, sprinkle on 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and mince well. Pour about a tablespoon of olive oil on the garlic and mash again with the knife, rubbing and pressing to make a soft purée.

Scrape the purée into the frying pan, add another tablespoon of oil, and warm over low-medium heat. Add the croutons and toss for a minute or two to infuse them with the garlic oil, then remove from the heat. (For a milder garlic flavor, you can strain the purée though a small sieve into a pan before adding the extra croutons. Discard the bits of garlic.)

To coddle the egg, bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer. Pierce the large end of the egg with a pushpin to prevent cracking, then simmer for exactly 1 minute.

Mixing and serving the Caesar:
Dress the salad just before serving. Have ready all the dressing ingredients and a salad fork and spoon for tossing.

Drizzle 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the romaine leaves and toss to coat, lifting the leaves from the bottom and turning them towards you, so they tumble over like a wave. Sprinkle them with a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of pepper, toss once or twice, then add the lemon juice and several drops of the Worcestershire, and toss again. Taste for seasoning, and add more, if needed.

Crack the egg and drop it right on the romaine leaves, then toss to break it up and coat the leaves. Sprinkle on the cheese, toss briefly, then add the croutons (and the garlicky bits in the pan, if you wish) and toss for the last time, just to mix them into the salad.

Arrange 6 or more leaves in a single layer on individual plates, scatter the croutons all around, and serve.

Plain Toasted Croutons

  • 4 or more thick slices of home-style white bread 
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove the crusts from the bread and slice into 1/2-inch strips and then the strips into 1/2-inch cubes, to make 4 cups. Spread the cubes in a single layer on a cookie sheet and set in the oven for about 10 minutes, turning once or twice, until lightly toasted on all sides. Spread the cubes on a tray to cool before using or freezing.

Vinaigrette-Style Caesar Salad
(Slightly Adapted from Epicurious)

For the croutons
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil 
  • 2 garlic cloves, halved 
  • 3 cups 3/4-inch cubes of Italian or French bread 
For the dressing
  • 2 flat anchovy fillets, or to taste, rinsed and drained 
  • 4 garlic cloves 
  • 2 teaspoons Sherry vinegar 
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice 
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard 
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise 
  • 1/2 cup olive oil 
  • 4 heads of romaine, the pale-green inner leaves washed, spun dry, and torn into bite-size pieces (about 12 cups) and the outer leaves reserved for another use 
  • Parmesan curls formed with a vegetable peeler 
Make the croutons:
Preheat the oven or toaster oven to 350°F. In a small saucepan melt the butter with the oil, the garlic, and salt and pepper to taste over moderately low heat. Remove the mixture from the heat, let it stand for 10 minutes, and discard the garlic. In a bowl toss the bread cubes with the butter mixture, spread them on a baking sheet, and bake them in the middle of the oven for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are golden. The croutons may be made 1 day in advance and kept in an airtight container.

Make the dressing:
Mince and mash the anchovies with the garlic to form a paste and in a bowl whisk together the paste, the vinegar, the lemon juice, the Worcestershire sauce, and the mustard. Add the oil in a stream, whisking, and whisk the dressing until it is emulsified.

In a large bowl toss the romaine with the croutons and the dressing until the salad is combined well and sprinkle the salad with the Parmesan curls.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Southwestern Black Bean and Quinoa Salad

I'm currently in the middle of a 3 day work stretch (actually, I technically have one hour and thirty seven minutes until I'm half way through, but who's counting?), and I'm already pining for fresh vegetables. I have some salad fixings in the fridge, but I forgot to pack them up and bring them to the Land of Frozen Food.

Luckily, though, I still have some quinoa and black bean salad. It's not chock-full of veggies, really, but it should help satisfy the inevitable craving for real food. Plus, because it has a lot of protein, I'm hoping that it will keep me full for a while and prevent the mindless munching that strikes when you're bored and awake at 3 a.m.

This salad is super easy, you can throw it together quickly, and it's highly adaptable--add or subtract whatever ingredients strike your fancy. For example, the addition of a couple slices of bacon would have made this salad absolutely awesome, but I refrained this time because it was supposed to be healthy. If you come up with any changes that you particularly like, let me know in the comments section.

Southwestern Black Bean and Quinoa Salad

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Canola oil
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • One 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
  • Half of a green bell pepper, finely diced
  • 1 roasted, peeled, seeded, and diced poblano pepper, or an Oil Preserved Poblano Pepper
  • Kernels from 2 ears of corn, fresh, or leftover Grilled Corn on the Cob
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 scallions, dark and light green parts finely sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

In a medium saucepan, combine the quinoa with 2 scant cups water and a pinch of salt; bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat until the almost all of the water is absorbed, about 13 minutes. Just before the last of the water is absorbed, turn off the heat and allow the quinoa to sit for a few minutes (it will absorb the rest of the water, and this prevents overcooking). Fluff with a fork.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the cumin seeds over high heat, shaking the pan, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Grind in a spice grinder, or with a mortar and pestle.

In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients. Season to taste.

Grilled Corn on the Cob

I'm having a corn problem. Unlike my zucchini problem, though, Nick's okay with this one. Partially because he likes corn, and partially because this obsession comes with a lot more variety. Whereas the zucchini obsession centered mostly on zucchini fritters, a corn obsession involves corn fritters, corn and toasted cumin salsa, creamless creamed corn, Mexicanish stuffed tomatoes, fish grilled in corn husks, ribeye with warm tomato and corn salad, golden corn chowder, and corn pudding (coming soon).

I've previously discussed how corn on the cob can be nice if you're in the mood for something simple, but it tends to get stuck in your teeth and it's not terribly exciting and all that stuff. It is, however, one of those necessary rites of summer.

Well, over at Poor Girl Gourmet, grilled corn on the cob was recently mentioned. I've actually never really seen the point in grilling corn on the cob, but I had never before seen a recipe that involved first soaking the ears of corn in some water. Also, Amy swore that this corn is exceptional, and that it's like corn creme brulee.

I was curious, we wanted a minimal prep meal, and we were going to have the grill fired up anyway, so we decided to give this a try. And the verdict? It was yummy, and it was a fun experiment. The corn, though, was nothing exceptional. It wasn't really even that much better than some plain old boiled corn on the cob. I should note, though, that we have a gas grill. A charcoal grill with its smouldering hunks of wood might have added a lot more interest to the corn than our propane was able to.

So I don't want you to think that I'm posting a recipe in this forum that I don't think is worth trying. It is, if only because it's a fun experiment and it doesn't take a lot of time or effort. Plus, you might think that I'm crazy and this is the best corn you've ever eaten. In fact, if you try this, feel free to let me know what you thought of it in the comments section.

One thing worth noting is that this cooking method was much more successful with the thin, anemic type ears, as opposed to the fat, juicy ears. So if you get a batch of corn that's not all plump and robust, this grilling trick may be the way to go.

Grilled Corn on the Cob
(From Poor Girl Gourmet)

Make 1 to 2 ears per person, depending on your appetite. You can also intentionally cook extra and cut the kernels off later and add them to stuffed vegetables or a summer salad.

Take your ears of corn and strip off the parts of the husk that are loose and dangly. Pull the silk out from the top of the ears. Submerge the ears in water for an hour. If they're not completely covered by the water, flip them around half way through.  As Amy suggests, you can then use the soaking water to nourish your plants.

This is a direct quote from Amy, as she explains this part just right:
At the end of the soaking hour, preheat the grill to high if using a gas grill, or create a hot bed of coals in your charcoal grill (charcoal grilling, of course, lends additional smoky flavor to the corn, and is also worth the effort. For the purpose of this post, the timings given are for high heat on a covered gas grill, though the visual cues can be used to guide you if you're grilling with charcoal.).
Spread your ears over the grill and cook them, covered, for 5 to 7 minutes. Rotate the ears a quarter turn and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes. You'll do a total of four sides, for a total cooking time of about 20 to 24 minutes. I might try a little less next time, but this is a good place to start. When the corn is ready, the husks will be blackened, and there may be some charred kernels peeking out.

You can serve these in the husks, or you can let them cool a bit and then shuck them. I actually thought that it worked rather well to let the ears cool, and in the meantime grill up our thick-cut, brined pork chops.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Poblano Peppers Packed in Oil

In my admittedly limited pepper-consuming career, I've come to the conclusion that the poblano is the perfect pepper. I particularly like them because they're satisfyingly spicy without inducing asthma or a heart attack, although they can give you the almost-pleasant runny nose effect. (There are times when you need some killer heat. For those times, seek out a habenero). Plus, if you cut up a poblano and then rub your eyes, it's not quite as sucky as the intensely burning mucous membranes you'll experience when you make the same mistake with a jalapeno.

Poblanos are pleasantly flavorful as well as spicy; the flavor is simultaneously stimulating and comforting, endorphin-releasing and soothing. The smell of roasting poblanos is purely mouth-watering, and our house feel like a home when it's infused with this scent. It actually does anyway, but I suppose that the smell of roasting poblanos can enhance the hominess.

We like to use poblanos in any number of things, including carne asada (grilled skirt steak served on tortillas with slices of roasted poblanos), rice, stuffed vegetables, quinoa salads, and potato gratins, to name a few.
You can use poblanos freshly roasted, or you can employ this oil-packing method, which was inspired by an article in Food and Wine. Basically, you roast some peppers, peel, seed, and slice them, and cover them with oil. The oil will keep them fresh for a little while, but it can go rancid. Thus, it's suggested that the peppers, like pesto or romesco, be frozen in little batches.

What's the point of doing such a thing, you ask? Well, have you ever wanted some spiciness but don't feel like going through the tedious process of roasting, peeling, seeding and chopping some peppers? I certainly have. So from now on, when I'm feeling a little lazy but want some peppery goodness, I'll just take a little packet of peppers from the freezer, and it will defrost in minutes.
For example, these peppers will be especially ideal for what we call Drunken Nachos. Drunken Nachos hail from the days when we were wild and crazy kids. We'd go out for the night and come home wanting some munchies. We generally had some nachos, cheese, canned corn and canned chiles laying around; thus, Drunken Nachos were born.

We're getting a bit too old for such shenanigans, but we've talked about doing an up-scale, more grown up version of Drunken Nachos. The tortilla chips are easy--we'll graduate from Tostitos to to some yummy organic ones, and we'll get some nice cheese. The corn could be fresh corn cut off the cob, or w ecould use some organic frozen corn, but that leaves the peppers. Roasted poblanos are the perfect solution, and the fact that we can have them laying around and readily accessible keeps this dish in the original spontaneous spirit of the Drunken Nachos.

Perhaps we'll even someday have a Grown-Up Drunken Nachos post. For now, though, I need to stop thinking about cheesy foods, because the patient that I just triaged threw up her Kraft Macaroni 'N' Cheese, and I feel like I smell like it.

So, you don't have to make Drunken Nachos, but I'm sure you can come up with some other uses for some oil-packed peppers. You don't have to use poblanos, either--you can use any kind of pepper that strikes your fancy.

Food and Wine suggested adding dried oregano to the oil, but I omitted it because I feel that it would work with red peppers, but not green ones. You, of course, can add oregano, cumin seeds, or whatever inspires you. You could use your oil-packed peppers in one of the applications mentioned above, or you could put them on burgers, pizzas, eggs...anything, really.

Poblano Peppers Packed in Oil

*This roasting method can be used for any pepper.
  • 1 pound fresh poblano peppers
  • About 1/2 cup canola oil
If you have a gas stove, turn a burner to high. If you have an electric stove, preheat the broiler. (A gas torch like the ones used for creme brulee would also work.) Place one or two peppers at a time directly onto the burner grate, and turn once the side facing the flame is thoroughly charred and blackened. Continue to turn until the whole pepper is charred. Alternatively, place all of the peppers on a foil-lined baking sheet and place under the boiler. Turn occasionally, until all sides are blackened.

When the peppers are thoroughly charred, place them in a paper bag and fold down the top, or place them in a bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. After about 10 minutes, remove the peppers and wipe their skins off with a paper towel. Cut the tops off, remove the seeds, and cut into strips. Depending on the application, cut the strips cross-wise to form a dice or leave them in strips.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cherry Almond Coffee Cake

I've previously mentioned that other people's blogs can be quite inspiring. I actually have a whole email folder chock-full of blogger's recipes that I've mailed to myself as a reminder to eventually cook them. This recipe, from Hungry Cravings, was emailed and made almost right away, partially because it sounded delicious, and partially because I had some cherries that needed to be used up.

I have a sentimental fondness for coffee cake, as my grandmother used to make it on a regular basis. Hers was quite different from this recipe--it had a swirl of cinnamon inside (I could never get enough of that part), and a crumbly top. Come to think of it, maybe I should try to track down that recipe.

This cherry coffee cake is similar to my grandmother's coffee cake in that it has a dense, crumbly crumb, and it's sweet without being too sweet. It's nice to eat for breakfast, as a snack, or for dessert. It's not exactly the kind of cake that you just whip up in a jiffy, but it probably freezes well, and it probably gets easier to make each time it's attempted. This makes a pretty big cake, so be sure to have some willing sharers.

If I make this again, I'll make just a couple little changes. Namely, I'll macerate the cherries in some Bourbon or brandy, and I'll swirl some cherry preserves through the batter. These changes are reflected in the recipe written below, but feel free to omit them if you prefer a  more purist approach.

Cherry-Almond Coffee Cake
(Slightly Adapted from Hungry Cravings)

  • 7 ounces (1 ¾ sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 11 ¼ ounces cake flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 7 ½ ounces light brown sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • 2 ounces sliced almonds
  • ¾ pound cherries, pitted
  • 1/4 cup Bourbon Or Brandy
  • 6 ounces sugar
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • The zest of half a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 8 ounces sour cream, at room temperature
  • A jar (about 11 ounces) of cherry preserves

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Thoroughly butter a 9×3-inch round springform pan. In a medium bowl, sift together 9 ounces of the flour and the baking soda, baking powder, and salt. 

In another medium bowl, whisk together 3 ½ ounces of the brown sugar, the remaining 2 ¼ ounces flour, and the cinnamon in a medium bowl. Melt 2 ounces of the butter and add to the bowl. Toss in the almonds.
     In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together the remaining 5 ounces butter, sugar, and remaining 4 ounces brown sugar on high for 3 to 4 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until thoroughly combined and then beat in the lemon zest, vanilla, and almond extract.

    Add 1/3 of the flour mixture, then ½ of the sour cream, then 1/3 of the flour mixture, then the remaining ½ of the sour cream, and then the remaining 1/3 of the flour mixture, mixing on low for only a few seconds after each addition until just combined, and stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Do not overmix.

    Transfer to the cake pan and spread evenly. In dollops, place the preserves on the top of the batter. Using a butter knife, mix the preserves into the batter so that the preserves form a swirly sort of pattern.

    Arrange the cherries over the batter and then spread the almond mixture evenly over the batter and cherries in the cake pan. Bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the edges of the cake start to shrink away from the pan and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

    Let the cake cool in the pan for about 10 minutes. Remove the sides and bottom of the pan and transfer to a cooling rack to finish cooling completely. (Don't forget this part--I cooked my cake properly, but because I forgot to take it out of the pan, it ended up being overcooked.) Cut into portions and serve.

    Sunday, August 15, 2010

    Daring Cooks--Pierogis

    The August 2010 Daring Cooks’ Challenge was hosted by LizG of Bits n’ Bites and Anula of Anula’s Kitchen. They chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make pierogi from scratch and an optional challenge to provide one filling that best represents their locale.

    We're a little late on this challenge, but better late than never, I suppose. The pierogi challenge led to all sorts of brainstorming and we came up with a lot of different potential fillings. But in the we end decided to, for the most part, stick with the standard recipe.

    The original recipe contained potatoes with cheese, onion,  and bacon, and we added cheddar cheese and a roasted poblano pepper. We also decided to serve the pierogies with a corn sauce in order to make the dish a bit more seasonally appropriate. Ultimately, though, we sort of served the corn on the side, rather than as a sauce because we just wanted to get the heck out of the kitchen.

    The corn 'sauce,' by the way, was our super-fabulous Creamless Creamed Corn. If you don't really feel like going to the trouble of making your own pierogies, we would still really suggest making the creamless creamed corn, because it's awesome.

    Because I prefer pierogies that have been boiled then pan-seared, we went with that technique, but it's entirely optional. The original recipe called for what seemed to me to be a small amount of dough, and we had a ton of leftover filling. This wasn't really a problem, as the filling was delicious, but in the recipe below I've tripled the dough recipe in an attempt to have a more appropriate dough-to-filling ratio.


    • 6 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 3 large eggs
    • 3 teaspoon salt
    • About 3 cups lukewarm water  
    • 3 potatoes
    • Butter-1/2 to 3 tablespoons
    • 1 onion, diced
    • 3/4 cup cottage cheese, drained  
    • 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
    • 3 slices of  bacon, cooked till crispish and diced (you can add more bacon if you like or omit that part completely if you’re vegetarian)
    • 1 poblano pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded and diced
    • Salt
    • Freshly ground black pepper
    Place the flour in a large bowl or on a work surface and make a well in the center. Break the egg into it, add the salt and a little lukewarm at a time.

    Bring the dough together, kneading well and adding more flour or water as necessary. Cover the dough with a bowl or towel. You’re aiming for soft, dry dough. Let it rest for 20 minutes.

    While the dough rests, cut the potatoes into largish chunks. Place the chunks in a large saucepan and cover with cold water. Place on the stove, bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer until the potatoes are easy to break apart with a fork (about 20 minutes).
    Drain the potatoes and dump them back into the saucepan. While the potatoes are boiling, saute the onion with a little bit of butter over medium heat, until they're soft and transparent. When the onions are ready, add them to the potatoes.
    Add the cottage cheese, cheddar cheese, bacon and poblanos. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
    On a floured work surface, roll the dough out thinly (1/8” or about 3 millimeters) cut with a 2 to 5 inch round cookie cutter, or a glass. Spoon a portion (a teaspoon to a tablespoon, depending on the size of your cutting implement) of the filling into the middle of each circle.
    Fold the dough in half and pinch the edges together. If necessary, wet the edges with a little bit of water to help them adhere. Gather the scraps of dough, re-roll and fill. Repeat with remaining dough.
    Bring a large saucepan of salted water to boil. Drop in the pierogi, not too many, only single layer in the pan! Return to a boil and reduce the heat a little bit. When the pierogi rise to the surface, continue to simmer a few minutes more ( usually about 2-3 minutes).

    Remove one dumpling with a slotted spoon and taste if ready. It should be firm (not mushy), but no longer doughy and raw-tasting. When satisfied, remove remaining pierogies from the water.

    This part is optional--melt about 2 1/2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. When the butter is hot enough that a pierogi placed in the pan makes a sizzling noise, add the pierogies, without crowding the pan too much, and toss them around until they're golden brown.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010

    Ratatouille and Pan-Seared, Oven Roasted Pork Tenderloin with a Rosemary Vermouth Pan Sauce

    I love ratatouille. I was making it even before that cute movie with the rat waltzed this dish into the spotlight. Did you know that Thomas Keller consulted on that movie, and he came up with the recipe on which the rat's ratatouille was based? That's why it looked so awesome. After seeing that movie, I wanted to make some of this Frenchy stew immediately. And I would have, except that it was January and this, to me, is summer food.

    I therefore usually make ratatouille at least once every summer, and I had been meaning to make it for a few weeks now. I even bought a cute little eggplant at the farm stand thinking that it might end up in some ratatouille. Instead, it lingered on the counter and turned to mush. I suck.

    Then I came across this article in the Guardian's blog. In it, Felicity Cloake eloquently and amusingly expounds on ratatouille in all its various permutations. And I was inspired...So here you go:


    • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
    • 1 large onion, diced
    • 1 red bell pepper, diced
    • 1 green bell pepper, diced
    • 5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
    • Salt
    • 1/4 cup dry white wine
    • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
    • 2 medium eggplant, cut into 1/2 inch dice
    • 3-4 zucchini
    • 28 ounce can whole tomatoes*
    • 1 bay leaf
    • 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
    • 1/4 thinly sliced fresh basil
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
    Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large dutch oven, and sauté the onion, peppers, garlic, and 1/4 teaspoon salt until the vegetables are soft (about 10 minutes). Add white wine, and increase heat to high. Simmer until the white wine is almost completely evaporated, about 4 minutes, and stir in the red pepper flakes. Turn heat off.

    Meanwhile, heat another 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet, add the eggplant, sprinkle with salt, and sauté until the eggplant is tender and a little bit seared. You only want to cook it about half way, which will take about 7 minutes. When the eggplant is sufficiently softened, add it to the onion pepper mixture in the dutch oven.

    While the eggplant is cooking, cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. Cut each half in half lengthwise again, so that you have 4 long pieces. Cut these pieces across in 1/4 inch segments so that you are left with little quarter-moon pieces. Open the can of tomatoes and leave them in the can. Using kitchen shears, cut the tomatoes into smaller pieces.

    Heat the remaining olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the zucchini until the pieces are a little bit brown, and the soft centers are just becoming a bit translucent. Again, you only want them about half-way cooked.

    Add the tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Add this mixture to the dutch oven and add the bay leaf and thyme.

    Gently simmer the contents of the dutch oven until the flavors are melded and the vegetables are tender but not mushy, about 40 minutes to an hour. Stir in the basil and parsley, and season to taste with pepper, and more salt if necessary.

    *I know that it probably seems wacky to use canned tomatoes in the height of summer, but I find that fresh tomatoes tend to have a flavor that is too lacking in assertiveness for this dish. Plus, canned tomatoes are more economical for me right now, as my tomato plants turned out to be super sad specimens this year.
    If I did make this with fresh tomatoes, however, I would consider roasting them first.


    I love ratatouille with pork, and there just happened to be a lovely pork tenderloin in the freezer. Rather than simply brushing it with salt, pepper, and oil and grilling this tenderloin (which is yummy), we decided to go oldschool.

    The rosemary in the pork's sauce was a perfect counterpoint to the basil and thyme in the ratatouille. We had some pork tenderloin, some ratatouille, and some garlic mashed potatoes, and we were in Happy Fat Land.

    We used to make this recipe all the time, and we sort of OD'd on it. It seemed, though, that it was time to brush the dust off of its sheltering folder. And wow. This tenderloin is easy, delicious, and healthy. Why had we neglected it for so long?

    Pan-Seared, Oven Roasted Pork Tenderloin with a Rosemary Vermouth Pan Sauce

    • 1 pork tenderloin
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
    • 1 tablespoon butter
    • 1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
    • 1/2 cup thinly sliced shallots
    • 1/4 cup vermouth
    • 2 cups chicken stock
    • 1-2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
    Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
    Coat the tenderloin with salt and pepper, and in a large skillet, heat 1-2 tablespoons canola oil over high heat. When the oil is shimmering, sear the tenderloin on all sides until it is golden brown (about 4 minutes per side).

    Place the tenderloin on a foil-lined baking sheet and cook in the center of the oven until the internal temperature reads 135 degrees. Remove the tenderloin and allow it to rest.

    In the meantime, melt the butter in the same skillet that was used to sear the tenderloin. Add the brown sugar, 2 tablespoons of water, and the shallots. Over medium heat, cook the shallots until soft, about 15 minutes.

    Increase the heat to high and add the vermouth. If there are any brown bits remaining on the bottom of the pan, scrape them up with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula. When the vermouth has almost completely evaporated, add the chicken stock and a teaspoon of the rosemary.

    Over high heat, simmer the stock until it has been reduced to a thick sauce. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper, and the rest of the rosemary if desired. (In the winter, we like to use all of the rosemary, but in the summer we prefer a more mild rosemary flavor.)