Friday, May 29, 2009

Pasta with Artichokes and Oven Roasted Onions and Zucchini

I don't know why I never thought of this myself.  In retrospect, it seems so obvious.  Roasting vegetables intensified flavors, caramelizes sugars and just generally takes things (things like onions and zucchini, say) to a higher level.  When you toss oven roasted sliced onions with similarly oven roasted ribbons of zucchini, add to them some pasta and a few artichoke hearts, and then top with shaved parmesan, you've assembled something wonderful.

The best part is that all of that roasted flavor occurs with almost no effort on your part.  No standing over a hot stove stirring sauce, no sautéing vegetables, even.  Just preheat your oven (or better in the summer, your toaster oven) and walk away.  Some of my favorite summer cooking is done by proxy.

Pasta Zucchini, Artichokes and Capers
Only every so slightly adopted from Angela Tunner's Simply Summer

1 small red onion, peeled and sliced
Sea salt
3 teaspoons olive oil
1 zucchini
1/2 pound dried pasta (I used penne)
1, 13 oz jar artichoke hearts, drained
2 tablespoons capers
Shaved Parmesan cheese
Pepper, to taste

Preheat either your oven or your toaster oven to 375 F.  With a vegetable peeler, peel the zucchini.  Once the peel is removed, continue to peeling so that you have long ribbons of zucchini.  Toss the onion and the zucchini with the oil and the salt and place on a piece of foil, then into the preheated oven.  If you use your toaster over, you'll have to do this in batches, but it should all fit at once in your regular oven.  Roast the vegetables for 10 minutes.  Remove from the oven and set aside.

Bring your water for the pasta to a boil and add the pasta.  Cook according to package directions based on what kind of pasta you're using.  In the meantime, drain the artichokes and put them in a large(ish) bowl.  Add the roasted vegetables to the bowl and toss.  When the pasta is finished, remove it from the heat, drain, and add it to the vegetables in the bowl.  Add more salt if needed, and the pepper to taste.

Plate the pasta onto individual dishes and top with the cheese and the capers.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Green Goddess Dip with Greek Yogurt

How could one not be totally, hopelessly in love with a concoction made of fresh herbs, crushed garlic, a hint of mustard, a base note of savory anchovy (which no one will be able to place, if you fear anchovy) and, in this case, a creamy base of greek yogurt and mayonnaise.  How could one possibly not love Green Goddess.  You'll notice I'm using periods, not question marks, so you won't be confused about the rhetorical nature of my questions.  Because the answer is, if you try this version, you'll love it.

And there could be no better time for a resurrection of this Belle Époque dip (or dressing) than this moment, when the Green Goddess herself is just beginning to spill forth all of her summer vegetables.  I once saw a program in which Alice Waters wandered around a farmers market, plucking produce from stand after stand, based on what was the freshest and most beautiful.  At the end of it all, she made a plate of crudités, a plate on which this dressing would be most welcome.  The kind of bright, tangy note that takes vegetables at the peak of their perfection into another stratosphere, maybe even into the realm of the gods (although, just to avoid confusion, the dip was named in tribute for a play The Green Goddess, not for a celestial earth mother).  

Like all good things, this dip improves with a little age.  So make it the day before you plan on serving it, to allow the flavors to develop. 

Green Goddess
Slightly adopted from Lari Robling's Endangered Recipes

1 cup fresh parsley
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 scallion, cut into 1" pieces
2 tablespoons tarragon vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon anchovy past (or more to taste)
1 cup mayonnaise (I used reduced fat)
1 cup sour cream (or greek yogurt, which I used, and the fat free kind, to boot)

In a food processor, process together the first 6 ingredients.  Add the mayonnaise and greek yogurt and process until well blended.  Refrigerate for several hours or overnight.


* I didn't have tarragon vinegar, so I used white wine vinegar and some chopped fresh tarragon, which I happened to have on hand.
*  This dip could also benefit from a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, but really, what couldn't. 

Monday, May 25, 2009

Wine Cake with Butter Wine Glaze

I've received my share of thoughtful gifts in my life.  But when someone gives me a beautiful bundt cake pan (and I'm talking beautiful here, truly.  I would be displaying it if there were a single available inch of display surface in this little apartment.) and a tried and true recipe for putting it to use, well, that just about tops everything.  My Aunt Karen did just that when she found out I was engaged, all the way back last October.  And I would have put this pan to use much, much earlier, except that there are only two of us living here.  Two people with little will power means an entire bunt cake would have been consumed in one day.  And half a bundt cake is too much, even for me.  So when we finally convinced some friends to come over for dinner (you wouldn't think it would be so hard, but I have a feeling most people think we're extending empty niceties when we invite them, instead of honest to goodness invitations) this was always going to be dessert.

Have you ever had a wine cake?  This was my first time, and I have to say Aunt Karen sure knows how to kick it up a notch.  Although I've never sampled one, I've seen other wine cakes that get their names from the 1/2 cup or so of wine in their batter.  This one, however, also sports a glaze made from wine, sugar and butter not only on top, but inside.  When the cake is pulled from the oven, it gets a few good jabs from a wooden spoon, then half the wine glaze is poured into and around the holes.  There's nothing to do but watch the cake greedily absorb its liquor, before you turn it out onto a serving plate and drizzle the rest of the glaze on top.

And this, my friends, is a lot of glaze.  it puddles and pools, dripping down sides and into creases.  Ragnar actually broke out the turkey baster to collect the glaze from the cake's center and redistribute it back on top (genius use of a turkey baster, by the way).  And you know, it's a strange fact that this was actually the first time I've made a cake from a mix.  I've made plenty of cakes from scratch, creaming butter and sugar and all of that, and I think it's still my preferred way to go.  But this one does not taste like a box mix.  Absolutely does not.  And it was met with so many oohs and aaahs  (not to mention the fact that is was decimated by 4 people in one sitting) that it will never occur to anyone to ask.

Aunt Karen's Wine Cake

1 box Duncan Hines Yellow Cake mix
1 3 1/2 ounce box jello instant vanilla pudding
1/2 cup white win (like pinot gregio)
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and beat well with an electric mixer.  I beat for about 5 minutes.  Pour the batter into a 10" bundt pan which has been well greased.  Bake on 350F for between 45 and 50 minutes.

About 10 minutes before the cake is done, make the glaze:

1 stick butter, cut into chunks
1 cup sugar 
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup water

In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, stir the butter together with the water and wine until it is all dissolved together.  Add the sugar and continue stirring until it is also dissolved.  Increase the heat and bring to a boil.  Remove from heat and set aside as you take the cake out of the oven.

Remove the cake from the oven, and, using the handle of a wooden spoon, poke holes in the bottom.  Pour 1/2 of the glaze over and around the holes and let the cake absorb the glaze. 

Invert the cake onto a serving dish, and drizzle the rest of the glaze on top.  You may need to do this in several batches.  Serve and enjoy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Easy. Healthy. Bean Salad.

Now wait just a minute.  Before you resign yourself to the images of gloppy, slimy picnic bean salads sitting in their plastic take-out bowls and swimming in oil and vinegar, I have to tell you that it doesn't have to be like that.  And, even though I have been known to go on and on about the virtues of dried beans, just so you know I am not, in fact, one of those people who insists on the long way every time.  My first preference will always be for the dried variety, but if it's the difference between buying a tub of lackluster bean salad or making it quickly and efficiently yourself, I'll take the latter.

Plus, and this is a big plus, it's summer.  And while summer means tanned skin, runs in the park in shorts instead of those awful tights, actual foliage and generally happy people (can you tell it's actually still spring and the oppressive heat of a NYC summer hasn't hit me yet?) it leaves almost no room for running the burners for hours and hours on end.  No room at all.

This recipe comes from Angela Tunner's Simply Summer, about which I've written before.  She gives you many great tips on keeping cool this summer, along with this very respectable bean salad.  Which is quite good as written, but I like to think I made it even a little bit better.  And the secret? Lemon juice.  Maybe you won't need the extra acid kick, but I'm an acid fiend.  I love my vinegars and my lemon juices.  I love them by themselves or together.  And I love them as the brightest finishing note in almost any recipe, that final, dazzling, perfect chord.  But especially in a summer salad.

However.  Before you go and start adding extra lemon juice or extra vinegar, taste.  Salads like this are all up to personal preference, so add more or subtract as you like.  

Bean Salad with White Balsamic Vinaigrette
From Angela Tunner's Simply Summer

1 can (16 ounces) chickpeas
1 can (16 ounces) white beans
1 can (16 ounces) kidney beans
2 teaspoons minced garlic (I used about 2 cloves)
1 teaspoon sea salt, or more to taste
1/3 cup chopped Italian parsley
2 teaspoons chopped fresh chives
1 teaspoon dried tarragon (I had fresh, and used a little more)
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar (or more to taste)
Pepper, to taste
Fresh lemon juice (optional, to taste)

Basically this is a dump and mix recipe (of the highest order, of course!).  Drain the beans and rinse them off in a colander so you get rid of all that slimy stuff they're canned in.  Then put them in a bowl and add the rest of the ingredients.  Since canned beans aren't as sturdy as dried, be careful while you mix so as not to break up the beans.  Squirt with a little lemon juice if you'd like before serving.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Simple Summery Things

Cooking in the winter is entirely different from cooking in the summer.  The amount of time and effort required to coax taste out of ingredients seems to be directly related to the season in which they're found.  Winter is, of course, the time for long, slow braises and roasts.  The kind of cooking that is very much about process and transformation, so that your ugly celeriac, for example, might become something beautiful.  In the winter, your ingredients need you.  And it can be so nice to be needed.  It's in the colder months that I feel like my presence in the kitchen is actually necessary, that things must be prepared.

The summer, on the other hand, is a completely different story.  And especially if you happen to live on the top floor of a 5 story walk up apartment in Manhattan with little ventilation.  While neighbors below might turn on their ovens with abandon, when you're on the top, you become the lucky recipient of all of their hot air (in my case, since I like most of my neighbors, we're talking about literal hot air here).  And some days, I just cannot bear to add to the madness by firing up my own pilot light.

It's a happy coincidence, then, that summer foods are often totally, completely content without the benefit of your fiddling around with them.  The problem is, I like to fiddle.  And so, cooking in the summer, for me, can be so much more about combination than about transformation.  In the summer, I make things you hardly need a recipe for, but which benefit from a bit of inspiration.  Sure, you could cut up that mango and dig right in, but what if you sprinkled it with a little nutmeg first?  Fresh squeezing orange juice has to be one of the most obvious morning treats, but adding strawberries and a splash of vanilla?  Now that's something else.  Something noteworthy.

Both of those ideas come, by the way, from Angela Tunner's new book Simply Summer (which, in the interest of full disclosure, was sent to me).  The idea is simple, ingredient driven food, many recipes requiring little to no heat (although that's not necessarily a requirement).  At least, there won't be the kind of sauna that results from an oven fired up for hours.  I've tried a few things so far.  A few of the simplest things, which are interesting as ideas you may not have thought of yourself.  I have a few other recipes picked out as well, which I hope to share with you soon, but first, a couple of ideas for combinations that will make your oh-so-independent ingredients remember why they need you. 

Both recipes are from Angela Tunner's Simply Summer

Summer Mangos with Nutmeg

1 ripe mango, cut into pieces
2 teaspoons butter
2 teaspoons brown sugar
Pinch of nutmeg

Preheat the oven (or better, the toaster oven) to 350F.  Put the mango pieces into a small, ovenproof dish.  Dot the mango with the butter, and sprinkle the sugar and nutmeg on top.  Cook the mangos for 10 minutes for more succulent mangos, 20 for a richer flavor.

Transfer the mango to a serving dish and drizzle the juices on top.  You can serve with with cream, ice cream, or simply, blissfully, on its own.  I, however, recommend yogurt.

Need to know how to cut up a mango?  Watch this video:

Orange and Strawberry Juice with a Touch of Vanilla

12 Strawberries, stems removed
6 oranges, juiced, plus 2 more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extra or seeds scraped from 1/3 vanilla bean
Ice Cubes

Put the chopped strawberries in a blender and coarsely chop them.

Add the orange juice to the strawberries, along with the vanilla. Blend until smooth.

Cut the remaining two oranges into slices. about 1/4" thick and put them in a pitcher with along with ice cubes.

Pour the juice through a fine mesh strainer to remove any seeds and pulp, them pour the strained juice over the ice and orange sections. Serve.

My Notes:

* You can just peel and section your oranges for garnish, or you can go the fancy way and supreme them. Want to know how? Here's another video:

Simply Summer is sold as both an e-book and a print book.  Go here for the e-book, and here for Angela's website including more information about Simply Summer.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fondant Class at The Brooklyn Kitchen

I took at fondant class at The Brooklyn Kitchen last night, where this month is "cake month". (Quite a nice theme, don't you think?) I was far too intent on learning the steps for covering a cake in fondant to be able to take pictures of the process, aside from the fact that I wouldn't have dreamt of slowing the class down for something like that. But I learned a ton, and the hands-on practice was so worth it. Below, I've written out some general tips I picked up, as well as the steps for covering a cake and some links from the web. These things may prove to be more useful for me than for you, but if you have a little fondant experience, perhaps they'll help to refresh your memory.

You can see that there are several imperfections in my little cake, but I like to think that most of them occurred getting the thing from Brooklyn to upper Manhattan on the subway (for example, that indentation on the bottom was caused by my thumb when I was trying to get the cake into the box for transport). For a first try, though, I'm more than satisfied. I can't say I went with any theme for this one. I was just practicing making different things, which I then kind of haphazardly stuck to the cake. And yes, I am aware that my little bluebird has googely eyes. But we preach tolerance around here, so don't judge him for being different.

General Tips:

* Use a mixture of confectioners sugar and corn starch to prevent sticking, the way you might use flour when kneading and shaping bread.
* Before using your fondant, you must kneed it on a surface lightly sprinkled with the sugar/corn starch mixture until it softens and relaxes enough to be rolled and shaped.
* Keep the fondant you are not working with wrapped in plastic wrap so it doesn't dry out.
* To color fondant, simply kneed in a few drops of food coloring. You don't need much, so be judicious when adding.
* Always use buttercream as the insulating layer between the fondant and the cake. Things like a cream cheese based frosting can eat away at the fondant.
* A rotating cake stand is pretty much indispensable, both for getting a smooth finish on your buttercream layer and for cutting away excess fondant.
* To add fondant decorations, moisten the back of the decoration with water so that it adheres and simply press on.
* Fondant can be molded pretty much like clay. If you can make it out of playdough, you can make it out of fondant.

To lay fondant over a round cake:

* Roll out the fondant to a thickness of about 1/4"
* The fondant should be in a circle quite a bit larger than the cake itself so that it can drape below the cake
* Carefully place the fondant on the cake, starting by laying it on one side so that it touches, and draping it over the other.
* Now, using your paddle tool, smooth and seal the top of the cake
* Using your hands, cup around the top edge of the cake to smooth and seal the fondant on.
* Begin to move down, using your hands, smoothing and sealing the fondant on.
* Smooth out any imperfections
* Using the edge of your paddle, gently push down on the fondant on the bottom of the cake to make a kind of crease between the fondant on the cake's edge and the leftover fondant surrounding the cake.
* Take care not to put too much pressure on the fondant, you don't want it to tear on the top edge of the cake.
* Using a pizza cutter, cut away the extra fondant.
* All of the above steps should be done with the cake placed on a cardboard round the exact size of the cake, which should then be placed on your rotating cake stand.
* Remove the cake from the cake stand and hold it up by the cardboard circle so you can round the bottom of the cake, covering the cardboard circle with the fondant and achieving a smooth edge.

More resources for fondant:

* Chart for how much fondant to use based on the size of your cake from Wilton
* Wilton's step-by-step guide to covering a round cake with fondant, with pictures (although with slightly less detail)
* Guide for covering shaped cakes
* Recipe for marshmallow fondant that has gotten great reviews, although I haven't tried it
* The brand of pre-made fondant that our teacher recommended is called Carma, and is available here

UPDATE: I took this class in order to be able to make my own wedding cake. Well, it's done, and if you want more detailed instructions for fondant and for constructing a tiered cake, see this post.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Market Toast from Santa Monica

I realize I haven't posted since early last week, but I can explain.  I was in Santa Monica for the weekend with my sister visiting one of my best friends and spending time with two new ones.  And now that I've returned to NYC I have some pretty serious California envy.  Probably more than is healthy.  I spent one day at the Getty picking through 300+ year old sketchbooks, touching pages that Jacques-Louis David actually touched (!!) while my sister wandered the museum and managed a magnificent sunburn on our "indoor" day.  

The rest of the time we walked on the beach, sat by the pool, and ate.  Seriously, I am proud of all of our eating and I owe much of it to our hosts.  There was a wine bar and a Mexican joint, Cha Cha Chicken and Chinese.  But perhaps the best culinary experience was the walk to the farmers market and the resulting breakfast from heaven.

I didn't bring my camera to the market, and good thing.  I was way too overwhelmed to focus.  While berry season has perhaps not quite reached us in NYC, in Santa Monica it is in full force.  We bought strawberries and peaches, citrus fruits I'd never heard of, as well as a log of goat cheese anointed with a cinnamon-cranberry chutney.  Oh yes. (By the way, cinnamon and cranberry does not need to be a holiday combination. It was perfectly at home in the summer, tart and sweet and bright.)  We took our booty back to L's house (L's house, with a yard and a dog and a gazebo in back for al fresco dining, and an herb garden.  It's paradise.  I have the pictures to prove it.) and made french toast from some thickly cut Texas toast which came from the neighborhood bakery.  We slathered the toast with knifefuls of cranberry goat cheese and topped with fresh strawberries and peaches.  You don't need a recipe for that, of course, just immensely good luck and people who know where to find these things.  Thanks girls, for a beautiful weekend!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Spring Tart with Asparagus and Red Onion, and the Easiest, Tastiest Tart Dough Ever

I am so excited.  My favorite part of the year is finally here, at least, the start of my favorite part.  Because with spring comes the beginning of produce season.  With spring comes rhubarb and berries, of course, tart in the early weeks, but sweetening as spring extends into summer.  Then come the stone fruits, as well as other juicy things like melon. Everything seems to drip.  And finally autumn.  Deep flavored fruits like Italian prune plums, and figs, who's fresh form so outstrips its dried.  They're accompanied and followed by things like quince and pomegranate and honey-flavored persimmon.  I can't wait.  But first, there's spring.

And although I tend to romanticize fruits more than vegetables, nothing signals spring quite so well as the appearance of asparagus.  I've already shown you how I roast them, my favorite simple way.  But for a centerpiece dish, nothing beats a bready, custardy, eggy tart.

And the best part is that with this tart I have discovered the best, the tastiest, and the easiest tart dough ever, assuming you're not afraid of yeast (please don't be afraid of yeast).  It's an adaptation of an Elizabeth David recipe via Annie Sommerville, so with that kind of lineage it's sure to be a winner.  Imagine a buttery brioche puffing around a bed of asparagus and custard.  And it doesn't even need to be rolled out.  It's pressed right into the pan to await your toppings of choice.  This is my new go-to tart dough, for sure.  I hope you love it as much as we do.

Spring Tart with Asparagus and Red Onions
Barely adopted from Annie Sommerville's Fields of Greens

1 recipe yeasted tart dough
Olive oil for the pan
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
Salt and white pepper
1/2 pound asparagus, tough ends removed, sliced on the bias in 1 inch pieces
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
Zest of 1 orange
2 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated

Heat the oil in a pan over medium heat.  Add the onions and season with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper. Sauté until soft, about 7 minutes.  Add the asparagus and season again with salt and pepper.  Continue to cook until the asparagus is softened, about another 7 minutes.

Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl to cool.  Toss with the parsley.  Season once more with salt and pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 375 F.  In a large bowl, beat the eggs, then add the half-and-half, the orange zest, and 1/4 teaspoon salt as well as a few pinches of pepper.

Sprinkle the cheese on the bottom of the prepared tart dough, which should already be in the tart pan.  Spread the asparagus mixture on top, then pour the custard mixture over that.  I had a bit of custard left over.  Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 40 minutes, or until the custard is set and the crust is slightly browned.

Yeasted Tart Dough (my new favorite)
It's important that your egg be at room temperature and your butter softened at room temp as well so that they easily incorporate into the dough.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
1/4 cup warm water
1 cup ap flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (optional but wonderful, that's about the zest of half a largish lemon)
1 large egg, at room temperature
3 tablespoons unsalted butter softened
Extra flour

Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water and let stand as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Combine 1 cup flour, salt and lemon zest in a bowl, and whisk to incorporate.  Make a well in the middle and add the egg and butter as well as the yeast.

With a wooden spoon, mix until you get a soft, stickyish dough.  Dust with flour and transfer the dough to a clean bowl.  Cover the bowl and let the dough rise for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until doubled in size.  You can either shape the dough at this point, or knead it down and give it an additional rise.

Prepare a 9 inch tart pan with a removable bottom by spraying it with cooking spray.

Knead the dough down again and place it in the center of your pan.  Press the dough out to the edges of the pan.  The dough should be thicker on the sides than in the center.  If it snaps back as you try to spread it, just let it rest for a few moments before trying again.  Fill, and enjoy.


* The dough can be made the day before and refrigerated after its last rise, before it's spread into the pan.  Just bring it to room temperature before filling and baking.
*  The orange zest in the custard was good, but I might go with lemon next time.
*  I had a little custard left over, but just filled the tart as full as it would go and forgot the rest. 

UPDATE: A reader pointed out that I had said the butter should be melted in my note.  Sorry, it's supposed to be nice and soft at room temp. but not melted.  I've corrected the recipe above.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Two ways with Rhubarb: Soup and Porridge

If you've got rhubarb, and an entire pie is excessive, or you want something else to do with it, I know what you're going to make.  The other day, we were walking around some grocery store or other and I spotted a few bright red stalks.  Immediately R began bragging about the rhubarb soups and porridges he used to eat in Norway.  "Porridge" might be a bit misleading.  This is not the gloppy, oatmeal porridge of Oliver Twist, although I'd be willing to bet that you'll be asking for more.  But first, the soup.

You can see the thin, nearly translucent arabesques of rhubarb threading through the soup.  In Norway, at least in R's family, it's eaten warm, perhaps as an appetizer.  But I snuck a few spoonfuls from the fridge and it was just as delicious as a chilled summer soup, especially topped with a sprinkling of fresh mint (which is not traditional, evidently).

The porridge is a thickened version of the soup, chilled into a kind of jelly consistency without the gelatin.  Eaten with a generous serving of cream and more sugar, it's the pure essence of rhubarb in dessert form.  Not too bad looking, either, if I have to say it.  That first picture is the porridge served in a wine glass and topped by the cream waiting to be stirred in.  On my first attempt (the picture directly below) I added the cream as more of a garnish and was quickly told that I should drown my jelly and stir it all up for the real experience.  Both recipes come from R's father, but I've tried to Americanize them a bit since most people here won't have a genuine Norwegian looking over their shoulder making sure it's done properly.  (Actually, that's not quite fair because R did most of the work on these, I just recorded the steps!)

Rhubarb Soup

350 g (just over 1/2 pound) rhubarb (about 3 long stalks), chopped
1 liter of water
1 deciliter sugar (about 1/2 a cup) or to taste
1 teaspoon tapioca flour (or potato flour or cornstarch) 

Bring the water to a boil.  Add the rhubarb and allow to cook until it has completely broken down.  Add the sugar to taste, then stir in the flour.  Ladle into bowls and serve.  


* I added a little fresh mint on top and, since I love mint, thought it was delicious.  But that may not be completely authentic.
*  This soup is meant to be served warm, but it's delicious as a chilled summer soup as well

For the porridge

Half of the rhubarb soup as above, still on the stove
3 tablespoons tapioca flour (or potato flour or cornstarch)
3 tablespoons water
Cream or half-and-half
Extra sugar to taste and for sprinkling on top

Whisk the flour into the water until the flour is dissolved.  Whisk this mixture into the soup until the soup begins to thicken into a porridge.  Remove from the heat and transfer to a bowl.  Sprinkle the top of the porridge with sugar to prevent a film from forming and refrigerate overnight.  The porridge will continue to thicken as it cools.

The next day, serve the porridge with a generous helping of cream, and extra sugar.  Serve chilled as dessert.


* Because the porridge uses only tapioca (or potato) flour as its thickener, and no gelatin, this would be the perfect dessert to serve your favorite vegetarian.  

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Potato Salad with Home Marinated Artichokes and Lemon-Tarragon Vinaigrette

I love potato salad, if often more in theory than in reality.  To me, goopy is only occasionally appropriate, and never in a potato salad.  But as John Thorne has said "We are so used to thinking of potato salad as a fixed constellation in the culinary firmament that it almost comes as a shock when the words are reversed into a "salad of potatoes," and it dawns on us that we might do something else with them besides drowning them in mayonnaise, chopped pimento, and hard-boiled egg."

I, however, am not one to diss the classic American potato salad.  Well made, it can be a revelation, as there is absolutely nothing wrong with a good (homemade even) mayonnaise and some hard-boiled egg.  The combination can be nothing short of velvet.  However, it is not the kind of salad I tend to make.  I've made several versions since starting this blog, one with sweet potatoes, and one with purple potatoes with mayonnaise and vinegar.  This one, however, just might be my favorite.  It is also by far the most involved (funny how that works) but the effort is worth it and can be done in steps.

Potato Salad with Home Marinated Artichokes and Lemon-Tarragon Vinaigrette
Slightly adapted because of what was in the kitchen from Annie Somerville's wonderful Fields of Greens

2 pounds new or yellow finn potatoes
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Artichokes with Lemon (recipe follows)
3 scallions, sliced thin (or better, 2 shallots also thinly sliced)
Champagne vinegar
Lemon-Tarragon Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
1 teaspoon drained capers
12 Niçoise olives

Oven preheated to 400 F.  Either toss the potatoes with olive oil or spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt.  Arrange on a baking dish, cover, and bake until the potatoes are tender, 35-40 minutes.

In the meantime, prepare the artichokes.  Toss the shallots or scallions with a splash of Champagne vinegar, which will draw out the color of the shallots.  Make the vinaigrette

When the potatoes are done, remove them from the oven and cut into quarters.  While still warm, toss with the vinaigrette, shallots and capers, as well as the artichokes and olives.  Season with salt and pepper.  

This salad is wonderful served right away, still a bit warm, and just as good once it's chilled in the fridge.  

Lemon-Tarragon Vinaigrette

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (zest of about 1/2 a small lemon)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (juice of about 1 small lemon)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch or two of pepper
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or a combination of water and olive oil (I used 2 tablespoons olive oil and 3 tablespoon water)
2 teaspoons chopped fresh tarragon

In a small bowl, combine all of the ingredients except the oil and tarragon.  Slowly whisk in the oil, then add the tarragon.

Artichokes with Lemon and Mint

3 cups water
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (juice from about 1 1/2 large lemons)
3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar
1/4 cup light olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
4 medium globe artichokes

Combine everything other than the artichokes into a large saucepan.  Cut off the artichoke stems, then peel away the tough outer leaves, down to the tender, pale green leaves.  Cut off the prickly tops and quarter the artichokes.  Remove the choke (the furry inner part as well as the red leaves on top) and add the artichokes to the saucepan as you go.

Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover.  Cook until the artichokes are tender, about 7-8 minutes.  Strain the artichokes out of the marinade and use.

A few things to keep in mind for a good potato salad:

* It is best to roast the potatoes in their skins, which helps them to keep their shape.
*  You can peel them, sometimes I do and sometimes I don't.  But the important thing is to dress them while they're still warm so they absorb the flavors.
* Some people argue that Idaho and russet potatoes are best at absorbing flavors, but new potatoes, fingerlings and yellow fin are also good choices.
*  I tend to keep my potato chunks on the large size, so they don't loose their structure and so they become more like dressed potatoes, rather than a mush of ingredients.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Ramp and Potato Soup with Saffron, Chives and Tomatoes

This recipe comes from the Gourmet Garage Cookbook, one of those small gourmet grocery chains in NYC with which I have a love/hate relationship.  We have a dearth of good grocery stores in my part of the city, even the kind of sucky Gristedes is way overpriced, so we're often at the mercy of the Garage.  But you won't find a deal at these little stores, so if I can, I steer clear.  I don't really want to talk about our grocery stores and the price of food on the island, because it makes me upset, so we're going to skip that part and talk about ramps instead.

Ramps are, evidently, wild leeks.  They look like scallions, only with a full head of leaves, and have a distinctive garlicky flavor to go along with their onion.  They are so good.  So, so good.  The growing season is short, however, so I suggest getting your hands on some right away.  They would be wonderful in scrambled eggs, are popularly fried with potatoes, and feature in this soup.  I don't know what it is about those early spring vegetables, but a soup of green is so welcome after the gray of winter.

Ramp and Potato Soup with Saffron, Chives and Tomatoes
Adapted from Sheryl and Mel London's Gourmet Garage Cookbook

1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons boiling water
2 tablespoons butter
About 4 cups ramps, or 4 bunches, trimmed of the root end and chopped (including leaves)
2 medium sized russet potatoes, peeled and diced
5 cup vegetable broth
2 cups milk (I used skim, it was fine)
Salt and Pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon Tabasco
1/4 cup snipped chives
Good handful cherry tomatoes, quartered

In a small glass, combine the saffron and the boiling water and allow to steep for 10 minutes.  In the meantime, melt the butter in a large dutch oven over medium heat.  Add the ramps and sauté until wilted, about 5 minutes.  Add the potatoes and cook for 1-2 minutes before adding the stock and the saffron along with its liquid.

Bring the soup to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.

With an immersion blender, purée the soup to your desired consistency.  Add the milk and season to taste with salt, pepper and Tabasco.  Heat until it is warmed through, then ladle into bowls and serve sprinkled with chives and topped with tomatoes.


*  My fiance believes that as long as you have teeth, you should not purée soups, preferring, as he does, the chunky kind.  I almost hate to say it, but I tend to agree, since I like to distinguish between ingredients in my soup.  So, I didn't purée this one all the way, but gave it a few good turns with the immersion blender, leaving most of the potato in chunk form.
*  You can substitute leeks for ramps if they're out of season

Carrot Pudding, Gajraila from Pakistan

I realize there's been kind of a dearth of posts around here lately.  Honestly, the kitchen's been a bit quiet.  Most of you probably remember the hell of finals from your undergrad days, but let me tell you, as a TA, it's no better on the other side.  Sure, you may have had to write a couple of 10 page papers and take some tests, but I just finished grading 37 10-page papers, and am in the middle of grading the same number of final exams.  Of course, there are always a few students who make it all worthwhile, the ones I already miss and secretly hope e-mail me for life-advice somewhere down the road.  I'm so frickin' sentimental sometimes. 

But back to all that grading.  It can be slow going.  So if you find yourself sitting on the couch, red pen in hand, for hours at a time, I have a little treat that will bubble away quite happily, almost unattended.  It requires periodic stirring, but think of it as an excuse to change positions every once in a while so you don't grow roots in that couch cushion.  

The recipe comes from a wonderful little book I was recently sent called Endangered Recipes by Lari Robling.  The premise of the four-color book is to collect all of those great, old-fashioned recipes some of us might remember from childhood but may not have thought of for a while.  These are solid, updated classics.  The thing I most appreciate about the book is that she doesn't assume that all food memories revolve around all-American dishes like apple pie. (Although that apple and quince pie looks mighty fine!)  Instead, this recipe is a carrot pudding, or gajraila, a sweet treat you'd be more likely to find in a Pakistani kitchen than a typical American one.  Robling's recipe asks you to chill it, which is what I did for some, but those spoonfuls I snuck before it was refrigerated were just as good warm.  Did I mention that it even borders on healthy?  

Carrot and Cardamom Pudding
From Lari Robling's Endangered Recipes

1 quart 2% milk
1/4 cup basmati rice (I used brown basmati, and that was fine)
1 pound carrots, peeled and grated
1/2 cup sugar (more or less to taste)
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup shelled pistachios

Pour the milk into a medium sauce pan and add the rice.  Allow the rice to soak off the heat for 30 minutes.

Add the carrots, sugar and cardamom.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat so that it simmers.  Cook, uncovered, for 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally.

The directions say that if you want a thicker pudding, you can mash it with a potato masher or take your immersion blender to it.  I went with the blender, and used it just enough so that there was still some texture left.  Add the raisins and more sugar if it's needed (I didn't need it).  Continue cooking for 30 minutes, stirring once in a while so it doesn't stick.

After 30 minutes, transfer to a bowl or dish and refrigerate until chilled.  Garnish with pistachios.


*  Although it is meant to be served chilled, it is heavenly warm (I know from sneaking spoonfuls before it had cooled).  
*  A few events prevented me from adding the raisins (realizing at the last moment that I was out) and the pistachios (the $10 price tag at the grocery store) but I would use both next time.

Monday, May 4, 2009

French Fruit Tart, Guest Post

May's Off the Shelf guest post comes from Camille, of the always lovely Croque-Camille.  I'm sure you'll enjoy it, because it's basically amazing!

French Fruit Tart

I have four cookbooks in my house.  They're all in French, and two are about desserts.  (I suppose this is normal, considering I'm a pâtissière.)  And I don't actually cook from them all that often, so it's kind of serendipitous that when Andrea asked me to write a guest blog I had just fallen in love with a new (to me, anyway) recipe for tart crust.  It comes from Clotilde Cusoulier's Chocolate & Zucchini, and is one of those magical recipes that is both super easy and really works.  It's a little surprising that I've never come across a recipe like this one in the course of my baking career.  The "dough" is incredibly crumbly, and simply pressed into a buttered tart pan to bake.  The resulting crust is so crisp, golden and buttery, that Clotilde warns you may be tempted to eat it straight.  I agree, but when you've got pastry cream and fresh fruit standing by to fill it, the extra few minutes waiting time are well worth it.  As are the couple of minutes it takes to brush the bottom of the tart with a thin layer of melted chocolate.
  This will keep that beautiful crust from getting soggy once the cream and fruit enter
 the picture.

The way I see it, recipes are fluid things.  Suggestions, if you will.  Sure, there are certain ratios that need to be respected: put too much oil in your mayonnaise, or too much liquid in your ganache, and the results will be decidedly less appetizing.  But even these are fluid.  The rule is 8 ounces of oil to one egg yolk for mayonnaise, but you still need to pay attention when you're making it.  Getting too thick?  Thin it with a little water.  Not coming together? Start again with a new yolk.  So when Clotilde suggests using her crust to make a strawberry tart, I ask, "Why not throw in those kiwis I got in the CSA?" and "What if I used Pierre Hermé's recipe for pastry cream instead?

It turns out that the Hermé recipe is really thick.  Like, not even spreadable once it's cooled thick.  Good thing I have a trick or two up my sleeve to get the results I want.  I fold in about an equal volume of very lightly sweetened whipped cream, and all of a sudden, I have crème diplomate, which, in my opinion, is a superior tart (or éclair, for that matter) filling anyway.  Topped with quartered sliced kiwis and halved tiny strawberries, it was a perfect spring dessert.

French Fruit Tart
Translated, adapted and constructed from the French versions of Clotilde Dusoulier's Chocolate and Zucchini and Pierre Hermé and Dorie Greenspan's Desserts by Pierre Hermé

For the crust (pâte sablée):
The original recipe is for one 25 cm or 10 inch tart.  I found it makes enough for two 20 cm or 8 inch tarts, which I baked on separate occasions - the unused dough will keep up to two weeks in an airtight container in the fridge. (Sorry for the weird measurements, I'm converting from metric.  But I'm keeping the weight measures because they work better than volume.  If you don't already have one, a kitchen scale is an invaluable tool.)

75 g/ 2.65 oz cold unsalted butter, cubed, plus some for the tart pan
75 g/ 2.65 oz sugar
150 g/ 5.3 oz flour (pastry flour is ideal, but all-purpose will work, too)
1/4 tsp. fine sea salt
1/2 Tbsp. cold milk
30 g/ 1 oz chocolate

1. Combine the sugar, flour and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter and rub in with your fingertips (or a pastry cutter, or pulse in a food processor) until the mixture takes on the consistency of breadcrumbs.  Add 1 Tbsp. of the milk and gently combine.  The dough will look crumbly, but it should hold together when you squeeze it in your hand.  If not, add the rest of the milk, a little at a time, until the desired result is achieved.

2. Butter a tart pan (the kind with a removable bottom, preferably) and dump in the dough.  Spread it out evenly and press it into the sides and bottom to form a thin crust.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 30 minutes.

3. Heat the oven to 180 C/ 355 F.  Bake the tart shell (sans plastic wrap) until it is nicely browned, about 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool.

Melt the chocolate and brush a thin layer onto the bottom of the cooled tart shell.

For the crème diplomate:
I halved the original recipe to fill my smaller tart shell, if you're making the 10 inch one, go ahead and double the amounts I've given here.

250 g/ 9 oz. milk
1/2 vanilla bean
1 egg + 1 yolk
50 g / 1.8 oz sugar
Pinch of salt
23 g/ .8 oz cornstarch
25 g/ .9 oz unsalted butter, softened
90 ml/ 3 oz. cream, whipped to medium peaks with a teaspoon of sugar, if desired.

1. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the pulp into a saucepan.  Add the milk and heat to a simmer.  Cover and let infuse 15-30 minutes.  Fish out the vanilla bean.

2. Meanwhile, combine the sugar, salt and cornstarch with a whisk.  Stir in a little of the milk, then beat in the egg and yolk.

3.  Bring the milk back up to a simmer, then temper in the egg mixture. (Whisk a little of the hot milk into the eggs, then pour it all back into the saucepan.)  Cook over medium to low heat, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils.  Boil 2-3 minutes to remove the raw starch flavor.  Remove from heat, scrape into a bowl, and whisk in the butter.  Cover directly with plastic wrap and chill thoroughly.

4. Using a rubber spatula, stir the cooled pastry cream to loosen it a bit.  Beat in about a third of the whipped cream.  Fold in the remaining cream in two additions.

For the tart:

Tart Crust:
Crème diplomate
Fresh seasonal fruit, cut into bite-size pieces.

1. Fill the crust with a heaping layer of cream.
2. Top with fruit, the more colorful the better.
3. Serve ASAP.