Sunday, October 31, 2010

everyone hail to the pumpkin song


In the last 4 years of our co-habitation, Matty and I have been 4 for 4 on buying pumpkins for Halloween carving. We are also 4 for 4 on never getting around to carving them. And while pumpkins on the porch are a lovely enough fall decoration, this year, we resolved to carve.

We put it in our calendars, and when Friday rolled around, I made this Pumpkin Tarte Tatin to honor the occasion, and then we cleared the table and took out the steak knives for pumpking decorating.

The tart was better than either of us could have expected. I really just wanted a pumpkin dish, and this was one of the first that showed up in my search. Matty wasn't sure how he'd feel about a savory pumpkin tart, but kudos to him for keeping an open mind.

The original recipe calls for a short crust, but suggested puff pastry was a suitable subsitution, so I went that route, if only to get dinner on the table faster. The original also calls for goat cheese instead of blue and a bit of cream. Matty hates goat cheese, so I was always going to substitute blue. I found this blue at Whole Foods that layered in mascarpone, and was really excited about using it (and omitting the cream), but I took a taste, and I thought it was a little too funky for this tart. I did have standard blue cheese crumbles, so I used those instead. They were perfect.

My pumpkin and onions turned out a little dark, so I would caution against caramelizing yours well before putting everything into the oven. I had also sliced my pumpkin fairly thin, so probably didn't need to pre-caramelize them on the stovetop at all.

Pumpkin Tarte Tatin
from The Los Angeles Times
Serves 4

4 T. olive oil
1 large onion, sliced thinly
About 1/4 small (3 to 3 1/2 pounds) pumpkin
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, divided
salt and pepper
1 ounce blue cheese crumbles
1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed

1. Heat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Put 2 T. olive in a 10-inch nonstick, ovenproof skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onion, salt to taste and half the rosemary and saute, stirring often, until very soft and caramelized, about 20 to 25 minutes.

3. While the onions are cooking, peel and seed the pumpkin. Slice into 1/4-inch thick slices.

4. When the onions are done cooking, transfer to a bowl. Wipe the skillet clean and add the remaining olive oil over medium heat. Arrange the pumpkin slices in the skillet in slightly overlapping layers, but with most of the pumpkin flat on the skillet so the surfaces will caramelize. The pumpkin should cover the bottom completely. Sprinkle with the remaining rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until the bottom slices start to caramelize, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover the skillet and cook until the pumpkin is soft but not falling apart, about 10 minutes. Crumble the blue cheese and scatter the onions evenly over the pumpkin.

5. Roll the thawed puff pastry into an 11-inch square. Drape over the skillet and trim the pastry to just cover the vegetables.

6. Bake in the top third of the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until the crust is browned. Using a small spatula around the edges of the skillet to release the crust, immediately invert the tarte onto a serving platter. Cut it into wedges and serve warm or hot.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 25, 2010

keep me warm


It's finally stopped raining in LA, but the wind's picked up, and it's still fairly chilly. A perfect evening for warm, slurpy, earthy Porcini Mushroom Soup. I love how substantial soba noodles can turn a dish. Their texture and flavor are also perfect for this soup. I'd also love to try this with the bags of dried shiitake mushrooms you can get from an Asian grocery store for practically nothing. I also loved how the mushrooms and tofu played off each other, so I think I also have a new stir-fry option.

Porcini Mushroom Soup
from 101 Cookbooks
Serves 4-6

2 oz. of dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups hot water
1 T. olive oil
3 shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped
15 oz. extra-firm tofu, cut into 1/2" cubes
4 cups water
2-4 teaspoons salt
10 oz. soba noodles

1. Soak the porcini mushrooms in 2 cups of hot water for about 15 minutes, or until they are soft.

2. Meanwhile, cook soba noodles according to package instructions. Drain and set aside.

3. Heat the olive oil in a large thick-bottomed pot, saute the shallots for a couple of minutes, then stir in the rosemary and tofu. Stir in the porcini along with the soaking liquid, the 4 cups of water, and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook for ten minutes. Add cooked soba noodles. Adjust salt according to taste.

***EDIT: This is equally good the next day as a "dry" pasta dish - the noodles will have absorbed all the flavor of the broth. If you're looking to have leftover soup, though, you'll need to keep the noodles and broth separate (or add more water and adjust seasoning accordingly.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

everything i need


It's cold. (What? Fall? Rain?)

I'm carbo-loading for Sunday's race. (Wanna donate? See below.)

I was home late from birthday drinks with my co-workers, so I needed something quick and filling.

All of the above was the universe's way of conspiring to get Boozy Beef Chili into my life. And to get my delicious carbs, I served it over macaroni. It's like bolognese, just a million times better.

I had a heck of a time balancing the flavors - I thought 2 T. brown sugar was way too sweet for my palate, so I ended up adding a lot of salt to make it work. It's also quite spicy - I might not add the cayenne next time and let the chili powder do all the work.

But despite all that, with the macaroni and the cheese and sour cream toppings (and the occasional Frito) all swirled together in the biggest bowl I could find, this chili was deeply satisfying. I cannot wait for the leftovers to mellow out because I already know what I'm having for dinner tomorrow.

Boozy Beef Chili Mac
from Food Blogga

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 1/2 lbs. ground beef
1 1/2-2 T. chili powder
1 t. ground cumin
salt to taste
2 (14.5 oz) cans of pinto or red kidney beans, drained
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes with the juice
1 (12 oz) bottle Guinness
1 lb. macaroni

1. In a large pot over medium-high heat, saute onion and pepper in oil for 5 minutes. Add meat. Cook until browned, about 10 minutes. Stir in spices. Add beans, tomatoes, and beer and stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce to low and simmer for 20-25 minutes, or until thick and soupy. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.

2. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.

3. To serve, portion out macaroni and top with chili. Also delicious with an over-easy egg over top for breakfast.

Oh yeah, and donate!

Monday, October 18, 2010

the sweetest surprise


It's my birthday! I am in the most charming cabin in one of the prettiest places in the world. I have nothing to complain about, but if I HAD to complain about something, it's being away from my kitchen. But I'll take charming and pretty any day.

I won't be baking and blogging about my own cake this year, but I do have a backlog of friends' birthday baked goods that I haven't had a chance to share.

First up are are goodies for my friend Leah. She's a fairly new friend so I had a couple ideas for her birthday, but nothing that I could be sure of to be the exact perfect thing. That is, until she IM'ed me the link to Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies. I mean...

The recipe makes a huge batch, so I baked them at my friend Paul's house during a game-watch, and used everyone there as guinea pigs for the recipe. I learned that whereas I generally prefer a soft, chewy cookie, the ones I "overbaked" were even better.

They don't really hold the fork marks - what you see above are cookies just about to go in the oven. They spread quite a bit, so make sure you leave plenty of space on the cookie sheet. Be prepared to eat more than you think you can - they go down mighty easy.

Peanut Butter Bacon Cookies
from KCRW's Good Food Blog
Makes 4 dozen

10 oz bacon, cut into ladrons and cooked until crisp
1/4 c. reserved bacon fat, cool enough to be solid
3/4 c. unsalted butter
1 c. granulated sugar
1 c. dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 c. peanut butter, chunky or smooth
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 T. granulated sugar
1 t. fine sea salt

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Cream the bacon fat, butter, and sugars until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs, vanilla, baking soda, and salt and combine well. Mix in the peanut butter. Stir in flour until just combined. Add in bacon crumbles and mix until they are evenly distributed.

3. Scoop heaping tablespoons of dough about 2 inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. For each cookie, take a dinner fork and dip the tines in the granulated sugar, and press the tines into a ball of cookie dough, creating an impression. Rotate fork 90 degrees and press the tines into the dough again, creating a criss-cross pattern. Sprinkle each cookie with a small pinch of sea salt.

4. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating pan once during baking.




This past Friday, Matty and I attended only the second surprise party I've ever been a part of. As I was sitting in the dark in our friend Jodi's condo, paper birthday hat strapped uncomfortably to my head, noisemaker at the ready, I got me to thinking that while the sentiment is amazing - all the advance planning someone went to to assemble your closest friends together for just one moment of surprise - I cannot imagine wanting it for myself. I startle easily as it is. A bunch of people shouting at me from a dark apartment that I left empty just a few hours ago? Surely a disaster.

However, Jodi's husband did an amazing job, and it was a really fun party. I brought what became my new favorite tonight: Pound of Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Whipped Cream Frosting.

The cake is more of a hybrid between brownies and fudge, but you can call it anything you want, and I'll still stand in line for it. A rose by any other name would still have a pound of chocolate in it. And it's mind-blowingly easy to make, especially if you skip the fuss of a double-boiler and just melt the chocolate and butter in the microwave like I did.

I wanted a fluffier frosting because I thought ganache might be overkill. In my chocolate cake search, I had come across one from Heidi Swanson which featured the whipped cream frosting. What's fluffier than whipped cream? And what's more interesting than sweetening chocolate with maple syrup? The answer to both of these questions is, "Nothing." Use salted butter, and you get the most grown-up flavor palette with the most joyfully kid-like frosting texture. Perfect for birthdays, I think.

Pound of Chocolate Cake
from Leite's Culinaria

16 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
3/4 c. unsalted butter, cut into pieces
4 large eggs
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 t. salt
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. all-purpose flour

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan with 2-inch sides and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper long enough to extend over the opposite sides of the pan. Butter the paper.

2. Place the chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave at 1-minute intervals, stirring until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed, beat the eggs, sugar, salt, and vanilla until fluffy and lightened in color, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the melted chocolate mixture until blended. Add the flour and mix just until no white streaks remain. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan.

4. Bake until the top of the cake is shiny and firm and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with moist crumbs clinging to it, about 35 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 1 hour.

5. Once the cake is completely cool, spread liberally with Chocolate Whipped Cream Frosting.

Chocolate Whipped Cream Frosting
from 101 Cookbooks
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/4 c. maple syrup
1 c. heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks

1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave.

2. In a medium bowl beat the butter until smooth and fluffy. Beat in the maple syrup. Then add the melted chocolate. Stir until silky smooth - any flecks of butter should be melted.

3. Pour the chocolate mixture over the whipped cream and fold the chocolate into the cream. Keep going until the chocolate is well incorporated. Use an offset spatula to frost the completely cooled cake.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

my favorite plum


I just got reminded at today's tailgate that I hadn't sent my friend Olivia the recipe for the Plum + Peach Crisp I brought to her house for the first game-watch of the season. Which reminded me that I hadn't blogged about it either since I was then-ensconced in food-blogging through Katy Perry's Teenage Dream.

I can still remember the joy that it was. I remember going to the Farmers Market and picking out perfume-y peaches and the sweetest, reddest Satsuma plums. They were so sweet, I didn't even bother with the I should have taken a photo in the assembly - they were the perfect school-pride dessert - all cardinal and gold perfection.

Kick-off was early that evening, so I had to leave straight from the office, which meant most of the assembly was happening at the office and baking would happen at Olivia's. I made the crisp topping before I left for work that morning and brought it in in a Ziploc bag. At the end of the day, it was just a matter of tossing the fruit into the pie plate, adding the topping and baking it off.

Reminiscing makes me wish we were still in the throes of summer and stone fruit season, but if fall means candy apples like the massive one I threw back in the third quarter, then bring it on.

Plum + Peach Crisp
from 101 Cookbooks

Filling:
1 lb. ripe peaches
1 lb. ripe plums
1/4 c. brown sugar (if needed)
1 T. plus 1 t. cornstarch

Topping:
3/4 c. rolled oats
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
big pinch of salt
1/3 c. butter, melted
1/3 c. yogurt

1. Preheat the oven to 400F degrees.

2. Cut the peaches and plums into bite-sized, 1-inch pieces. Place the chopped fruit in a medium-sized bowl.

3. In a separate small bowl whisk together the 1/4 c. sugar and the cornstarch. Sprinkle over the fruit, toss gently and transfer the fruit to an 8-inch square baking dish.

4. To make the topping combine the oats, flour, sugar, and cinnamon together in a medium bowl. Stir in the butter, and then the yogurt and mix until everything comes together in a dough-like texture. Sprinkle the crumble evenly over the plum and peach mixture.

5. Place the baking dish in the oven, middle rack, and bake for about 20-25 minutes, or until the topping is golden. Sprinkle a bit more sugar on top as it comes out of the ovens. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

make up your mind


I've been having just the most terrible time figuring out what to make for dinner. Oh, I have plenty of recipes bookmarked, but while they tickled my fancy at the time, they don't sound like they'd hit the spot now. In addition, our lunches at work have criss-crossed through all sorts of cuisine, so it's been extra-hard to find something that one of us hadn't just had earlier in the day.

Thank goodness for a site like What the Fuck Should I Make for Dinner because, sometimes, that's exactly what I'm thinking. After a couple clicks and plenty of laughter, I came across Salt-Cooked Salmon. Since I'm always looking for new ways to cook salmon, and because I buy salt from Costco, I had no hesitation trying this method.

The salmon doesn't turn out as gorgeous as the Slow-Cooked Salmon turns out, and because it did turn a near-white shade of pink, I was afraid I had over-cooked it. Not to worry, though - the salmon was just perfect. If I liked the word "succulent," I would use it.

Salt-Cooked Salmon
from MyRecipes
Serves 2

3/4 lb. center-cut salmon fillet with skin
2 c. kosher salt
1/4 t. black pepper

1. Season the salmon with a little salt and the pepper.

2. Pour the remaining salt into a large cast-iron skillet. Place the skillet over high heat until the salt begins to smoke.

3. Put the salmon, skin-side down, on the salt. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook 10 minutes or just until the salmon is no longer translucent. Remove from heat. Lift the salmon fillet from the skin and serve.

I knew I wanted to serve it with couscous, but I needed a vegetable to round things out. Was tired of the usual suspects, and wanted something a little more comforting than just a straight-up roast, so I gave in to my list of recipe bookmarks and dragged out these Baked Artichoke Hearts. It takes a little bit of time, but most of it is hands-off, so it's not like it's a hassle. And, it makes your house smell like an Italian restaurant. I was a little hesitant to pour that lemon dressing over everything, but it really made the dish pop. Such a lovely combination of flavors and textures. I don't want to get too crazy, but it may just end up on the Thanksgiving menu.

Baked Artichoke Hearts
Serves 8

1 1/2 c. fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 c. finely chopped fresh curly leaf parsley
4 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated
1 T. Italian seasoning blend
1 t. coarse salt
ground pepper
3 cans (9 oz. each) artichoke hearts
2/3 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for baking dishes
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice (from 2 lemons)
1 t. finely grated lemon zest
2 garlic cloves, minced

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Combine breadcrumbs, parsley, cheeses, herbs, and salt in a medium bowl, and season with pepper.

2. Brush oil inside one 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Spread artichokes into a single layer. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over artichokes, pushing it into cracks between hearts. Tap bottom of dishes on counter to settle breadcrumb mixture.

3. Whisk oil, lemon juice and zest, and garlic in a small bowl. Drizzle dressing evenly over breadcrumb topping. Cover dish with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Increase temperature to 375 degrees. Uncover, and bake until breadcrumbs are golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Serve immediately.

Friday, October 8, 2010

baby, i'm back


Finally back in my kitchen after two weeks in Europe. Time to make a big ol' mess!

While waiting for Matty to wrap rehearsal so we could have dinner, I did a bit of baking for tonight's social ventures - a banana cake for my friend Kim's birthday (which I'll link and blog about on a later occasion since a) I forgot to take a photo, and b) I didn't have any, so I can't very well comment), and Toasted Coconut Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World for a Reverse Osmosis reunion.

These cupcakes weren't meant to happen, but in my rush (and excitement) to grocery shop, I forgot soy milk, a key component to most of the cupcakes in this book. I was dragging by the time I realized this (6p PT = 3a CET, aka the time I was getting to sleep while overseas), so I wasn't about to go back out to the grocery store. I dug around the pantry in hopes of unearthing some, but all that turned up were two cans of coconut milk.

Luckily, that was enough to make these cupcakes. I loved that there was cocoa powder involved - chocolate and coconut go so well together, but I so rarely see them together in baked goods. I didn't use quite as much shredded coconut because I was low on it, but I think it was for the best - any more, and I feel the texture would have been ruined. I also ran out of vanilla extract so I subbed in half as much almond extract, which I think really nicely punched up the coconut flavor.

I really loved how these turned out. Dense and chocolaty with a nice, powerful coconut profile. Even the non-vegans liked them!

***EDIT: I left these cupcakes out uncovered two nights in a row, and they're still soft and moist as ever. Yay for coconut's high fat content!***


The timing worked out well so that when the baking extravaganza was complete, Matty had finished rehearsal as well. Dinner time. I set a lovely shallot cream sauce to cook, and then started making Oyster Tortelli from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Pasta, Pizza, Calzone.

I've had my eye on this recipe for a long time, and while I plan on making them again with homemade pasta and gorgeous oysters, time and money played into tonight's dinner, and so I shortcutted with wonton wrappers and massive Western oysters from a jar, cut into quarters to fit the wrappers. I would also like to try these filled with smoked oysters at some point as well, especially considering the success with the smoked clams.

Even with all the corners cut, the tortelli were still decadent and delicious, with the highlight being the shallot cream sauce. I didn't want to use oyster juice in the sauce because I didn't want the entire dish to be that briny, so I subbed in dry vermouth and basically let the caramelized shallots cook down until the vermouth evaporated. I would happily eat that over anything.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

sweet surprise, i could get used to unusual you


The weather has been chilly here in Eastern Europe, and it's made me wish I had packed more than a carry-on so that I could have fit in more cute winter gear, and it's made me daydream of being able to cook Thanksgiving-esque food - lovely roast poultry, carbs, little else. Sans oven, though, the best I can do is recount this Roast Chicken with Fennel from a couple weeks ago.

It was one of the simplest meals I have ever prepared. I don't have any luck roasting whole chickens, so I used all thighs - in my opinion, the best parts of the chicken anyway. The broccoli I served with it was roasted in the same oven towards the end of the chicken-roasting time, and the couscous just hung out on the stovetop waiting to be served.

I was a little concerned the fennel might be overwhelming - neither of us are really into that anise/licorice-flavored stuff, but our last fennel experience (fennel pollen, which I get is almost completely different) was great, so I decided to bite the bullet. It came out of the oven softly caramelized with the texture and lusciousness of caramelized onions, but with enough of a flavor difference to make it just a little mysterious and special. Sometimes it's fun to give your tastebuds a surprise when your brain has already assumed and registered something else.

Roast Chicken with Fennel
Serves 4

1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil, or as needed
2 bulbs fennel, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 lbs. chicken drumsticks and thighs
Chopped fresh parsley leaves for garnish

1. Heat oven to 450 degrees. Drizzle bottom of shallow roasting pan or baking sheet with about half the olive oil and cover it with a layer of the fennel. Overlap pieces if necessary but use whole pan. Drizzle remaining oil over fennel and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle chicken pieces with salt and pepper.

2. Top fennel with the chicken parts, skin side up. Spoon some of the oil from bottom of pan over chicken. Roast about 15 minutes, then baste chicken with pan drippings and rotate the pan. If necessary, adjust oven temperature so chicken browns but does not burn.

3. The chicken will be done in about 30 minutes. Serve each piece with some fennel and a little of the pan juices spooned over, garnished with parsley.