Sunday, April 20, 2014

i must leave you for a little while

Easter is my Spring Thanksgiving. I'm not sure that anything makes me happier than being completely consumed by preparing food for a dozen friends (and one baby - although, technically, I only provided a banana for baby Wyatt's avocado-banana mash, which may or may not be my own breakfast tomorrow).

I was particularly bossy in planning this Easter - it's the last time I get to cook for about 6 weeks, so I only allowed folks to bring booze (and did they ever!).

I have to say - this Easter was brought to you by Pinterest. There were a couple things that would normally be too cutesy for me to make (honeydew fruit basket, baked potato eggs), and usually these are the kinds of things that only end in disaster, as I firmly believe most of the cutest things on Pinterest must undergo some heavy Photoshopping.

But in any case, I discovered the trick for not overfilling and completely destroying the baked potato eggs. It does require separating the whites and the yolk, but saving myself the frustration of overflowing eggs was well worth the extra step.

Baked Potato Eggs
serves 12

12 large Russet potatoes
olive oil, salt and pepper for baking
3 T. butter, cut into 12 even pieces
12 large eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Rub the potatoes with olive oil, salt and pepper, and wrap each potato in a square of aluminum foil. Bake in the oven for 45-60 minutes, then let cool completely. I highly recommend doing this the night before.

2. When the potatoes are completely cool, lay each one on it's flattest side, and cut off the top 1/2-inch of each potato. Scoop out the insides of the potatoes, leaving about a 1/4-inch shell all around. Place a small piece of butter in the bottom of each potato bowl. Reserve the potato insides for mashed potatoes for dinner.

3. Working with one egg at a time, separate the whites from the yolk. Gently drop the yolk first into the potato bowl, and then fill the potato with the egg white, stopping about 1/4-inch from the top. Repeat with all of the eggs.

4. Bake the eggs in a 425-degree oven until the whites are set. Serve with your favorite baked potato accoutrements.

Yet another egg recipe - more appetizer than main course. The texture is a little odd because of all the ricotta and Parmesan - a little gritty, and a lot squishy, but it's an excellent vehicle for carrying smoked salmon in your mouth if you choose to top off a square. It's got great spring-time flavors with the peas and mint, but I really can't imagine having a whole slice for breakfast.

Spring Pea + Ricotta Torte
slightly adapted from Food52

1 T. butter
1 shallot, finely chopped, about 1/4 cup
2 c. shelled peas
1/4 c. water or chicken stock
1 c. whole milk ricotta
4 large eggs
1/4 c. sour cream
1/2 c. finely grated Parmesan cheese
2 T. finely chopped fresh mint
1 t. black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line an 8"x8" baking dish with foil, and grease the foil.

2. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened, one minute. Add the peas and salt to taste; sauté briefly to coat. Add water or stock. Cook until peas are tender and liquid has evaporated. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

3. Transfer half of the peas to the bowl of a food processor, and purée. Add the ricotta, and pulse to blend. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition. Transfer to a bowl.

4. Whisk in the sour cream and Parmesan. Stir in the remaining peas, mint, and black pepper. Pour the egg mixture into the prepared pan. Bake in the oven until edges are golden brown and center is puffed and cooked through, about 30-35 minutes. Remove and let cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

And yet another egg dish, as our resident omelette maker, Greg, is still laid up in ACL surgery recovery-land. And truly, any excuse to have pasta for breakfast is one I will take. It's one of my favorite dishes at Hugo's - sort of carbonara-like, but not saucy. It makes it slightly more appropriate for breakfast that you can see the eggs.

Pasta Mama
slightly adapted from Hugo's Restaurant
serves 8

1 lb. farfalle
1/2 lb. bacon, diced
3 oz. kale, thinly sliced
6 eggs, beaten
2 T. minced parsley

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the farfalle to al dente, drain, and set aside.

2. In a skillet large enough to hold the pasta, cook the bacon until lightly golden. Add the kale, and saute until wilted.

3. Add the drained pasta, and the eggs, and cook until the eggs are dry, stirring constantly. Serve with parsley garnish.

And now, the sweets. I'm not a huge fan of making cinnamon rolls because there's never enough time to wait for dough to rise most mornings, but it's well worth it for special occasions. I followed the suggestion of letting the final rise happen overnight in the fridge, but I don't feel it rose quite as well, so next time, I'll allow for even more time for all the rising to happen on top of my stove, where it's nice and cozy-warm.

This espresso dough is absolutely divine - in fact, I wonder if I can repurpose it for bread when I don't want to go the Nutella filling route. Not that there's a single thing wrong with the Nutella filling, but I think it would be equally good as a slice slathered with a little cream cheese for a more casual breakfast.

Nutella Espresso Rolls
from Pastry Affair

For the dough:
1/2 c. milk, barely warmed
2 T. butter, melted
1 1/2 t. active dry yeast
1 T. instant coffee
3 T. sugar
1 large egg
2 c. all-purpose flour

For the filling:
1/4 c. brown sugar, packed
1 t. instant coffee
1/2 c. Nutella

1. In a large mixing bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the barely warm milk and melted butter and allow to sit about 5-10 minutes until the mixture is frothy. Mix in the intant coffee, sugar, and egg. Gradually add in the flour, mixing until the dough comes together. If the dough is too dry and will not come together, add small amounts of water until it does. Conversely, if the dough is too sticky, add flour until it becomes workable; however, do not add too much flour or the bread will become dense.

2. Turn out the dough on a lightly-floured surface and knead the dough for 7-10 minutes, or until elastic. Cover the dough with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rise until doubled in a warm place, about 2 hours.

3. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar and espresso powder.

4. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to an 11- by 15-inch rectangle. Spread the dough evenly with the Nutella, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges Sprinkle on the brown sugar mixture. From the longer end, roll the dough very tightly until it forms a log. Cut off the ends of the dough and cut the log into 1 1/2-inch segments.

5. Place the rolls into a 10-inch round pan. Cover and allow the dough to rise until it doubles in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

6. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the tops are golden. Serve hot.

And while the rolls were quite enough sweets for the morning, knowing that this brunch would go into the late hours of the afternoon meant brunch dessert was required. And since I'm skipping town in the midst of my garden positively exploding, I thought I'd use up a couple carrots. Including these two naughty ones:

Winning Facebook comments include:
- "That explains where baby carrots come from."
- "It's just a carrot piggyback ride, mind out of the gutter people!"
- "Carrot sutra."

I mean, I honestly nearly screamed when I pulled that out of the dirt at about 11p last night. Really not what I was expecting.

But whatever needed to happen to make this cake happen works for me. It's a light and almost crumbly little thing, with a lovely almond and lemon perfume. It's nothing at all like your traditional carrot cake, all rich and buttery with holiday flavors, but if that's appropriate for a fall holiday like Thanksgiving, then this cake is the Easter equivalent.

I made an awful-looking ricotta-based frosting for this (thank you, sliced almonds, for covering up the mess), so I won't bother you with the recipe - just use your favorite cream cheese or buttercream frosting to dress it up.

Carrot Almond Cake
from Sassy Radish

4 T. butter, plus more for the pan
1 1/2 c. almond meal
finely grated zest of 2 lemons
3/4 c. + 2 T. sugar, divided
1 1/4 c. unbleached cake flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. fine sea salt
4 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 t. almond extract
scant 2 c. finely grated carrots

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Melt the 4 T. of butter and set it aside to cool.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond meal, lemon zest, 2 T. sugar, flour, baking powder and salt.

3. Using an electric mixer, beat together the eggs and the remaining 3/4 c. sugar on high speed until pale, foamy, glossy, and thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and add the remaining flour mixture and the almond extract, incorporating it until well mixed. Pour the cooled melted butter over the batter and then, quickly, fold it in. Fold in the carrots.

4. Scrape the batter into a greased 9-inch pan, smooth over the top, and place the cake in the center of the oven. Lower the heat to 350 degrees, and bake until the cake is springy to the touch in the center, lightly browned, and is beginning to pull away rom the sides of the pan, 35 to 45 minutes. Let cool completely in its pan. Serve with your favorite cream cheese frosting.

Friday, April 11, 2014

to make it better

This beautiful Friday morning thinks it's Monday. I had to drop off my car at the repair shop because the suspension has gotten so bad I can't hear myself text over it. Then, home for last-minute expense itemizations for my tax appointment. And then, about an hour after I had left my trainer's gym, I realized my shorts were on both inside-out and backwards.

Honestly. The only antidote to this day is Peanut Butter Waffles. They smell more peanut butter-y than they taste, but there were delicious bites occasionally where the blender hadn't done that great of a job combining the peanut butter with the rest of the ingredients. Because of that, I think I'd use crunchy peanut butter next time just to get more bits of flavor in.

Peanut Butter Waffles
from Martha Stewart
makes 6 waffles

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
2 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
6 T. creamy peanut butter
2 c. buttermilk
2 large eggs
sliced bananas and maple syrup, for serving

1. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a blender, blend the melted butter and peanut butter until smooth, 1 minute. Add the buttermilk and eggs, and blend until combined, 1 minute. Add buttermilk mixture to flour mixture and stir just until batter is combined.

2. Brush waffle iron with butter and pour in 3/4 c. batter. Cook until waffles are golden brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer waffles to rack in low oven to keep warm; repeat with remaining batter. Serve with bananas and maple syrup.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

it doesn't get better than this

A couple weeks ago, a boys' weekend ski trip ended in our good buddy's torn ACL. An ACL that was finally surgically repaired this morning before the sun came up.

After I dropped Greg off at the hospital, I hit the gym to make up for what I was about to do. Make this Chorizo Mac + Cheese for the boys' dinner since I knew I was going to be working late tonight.

It's been a long time since I've gone into hyperbole about a mac and cheese, but all that hyperbole was waiting for was this. It's all pretty straightforward here - spicy, flavorful chorizo and nearly 2 pounds of cheese - but somehow completely perfect. You 100% cannot go wrong. It makes everything better, and bonus - will put you in a food coma even if you've over-caffeinated your Hump Day like I did today.

Chorizo Mac + Cheese
slightly adapted from The Amateur Gourmet
serves 8

1 lb. penne
1/2 lb. fresh Mexican chorizo
4 oz. Cotija cheese, crumbled
1 1/2 c. milk
2 T. butter
2 T. flour
1 1/2 lb. extra sharp cheddar, shredded

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the pasta until al dente, drain, and return to pot.

2. Squeeze the chorizo out of their casings and break into bite size pieces. Cook the chorizo in a large pan until well browned, about 10 minutes. Mix the chorizo and Cotija cheese in with the drained pasta, and set aside.

3. Preheat the oven to 350. Lightly grease a 9x13 pan.

4. In the same pan you used to cook the chorizo, melt the butter. Add the flour, and stir until a light-brown roux is created. Add the milk, and whisk constantly until the sauce thickens enough to evenly coat the back of a spoon. Add the cheddar in large handfuls, stirring until melted before adding the next batch. Reserve about 1 c. of cheese for topping.

5. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta, and stir all around to coat. Top with the reserved cheddar. Bake for 25 minutes or until crispy brown on top. Allow the dish to cool for 5 minutes before serving.