Wednesday, December 31, 2014

just a little green

I'm on a flight that will never end, so watch out for back-dated entries from October 19 through January 11. Unfortunately, not having time to blog as meals happen means I have very little recollection of what minor tweaks I may have made.

For example, I'm pretty sure I couldn't find pistachio paste anywhere, so I'm pretty sure I made my own from some recipe I found online, but I couldn't tell you which recipe I used. I bet my homemade concoction was why I didn't find these blondies particularly pistachio-y. They were tasty, and lovely with tea, but not enough to fill the specific craving I turned to this recipe for.

Fingers crossed you find that pistachio paste! And use the food coloring - I didn't.

Pistachio Blondies
from Always Order Dessert
makes one 8-inch-square pan

1/2 c. pistachio nut paste
1 c. light brown sugar
1 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 t. baking powder
1 t. kosher salt
1/2 c. butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
2-3 drops green food coloring (optional)
confectioner's sugar, for dusting (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and line an 8"-square baking pan with parchment paper or foil so that it hangs over the sides.

2. Combine the pistachio paste and sugar in the base of a mixer, and beat until evenly combined. Add the flour, baking powder, and salt, and mix again for 1 minute. Add the melted butter, egg, vanilla, and food coloring (if using), and beat until smooth and evenly combined, about 1 minute.

3. Spread the batter into the prepared pan, and bake about 25 minutes, or until set and slightly golden around the edges. Let cool in the pan for a few minutes before lifting out and placing on a rack to cool completely before cutting & dusting with confectioner's sugar.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

somehow i found a way to keep me warm

It. Is. Cold.

It's puffy-coat, put-another-log-on-the-fire, bring-on-the-braising type of weather, and no, I'm no longer in Upstate New York. But I can't really complain if the braise in question is this stunning one involving duck legs, port and cherries.

We didn't get out of LAX until 1:00a last night, so when we decided to host dinner for my dear friend Casey's birthday, time was already against me - there was no time to let the ducks marinate in the spice rub, or let the cherries plump up in port overnight. Luckily, I don't think the seasoning of the duck suffered at all, and the cherries had plenty of time to be restored to boozy, juicy glory while the duck was being seared.

Two hours in the oven courtesy of Le Creuset made the duck incredibly tender, but the end roast/broil meant you didn't have to sacrifice any of the crispy duck skin you get with duck confit. And, I have to say, this method is way safer than trying to cook with hot duck fat.

I was originally going to just make a salad of raw Brussels sprouts and kale to accompany it, but realized I didn't have a starch, and then realized that my frozen kale wasn't going to be terribly attractive in a raw salad, so I cooked up some black rice, quickly sautéed both Brussels and kale in some of duck fat degreased from the braising sauce, and had a really lovely, fresh-tasting, but still satisfying foil to the rich duck.

Duck Braised in Port + Cherries with Warm Black Rice-Brussels Sprouts-Kale Salad
slightly adapted from Molly Stevens' All About Braising
serves 4-6

4 lbs. duck legs
1 t. ground coriander
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/2 t. ground allspice
1 t. dried thyme
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. dried Bing cherries
1 c. tawny port
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
1 c. vegetable stock
1 c. dry black rice
1 c. shredded Brussels sprouts
1 c. sliced kale
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Trim the duck legs of as much excess fat as you can without cutting into the skin of the meat. Collect the fat to render at another time, or discard.

2. Combine the coriander, pepper, allspice, thyme and salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle the spice mixture all over the duck legs and rub so the seasonings adhere. Arrange the duck legs in a single layer in a baking dish, cover with plastic, and refrigerate overnight.

3. In a small bowl, pour the port over the cherries. Set aside to plump overnight.

4. The next day, preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

5. Pat the surface of the duck dry using paper towels, being careful not to wipe off the spices. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. When the skillet is hot, but not scorching, add as many duck pieces, skin-side down, as will fit without crowding. Sear the duck, without disturbing, until the skin is crisp and taut, about 4-6 minutes. Lift one edge with tongs to peek to see that the skin is crisp before turning. Pan-fry the other side just until spots of brown appear, another 2-3 minutes. Transfer the duck to a Dutch oven. If your skillet did not fit all the duck, pour off the excess fat, and repeat with the remaining duck legs. Reserve 2 t. of the duck fat, and discard the rest. Remove any black specks from the skillet with a damp paper towel.

6. Return the skillet to medium heat, add the reserved 2 t. of duck fat and the shallot, and sauté until the shallot begins to soften, 1-2 minutes. Add the cherries and their soaking liquid, increase the heat to medium-high, and simmer to reduce the liquid by half, about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaf and stock, and reduce again by half, another 5 minutes.

7. Pour the reduced port-stock mixture over the duck legs. Cover with parchment paper, pressing down on the paper so it nearly touches the duck and extends over the sides of the pan by about an inch. Cover with a tight lid. Slide into the middle of the oven to braise at a gentle simmer. After 1 hour, turn the duck legs with tongs. Continue braising gently until the duck is fork-tender and pulling away from the bone, another hour or so.

8. Meanwhile, bring the black rice and 1 3/4 c. of water to a boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer gently for 35-45 minutes, until all the water is absorbed. Fluff the rice with a fork, and set aside, covered.

9. Remove the duck from the oven, and, with tongs, arrange the legs skin side up on a sheet pan. Increase the oven heat to 475 degrees.

10. Degrease the sauce left in the Dutch oven as much as possible, and then set it over medium-high heat and simmer rapidly until reduced to a syrupy sauce, about 3 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper, and set aside.

11. Once the oven has reached 475 degrees, slide the pan of duck legs onto a rack in the upper part of the oven, and roar until the skin on top is crispy and sizzling, 8 to 10 minutes.

12. Meanwhile, in the cast iron pan, quickly sauté the Brussels sprouts and kale. Add the black rice, and toss to combine. When the duck is done, place them it on the bed of vegetables and rice and serve, with the port-cherry sauce on the side.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

home for the holidays

Home sweet potato. I've just landed back on Los Angeles soil after 7 weeks away, and the only thing I could think of was how quickly I could get back to my kitchen. I was positively aching to peel, chop, roast, mash, whisk, fold, bake, whip, frost.

But first, emails. While I caught up from being disconnected on a 12-hour flight, Matty got groceries, we welcomed me back with breakfast burritos and pizza, and then I got to making this Sweet Potato Cake with Toasted Marshmallow Frosting for an early Christmas dinner with my grandparents.

Some of it may be that I was so happy to be back working in the kitchen again, but I thought everything about this cake was perfect. The syrup that cooks down from the sweet potatoes is absolutely divine. Once I roasted the full 2 1/2 lbs., I had about 4 cups of puree, and could easily have served half of the mash as a dinner side in addition to using the other half for the cake. Or, I could make another cake.

I subbed in walnut oil for vegetable oil just to make things a little more interesting, and I don't like allspice, so I left it out, but otherwise, I followed the recipe as directed.

Blame the rust, but I had a slight problem once I got to the sugar syrup for the frosting. I boiled it way past a syrupy consistency, so once it hit the egg whites, it kind of just seized up and left me with a couple nuggets of ginger-y candy at the bottom of the mixer bowl. I would have much preferred to have just boiled the syrup until the sugar dissolved, and then allowed that to mix with the whipped egg whites to better distribute the spicy sweetness.

Now, this makes a very tall cake, so plan accordingly. Consider splitting it for a layer cake, using some of that deliciously fluffy frosting between the layers as well. I love a sheet cake, so I may just halve the recipe next time for a thinner cake, or use the recipe as is in a larger pan for a larger gathering.

(And I am literally sitting here, all of a sudden super-mad at myself for not thinking of making the leftover frosting into meringues or a pavlova. I think my honorary Aussie title has just been stripped. I can only hope it's still good when I'm back from the East Coast next week).

It was a big hit with the fam, who are folks who prefer a less-sweet dessert, but that's not to say the cake wasn't, at the same time, quite rich. The sweet potatoes add substance without weighing the cake down or making the flavor too cloying. Couple that with traditional spices of the holidays, and you have an alternative for the usual over-decadence that happens at this time of year, without sacrificing any of the satisfaction that can only come from capping off a big dinner with an equally big dessert.

Sweet Potato Cake with Toasted Marshmallow Frosting
slightly adapted from Serious Eats
makes one 9x13 cake

For the sweet potatoes:
2 1/2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices
1/2 c. orange juice
4 T. butter, melted
1/4 c. packed dark brown sugar
1/4 c. bourbon
1/4 t. salt

For the cake:
3 c. flour
1 T. orange zest
2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
1 c. sugar
1 c. packed brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 T. orange juice
1 1/2 c. walnut oil
1/4 c. bourbon
2 t. vanilla extract

For the frosting:
1 1/3 c. sugar
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/4 c. bourbon
2 T. light corn syrup
6 large egg whites
1/4 t. salt

1: For the sweet potatoes: Adjust the oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the sweet potato slices in a foil-lined 9x13 baking pan.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the orange juice, melted butter, brown sugar, bourbon, and salt. Pour the mixture over the sweet potatoes, and bake until they’re tender and syrupy, about 1 hour, stirring to coat in liquid every 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

3. Transfer the sweet potatoes and any syrup to the food processor, and process until smooth. Measure out 2 cups, and reserve the rest for another use.

4. For the cake: Grease a 13x9-inch baking dish with butter.

5. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, orange zest, cinnamon, ginger, baking soda, and salt.

6. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the sugar, brown sugar, and eggs on medium speed until thickened and lightened in color, about 2 minutes. With the mixer running, slowly add the orange juice, oil, bourbon, and vanilla. Reduce speed to low, and add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the sweet potatoes. Mix just until combined, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed.

7. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 1 1/2 hours. Transfer the cake to a cooling rack, and cool completely in the pan, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

8. For the toasted marshmallow frosting: Combine the sugar, cinnamon, ginger, bourbon, and corn syrup in large heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves.

9. While the syrup boils, place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of a stander mixer, and beat with the whisk attachment on medium-low speed until whites begin to loosen and froth, about 1 minute. Increase speed to medium-high and beat whites until soft peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes.

10. With the mixer running on medium-high speed, slowly and carefully add the syrup to the egg whites. Beat until outside of bowl is cool to the touch and whites are thick and glossy, about 7 minutes.

11. Spread the frosting on the cooled cake with a spatula, pulling up on meringue to create decorative peaks. Torch meringue to lightly toast. Serve immediately.