lentil and chickpea salad with feta and tahini – smitten kitchen

lentil-and-chickpea-salad-with-feta-and-tahini

Recipes

lentil and chickpea salad with feta and tahini

I have an uneven history with chef cookbooks. I have learned the hard way more often than I’ve wished to that just because I might enjoy sitting down at someone’s restaurant table does not mean that their work will translate into an enjoyable home cooking experience — you know, one without sous-chefs and dishwashers, plural, at ones disposal, and a customer base footing the bill for the Himalayan pink salt. The best of these books make for wonderful reading and bring the fresh air of a new flavors and tricks into your home cooking routine but the worst, well, yikes. You’re not getting those hours back.

onion, tahini, lentils, chickpeas, spice, lemon, sage, garlic
cooking lentils de puy with sage, garlic

So, despite the fact that I gushed about The Breslin nearly a year ago and also in an interview for Amazon, and even though I’ve fussed over The Spotted Pig, I didn’t even consider picking up chef April Bloomfield’s* book, A Girl and Her Pig because the odds felt slim that it would provide me with anything close to the joy that her cooking does at a dark table in the Ace Hotel, with a grapefruit gin-and-tonic (swoon) in my hand.

toasting corriander and cumin seeds

goya chickpeas, you complete me
toasted sesame seeds, tahini dressing, toasted ground spices

And then her book swept mine in the final round of a cookbook competition and I knew from reading the gushing praise bestowed on it by an entire series of independent reviewers that I was the one missing out. When I bought the book last week, I immediately ran off to the back room to hide with it for a while and proceeded to fall deeply, immensely in love. Bloomfield might be known for her nose-to-tail cookery but time and again, it’s her way with vegetables and one-off dishes that blow me away. From the earliest pages, she taunts you with Squash and Pancetta Toasts, Toasts with Ramp Butter and Fried Quail Eggs, a stack of lacy-thin crepe pancakes with Bacon and Chilis, a spring vegetable soup with everything from Jersualem Artichokes to white beans and vinegary Devilled Eggs. It doesn’t hurt that her go-to favorite ingredients seem to overlap with mine (lemon, feta, garlic, cumin, sesame, and flaky sea salt) but it makes it even more fun that she had me, within a day, reaching outside my comfort zone trying to track down rice grain-sized dried pequin chilies in New York, pulling the green germs out of the center of garlic cloves and pulling down my dusty, mostly ignored, coffee grinder so that I could find out why she gushed so much about the flavor of freshly toasted and ground spices.

red onion with lemon juice, salt, and soon, feta
mixing the lentils, chickpeas and dressing

I realize at the outset the prospect of a lentil and chickpea salad doesn’t sound very intriguing. It sounds like the kind of thing you’d eat because you ought to, and “ought to’s” rarely make for delicious eating. But she uses a series of techniques to make these humble ingredients one of the most intense and complexly flavored salad experiences I’ve ever made at home. Thank goodness.

lentil and chickpea salad

Making the salad might seem pesky. You toast whole spices and grind them. The onions have one treatment, the lentils another, the dressing a third and I seriously read the plating instructions four times (given, I had a yelling three year-old nearby, but hey, that’s real life innit?) and I still couldn’t make sense of why it had to be so complicated. And while this is usually the point where I say, “I simplified it for you! You’ll make it in less time than I did!” we hadn’t even finished our first bite before I realized I didn’t want to. I’ll suggest places here and there where corners can be cut without taking away from the recipe’s central awesomeness, but I also think that if you can find a little extra time to putter in the kitchen, you’ll find brilliance in the way she wrote it. And that, really, is the fun of trying new recipes, right?

lentil and chickpea salad

* I have a favor to ask: On the cover of her book, April Bloomfield stands with a dead pig slung across her shoulders. I realize that this isn’t for everyone. Not everyone eats meat, those who do may not eat pork products, and even those who do may not want to see their food staring back at them. But whenever I’ve read a review of or discussion about her book, inevitably, a slew of comments will say “Eeeewwww!” and — it shouldn’t, I should just tune it out, move on with my life — it drives me batty. Please keep in mind that Bloomfield hails from the nose-to-tail cooking school; she works with animals that were as humanely raised as possible and uses every part. She gives the animals she cooks the most respect a chef can, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling that it’s still not for you — nobody is saying that you must find great joy in looking at dead animals, or that you have to look at all — but yelling “icky!” at someone who eats or cooks something you don’t like is never going to be the way to begin a grown-up conversation about things that matter. Trust me. I have a three year-old; I know about these things.

Lentil and Chickpea Salad with Feta and Tahini
Tweaked, just a bit, from April Bloomfield’s A Girl and Her Pig

I promised to list places where I felt the recipe could be streamlined. For example, I don’t think that a tremdendous amount will be lost if you don’t cook your lentils with garlic cloves and sage. (Though, they tasted and smelled amazing when I did.) You could use spices already ground; I’d use 1/3 to 1/2 of each if so. (But, my heavens, they were bursting with flavor when I started whole.) You could probably press your garlic clove rather than mashing it to a paste with salt in a mortar or on a cutting board. I simplified the assembly process a little and actually skipped the preserved lemon because neither my husband nor I are very into them, and hey, we’re the ones eating the dish. I used sheep’s milk feta instead of goat, because that’s what I usually have around (Bulgarian and French are my favorite types, if you can find either). And I used parsley instead of cilantro.

But, I can also promise this: Should you feel like spending a little bit of extra time in the kitchen this week, there’s so much to absorb here, from the amazing background sage, garlic and olive oil infuse tiny green lentils with, from the roasty depth of pan-toasted, finely ground spices, the sweet nuttiness of sesame seeds, toasted two shades darker, to almost pickling red onion slices with lemon juice. This salad, made as written, was more layered and complex than I ever imagined a legume salad being, and it made my week.

Lentils
Scant 1 cup dried green lentils (Puy or Casteluccio, if you can find them) lentils, picked and rinsed over
2 large garlic cloves, halved lengthwise
2 fresh sage sprigs
2 tablespoons olive oil

For the dressing and salad
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, toasted and ground**
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground**
1/2 large garlic clove
Salt (Maldon or another flaky sea salt if you’ve got it)
2 tablespoons well-stirred tahini paste
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
1 and 3/4 cups drained chickpeas (from a 15-ounce can), low sodium if you can find them
1/2 small preserved lemon, pith and flesh discarded, rind finely diced (optional)
1 very small red onion, thinly sliced into half-moons
A handful of small, delicate cilantro or flat-leaf parsley sprigs
A scant 1/4 cup feta (goat’s milk if you can find it, otherwise use what you can get)
1 and 1/2 tablespoons raw sesame seeds, toasted in a dry pan until a shade or two darker

Make the lentils: Put the lentils, garlic, sage, and olive oil in a small pot, along with 2 cups cold water, and set it over medium heat. Let the water come to a simmer (not boiling), then turn the heat to low and cook the lentils in a very gentle simmer just until they are tender — April recommends 25 minutes, but mine took 35 and needed a touch more water at the end. Take the pan off the heat and let the lentils cool a bit before draining them. Pick out and discard the sage and garlic. You’ll have about 2 cups cooked lentils.

Make the dressing: Mix together the ground coriander and cumin in a small bowl. Mash the garlic clove to a paste with 1 teaspoon salt (use half as much Kosher salt, even less table salt) on a cutting board or in a mortar. In a small bowl for your dressing, combined the mashed garlic, tahini, 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon of the ground coriander-and-cumin mixture and 2 tablespoons water. Stir well, then taste. Add more lemon if desired.

Assemble the salad: Place onion slices in a medium bowl and break them up with your fingers. Sprinkle in two good pinches of salt, then two teaspoons of lemon juice, two remaining teaspoons of olive oil and the cilantro or parsley. Toss well, then crumble in the cheese and gently toss again.

Toss the lentils with the drained chickpeas, preserved lemon rind (if using), and 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt (use half as much Kosher salt, even less table salt) in a large mixing bowl. Pour in the tahini dressing and toss it all together really well, then stir in the onion-feta mixture.

Arrange the salad in bowl or platter. Sprinkle the mixture with the sesame seeds and some of the remaining spices. Serve, and don’t forget to share.

P.S. We had this with a Simple Potato Gratin (a post I’m itching to update even more simply, and less hideously, but the important stuff is there) and lamb chops (may I recommend these?).

** To toast and grind spices: Put the spices, one at a time, in a small dry pan over medium-high heat. Toast, shaking the pan frequently, until the spices become very sweet and fragrant, anywhere from 2 to 4 minutes. Let them cool in a bowl or on a small plate and grind in a mortar and pestle or in a coffee grinder.

First published April 1, 2013 on smittenkitchen.com |
©2009–2017 Smitten Kitchen. Powered by WordPress.com VIP

roasted apple spice sheet cake – smitten kitchen

roasted-apple-spice-sheet-cake

Recipes

roasted apple spice sheet cake

Yesterday, our little bear turned three which, you know, is impossible since we are unequivocally certain that we just brought him home from the hospital yesterday. Seriously, right here, through the door to my right and we put the carrier that he was sleeping deeply within on the table. It looked strange there [Also, we were hungry and unsure of the logistics — is it rude to eat lunch while your newborn is on the table? Isn’t it worse to place him on the floor?] Sure, there were one or two hundred fewer fire engine parts, stuffed hedgehogs and train tracks scattered across the living room carpet, and maybe we looked a little younger and better-rested; I probably didn’t have my iPhone wedged between sofa cushions the way I do right now so that my talking-walking-doing things mini-human couldn’t co-opt it to watch Elmo videos again (how does he find them?), but otherwise, nothing has changed. Nothing! Don’t say it. Didn’t your mother teach you to never argue with crazy people?

apples
lightly roasting the apples

I know a lot of people who have had babies lately and I feel like I should say something wise here because I understand how utterly hectic the first few months can be, not because newborns are particularly difficult but because you’re terrified you’re going to break them, or maybe just a little shell-shocked in general. One minute they’re slumped over your shoulder snoring the tiniest snore ever emitted and you feel utterly centered, a sense of all the generations that came before this one gathered invisibly around their squished faces in beaming admiration, and the next they’re red-faced and full of rage, their squawking mouths in a perfect open circle, and you and your significant other are frantically running through the checklist you keep in your heads (hungry? cold? tired? wet?) which grows more complicated every few months (is your swaddle loose? did you roll over in the night again and can’t get yourself back? so help us, did we put you to bed with the little George and you wanted the big one?) and more complicated still (“Mommy, we have to take Ernie, Bert and Twacktor back to the park.” “Jacob, it’s 2 a.m. Please go back to sleep.”). I also have a bunch of friends who are quite close to deciding to have babies but they’re so understandably freaked out by everything they read about the crying and the not sleeping and the life will never be the same ever ever again that they’re terrified to move forward. But I can’t. I have no wisdom to impart, no pithy catchphrases that will cause it all to make sense. I can only say LOOK AT THIS. I can no longer imagine life any other way.

cake delight

I’ve always found the practice of having themed children’s birthday parties a little strange — I mean, isn’t the theme the kid? And how awesome they are? — and yet when it came time for my own son’s party, a salient summary of all of his loves was so evident to us, the party nearly planned itself. You see, he’s has had two obsessions in the last year; the first one is “horsies,” by which he means carousel rides, which means that the location (the prettiest carousel in all the land) was a nobrainer. The second is “choo-choo trains,” by which he means subways. He does not care where we go or what we do, only that it involves a subway ride. He has turned into the children in this beloved book, occasionally throwing a fit if he wanted to take the N train but it was the 6 that took us where we were going. It’s an odd thing for tourists to see, no doubt.

I won’t lie, nor could I to people who know me too well: I spent a bit of time planning the cake. You see, I really wanted to do a subway-inspired design but there were so many things I didn’t want to do: individual train cars were nixed for seeming like they’d require a frightening amount of decorating and candy; I wanted to use regular cake ingredients and frosting (why eat fondant if you could eat cream cheese frosting?) and no matter how lovely an all-gray (like a subway car!) or largely red/blue/orange/yellow/green (like the subway line colors) would be, I did not, in fact, want to eat a bottle of food dye with dessert. Finally, when our estimated party of 30 turned into an awesome party of 50, I needed a cake that would feed a crowd. And, of course, I didn’t want any plain old cake.

When I made a Monkey Cake for my son’s first birthday, I hadn’t much considered at the time that I was starting a tradition, one in which I would invent him a cake every year based on his current loves. But by the second year — a Celebration Cake that now lives in the cookbook, thus I wouldn’t want to spoil it — I knew this was going to be one of my favorite parts of each birthday. This year, I wanted include even more: a celebration of fall, apples and honey (a nod to the Jewish New Year that falls on his birthday), his obsession with applesauce, his curious affection for deeply spiced cakes — this kid, he likes gingerbread. Like, the intense kind, although we kept this one lightly spiced, to not scare the other children). And although I have zero quibbles filling a child’s birthday cake with both butter and refined flour (because if not on your birthday, when?), I was still hoping to find some level of moderation. It needn’t use all the butter; it shouldn’t make teeth ache from with sweetness.

What resulted was one of my favorite cakes yet, that quickly went under toddler attack; a dense, insanely moist spiced applesauce and honey cake studded with chunks of roasted apples. It’s covered with a vanilla cream cheese frosting that can easily be tinted to doodle the design of your choice (in this case, an abstract NYC subway map). It tastes like September, like a harvest, like blue skies and a crisp breeze, like the first cool day we took home what we affectionately call “The Mop Who Came To Live With Us.” It tastes, fittingly, like one of the best things we’ve ever baked.

roasted apple spice sheet cake
first bite

A few more party details: I’m not sure I encourage this level of insanity, but nevertheless… I made a few hundred homemade wheat thins (holler if you want the recipe) and a double-batch of our beloved whole wheat goldfish crackers, freezing them a week before the party. (I’d also hoped to make some mini-graham crackers and mini-apple butter pop tarts, but ran out of time.) There were a few subway-ish sugar cookies (originally, I’d intended to make them look like the train letters and numbers, then realized that such things were better left to the experts.) We had a ton of chopped vegetables with my favorite buttermilk dressing as a dip, plus more grapes than we’ll get through in a lifetime. My awesome mom made lightly sweetened sun tea and lemonade, neither of which survived the party (drat). And the “happy 3rd birthday jacob” cake banner was created with some feeble Photoshopping on my part, card stock, baker’s twine, a thick needle, two wooden skewers, Joy’s instructions, and a lot of stringing help from Jacob’s babysitter while he graced us with a nap. I made little notches in the skewers so that the three levels of strings would stay in place, but ended up winding the skewers a bit when the strings were too long. And how could I forget? For favors, the kids got subway bags with subway magnets with the first letter of their names, other tiny toys and … a little rodent. Just like the real subway.

Martha Stewart Living: In the final weeks before having a baby, I didn’t buy burp cloths. I didn’t read any parenting or birthing books. But I did make a lot of brownies. I have an essay about this disconnect in the October issue Martha Stewart Living and what with today being all about that once-newborn, it seems a fitting time to mention it here.

Book Tour: Thank you so much for your amazing response to the book tour announcement. I wish I could get to every city, too. Please keep checking back to the book tour main page, as we will be adding and tweaking the details of events as they get closer. We just added a downtown Chicago event in response to those of you that were concerned that the two area events were so far from the center city. It will be posted shortly.

Roasted Apple Spice Sheet Cake

Why roast the apples? I tested this cake both ways and while small (1/2-inch chunks) of apple will cook through in the cake’s baking time, a little preroasting gives them the soft pillows of apple pie-like puddles that I think makes this cake better. It also allows for slightly bigger chunks, if desired.

If you’d like to make your own applesauce for the cake, I promise, it’s even easier than going to the store and buying the bottles you’ll need (though they’ll work just fine here). For my standard recipe, a mild, unsweetened one that allows the apples to shine, use 4 pound of any apples you like to bake with, or a mix, peeled, cored and cut into chunks, 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, four big lemon peels (you can use a peeler) and 1 cup of water. Bring it to a low simmer, covered, and cook the apples for 30 minutes. Fish out the peels and puree it with an immersion blender. This yields approximately 6 to 7 cups of heavenly, Jacob-approved applesauce.

Yield: The recipe below makes a double-layer sheet cake and more than enough frosting to fill, coat the sides and top and have plenty leftover to decorate. It’s a monstrously huge cake, however, and could easily serve 40 to 50. The more logical way to make it would be as a single sheet cake, frosted in the pan (i.e. just on top); a single layer sheet cake will serve 20 to 25. To do this, halve the cake recipe and 1/3 the frosting. Finally, you could also make this cake recipe as a two-layer 9-inch round cake (serving estimate: 16), which I did last night. [Yes, I made another birthday cake to serve with our holiday dinner, since it was his actual day of birthday and a lot of family gathered. Also, because my tenuous grip on sanity has been well-established here.] For this, you’ll want to use half the cake batter below (then divided between your two round cake pans) and two-thirds of the frosting (to give you enough to coat and fill the cake, plus a bit left to decorate).

Updated to add 9/29/14: I made these as cupcakes for my son’s class. The total yield was 54 cupcakes and the frosting was sufficient (but not insanely thick, so if that’s your thing, you might need a little more).

Cake
6 medium apples, any variety you like to bake with, peeled, halved and cored
7 1/2 cups (940 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (10 grams) table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 grams) baking soda
2 tablespoons (30 grams) baking powder
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons (3 grams) ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon (1 gram) freshly grated nutmeg
1 1/2 cups (505 grams) honey
4 1/2 cups (585 grams updated: 1170 grams) applesauce
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups packed (285 grams) dark-brown sugar
6 large eggs

Frosting
3 8-ounce (675 grams total) blocks cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups (3 sticks, 3/4 pound or 340 grams) butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon (15 ml) vanilla extract
6 cups (720 grams) powdered sugar, sifted

Roast apples: Heat oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet or roasting pan with parchment paper. Arrange apple halves face down on paper and roast in a single layer until they feel dry to the touch and look a little browned underneath, about 20 minutes. Slide parchment paper with apples onto a cooling rack and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 350°F.

Make cake layers: Butter two 9×13-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with a fitted rectangle of parchment paper. Butter the paper as well. Feel free to use a nonstick baking spray instead of butter, too. [If you, like most people, only have one cake pan, don’t fret. Just bake half the batter and as soon as you can flip the cake out of the pan, wash it and start again with a fresh piece of parchment, baking the remaining batter.]

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, cloves and nutmeg. In a medium bowl, whisk together applesauce and honey.

In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat the butter and dark brown sugar until very fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, scraping down the bowl between every other addition. Add one third of the flour-spice mixture and mix it until just combined. Add half the applesauce-honey mixture, again mixing it until combined. [At this point, if you, like me, have a 5-quart KitchenAid, things are going to get a little full in the bowl. I suggest stirring in the remaining additions carefully by hand.] Add the second third of the flour-spice mixture, the remaining applesauce-honey mixture, and the remaining flour-spice mixture, stirring between each addition.

Chop roasted apples into smallish chunks (1/2 to 2/3-inches) and fold into batter. Divide batter between baking pans and bake cake layers, rotating the cake pans top to bottom and back-to-front halfway through the baking time, about 35 to 40 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer baking pans to cooling racks and let rest for 10 minutes, before flipping out of the pans onto racks, removing the parchment paper lining, and cooling the cakes right-side-up.

[Do ahead: I pause my cake-making all of the time here. I freeze the cake layers overnight, or until needed (up to two weeks, longer if your freezer doesn’t make things smell freezer-y for a while), wrapped in a double-layer of plastic wrap. When you’re ready to decorate them, you can do so while the cake is still frozen — it will be easier to handle/move/trim. Simply leave it at room temperature for a few hours once it is decorated or in the fridge for a day to fully defrost. More layer cake tips live here.]

Make the frosting: Whip butter and cream cheese together with an electric mixture until light and fluffy. Beat in vanilla extract. Add powdered sugar and beat again until smooth and light.

Decorate your cake: Arrange first cake layer on cake board or serving platter, tucking pieces of waxed paper underneath the outer edges to keep your platter clean while you decorate (which I forgot to do, typically). Use a serrated knife to level the top, removing any dome so that the next layer will rest neatly on top. Thickly spread about 1/3 of frosting on the bottom layer, then transfer the cake to the freezer for just 5 or 10 minutes, to firm up the filling. Place the second cake layer on top of the filling. Trim the top again until level (if desired; seeing as you’re not adding another layer, it would be for a neat appearance, not for cake stability). If the sides don’t align perfectly with the bottom layer, you can trim them until straight as well. Thinly apply a coat of frosting over entire exterior of cake. Once again, you can get this to “set” quickly by sliding the cake into the freezer for 5 minutes. One set, add your final coat of frosting, a thicker more decorative one. (This is of course where you can add any decorations desired. You should have plenty of leftover frosting to go to town with.)

Remove bits of waxed paper and serve with a big “ta-da!” Should any survive the party, this cake keeps exceptionally well in the fridge. Five days out, our leftover pieces are, if possible, more moist than one day one.

First published September 18, 2012 on smittenkitchen.com |
©2009–2017 Smitten Kitchen. Powered by WordPress.com VIP

substituting vermouth for wine in recipes – smitten kitchen

vermouth

Tips

substituting vermouth for wine in recipes

You know all of those cooking shows and recipes (ahem, like ones on this very site — guilty!) that suggest cooking with wine is really fun because once you’ve opened a bottle for cooking, you get to drink the rest? Then there’s a series of “ah-ha-ha!”s and LOLs; it’s all very raucous. And look, people, I love a glass of wine with dinner from time to time but fact is, a lot of the time I open a bottle of wine for cooking, we forget to finish it, and this makes me very, very sad.

Enter dry vermouth. (The other variety of vermouth, usually red or pink, is called “sweet,” I like that, in part, for Manhattans, not that you asked.) Vermouth is a fortified white wine that is mildly aromatized with a variety of “botanicals,” such as herbs, spices, and fruits. Apparently, the word vermouth is derived from the German word for wormwood, wermut, as wormwood was the chief flavoring ingredient for vermouth until the herb was found to be poisonous, which I am sure was tremendously awkward. Nevertheless, the main reason I like to have vermouth around is its shelf life. When stored in the fridge (and you should, because this extends its shelf life), dry vermouth is good for anywhere between three and six months. (Sweet vermouth will keep for a year this way.) This means if you need just a splash here or there for a recipe, you don’t have to uncork a bottle of wine you may not finish before it quickly turns. Vermouth is also a lot less expensive than drinking wines. Gallo, the favorite in a Cook’s Illustrated taste test, costs only $5 for a 750ml bottle. The fancy-pants Dolin brand I picture above, almost considered too nice for everyday cooking, was $16.

A few usage notes: Vermouth’s flavor is of course a little different from a straight white table wine, due to the herbs and spices, so it may not be for everyone, but I find it to be lovely when cooking savory dishes. Due to the fortification, vermouth has a slightly higher percentage of alcohol than white wine (16 to 18 percent versus wine’s 12.5 to 14.5 percent), which means if you’re trying to partly “cook off” the alcohol it may need an extra minute of simmering time. But I find that it can be seamlessly interchanged with wine in just about any recipe, and deliciously so.

chocolate oat crumble – smitten kitchen

chocolate oat crumble

Recipes

chocolate oat crumble

I have learned over the years that people have strong opinions about the combination of chocolate and fruit. I don’t judge, I mean, I have strong opinions about pretty much everything, such as the combination of pumpkin and chocolate (no), sea salt-flecked cookie lids (delicious but ftlog, only with a light hand), syrup on pancakes (only if the pancakes aren’t sweet), and how many episodes in a row it’s acceptable to consume of city.ballet. when you’re sick for the fourth day in a row (all of them, what kind of question is that?). What I’m saying is, pretty much the only thing I don’t have rigid views on is the combination of chocolate and fruit.

what you'll need
d'anjous

And yet, when my mother spotted this recipe in the newest and (in my not unbiased opinion — I blurbed it) most charming book from Nigel Slater I said, as articulately as ever, “I dunno, wouldn’t it be kind of weird?” Which is when I realized that I might I have an overly segregationist view of fruit crumbles. To me, they’re a very specific thing, fruit recently plucked from a tree or vine, mixed with sugar, spices if desired, flour or cornstarch to thicken and topped with a crumbly mix of flour, butter, sugar, oats and sometimes nuts. A butter-free, flour-free topping? A buttery almost caramel sauce-d base? Chunks of chocolate?

oats, chocolate, maple syrup, salt

cooked in a light caramel
chocolate oat crumble

Forget all that: Let’s put chocolate in all of our fruit crumbles. Let’s put chocolate in everything. Seriously, can we talk about how good this was with a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream slumping all over it? The melty chocolate chunks? The almost brittle-crisp oats? The otherwise mediocre grocery store winter fruit pickings, raised to their highest calling? It was simple, rustic, and easy, as ideal as a weeknight treat as it would be a date night dessert. I think you know what needs to be done.

chocolate oat raspberry pear crumble

More about the book: Seeing as I’ve told you I was so charmed by Nigel Slater’s Eat book when I previewed it — and long before I knew it would be as pretty (small trim size, with a sunshiny woven cover) in print as it turned out to be — it only makes sense to tell you why. This “little book of fast food” is perfect for people who find strict adherence to recipes persnickety when they’re really looking for some fresh ideas for simple meals. Few recipes have over 8 ingredients, and they’re written in sentence format. And not only does everything in it remind me how simple it would be to actually throw dinner together tonight when I was otherwise planning a Delivery Pizza Succumb, I adore the slight British-ness of everything: Sausage Balls with Mustard Cream, Bacon and Beans, Spiced Mushrooms on Naan, Root Vegetable Tangle, and (sigh) Mango and Passion Fruit Mess. That said, while there are many vegetarian dishes, the majority have meat or fish in them, so it may not be for everyone.

this book is really darling

Like many Slater recipes, there’s no need to be overly rigid in following it. I found three other versions of his chocolate-oat crisp online and none remotely matched. Some call for apricot, and cook it in elderflower syrup. Some have a more floury topping. I chose my favorite elements of each and mashed them up here. Feel free to tweak to your tastebuds’ content (maybe some crystallized ginger in the lid?), with whatever fruit or sweeteners or cooking fats you’d prefer. Just don’t forget to eat it while it’s still warm, and the chocolate is melty.

Note: This is a sloshy crumble, because there’s no thickener in the base. We loved the fruit syrup over ice cream, but you can easily stir 1 to 2 tablespoons cornstarch before baking it to give it more body.

Serves 3, maybe 4 if with ice cream

Topping
1/3 cup (40 grams or 1 1/2 ounces) chopped dark chocolate
1/2 cup (50 grams) rolled oats
1/4 cup maple syrup
Pinch of salt

Filling
3 tablespoons (40 grams) butter
3 tablespoons (40 grams) sugar
2 pears, peeled, halved, cored and diced into small chunks (I used firm D’Anjous; cooking times for other varieties will vary)
1 cup (115 grams or 4 ounces) raspberries

Heat oven to 350°F(180°C).

In a small dish, combine chocolate, oats, maple syrup and salt and set aside. In a small/medium ovenproof skillet (mine was 8-inch/1-quart), melt butter over medium heat. Add sugar and cook together, stirring, until it becomes golden at the edges. Add pear chunks and cook in this caramel-y syrup for 5 to 8 minutes, until slightly softened or half-cooked. (Bosc pears always take longer for me; ripe Bartletts, less.) Scatter raspberries over top. Sprinkle with chocolate-oat mixture. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until fruit is soft and the oats crisp.

First published February 6, 2015 on smittenkitchen.com |
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thai-style chicken legs – smitten kitchen

thai-style-chicken-legs

Recipes

thai-style chicken legs

I didn’t mean to bury the lede on you all, but that mango slaw was a side dish. I know! What has the smitten kitchen come to? I made, like, a meal, with a side dish and a main course, all while someone yanked on my flip-flops. I barely know what came over me. I do know that my timing was terrible, because I made this last Tuesday. “Wow, Deb, that’s great! Fascinating. Really.” No, Tuesday. In New York City. It was 102 degrees, the hottest day since August 2001 and I decided, at once, that I had to make a very specific dinner that would require me to turn the oven up very high for a sizable amount of time. I think that sleep deprivation has scrambled what’s left of my brain because I’d like to think I wasn’t this dimwitted 10 months ago. (Don’t tell me otherwise.)

boxes and bottles and jars

And then I burned dinner. Like, it’s not bad enough that I turned on the oven, that I turned it up high and that I had it on for 30 minutes. I didn’t cover the dish and the sauce was charred black and what, you expect me to think of these things ahead of time? But despite all of this, this might be the best chicken I have ever made. Was I ever glad I’d let this recipe sneak up on me, take residence in my brain and nudge-nudge me to even get over my issues with fish sauce [“It’s fishy!” “It’s not fishy, Deb.” “People who like fish always say that things are not fishy but they always are.” –1 day later — “Wow, this is not only not fishy, it might be the best tasting thing on earth. I will put it on everything, henceforth.” Fin.] because this is perfection.

marinating the chicken

Likely even more so if you have a grill… you know, so you don’t have to heat up your kitchen during a heatwave? That sounds like something smart people would do. This recipe was intended for a grill but lacking in one and itching to try it, I roasted it in the oven. I like cooking chicken on high heat; I was converted to this method thanks to Zuni, and haven’t looked back since. The chicken gets cooked but not dry, the skin crisps. All of these things happened, but the sugars in the sauce caused it to burn. The next night I made the chicken again, and this time covered the dish. The sauce still blackened, though not as much because I sprinkled a couple tablespoons of water. I realize this doesn’t give you a very solid cooking technique to draw from; I realize that this recipe may benefit from a another round but I don’t want to waste your time. I don’t want to keep you from having this for dinner in the next 24 hours because I honestly don’t think you’ll care how “caramelized” (ha) the sauce might get in the oven, the chicken more than makes up for it.

burnt dinner again

Thai-Style Chicken Legs
Barely tweaked (to add instructions, offer alternative ingredients) from Food & Wine

I warn you, if you serve this with mango slaw, a quick addiction may form.

5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro (or flat-leaf parsley if you are cilantro-averse)
1/4 cup Asian fish sauce*
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce (I accidentally doubled this and can only advise you do the same)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black or white pepper
8 whole chicken legs, split, or 8 drumsticks and 8 thighs (about 5 pounds total)
Thai sweet chili sauce, for serving

Combine the garlic, cilantro, fish sauce, vegetable oil, hoisin sauce, coriander, kosher salt and pepper in a blender until smooth. Arrange the pieces of chicken in a large, shallow glass or ceramic dish. Pour the marinade over the chicken and turn to coat the pieces thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight.

To roast the chicken: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Cover baking dish with a lid or foil and roast chicken for about 25 minutes. If the sauce begins to char, sprinkle a few tablespoons water into the dish. Remove the lid or foil and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until the skin is crisp and the meat is cooked through.**

To grill the chicken: [Lacking a grill, I did not test this method but I will be happy to if you invite me over tonight, okay?] Light a grill. If using a gas grill, turn off the center burners; if using a charcoal grill, once the coals are covered with a light ash, push them to opposite sides, forming a well in the middle. Set a disposable drip pan in the center. Cook chicken on the hot grate above, skin side down, with the cover down for about 40 minutes. The skin should be crisp and the meat should be cooked through.**

Both methods: Once cooked, transfer to plates and serve with Thai chili sauce.

Do ahead: The marinade can be refrigerated overnight. I like it so much, I am tempted to make a larger batch of it to keep in the freezer until needed.

* Don’t like fish sauce? Don’t want to eat it? Neither did I before about five minutes ago. Anyway, I often see low-sodium soy sauce suggested as an alternative but I’m not convinced it’s a fair swap. There’s something more caramelized and fermented in the fish sauce that you’d miss. If you feel like playing around, I might whisk some additional hoisin or even miso into that soy sauce for a more complex flavor.

** To ensure your chicken is “cooked through”: Lacking x-ray vision and decades of chicken-cooking practice, I’m a big fan of using a thermometer to ensure that my meat is properly cooked. A thermometer inserted into the thigh/leg joint should register 180 to 185 degrees if you’re following Proper Chicken Cooking Protocol, or 170 to 175 degrees, if you’re me, and have very specific chicken-cooking preferences despite what food safety experts advise. I like to live on the edge, obviously. Another classic, though less precise way, to see if chicken is cooked through is to pierce it with a knife. If the juices that run out are clear, your chicken should be just right.

First published July 12, 2010 on smittenkitchen.com |
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spring vegetable potstickers – smitten kitchen

spring-vegetable-potstickers

Recipes

spring vegetable potstickers

It’s been over six years since I mooned here over a lost dumpling love. Dumplings are kind of a fixation for me; I am unwaveringly convinced that small pockets of food wrapped elegantly in a thin dough are among the universe’s most perfect foods; portable and petite, servings easily scaled, I dare you to find a nutritious food not improved by an adorable doughy package. The vegetable dumplings that I used to get at a chain of otherwise average west side Chinese restaurants were my all-time favorite; before they changed the recipe, I regularly rerouted my day to stop there for an order, and a beer. (Sidebar: Can we talk about how delicious a cold beer in a glass is with potstickers? No, different conversation, huh? Onwards!)

asparagus, favar, chives, scallions, garlic, ginger
asparagus, cut into segments

Anyway, I hope you haven’t mistaken my silence since on the matter as a sign I’ve found any peace. I have not. While I still cannot resist vegetable dumplings/wontons/gyoza/potstickers on any take-out menu, hoping to find within their centers the dumplings I once knew and loved, I’ve had enough mystery vegetable mush to accept that if you want spectacular vegetable dumplings, you’ll want to make them at home.

fava, scallion, chives, asparagus, ginger, tofu

Not that I do, or at least, not often. All that chopping and pressing and folding can feel like a project, and more than once, my interest in finishing has vanished when my puny counter has been covered end-to-end in a potsticker convention while I still have half a bowl of filling to go.

But last week, I started daydreaming about a vegetable dumpling that was filled not with the usual dull medley of overcooked mushrooms, cabbage and carrots but with an equivalent volume of lightly cooked, bright green spring vegetables — finely chopped asparagus, mellow nutty favas, sweet little peas or the like. Spring is finally here, and I think we should show it some gratitude by taking a break from dull, seasonless vegetables. At last.

The result is everything I’d dreamed it would be, and much less tedious than I remembered, perhaps because, for once, I ended up keeping the volume to a reasonable few dozen — more than enough for dinner, not so much that you’ll be eating them through pumpkin carving season. The flavor is almost as complex as the dumplings I still miss, but distinctly fresher; I think tiny green pockets of spring, seared in a pan and dipped in a potent scallion marinade, with or without a crisp cold drink, could be exactly what your mid-week needs.

spring vegetable potstickers
spring vegetable potstickers

New Events: The second book tour may be behind us, but I’m still occasionally (heh) leaving my apartment to speak/sign/demo/etc. here and there. I’ve added new events (including a demo at the Food Book Fair this Friday in Brooklyn) on the Events page, and will include more details as they become available. [Events & Book Touring]

Cookbooks with Custom Inscriptions: Would you like a Smitten Kitchen Cookbook inscribed with a personal note to your mother or another friend or family member? You can do so through the lovely McNally-Jackson in SoHo; the deadline for Mother’s Day orders (so they will arrive in time for Mother’s Day) is Sunday, May 5th. [Smitten Kitchen at McNally Jackson]

Spring Vegetable Potstickers

This is a flexible recipe, so don’t fret if you don’t have the exact ingredient list. Scallions could be spring onions. Garlic chives could be regular chives, or scallions tops instead. The tofu could be silkier. If you’re not into tofu (like this guy I married, but he will still eat it in this or that), here’s a fun alternative: cellophane noodles. I often see these minced in dumplings and think they’d be tasty here too.

As for the “spring” part, I used asparagus and favas for my potstickers but you should use a mix of whatever vegetables look awesome right now, be they peas or lima beans or more. You’re looking for 3 to 3 1/4 cups total spring vegetables once they’re chopped.

I (currently) draw the line at making my own potsticker wrappers, but if you feel so inclined, I see a lot of great looking recipes on the web (this one comes recommended by a commenter, below). When buying wrappers, look for ones intended for dumplings, not wontons, if you can. The latter will be thicker. (I, apparently, bought Korean mandu wrappers, and they worked like a dream.)

Yield: Approximately 50 potstickers

Potstickers
3 to 3 1/4 cups chopped spring vegetables (such as asparagus, favas, peas, lima beans or more) (I used 2 1/4 cups chopped asparagus from 12 ounces stalks plus 1 cup cooked favas from about 1 pound fresh in their pods)
1 tablespoon neutral cooking oil, such as safflower, canola or peanut
3/4 cup thinly sliced scallions (from about 3/4 of a bundle, about 3 ounces)
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 clove garlic, peeled minced (if using garlic chives, omit)
1 cup (about 6 ounces) firm tofu, chopped small (see Note up top for alternative)
1/2 cup garlic or regular chives
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

To assemble
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 cup water
50 round dumpling wrappers (most packages contain 50)

Scallion dipping sauce
2 to 3 scallions (or, remainder of bundle used for potstickers), thinly sliced (use some in sauce, some for garnish)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon regular or spicy toasted sesame oil

To cook
1 to 2 tablespoons neutral cooking oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup water

Prepare vegetables: If using asparagus, cut off tough ends and sliced stalks into 1/2-inch segments. If using fava, remove them from their pods. Boil favas for 3 minutes, then drain, and press them out of their opaque skins (if difficult, first make a small slit on one end with a paring knife). To prepare peas, simply remove them from their pods. To prepare lima beans, remove them from their pods and simmer them for about 5 minutes to soften.

Make filling: Heat a wok or large saute pan over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of oil and heat, then add scallions, ginger and garlic, if using. Cook for one minute, then add vegetables in the order of the time they need to cook until crisp-tender. Asparagus will need about 4 minutes, peas about 2 to 3, and favas and limas will already be tender, so just a minute to warm them. Add tofu and chives and cook just until chives wilt, about 1 minute more. Season with salt and transfer to a fine-mesh colander, to drain off any excess liquid. Let cool in colander for 15 minutes.

If mixture is still on the chunky side, either chop it finely on a cutting board or pulse it a few times in a food processor. You don’t want to puree it; bits of vegetable should still be recognizable, but it will be easier to mound in dumplings if chopped well. Adjust seasonings if needed and mix with sesame oil.

Assemble potstickers: Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or very lightly oil them. Mix cornstarch and water in a small bowl; this will act as your “glue.” Most dumpling wrappers come dusted with a little starch, so you’ll be okay if you want to skip the cornstarch, but I always feel safer having a little extra as an insurance plan.

Remove first wrapper from package and put it on a plate; place a damp towel or piece of plastic wrap over the unused ones to keep them from drying out. Brush wrapper with cornstarch-water mixture. Mound 1 to 2 teaspoons filling in the center. Fold the wrapper in half over the filling, sealing the center edge shut. Make a few small pleats down each sides to seal in the rest of the filling, while trying to press out as much air as possible (a process that looks difficult but is so easy, I think you’ll find it intuitive — use the photos in the post as guidance). Rest the dumpling, pleats up, on prepared tray and repeat with remaining wrappers and filling. When you’re all done, look over your potstickers; use the cornstarch mixture and pinching to seal any open sides or loosened pleats.

You can now freeze the dumplings on their trays, then transfer them to a freezer bag once they will no longer stick together, or cook them right away.

Make dipping sauce: Mix ingredients and adjust levels to taste. For a sweeter sauce, add a 1/2 teaspoon honey or brown sugar.

Cook potstickers: Heat a large skillet (I really like to use a nonstick here) over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the oil and heat this too. Once the oil is hot, arrange potstickers in a single layer and cook until browned at the bottom. This will take about 1 minute for fresh ones and up to 5 minutes for frozen ones. Add water; it will hiss and sputter, so move quickly. You’ll want the smaller amount of water for a smaller batch and the larger if you’re cooking more. Put a lid on the pot and cook dumplings for 2 to 3 minutes more (plus an additional minute if your dumplings were frozen to begin with). Remove lid and simmer until any remaining water has cooked off.

Transfer to serving plate; garnish with scallion greens. Serve with dipping sauce.

First published May 1, 2013 on smittenkitchen.com |
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essential raised waffles – smitten kitchen

essential raised waffles

Recipes

essential raised waffles

This recipe is nothing new. It was first published, as far as I can gather, in 1896 in The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer and has since been fussed over and had its virtues extolled by more food writers, newspaper dining sections and food bloggers than it has not been. It’s the equivalent Proust’s Madeleine/Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread/Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookie*/Hey, Did I Tell You About The Time I Killed My Own Dinner? of modern food writing.

all you'll need + a good night's sleep
yeast is dissolved, a little foamy

But even if I’m not going to be making an unprecedented mark on the home cooking conversation today, it would be a glaring omission not to share it here as well because there’s so much that’s very important about it. The first is the book it hails from, the late, awesome Marion Cunningham’s Breakfast Book. Do you know anyone who just got engaged/about to get married/just moved into their own apartment/thinks they want to start cooking/trying to drop a hint to their significant other that certain meal shifts are up for grabs? What better place to start than at the top of the day, and this is the book everyone — yes, girls and boys — needs on their shelves. It covers all bases. It makes people happy. These are respectable cooking goals.

all risen

The second is that if you, like me, have been plagued by waffle mediocrity — chewy, monotonous squares that are exciting in shape only — I suspect that the reason is that you have not made these yet. These are like no waffle I’ve ever known. This is not pancake batter poured in a grid mold; this is not cake. This is a cross between the finest yeast doughnut you’ve ever sunk your teeth into and a rich brioche roll. The edges are as golden and crisp as the outermost layer of puffed pastry and the center is as rich as pudding but as airy as a soufflé. The aroma is that of freshly baked challah and the flavor is something of a malty croissant — not sweet, but so complete in its complexity, you might even forget to drizzle it with syrup. It sounds heavy, yet they have all the heft of a paperclip. I mean, come on, there’s no way you’re still reading and not on your way to the kitchen, right?

steaming waffle iron

Third, the magic ingredient is anything but mystical. It’s not any of the usual suspects, lemon zest or vanilla extract or a pinch of cinnamon (there’s, in fact, none of the above), sugar (there’s only enough to feed the yeast, not sweeten the batter), yogurt or sour cream or flour so finely ground, little angels must have sneezed it out. The batter is as predictable as any could be — flour, salt, milk, eggs and a somewhat spectacular amount of butter — but two things, yeast and a good night’s sleep, change everything. The almost one-bowl batter you mix before you go to bed and leave on the counter is ready for you when you wake up. I kind of want to give it a standing ovation.

waffles like a tangled nyc skyline

Finally, everyone needs this recipe in his or her repertoire because it fits squarely within my single entertaining philosophy that everything that can be made in advance, should be. And can be. With recipes like this, pretty much all you have to do in the morning is sleep in, put on something cute, turn on a waffle iron and “preview” the mimosas while it does most of the work. It’s something of a breakfast miracle.

grids and grids of perfect waffles
marion cunningham's overnight waffles

* Right, now some of you are probably mad that you hadn’t heard of this flourless, butterless peanut butter cookie recipe and how could I keep it from you? Here you go. I’ve made them; they’re okay, just not my favorite. That would be these.

I’ve gushed enough about the smell/texture/flavor/ease of this recipe so let me cut right through to the scary part: Cunningham, terrifyingly, instructs us to leave the batter — a batter with milk! and yeast! — out on the counter overnight at room temperature. She gives no schedule for this (what if your kid lets you sleep in?!) and doesn’t even give mention to the whole won’t-the-milk-go-bad? thing. I — no surprise — am a little more panicky about what’s unsaid in recipes. I made it the first time as she instructs. Oh man, it looks FUNKY in the morning, and the smell, well… How could it be right? I made it a second time, letting it overnight in the fridge, as many writers have interpreted since. Here’s what you need to know: both work but the one that fermented at room temperature came in miles ahead in the flavor category. It had an unmistakeable sourdough (yeah, I know, not the word you want to hear about room temperature milk baked goods) vibe. I became instantly obsessed with the flavor. The flavor from the fridge batch was excellent, but no comparison. Proceed as you wish (both methods are tested and work) but do please consider the original room temperature method. It’s just better.

And if you’re not yet convinced that you need to make these, consider this: They’re patient (you could sleep a little or a lot, the batter will still be ready for you in the morning.) They’re easy, and use ingredients you probably already have around. The batter keeps in the fridge for days, extra waffles can be frozen and reheated in a toaster and just-cooked ones stay warm and crisp in a low oven for as long as it takes for everyone else to straggle in. Oh, and they taste like the greatest thing since gridded breakfast bread.

Yield: Marion Cunningham says 8 waffles, but waffle irons vary widely by volume; I felt it made a whole lot, enough to serve 4 to 6. The photos shown are from a halved batch, which is a much better fit for our family of 2 adults + 1 preschooler.

1/2 cup warm water (about 105 to 110 degrees, so not too hot)
1 packet (1/4 ounce, 7 grams or 2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 cups milk, warmed (again, not too hot
1 stick (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, melted and cooled until lukewarm
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
Oil or melted butter for waffle iron
Powdered sugar, syrup or berries for serving

The night before: Pour warm water in the bottom of a large (larger than you think you’ll need, because the batter will rise a lot) bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top and let it dissolve and foam ever-so-slightly for 15 minutes. Stir in milk, butter, salt, sugar and flour — I do a little bit of wet ingredients then a little bit of dry, back and forth, to avoid forming lumps. If lumps form, you can mostly whisk them out.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set out on counter (see Note up top for debate on this) overnight.

The next morning, whisk in eggs and baking soda until smooth. Heat waffle iron** (a thinner one is better than a Belgian-style one, as these will not rise enough to fill a tall one out) and coat lightly with butter or oil. Ladle in 1/2 to 3/4-cup batter per waffle batch. The batter will be very thin and will spread a lot in the pan, so err on the side of underfilled until you figure out the right amount. Repeat with remaining batter.

Waffles can be kept crisp in a warm oven until needed. If you only want to make a few at a time, the batter keeps well in the fridge for several days, says Cunningham.

** I suspect someone will ask me here about the waffle iron I use. It’s this one. I bought it last year when I was working on a story about breakfast egg sandwiches (which I just realized never ran, hmm) and I wanted to make one with waffles. I honestly do not care for it or any waffle iron I’ve ever owned for one reason, a reason that makes me a little shouty: why don’t waffles irons have removable plates for washing?! I have yet to see one and cleaning them is such an ordeal; this is the only waffle recipe I’ve loved enough that it has felt worth the bother.

First published May 7, 2013 on smittenkitchen.com |
©2009–2017 Smitten Kitchen. Powered by WordPress.com VIP

gingerbread snacking cake – smitten kitchen

gingerbread snacking cake

Recipes

gingerbread snacking cake

I have a few things to tell you about this cake today, and none of them at the outset sound terribly upbeat, but bear with me, cheer is nigh.

The first is that if you put this out in small squares, dusted with powdered sugar and in proximity to a hand-whisked bowl of lightly sweetened schlag at a packed tree-trimming party, one by one, the handsome revelers will fall upon them, take a big delighted bite, and then you might out of the corner of your eye note that cheer melting from faces into a brief pang of surprise as they realize that no, that was not a brownie, but an extremely dark and intense square of gingerbread cake. Oopsies?

what you'll need, mostly
very black molasses

The second is that yes, I know, I already have a gingerbread cake recipe on this site — what I still consider the Greatest Gingerbread of Them All — and that is still the one I make for every Christmas dinner I’m invited to. However, if there could be one bad thing about it, it would be that on a rare occasion, usually because it sat in the pan longer than it was supposed to or the baking winds were not in our favor that day, it does not like to come out of the bundt pan in one piece. Sometimes it comes out in several. Sometimes it leaves half the cake in the pan. Sometimes you’re trying to get it out of the pan a single hour before you have to be at a Christmas Eve dinner an hour twenty minutes away and you… you cry.

so many spices

I think this would be a good time to state for the record that The Smitten Kitchen does not condone crying over cake. The Smitten Kitchen wants you to know that it’s going to be okay, that cake is delicious whether it’s in one piece or seventeen irregular ones that have been tossed in a bowl with whipped cream because of course you meant for it to be a trifle, sheesh. The Smitten Kitchen wants you to know that in all cases where cake brings one to the brink of tears, the cake is to blame, the cake is actually kind of a jerk, and you should just pour yourself a glass of ‘nog, go outside and catch some snowflakes on your tongue, and come back inside and have a good laugh about it because even if it’s not funny yet, it will be one day so you may as well pre-set the record straight.

mixy mixy
spreading the batter in the pan

Needless to say, these Smitten Kitchen “teachings” were not, in fact, in my head at the time so I didn’t remember any of this. What I did remember, however, was a Gingerbread Snacking Cake I’d spotted from Martha Stewart that week, a simpler cake, one served in little squares, one baked with a parchment paper liner to ensure that it always releases from the pan, and I suspected that I could throw it together in very little time. I melted the butter instead of softening and beating it. I fudged the steps so it was almost a one-bowl cake. It barely took 30 minutes to bake a half-recipe. And what came out of the oven was incredible — almost all of the lovely intensity and complexity of the great and grand Gramercy gingerbread in fewer steps with fewer beads of sweat on one’s forehead. And I have since then kept this recipe in my back pocket, not just for December emergencies and big December holidays, but for December itself, or anytime you crave a deeply spiced gingerbread cake but want a forgiving recipe with minimal fuss. It goes well with mulled wine, with lazy family afternoons and unfurrowed brows, like everything important should.

gingerbread snacking cake
gingerbread snacking cake

This cake may not look like centerpiece material, but it is no less worthy of your full admiration. As written, it makes a maximum intensity (via fresh ginger and a full cup of molasses) gingerbread cake. For a moderate intensity gingerbread cake, skip the fresh ginger (I usually do because I’m a wimp) and swap 1/3 cup of the molasses with honey or golden syrup. If you can’t get molasses, use black treacle syrup.

I suspect it would also make a wonderful layer cake, maybe with eggnog filling and whipped cream for frosting. It can be baked in 1 9×13 pan or 2 9-inch round or 8-inch square pans. I cut it into 32 petite squares.

8 tablespoons (1 stick, 4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, plus more for pan
1 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 cup unsulfured molasses
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger (optional)
2 large eggs, room temperature, lightly beaten
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground or freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting finished cake
Lightly sweetened whipped cream, essential for serving

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9×13-inch baking pan with parchment paper. Butter and flour parchment and sides of cake pan, or spray both with a nonstick baking spray.

Bring water to a boil in a medium saucepan (or large one, if you’d like to make the cake entirely in there) and add baking soda — it will foam up! this is fun! Let stand for 5 minutes, then stir in butter until melted. Whisk in dark brown sugar, molasses and fresh ginger, if using. Mixture is usually just lukewarm by now, but if it still feels quite hot to the touch, set it aside to 10 to 15 minutes to cool further before using.

Place flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt and baking powder in a fine-mesh strainer or sifter so that you can sift them over the wet ones in a minute.

Transfer molasses mixture to a large mixing bowl if your saucepan isn’t large enough to make the batter in. Whisk in eggs until just combined. Sift dry ingredients over wet, then stir the wet and dry ingredients together until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan; bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer cake to a wire rack and let cool completely. Once fully cool, cut around cake to make sure no parts are sticking to the side and invert cake out onto a rack, then onto a serving plate. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and cut into squares. Please, promise you’ll serve this with lightly sweetened, softly whipped cream. They’re made for each other.

Do ahead: Whipped cream needs to be stored in the fridge, of course. Cake keeps at room temperature for up to a week in an airtight container. It gets better with age, just like you, babe.

First published December 23, 2013 on smittenkitchen.com |
©2009–2017 Smitten Kitchen. Powered by WordPress.com VIP

leek toasts with blue cheese – smitten kitchen

leeks-toasts-with-blue-cheese

Recipes

leek toasts with blue cheese

I get in a lot of cooking ruts. Except, “ruts” sounds like the bad kind of monotony, but I’m not sure that it is. There have been pasta phases, in which I was certain that any vegetable, chopped, lightly cooked plus parmesan plus penne made a perfect dinner. I was on a homemade pizza bender for a year or maybe five. There was a galette fixation, that still rears its head once or twice a year. And currently, I’m struggling to find a single food that doesn’t taste better when it lands on toasts.

leeks
trimmed, halved leeks

Hear me out: Even the most poorly stocked kitchens — self, I’m looking at you and your shop-for-one-dish-at-a-time ethos — probably have bread, somewhere. (Mine is in the freezer. I buy good stuff, and then don’t feel rushed to use it up.) And whether you’ve got diced prosciutto or an excess of greens around, cooking them together and dolloping them on toasts somehow makes them more elegant, more open-faced sandwich-ish, more light dinner-ish. Now that the weather is finally (finally!) warmer and the farm stands are green again, quick meals are welcome.

sliced leeks

light sourdough

Now, I know that leeks are planted in the fall and thus probably don’t count as a spring vegetable. But around here, farms often pull them in the spring* and the spring variety has an incredible depth of flavor*. They’re also caked with more dirt than ever, having all of those extra months to roll in it, but I find that the same cleaning technique I use for less gritty leeks (and all greens), that is, plunging them gently in cold water and letting the sand and dirt fall to the bottom, works just as well. The only thing that leaves is bread (use whatever you have and don’t fuss over it as the leeks will steal the show), the cooking of the leeks (gently but lazily in butter and olive oil) and a little something-something on top. I used blue cheese when I made these, but goat cheese, either a feta sprinkled on top or a soft one spread underneath, would be wonderful. Finally, they reheat well so if you’ve made, say, a tray of toasts but decided that you first must run around outside (pressing your face against every single storefront glass, picking gum off the sidewalk while your mama grimaces, etc.) for a while before dinner, they’ll wait for you. Spring, it’s so nice to have you back.

briefly broiled

Leek Toasts with Blue Cheese

I was all set to slow-caramelize the leeks as I would onions when I came upon Molly Wizenberg’s recipe for Leek Confit in Bon Appetit and decided it sounded much more straightforward. I’ve tweaked it a bit — less butter, some swapped for oil, as I didn’t need the full richness of a confit, I leave the leeks wet rather than adding water, etc. — but the basic cooking technique is the same, and it’s a cinch. This would also make a wonderful filling for a crepe or omelet, or with a poached egg on top. But I bet you didn’t need me to tell you that!

With a big salad, makes a light meal for 2 or appetizers for several; this easily doubles if you doubt that it would keep you sated

1 1/2 pounds leeks (about 3 big leeks), lengthwise and white and pale green parts sliced 1/4-inch thick (about 3 generous cups of slices)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for brushing toasts
Coarse salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 medium-sized or 12 baguette-sized 1/2-inch slices of bread of your choice (I used a light sourdough)
2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled (a soft or crumbly goat cheese would also work)
Few drops of lemon juice (optional)

Fill a large bowl with cold water. Add leeks and use your hands to pump them up and down in the water a bit, separating the rings and letting the dirt and grit fall to the bottom. Transfer to a dish or plate for a minute; no need to dry them.

Meanwhile, heat a large, heavy skillet over medium. Once hot, add butter and olive oil and once they’re fully melted and a bit sizzly, add the leek slices, still wet. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt and a few grinds of black pepper. Reduce heat to low, cover with a lid and cook leeks for 25 minutes, stirring them occasionally. Adjust seasoning to taste.

While leeks cook, brush bread slices with olive oil and sprinkle with coarse salt. Run under broiler until lightly toasted. You may either spread the cheese you’re using on now, while the toasts are hot, or sprinkle it on at the end. Divide leeks among toasts. Sprinkle with cheese, if you haven’t spread it underneath. Add a few drops of lemon juice, if desired. Eat at once or gently rewarm a bit later.

First published May 11, 2011 on smittenkitchen.com |
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naked tomato sauce – smitten kitchen

naked tomato sauce

Recipes

naked tomato sauce

Every year at just about this time I renew my obsession with tomato sauce. It’s late August, after all, and just about anyone who has ever gardened or knows people who garden is drowning in tomatoes and I am here, with my virtual bucket, eager to help you out. Don’t be too fooled by my so-called benevolence, however, as it’s really a selfish endeavor; I find spaghetti with tomato sauce to be one of the universe’s perfect meals, so I’m hardly kicking and screaming my way to the kitchen the next time the whim for a new one strikes me.

a basket of plum tomatoes
peeling tomatoes

But I always think that the new one will be the one that closes the book on tomato sauce, that it will be done, that I will be able to move on and find new codes to crack in the kitchen knowing that I’ve locked in my tomato sauce nirvana. Unfortunately, these moments of spaghetti calm are increasingly short-lived. This baked tomato sauce made me happy for a few years, before curiosity got the better of me and I fell for Marcella Hazan’s famous tomato sauce with butter and onions. Even then, I couldn’t leave well enough alone, and but seven months later was taking pity on the cheap buckets of “ugly but tasty!” tomatoes at the market, creating a heartier sauce that could be made with any tomato, whether a prom queen or not.

just tomatoes, cooked until saucy

But the reason I’m back here today is because of what happened the day I shared that tomato sauce for you. Before I had even gone to sleep that very night, I had fallen in love with a new “gravy,” at Scarpetta, where we’d gone for dinner to celebrate our anniversary. The post had barely been up for 6 hours when I came to question if I’d been doing it all wrong, all of it, everything — good food will do that to you. In a restaurant that boasts duck and foie gras ravioli, olive oil braised octopus and innumerable four star reviews, it should say something that the spaghetti with tomato and basil is the most famed dish on the menu. It should warn you that it is exquisite, the stuff of daydreams for people like me, who find a knot of spaghetti and just the right amount of tomato sauce pasta’s highest calling. The tomato flavor is so pure, so clear, so tart and sweet and roasted all at once, I was desperate to crack the code and it didn’t take long for Google to unearth for me the secret ingredient:

overly artsy photo of dried pasta

Nothing. Nothing! Not onions or carrots or celery. No tomato paste, no slow-roasted garlic, no tomato variety so rare, you’ll need a second mortgage to even be allowed to look at it. The recipe for the sauce is pretty much just tomatoes, cooked until saucy. Can you sense how radical this sounded to me, how it blew my mind? The magic comes in the finishing step. While you cook your tomatoes, you steep some basil and garlic in olive oil to infuse it and add this strained, infused oil to your sauce near the end, so it retains the freshest flavor. And that’s it, that’s the seasoning. Well, that and one other tiny unmentionable. Those sneaks in the kitchen found that if they tossed the whole thing together with a small lump of butter, well, people got ecstatic about it, ecstatic enough to write 500 word essays extolling it, not that we know anyone like that. I’ll tell you this: I’ve made it with the butter, I’ve made it without the butter and both versions are excellent. But the butter wins every time, because it adds a velvety richness to the sauce that defies any need for grated… Wait, what? I just realized I am actually sitting here, typing out an explanation of why butter makes a dish better, like it’s news to any of us. Silly me. I think you know what to do from here.

a knot of noodle and sauce

Naked Tomato Sauce
Inspired by Scarpetta‘s Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil

If you Google for Scarpetta’s spaghetti and tomato sauce, you will find a) that you are one of a zillion people who do the same and b) several different recipes, none that agree with one another. I roughly, very roughly, followed the version on Serious Eats, as they’d hung out in the kitchen with Scott Conant as he showed them how he does it.

The recipe below will make a thin coating for the amount of pasta listed. If you prefer a heavier sauce-to-noodle ratio, you’ll want to adjust the recipe accordingly.

Makes 4 portions, on the small side

3 pound plum tomatoes
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Small handful basil leaves, most left whole, a few slivered for garnish
1/4 cup olive oil
12 ounces (3/4 pound) dried spaghetti
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, or maybe two if nobody is looking

Bring a large pot of water to boil. Cut a small X at the bottom of each tomato. Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 to 30 seconds, then either rinse under cold water or shock in an ice water bath. Peeling the tomatoes should now be a cinch. Discard the skins. Keep the pot full of hot water — you can use it to cook your spaghetti in a bit.

Cut each of your tomatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with your fingertips into a small strainer set over a bowl. Ditch the seeds, reserve the juices.

Add tomatoes and salt to a large saucepan (you’ll be adding the pasta to this later, so err on the big side) and turn the heat to medium-high. There are several ways to break the tomatoes down (with your hands, chopping, an immersion blender that I don’t think Italian Grandmothers would approve of but don’t worry, they’re not in the kitchen with you anyway) but I loved Conant’s suggestion of a potato masher, as it gives you the maximum control over how chunky, smooth you want your sauce.

Once the sauce has begun to boil, turn your heat down to medium-low and gently simmer your tomatoes for 35 to 45 minutes, mashing them more if needed. If they begin to look a little dry, add your strained and reserved tomato juices.

While the tomato sauce cooks, combine garlic, a few whole basil leaves, a pinch of red pepper flakes and 1/4 cup olive oil in a small saucepan. Heat them slowly, over the lowest heat so that they take a long time to come to a simmer. Once it does, immediately remove it from the heat and strain the oil into a small dish. You’ll need it shortly.

When the tomato sauce has been simmering for about 25 minutes, bring your tomato-blanching pot of water back to a boil with a healthy helping of salt. Once boiling rapidly, cook your spaghetti until it is al dente, i.e. it could use another minute of cooking time. Reserve a half-cup of pasta cooking water and drain the rest.

Once your sauce is cooked to the consistency you like, stir in the reserved olive oil and adjust seasonings to taste. Add drained spaghetti and half the reserved pasta water to the simmering tomato sauce and cook them together for another minute or two. Add remaining pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce. Stir in the butter, if using, and serve immediately with slivered basil for garnish. We found that sauce this good, this simple and rich, needs no grated cheese.

First published August 31, 2011 on smittenkitchen.com |
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