Saturday, January 30, 2010

Look what we did!

If you have ever come to our house for dinner, you have probably been forced to make your own pasta. Work for your dinner, that's our policy. Plus, we think it's fun; ergo, we also think you should think it's fun. Doesn't this lady look like she's having serious fun? Maybe? Maybe we should rethink our social activities? Recently we had a visit from a beloved college pal, who we traipsed around Boston in the nose-numbing weather--including a stroll across the frozen swan pond and a detour through the tiny, specialty groceries of the North End--only to conscript her into pasta duty at the end of the day. We made a very, very simple filling of blanched kale mixed with absurdly fresh ricotta (absolutely no substitute here), salt and nutmeg, and popped out a couple dozen capelli. Italian for "tiny hats" (a.k.a. tortellini). Despite my ill-timed snapshot of her serious folding focus, she was a great sport about it.
We didn't really do a Downslice here, but if you wanted to try, you can use this or this recipe for fresh egg pasta, roll it out but don't cut it into noodles. Instead, use a round cookie cutter to make circles, then plop down about a teaspoon of filling. You can use anything: from cooked squash to just cheese to sauteed mushrooms to whatever you feel like. Try this: 1/2 cup blanched greens (spinach, kale, collards, mustards, etc.) plus 1/2 cup fresh ricotta plus 1 tsp salt plus 1/4 tsp nutmeg. Yum.
Now, fold the circle in half and, wetting the edges with water if you like, press the edges of the semicircle together very firmly. Bring the pointed edges together and pinch hard. Repeat endlessly.
Voila! Serve tossed in tomato sauce or just some butter and cheese.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Root Vegetable Gratin

I know I've bored you elsewhere with the secrets of a good gratin, so you're spared the lesson this week--linguistic or otherwise. What you get instead (!!) is a delicious baked dish with the earthy flavors of winter. Plus it's pretty, no?

Ok, start with a couple of roots. Peel and julienne them. [Hold up--what? This just means cut them in tiny matchsticks: slice as thin as your trembling knife hand will allow you one way, then stack the slender slices atop one another, and slice cross ways, again, as thin as humanly possible. See exhibit A:]

Saute an onion. Throw it all in a cream sauce you made yourself. Then stir and bake. Really, that easy. You can follow the sauce recipe here, for a cheesy version, or you can go with the straight sauce below. Your call.

Root Vegetable Gratin
serves 2-3, but leftovers are quite good

the veggies:
1 small potato (red, yukon gold, etc. NOT a baking potato), julienned
1 small carrot, julienned
1 medium-sized turnip, julienned
1/2 small onion, sliced thin and lightly sauteed in olive oil
[optional, some blanched, chopped greens of your choice, 1/2 cup or so]

the sauce:
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup broth [or just a full cup milk, if you like]
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp flour
1/2 small onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper

the rest:
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup fresh bread crumbs, tossed in olive oil or melted butter
  1. First, julienne the potato, carrot, and turnip. Because the Internet is omniscient, you can consult it on how precisely to do this. But don't feel like you need to chop as fast as this guy. Toss them in a big bowl with the sauteed onions, greens (if using) and a healthy dose of salt and pepper.
  2. Next, make your cream sauce. Heat the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Add diced onion and saute with a pinch of salt until translucent, 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more. Sprinkle flour over top and stir that around, cooking the flour, for about 2 minutes. Add the milk in 3 additions, whisking really well after each time to get at any clumps of flour. Remove from heat as soon as it boils from the third addition and gets nice and thick. Season with plenty of salt and pepper and pour over vegetables. Stir.
  3. Grease a nice gratin-friendly dish, pour the mixture in and flatten with the back of your spatula. Sprinkle with bread crumbs you've tossed in olive oil or melted butter and mixed with parmesan cheese. [Oh, and if you want to, that slice of bacon you fried and crumbled.] Bake for 35-40 minutes at 375º.

Corollary: Banana Pudding

Just in case you can't get enough pudding, here's an easy recipe for the banana variety, and actually, just plain vanilla--if you omit the bananas and vanilla wafers at the end. But why in the world would you do that?

Banana Pudding
serves two; ready in 4 hours or the next day

1 1/4 cups milk
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp cornstarch
pinch salt
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
1 large banana
about 10 vanilla wafers
  1. In a small saucepan, heat the milk and sugar over medium, whisking occasionally until scalded but not boiling--you just start to see tiny bubbles around the rim of the pan.
  2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and cornstarch. When the milk is ready, pour a very little bit at a time into the yolks and whisk whisk whisk until incorporated. When all of the milk is added, return mixture to the pot and heat until almost boiling, using a spatula to stir. Constantly. It will get thick, trust me.
  3. Meanwhile, in another bowl, slice your banana and break up the nilla wafers into big chunks. Pour thickened pudding over bananas and wafers, and stir to get them mixed throughout.
  4. Let cool on the counter to room temp, then cover and place in the fridge. Chill for a couple of hours, preferably overnight to let the flavors meld.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Chocolate Orange Pudding

I'm not entirely sure why, but David looooooves pudding. Or mousse. Or custard. Or panna cotta. Or anything that is cold and smooth and you can slurp from a spoon. He loves pudding the way normal people love chocolate chip cookies or slices of cake. When I say, "I made pudding," there is a spark in his eye that is only ever repeated upon the purchase of a long-desired book or the kickoff of a long-anticipated football game.

"Really!?" True elation. Why don't I make it all the time? It's this easy to make him happy?

In fact, this very evening, as he spooned his dessert, he effused--and I quote--"This is one of the perfect desserts in the world, don't you think?" He didn't even know I was planning on making fun of him later on the blog! He just says that stuff naturally!
Well, anyway, here's a great little chocolate pudding recipe, perfect for two. I happen to really like dark chocolate and orange together, but if you're not an orange person, you can just omit the zest and the juice. Easy.

Chocolate Orange Pudding
serves 2; ready in 2 hours (including chill time)

1 1/2 oz dark chocolate
1 1/4 cup milk (any fat content will do)
1 Tbsp orange zest
1/3 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
2 Tbsp cornstarch or flour
1 Tbsp cocoa
1 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
2 Tbsp orange juice (or better yet, orange liquor of some kind)
  1. First, chop the chocolate and place it in a small microwave-safe bowl. Heat in 20 second intervals until you can stir it smooth. (Alternately, melt over very low heat on the stovetop.) Set aside.
  2. In a small sauce pan, combine milk, zest, and sugar over medium heat, until scalded (that is, you just start to see tiny bubbles around the rim of the pan). Try not to boil. In another bowl, whisk together eggs, cornstarch, and cocoa. Mixture will be crumbly.
  3. When milk is ready, add it in very small increments to the yolk-cocoa mixture, whisking well in between each addition. When all the milk is incorporated, return to pan and heat again, over medium, stirring constantly, until thick--about 2 minutes. Scrape pudding into a bowl to stop cooking. Add melted chocolate, butter, vanilla, and orange juice and whisk until well mixed.
  4. To speed up the cooling process, place that bowl inside a larger bowl that you have filled with ice and a little water. Stir constantly for a few minutes until the pudding becomes cool. If you like, you can strain the pudding through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of the orange zest and achieve a really smooth result.
  5. Divide between two serving dishes of your choice, cover in plastic, and cool for at least an hour.

Roast an Onion

So sometimes when you roast something meaty, you toss in a few other vegetables with it: carrots, potatoes, maybe some onions. Nothing tastes quite like an earthy veg that has been slow braised in delicious meat juices.

Well, this is not that. BUT, it's a way to get a tender, delicious onion without having to roast a whole chicken. Also, it's idiot proof. If you have a small oven dish, a piece of foil, and a little patience, you've got a couple of roasted onions.
Let me warn you, a roasted onion does not a meal make. It is delicious but not terribly filling, so make it a side dish: pair it with a big salad or some other veggies. It also holds in the fridge and reheats well. And do not, I repeat, DO NOT try to eat this thing without salt. A sprinkle of salt opens up worlds of flavor; no salt = kinda lame. Also, try it with the vinaigrette I suggest at the end. Impress your friends. Or yourself.
Easy Roasted Onion
ready in 45 min; serves 1 per however many onions you roast

Grab an onion or two. Set it/them (peel and all) in an oven-safe dish. Add enough water to reach 1/2-inch depth. Cover in foil and set in a 350º oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and bake 10 minutes more.

Meanwhile, whisk together the following:
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp spicy or dijon mustard
2 Tbsp olive oil
sprinkle of salt and pepper

Now, place the onion on a plate and carefully cut off one end of the onion paper. Now, cut the whole thing down the middle, and open it out. Top with salt, drizzle with balsamic vinegar, and serve. P.S. Don't eat the onion skin.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Barley Risotto Update

Now look what I went and did. Made a barley risotto, as we previously discussed, but put mushrooms in with the barley and garlic, finely chopped Swiss chard with the first dose of broth, then snap peas with the parmesan at the end. Yum.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Orange-Glazed Tempe

This is a big week for you, yeah? Trying new things. Eating some lentils. Considering a soy product that would have previously skeeved you out but suddenly seems delicious.

Tempe is like tofu, in that it is a kind of cake or block made from soy, and it tastes like ... well ... almost nothing. Similarly, the beauty of both tofu and tempe is that they easily take on the flavors you introduce to them. Their textures, though, are quite different; tempe is thin and dense, and though traditionally made from exclusively soy beans, can successfully be adapted with mixed grains and seeds. My grocery store sells tempe in different varieties: ones with added flax seed, barley, buckwheat, bulgur and brown rice, even vegetables.

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that reducing the amount of meat you eat is almost never a bad idea. (If you DO need me to tell you, just say the word and I will simultaneously bore, offend, infuriate, and worry you with statistics both medical and ecological.) I have to be honest and say that I am a tempe novice, but so far I've liked the results. I must also be honest and say that this recipe was lifted (though adapted to fit my cabinet contents) from 101 Cookbooks, so think about going there--or many, many other places--for more tempe knowledge. In the meantime, this is a pretty quick weeknight fix.
You can serve it with rice or another grain, but since it's kind of made of grains, you could also go with a bed of wilted cabbage, tossed in an easy dressing. I'll include that here too.

Orange-Glazed Tempe
serves 2, but leftovers are great

1 package tempe
2 Tbsp oil
1 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 tsp dry ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
dash hot sauce of your choice

1/2 head green or red cabbage
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 Tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey
  1. Start by cutting the tempe into bite-size pieces. As you can see, we went with triangles. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add tempe. Saute until nice and brown, about 4 minutes, then flip. Cook another 3-4 minutes.
  2. Mix together remaining sauce ingredients (soy sauce through hot sauce) in a small bowl. Add to pan with tempe and reduce heat to medium. Boil until sauce is reduced and thick, 6-8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, slice cabbage thin and steam however you see fit: either in a pot on the stove with a little bit of water, or in a bowl with a little bit of water, covered in plastic, and microwaved for several minutes. Mix together vinegar, oil, soy, and honey, and toss. Serve warm.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Lentil Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables

You know, people's opinions on lentils really run the gamut. Some people hate them. Some people really hate them. Some only dislike them. Some throw up a little when they think about them. Others are narcotized with boredom.

Wherever you fall on this scale, have I got a recipe for you! First, let's talk a little about the lentil, shall we?

What is it? Well, Harold says that the lentil is probably the oldest cultivated legume, that is, the family of plants that have seed-bearing pods (more or less, think beans and peas). Its Latin origin is the word lens, presumably for its shape, like two contact lenses back-to-back. Alan helpfully adds that the seeds themselves "come in various sizes, from tiny to small," thank you, and a variety of colors. They can basically be grouped into two categories: those which are large and light colored (greenish and yellowish), and the others which are much smaller and either brown, pink, or grey.
Also, lentils have the highest protein content of all its competitors, excluding soy beans, at more than 30% of your RDA per serving. I'm not sure why lentils have earned such a bad rap: they have a really mild flavor and readily absorb the essence of whatever you join them with. Wait, maybe it's all that fiber. Maybe you've all eaten lentils and embarrassed yourself after dinner. Well, even if you have, you've been simultaneously fighting high cholesterol and heart disease, regulating your digestive tract, stabilizing your blood sugar levels, and pumping iron (into your bloodstream, which is good). So give the lentil another chance, will you? Try this.
Boil some lentils until they're soft, but not mushy (about 15-20 minutes). Meanwhile, dice up some root vegetables--sweeter ones like beets and carrots--and roast them in the oven. Make a quick vinaigrette and toss it all together. Even add some cheese if you want. It's great warm or cold, so keep it in the fridge and fork it for the next few days.

Lentil Salad with Roasted Root Vegetables
can serve 2-3, but also makes a great lunch-for-work or snack-when-you're-bored-at-home for one; ready in 45 minutes

1 medium carrot
1 very small (or 1/2 medium) celery root
2 medium golden beets, (with greens optional)
1/2 cup green lentils
4 scallions
3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp walnut, grape seed, or olive oil
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp honey
salt and pepper
Optional: 2 Tbsp grated parmesan or crumbled feta
  1. First, preheat your oven to 375º and dice up the carrot, celery root (peeled) and beets (peeled) into 1/2-inch dice. Toss with oil, salt and pepper and throw in the oven until they're pretty soft, 25-35 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to boil. Dump in the lentils and cook for 17-20 minutes, until the lentils are chewable but still have a little bite. (If you go to far, you'll have mush instead of salad.) Lift out with a strainer, leaving the hot water in the pot. Stem and chop up the beet greens and drop them in the boiling water for about 5 minutes, until softened. Drain.
  3. In a large bowl, combine vinegar, oil, mustard, honey, salt and pepper to taste. Whisk vigorously until well combined. Then stir in lentils, roasted vegetables, greens, scallions, and cheese (if using). Season with salt and pepper. Yum!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Chocolate Mice

Stopped by Burdick's today in Harvard Square for a completely unnecessary and totally drool-inducing tour of their chocolates case. They are known for these tiny, adorable, my-insides-are-imploding-from-the-cuteness chocolate mice, which taste almost as fantastic as they look. One of each, please!

The good news, New Yorkers, is that you can now share my mouse habit at your very own Burdick's location, recently opened in the Flatiron district. Please go there, if not for the mice, then for the hot chocolate--a.k.a. liquid GOLD--which is unparalleled (in provincial little Cambridge, anyway).

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Meatballs 101

This is nothing new for you. You have been stretching your meat dollars for years now, right? By adding seasonings for taste, onions for moisture, bread for cohesion, and an egg to hold it all together? It's like meatloaf in ball form! (Except also delicious.) Betty Draper would be proud. Or at least, the mentally stable domestic equivalent of Betty in real 1960s America.

All you need is a half pound of ground meat-of-your-choice, and a couple pantry staples to make an Italian feast. Serve them over pasta, inside a hoagie bun, or atop a warm salad. They need very little else to round them out.

Standard Italian Meatballs
serves 2-3, depending on how many 'balls you like

1/2 lb ground meat (beef, pork, turkey, etc. Skip chicken: it's too lean)
1 slice bread, torn into small pieces
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp chopped parsley
2 Tbsp finely minced onion
1 garlic clove, grated, pressed or minced
1 tsp spicy mustard
1 medium egg
healthy dose of salt and pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients in a big bowl. (To increase tenderness, consider soaking your slice of bread in 1-2 Tbsp water or milk for 10 minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients. Totally optional.) Mix lightly with your hands until all ingredients are incorporated. Don't overdo it. Form into balls: I like ping-pong size.
  2. Film a large skillet with olive oil and bring to medium-high heat. Cook, turning often until meat is cooked through. This will vary depending on your meat, but will probably take at least 18-20 minutes. I like to leave them undisturbed for 6-8 minutes at a time to develop a nice crunchy sear. Toss them around frequently in the last few minutes of cooking to ensure even doneness. Sacrifice one ball by slicing in half to check for doneness.
  3. You're done now.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Texas Sheet Cake

Ah, Texas sheet cake: chocolatey buttermilk cake, fudgy pecan icing. Where does your name come from?

Some say it's because your dense, delicious slices are so rich, one only needs a small sliver to feel satisfied (hence, the ability to feed a Texas-sized crowd on a single cake). Maybe your fudgy explosiveness could only come from such a sizable state. Maybe that super-chocolatey flavor is as big as Texas.

Either way, this cake is ri-i-ich, almost brownie like, its accompanying icing quite sweet and studded with pecans. Buttermilk gives it a softness and a slight tang, the perfect foil to such a chocolate overload.

Texas Sheet Cake
serves up to 4; ready in 45 minutes; c/o BH&G

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp baking soda
pinch salt
4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) butter
1 1/2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1/4 cup water
1/2 beaten egg -or- 2 Tbsp egg substitute
2 Tbsp buttermilk
1/2 tsp vanilla
Chocolate-Buttermilk Frosting (recipe follows)
  1. Grease a 5x5-inch (or equivalent) pan. Preheat oven to 350º. Stir together flour, sugar, soda, and salt into a medium bowl. Set aside.
  2. In a microwave-safe bowl, melt butter, cocoa powder, and water together, until you can stir it smooth. Use 30 second intervals, taking it out and checking it each time.
  3. Pour chocolate mixture into flour mixture and beat with an electric mixer until thoroughly combined (this can be done by hand, with some effort). Add eggs, buttermilk, and vanilla, beating for an additional minute. Batter will be thin. Pour into prepared pan.
  4. Bake 30ish minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Top with warm Chocolate-Buttermilk Frosting and allow both to cool.

Chocolate-Buttermilk Frosting
2 Tbsp butter
1 1/2 Tbsp cocoa powder
1 1/2 Tbsp buttermilk
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup chopped, toasted (optional) pecans

Throw butter, cocoa and buttermilk into a bowl and microwave on high until butter is melted and you can stir them all smooth (use 20 second intervals). Add powdered sugar and vanilla and beat until smooth (you might need a mixer for this one). Stir in pecans.