13 March 2010

A revolutionary object

A non-stick pan is a revolutionary object. For the past two of three nights, I've relied on mine to make a varaition on the same dinner: eggs and hashbrowns. Jeff's been gone on a work/play trip across the pond, which means that I've had to fend for myself in terms of dinner. I mean, no bigs, but it's not as fun to cook something elaborate if it's just me hanging around the house. But who cares, when hashbrowns are involved?

You may remember my teeny tiny obsession with hashbrowns. And how I feel sorry for myself every time that I go out to brunch and am left with some pathetic, vaguely soggy, flatly spiced home fries. I mean, people, please.


Have I mentioned that I don't like home fries?

But hash browns have always eluded me. I mean, I make a mean latke at Hannukah, but otherwise I have left hashbrowns alone. They have a tendency to not cook through, turn gray, and and are a general pain in the neck. But the NON-STICK PAN.

Hellllooooo, non-stick pan. Hashbrowns come out creamy on the inside and crisp on the outside. No sticking, no turning gray. Just nice, crispy bits and a melting center. They're still a work in progress, but for now, I'm pretty happy about it. Happy enough to keep eating them every other day. Or not. But I make no promises.


Hashbrowns

So there are a few caveats about this recipe. First, I've been using the shredder attachment of my Cuisinart. You can just as easily use the large holes of a box grater. It does the same thing, but your arm will get less tired if you have a machine. The second thing is that this recipe easily doubles, or triples, according to how many people you are trying to feed. One medium-sized potato is more than plenty for one person, but it's weird to make less than one whole potato. That's how I feel about it, at least. You can also shred some onion into the mix, if you like.

1 potato (Yukon Gold is slightly preferable to Russet, I think)
2 small pats of butter (1 tablespoon total)
salt and pepper, to taste

1. Shred the potato using the shredding attachment of a food processor or using the big holes of a box grater.

2. Using a cheesecloth, wring out the potatoes until it's really, really hard to get out any more water. (Don't skip this step! This helps the potatoes to not turn to mush.)

3. Heat a small, non-stick pan over a medium flame, and melt the first pat of butter. When the pan is hot and the butter is melted, add the potatoes and pat them down into a single layer. Cook, not disturbing, for 10-15 minutes. Adjust the heat so the potatoes don't burn. When the potatoes are brown on the bottom, flip out onto a plate, melt the other pat of butter, and replace potatoes in the pan, browned side up. Cook 10 or so minutes more.

4. Season to taste, serve hot.

Serves 1

08 February 2010

Cookie starts with C!

Here's the thing. Being in pastry school is a game-changer. I still love to bake at night and on the weekends, but it's become somewhat harder to justify spur-of-the-moment baking. In all fairness, though, I don't bring anything home these days, but still...

Anyway. To make a long story short is that I've come to believe that chocolate chip cookies are my true culinary love.

I mean, who doesn't love a chocolate chip cookie? Warm, chewy or crispy, nutty or not, gooey or not, it's useless resisting. I mean, everyone, everyone loves them. I can think of a few particularly fine versions that I have fallen into and out of love here in New York (Birdbath/City Bakery's, Levain's etc.), despite the fact that I haven't lived here all that long.


However, it's more than satisfying an eating craving, right? Making them is equally satisfying, at least, it is for me. (I mean, who doesn't like to eat fresh cookie batter that's been set aside? Or sneak a few chocolate chips before they get thrown in?) If I think about it logically, I can probably say that I have been making chocolate chip cookies dozens of time every year since 1998. (Thanks, Mom, for being so cool about that when I was in high school. It paid off, see?) My standby recipe was on the back of the Nestlé TollHouse package. Pros: yummy, not crispy. Cons: Crisco.

I've been through a few others since then. Amanda Hesser's, King Arthur Four's, Jacques Torres's, etc. But the one that has taken my heart (at least, for the past year or so), is the one from Baked. I know I've talked about them before, so I won't elaborate. Let's suffice it to say that if you add an extra (very large) pinch of salt, a small handful shredded coconut, and a handful of toasted, chopped pecans, the results are divine. It's everything I want in a cookie. It's also everything that I like to make in a cookie. No commentary needed.

Kitchen-Sink Chocolate Chip Cookies, liberally adapted from Baked

When you've got these in the oven, keep a sharp eye, and absolutely do not overbake them. They will get bready and sad, which is no way to eat a cookie. Also, feel free to cut back on the salt and change the kind (though no less than a teaspoon) and remove the coconut and pecans. Just be sure to compensate with plenty of chocolate chips.

Also, there is no law saying that you have to chill your dough. But it makes a nicer-looking cookie, and also helps the egg to absorb some of the dry ingredients, resulting in a dough that's slightly drier and flavors that are more completely melded.

2 cups AP flour
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
16 Tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sweetened, shredded coconut
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans, cooled

1. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda. Set aside.

2. Using an electric mixer, or with a wooden spoon, cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated. Stir in vanilla.

3. Add the flour all at once and stir in until just combined.

4. Stir in the chocolate, coconout, and pecans by hand.

5. Cover your bowl tightly and refrigerate for up to 24 hours.

6. When you're ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

7. If you have an ice-cream scoop, use that to scoop and release your cookie dough onto the sheets (you want about two teaspoons in size), or just scoop it out with spoons and round them. Place about 1 inch apart on the baking sheets, and bake for 12 - 14 minutes, rotating the pans once during the cooking time, until the edges of the cookies are golden brown and the tops just starting to darken.

8. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack for about 5 minutes. Then remove individual cookies to rack to cool.

Makes about 24 cookies

29 December 2009

We ate our weight


It would appear as though we only have a few days left in December. I could be mistaken, though--yesterday, Jeff pointed out that the last time I wrote here was in, um, October. October???

He was right. Whoops.

So for those of you who are dying of curiosity, here are a few of the highlights from the past couple of months, in no particular order:

> I started writing for another blog, Eat Life.

> As of this weekend, I will be half of the way through my course at French Culinary! I have to start looking for a job. HA! HA! HA!

> My parents came for Christmas and birthdays. It was GREAT to have them here--so fun! We all ate our weight in dinners. Jeff and I put up a Christmas tree. There was much holiday cheer.

> I turned a whopping 28 and so far have nothing but positive things to say.

> I went to Chicago for Thanksgiving, saw a great friend who I hadn't seen in AGES, and got hit on by two men approximately my parents's age at the bar. No, thanks, guys. I'm really not into men who remember the Nixon era as first-hand experience.

> I've managed to be a terrible communicator, even with the people I miss the most. I don't return phone calls, rarely return emails, and feel guilty about it ALL THE TIME.

So that's about it, folks. I have a tasty pasta dish for you to make, but alas, no photos. My parents, Jeff and I may have gobbled the entire dish up before I had a chance to photograph it; you'll see why when you make it. It's creamy, cheesy, and hearty all at once, and I very highly suggest it if it's a cold night and you want to stay in, watch movies, and eat something cosy. After all, who can resist baked pasta with spinach, cheese and cream? Not I, my friends. You shouldn't either.

Have a happy 2010, and I'll see you then.


Alpine Baked Pasta, adapted from The Best of Food and Wine

My mother and I have made this many, many times. We find that it's best if you have a dish that's not too big. I used a 9 x 13 glass casserole/brownie pan, and it worked perfectly. I also massively increased the vegetable content. Below are the adaptations I made. You will want to make them, too.

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for buttering the dish
1 teaspoon freshly chopped sage
3 tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley
1 pound penne/farfalle pasta (pretty much anything that's chunky/long (not spaghetti like, not macaroni like) works)
2 leeks (white part plus 1 inch of the green), well washed and thinly sliced crosswise
1 large box baby spinach leaves, rinsed--use the kind that's pre-washed and is in the salad refrigerator at the store. It's well worth it. (I know, I know. If you want, use 2 bunches of spinach, well washed and roughly chopped)
1 cup finely grated fontina cheese
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan
1/2 + 1 delightful splash heavy cream

1. Preheat the oven to 375. Butter a baking dish (the recipe recommends 12 inches square) and set aside.

2. Put a very large pot of water on to boil over high heat, and salt well.

3. While waiting for the water to boil, melt the 4 tablespoons of butter in a pan over medium heat. When the butter becomes a light nut brown, add the herbs and turn off the heat; set aside.

4. When the water has boiled, add the pasta. When the water returns to a boil, time your pasta carefully, and cook it to 3 minutes under the recommended time (approximately 6-8 minutes, depending on your shape); add the leek to the pasta. After the water has again returned to a boil, add the spinach and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Drain the pasta and vegetables in a colander, return them to the hot pot, and add the herb/butter, salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the fontina, Parmesan, and cream, and toss well to incorporate all the ingredients.

5. Turn the pasta out into the buttered baking dish. Bake for 12-15 minutes, until the cheese has melted and the top edges begin to brown.

Serve immediately.

Serves 5-6 pretty darn generously.

28 October 2009

Mighty fine

In my house, there is no sound more horrendous than the smoke alarm. By all accounts, though, the smoke alarm in the new house is heads and shoulders above the one in the old place. The old one, after shrieking for a few beeps, said in a woman's automated voice, "FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!" It would also beep, every three seconds, when it was low on battery. Take the time that we went to Denver for Thanksgiving and came back, and it had been beeping for god knows how long. Or the time that it started at three in the morning and couldn't figure out how to remove the battery until four thirty.


Undoubtedly, we were not our building's preferred neighbors.


Part of the problem of a triggered alarm is that a lot of the things that get shoved in the oven are overfull and slightly liquidy.

Liquidy + heat + rising agents = bubbling over that gets stuck at the bottom of the oven and burns off whenever the temperature surpasses 350 degrees (F).


This would be the case at the present moment. Pizza, for which I have had an unnatural craving for the past three weeks, is causing my smoke alarm to sound, thus making me a little less happy with it. That really isn't saying much, though, since this pizza is delicious. The crust is good: bready, chewy, and a little sour. It might even rival Mark Bittman's, which has been my standby for the past few years. You don't even need to roll it out--just a little poking and prodding does the trick. Topped with sautéed vegetables and a little crumbled sausage, it's a mighty fine thing. Mighty fine, indeed.


Basic Pizza Dough, from Jim Lahey's my bread

Jim Lahey is best known around these parts for his magnificent, easy-peasy no-knead bread. You remember when that recipe came out. It seemed as though the entire foodie community was suddenly in the kitchen, stirring a few magic ingredients together to make the easiest rustic loaf in the world. (Recipe here). This pizza dough takes after the bread--totally easy, and totally worth it.

Yield: two baking pan-sized pizza crusts

3 3/4 cups (500 grams) bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons (10 grams) instant or active dry yeast
3/4 teaspoon (5 grams) salt
3/4 teaspoon plus a pinch (approx 3 grams) sugar
1 1/3 cups (300 grams) room temperature water (body temperature or cool to the touch)
olive oil, for the pans

1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. (I found this took a little longer--more like a minute or two.) Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the dough has more than doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

2. Oil two 13 x 18-inch rimmed baking sheets. Use a bowl scraper or a rubber spatula to scrape half of the dough onto an oiled pan in one piece. Gently pull and stretch the dough across the surface of the pan, and use your hands to press it evenly out to the edges. If the dough sticks to your fingers, lightly dust it with flour or coat your hands with oil. Pinch any holes together. Repeat with the second piece. Use as you like.

*One note: this dough takes a few minutes longer to cook all the way through than does regular pizza dough. Bake accordingly.

Eating my words

So. The other night. I did make that soup after all. And you know what? It was good. Really really good, actually--full of satiny onions and carrots, dimply pasta, and loaded with beans. I may have gone overboard with the beans. By double the amount. They were so nice, though--thick and starchy and satisfyingly creamy. If you ever get a chance to try some beans from Rancho Gordo--do it. (Even though they are absurdly expensive. I tell you, they are worth it.)

Really, though, I needn't have worried. It was a perfect soup for the chilly days that have engulfed us here in New York. It was so good, even, that I didn't... take any pictures. I ate it all first. Sorry about that. I will, though, someday. Hopefully someday soon. In the meantime, make a batch for yourself. You'll see.

White Bean and Pasta Soup, adapted from Bon Appétit

1/4 cup olive oil
2 cups chopped onions
2/3 cup chopped carrot
2/3 chopped celery (I peeled it--a fussy step, for sure, but there was no stringyness)
3 1/2 to 4 cups water
1 Parmesan rind (I save mine whenever I run out of a chunk, wrapped, in the freezer)
4 cups cooked white beans, with 3/4 cups reserved cooking liquid
1 large tomato, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup small pasta (I used dittalini)


1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy arge pot over medium heat. Add onions, carrot, and celery. Sauté until all vegetables are soft, about 12 minutes. Add 3 1/2 cups water, beans and cooking liquid, tomato, and Parmesan rind; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 25 minutes to blend flavors, stirring occasionally.

2. Mix in pasta and bring to a boil. Cook until pasta is just tender but still firm to bite, adding more water to the soup if the the mixture is very thick. Season with salt and pepper.

26 October 2009

Problem

There are a few things in life that are more frustrating than having a plan and then not wanting to execute when the moment arrives. Take that outfit the other night--you know the one. The one over which you had hemmed and hawed, set out the night before, picked out the shoes, the necklace. And then, ten minutes before your date? OH MAN WHAT A TERRIBLE OUTFIT. Who would want to wear that? What were you thinking??? And then you have nothing to wear. Nothing looks good. All clothes are suddenly offensive. But you can't go back to the carefully planned outfit, no sirreee Bob you absolutely cannot.

Now what?

This is how I feel about dinner, maybe two days out of five. It happens all the time. Example: tonight, I am supposed to make a bean soup. Yesterday, I went to the store--I have everything I need, I have enough time, and I'm 82% certain that it will be good. I am also 82% certain that bean soup, no matter how tasty or nice, is definitely not what I want to eat.

Let's make a list of things I would rather eat:

Chinese stir fry (beef/broccoli/onions/red peppers)
Boeuf bourguinon
Ramen noodle soup
Italian Sausage Sauce with pasta

We might need a serious change of plan.

18 October 2009

More often

It would appear as if I will not, in fact, be reporting for rice month.

Whoops.


Where did the time go? No, seriously--I feel like the beginning of September was last week or something. But then I think about all the stuff I've been up to--going to class and attempting to be student number one, going back to work, going to Denver for an AWESOME wedding, hosting Jeff's parents--it's been a little chargé, as they say.


So today I took the day off. Off from hosting, off from cleaning, off from working on school stuff. I'm listening to music Jeff doesn't like and baking things NOT in my curriculum. (Ok, tha'ts not exactly true--I'm working on a batch of pains au chocolat, but can you really count that as WORK?? I didn't think so.)

I really should do this more often.


Honeyed Goat Cheese Tart with Pistachio Crust, adapted from Food and Wine

1/2 cup unsalted shelled pistachios
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups AP flour
11 ounces soft goat cheese
2 cups full-fat Greek-style yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons finely grated lime zest
1/2 cup confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup honey

1. In a food processor, pulse the pistachios and 2 tablespoons of the sugar until finely ground. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle atachment, beat the butter with the granulated sugar at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 1-2 minutes. Add the pistachio/sugar mixture, almond extract and salt and beat until combined. Add the flour and beat at low speed until incorporated and the dough is crumbly.

2. Scrape the dough into a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removeable bottom. Press the dough until it is evenly spread out along the bottom and up the sides of the pan. The heel of your hand works well, as does a glass. Refrigerate until well-chilled, about 30 minutes.

3. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Bake the crust for abotu 45 minutes, until lightly golden. Transfer to a rack and let cook completely.

4. In the bowl of a mixer, beat the goat cheese, yogurt, lime juice and lime zest until combined. Add the confectioner's sugar and beat until smooth. Scrape the filling into the crust and refrigerate for 2 hours.

5. Just before serving, in a small sauce pan, cook the honey over moderatly high heat until it reaches 236 degrees F on a thermometer, about 2 minutes. Remove the honey and stir until slightly cooled, about 2 minutes more. Drizzle the honey over the tart and let stand until the honey firms up, about 5 minutes. Cut and serve.