31 December 2008

Small pleasures

Looking out of my window, I can see feathery flakes of snow quietly shifting around in the air. Sometimes they fall straight down, sometimes not. Sometimes they like to swirl around: the arial version of tumbleweed. Sometimes they like to blow horizontally. (I can't see anything that would indicate the presence of wind--no treetops on my street reach as high as my window. So it's nice to think, at least, that the snow has a mind of its own, and goes where it pleases. The dance without a song.)


I'm glad not to be outside, I think--it got cold here, and it's so much more pleasant to be inside with the oven humming, and with the warm scent of pita bread in the oven. Yes. Pita bread! I've been making the same recipe for years now, and it works: billowing, steaming pockets of soft, pliant bread that goes so nicely with spiced chickpeas and tomato sauce, or you know, Nutella. (Is there anything that Nutella doesn't compliment? Seriously here.) But the pita--so nice! And almost effortless. If you've been relying on the tougher stuff from the grocery store, well, it's high time to make your own.

Khubz'aadi (Pita Bread), adapted from Saveur

1 packet of active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 teaspoon sugar
6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or a mixture of wheat and white
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons salt

1. Put yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup lukewarm water into a large bowl. (If you're not sure about the temperature of the water, run it at medium and stick your fingers under the tap. You shouldn't feel a temperature change from the water. If the water feels warm, it is too warm. Go for a neutral temperature.) Stir to dissolve, and let mixture sit until frothy, about 10-20 minutes. Add two more cups warm water and 1 cup of the flour to combine. Add two more cups of flour, one cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Set mixture aside to rest for 10 minutes.
2. Add two tablespoons of the oil and salt and stir well to combine. Gradually add remaining flour, mixing well with your hands, until dough holds together as a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about fifteen minutes. Grease a large bowl with the remaining oil Roll dough around bowl to coat, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to let rise until doubled in bulk, about two hours.
3. Place pizza stone on middle rack of oven; preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Punch down dough, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for two to three minutes. Divide evenly into 16 balls and cover with plastic. Roll each ball into a seven inch disc, keeping remaining dough covered. Transfer disc onto a clean, lightly floured kitchen towel (NOT terry cloth), and cover with another clean towel. Repeat process with remaining balls, laying them one inch apart in a single layer. Let rest twenty minutes.
4. Bake breads, two or three at a time, on pizza stone, until lightly golden and puffed, about three minutes per batch. Wrap hot pitas in a clean kitchen towel to keep them soft and pliable. Serve immediately.

21 December 2008

Of Latkes and Light

Yesterday I was awakened to the exceptionally familiar sound of a car whirring it's tires in order to get out of it's snowy spot. Even though I was comfortably nestled in bed, I had the urge to lean out of the window and scream that you have to shovel out the back tires if you want to get anywhere. I refrained. (Most people here don't have car shovels, anyway, so it would have been a moot point.)

I have also refrained from pelting the storefronts that have declined to shovel their walkways with the ensuing slush/ice/snow mixture that they leave there so nonchalantly, forcing us pedestrians have to navigate with what I like to call the "Midwestern Waddle" heel-toe-heel-toe, lean a little one way, lean a little the other, do your best to imitate a penguin, since they are the animals that actually live on the ice and don't slip nearly as much as their human counterparts.



Fin bref: Snow has arrived! We are already leaps and bounds ahead of last year (a good 1/2 inch at most), and just in time for Hanukkah. A good time to celebrate the light, now that we've nearly arrived at the winter solstice (which, doesn't fall, ahem, ahem, until tomorrow). And tonight we did so with subdued gusto--the first night of Menorah and latkes. Latkes! Much like hash browns. But small. And compact. And tasty! But because they make my house smell like oil, they're a once-a-year treat. No more, no less.

Over the past couple of years, Jeff and I have tried a bunch of different recipes, and this one always comes out right. (Also, I usually make a half recipe for Jeff and me, since there's really no reason to make a very large batch unless you have a lot of people around.) Not too eggy (which I cannot even stand), not to heavy, these bridge the gap between hash browns and egg, onion and potato patties. And it doesn't have that funky matzo meal grainy texture/taste that seems to be prevalent in so many versions. I suggest incorporating these into your midwinter tradition, too. Because you won't regret it.



And may your days be filled with light.

Crispy Potato Latkes, adapted from Food and Wine

2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled
2 medium onions
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
vegetable oil, for frying

1. Using a food processor or a box grater, coarsely shred the potatoes and onions. Transfer them to a colander and squeeze dry. In a large bowl, mix the potatoes and onions with the eggs, flour, and salt.
2. In a large skillet, heat 1/4 inch of oil until shimmering, pressing lightly to flatten them. Cook over moderately high heat, turning once, until browned, about 5 minutes (the first batch takes a little longer). Reduce the heat if the latkes brown too quickly. Drain the latkes on paper towels and serve right away.

Jeff eats these with heated applesauce.

17 December 2008

Antidote

It's the last week of school before the holidays, and the girls are running amok, ants in their pants, concentration out the window. Me too, I have to admit; sometimes, walking to school in the morning, it seems like I would rather be anywhere else than heading into the drab doors of school, wandering its dark, unhappy hallways, or looking out my tinted window onto the street below.



It's the perfect time for something hot from the oven, preferably wrapped in puff pastry with silky, melded meats and vegetables. There really isn't anything quite like the feel of something hot in your hand to stave of the chill and the drab--and these glorified hot-pockets fit the bill. My mom sent me this recipe a while ago, since she knows that I have a weakness for lamb, and for pastry (she prefers not to eat too much of either), and it's just great.


Australian Meat Pies, adapted from The Chicago Tribune

1 small Yukon gold potato
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 pound ground lamb
1 small can crushed tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
large pinch dried red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
1 packages all-butter puff pastry, defrosted
1 egg
1 teaspoon water

1. Finely chop potato, onion, and garlic. Set aside in seperate bowls. Mash together butter and flour.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet set over medium heat. Tumble in onion and cook until soft, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, cook 1 minute. Add lamb and cook, stirring, until browned, about 10 minutes.
3. Stir in potatoes and tomato. Season with cumin, red pepper, salt and black pepper. Cover, lower heat, and simmer about 30 minutes. Thicken my stirring in butter/flour mash. Add mint. Let cool.
4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. On a lightly floured surface, roll out puff pastry to a rectangle, to about 14 x 16 inches. Use a pizza wheel and cut into eight rectangles, each 7 x 4 inches.
5. Scoop 1/3 cup meat mixture onto each dough rectangle. Fold dough in half to cover. (Be sure to leave a good margin around the meat, so that when you fold the dough, you have enough to seal the spaces. Do NOT over fill the rectangles, because you will regret it and you will have oozy pies.) Press edges to seal. Beat together egg and water. Brush tops of meat pies with egg wash. Cut slits into the top of the pies with a small, sharp knife, for steam. Set pies on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
6. Slide into oven and bake until golden and puffed, about 20 minutes. Cool, but not enough that you can't serve nice and toasty.

14 December 2008

Best. Donut. Ever.*


*pssssst: it's the second one from the top right.

Today, feeling as though it was too nice of a day not to step foot out of our neighborhood, Jeff and I ambled down down down to the Lower East Side, bastion of deliciousness. First stop was Prosperity Dumpling, where I enjoyed a delicious snack of dumpling goodness. I hadn't been for a while, and man are those dumplings good. So hot and juicy and spicy... the perfect antidote to a windy, chilly day.


And then we decided to go to...drumroll please... The Doughnut Plant. The Doughnut Plant is this teeny little storefront that sells fresh doughnuts, coffee, hot chocolate, and hot chai all day long. Doughnuts are made on the premises, heating the bakery deliciously, and providing tantalizing aromas of sugar and cake. If you take a look at their website, you can see that they are highly stylized, but who cares? Their doughnuts are simply divine, supple, yeasty, and really, really tasty. The last time we went, we got a cup of honeyed, deeply spiced chai and a vanilla bean glazed doughnut, but today we got not only one of those, but also a crème brûlée doughnut.

Think about that carefully. A crème. brûlé. doughnut.


It was a doughnut that was crispy caramely on the outside, having been slightly torched in order to give that sheen of a true crème brûlée, with a filling of vanilla bean crème anglaise--creamy, vanilla, full flavored, but not overly sweet. It was a brilliant doughnut, perfectly giving the illusion of everyone's favorite dessert, but in doughy form. And that doughnut part? Just like the vanilla-bean glazed one: yeasty, chewy, and impossibly light.

And perfectly delicious.

The Doughnut Plant
379 Grand St.
New York, NY 10002

10 December 2008

Remedy


Do you ever have those days when you realize way too late that your clothes are too tight and even though no one can tell except you, you start to feel more and more self conscious and more and more panicky?

Today was definitely one of those days. And the item in question was most definitely my tights, which, true to their name, are supposed to be tight, but not so much that you start to get indigestion at noon and that still hasn't gone away at a quarter to nine right? And then there's the weather; let's not put too fine a point on this, but it is December 10 and it is a whopping 60 degrees in New York. Global warming, anyone, anyone?

So what better than soup for cheer? I found this recipe a few weeks ago in an old issue of Gourmet, when I was looking for cookie frosting recipes, and it just kind of stuck in my head. All sorts of good things get thrown into the pot: pork, soy sauce, spices... add some noodles and voilà!

And it turned out just like I wanted. It's very homey, and comforting, and delicious. Just the thing when the weather's getting you down, as is a little indigestion. I have to warn you, though, that it's a little on the sweet side, though, so next time I think I'll add only two tablespoons of sugar instead of the four... and I'll also add a nice thumb of ginger. It would also be awesome with some cilantro to cut the richness of the broth.

Pork Noodle Soup with Cinnamon and Anise, adapted from Gourmet

2 pounds country-style pork ribs
5 cups water
2/3 cup soy sauce (I use the San-J Tamari Low-Sodium; it's my favorite for all my soy sauce needs)
2/3 cup medium-to-dry sherry
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 head garlic, halved crosswise
3 (3-inch) cinnamon sticks
1 whole star anise
1 package bean thread (cellophane) noodles

1. Gently simmer all ingredients except noodles in a large pot, covered, skimming as needed, until pork is very tender, 1 1/2-2 hours.
2. Transfer pork to a bowl. Discard bones, spices, and garlic. Coarsly shred meat. Skim fat from broth, then return meat and bring to a simmer. Rinse noodles, then stir into broth and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until noodels are translucent and tender, about 6 minutes. Serve.

07 December 2008

Hiatus. Oops.

So I didn't make it all the way through NaBlaPoMo. Maybe next year. Thanksgiving turned out to be as hectic as usual, which in turns makes for some difficulties in the posting process. We had a good run, though, didn't we?

On the upside, though, I have so many good things to tell you about! I'll give you a few hints below...

See you soon! (Promise!)


28 November 2008

November Eat-O-Rama

And so we are mid-way through the annual November Eat-O-Rama, brought to you in part by Jeff's family, myself, and a host of other factors. Jeff and I love the NEOR. It's most definitely something we look forward to for eleven months out of the year. It spans from the night before Thanksgiving to the Sunday when we leave; the only issue is that my (more-or-less) regulated eating schedule goes out of wack, and then I have to go back to trying to "be good" until the December EOR rolls around. (However, unlike the NEOR, the DEOR is spread out over the weeks preceding Christmas to the week following the New Year.)

It's great: when we arrive in Denver, we go straight to Jeff's favorite restaurant ever, The Sushi Den. Despite it's location in by a rather large mountain range and not by an ocean, the Sushi Den has fabulous sushi--it's one of the only places where the fish sparkles and actually tastes fresh without fail, every time. Jeff always goes for the obscenely elaborate sushi platter (as does his brother and father), but I like a mixture of tempura, sushi, and tofu. It's such a treat to eat such high-quality fish; it may be the only time all year that we eat sushi (mainly because we would rather eat high-quality sushi and in New York it can get very expensive very, very quickly).

For breakfast this time we went to a newer place on the Denver scene: Snooze. I won't reiterate my obsession with hash browns, but I will say that I was determined to get some while NOT in New York. As soon as I made this intention known to Jeff's dad, he was right on board with that plan, hoo boy. I have never met anyone as gung-ho as I about the wonders of hash browns. Thank goodness I did, though, because we found some fantastic ones. I got a whole bowlfull of them, smothered with cheese, mixed with bacon, and topped with a fried egg and avocado slices. It was heavenly. And I ate it all up. Every. Last. Bite. I outdid Jeff's brother even. Other than its hashbrowns, Snooze was great. Funky atmosphere, free coffee while you wait, fantastic food. If I lived in Denver, I would go there all the time. If you ever get the chance to go, you definitely should.

The Sushi Den
1487 Pearl St.
Denver, CO 80210

Snooze
2262 Larimer St.
Denver, CO 80205

27 November 2008

Happy and Thankful

Have a good one! Eat plenty. Sleep more.

Updates on Denver, coming your way soon.

26 November 2008

Outs!

Hey everyone.
I just wanted to highlight the next few days--we're headed this afternoon to visit Jeff's family in the red land state for Thanksgiving. So think of me and hope for beautiful flying/running/eating weather! And be sure to stuff yourself, if at all possible, for the rest of the week!
See you from Mountain Time,
Mei

24 November 2008

Mea culpa

Sorry about that lapse, folks. I made a pie, and meant to tell you about it, but then took it to a friend's house for dinner and then that was the end of that. No picture, not too much excitement. But the pie? Delish. It's very mild, and not too sweet. It's like a nice, plain custard.

And that's that. I know, I know, it's not too exciting. But then, neither was the pie. It was tasty, for sure. But exciting? Not so much.

Nutmeg-Maple Cream Pie, adapted from The New York Times

3/4 cup maple syrup
2 1/4 cup heavy cream
4 egg yolks
1 egg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pre-baked 9-inch pie crust

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, reduce maple syrup by a quarter, about 5 minutes or so. Stir in cream and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and yolk. In a very small stream, and whisking constantly, slowly pour the cream into the egg mixture. (See, if you clump it all together, the eggs will scramble. And you don't want scrambled egg pie. Strain mixture into a small bowl. Stir in salt, nutmeg, and vanilla.
3. Pour mixture into your pre-baked pie crust. Place everything on a cookie sheet (not nonstick), and place in oven and bake until firm to the touch but still a little wobbly, about an hour. Let cool.

23 November 2008

Politically Incorrect Sandwiches

I have a present for you! Today, Jeff will be our guest columnist. Yes, the Jeff that often appears here as the good-natured, unwitting guinea pig of my culinary exploits, as the never-tiring dining companion, as the always energetic eating adventurer, and, most importantly for our tiny kitchen, as the ever-wonderful washer of dishes. Thanks, Jeff! --Mei

There are times when living in New York City does not seem worth it, when the hassles and annoyances are simply too much. Good examples include waiting in a line at Trader Joe's that stretches 3/4 of the way around the store, fighting your way past the crush of humanity just to get orange juice at Fairway, and the smell of half-burnt food cart pretzels blanketing an already overcrowded intersection.

However, these moments are more than outweighed by the times when I taste something that makes my mouth inadvertently form a smile, where I lose my ability to converse and can only concentrate on the food. These occurrences are more frequent on a stretch of Houston Street, on the Lower East Side, where several Jewish eateries hang on despite the proliferation of slicker establishments and chic, modern hotels. One of my favorites, along with Yonah Schimmel's Knishes and Katz's deli, is Russ and Daughters, a small shop that specializes in smoked fish and small delicacies. The store is tiny, with a counter on either side, one selling candies and pastries, which spells troubled ordering because I get constantly distracted by things I would like to eat; the other half sells smoked fish, and it's here where I order my Super Heeb sandwich.

This completely politically incorrectly named sandwich consists of a bagel (I prefer poppy) with a thin layer of horseradish cream cheese, a generous portion of whitefish salad and a sprinkling of wasabi-flavored flying-fish roe. The result is slightly creamy, salty, and has the distinctive taste of smoked fish, a fresh, cool, slightly briny taste that is unexpectedly flavorful. There is nowhere to sit and eat at Russ and Daughters, so Mei and plunged out into the near freezing weather and I bit into the sandwich with relish. The first half was delicious, even on such a cold day. I decided to hang on to the second half, not being super hungry after having already eaten a knish. As we walked around, I thought maybe the sandwich wasn't so good, that it was something that was great at the time but was too rich to eat more than a little of. But, worried it would go bad, I ate the second half at home. It was better than earlier (turns out having feeling in your fingers allows you to pay more attention to flavor) and has cemented its place as one of my favorite things in NYC to eat. So if you're in New York, head over to Russ and Daughters and enjoy one for yourself.

Russ and Daughters
179 East Houston Street
New York, NY 10002

22 November 2008

FlushingFlushingFlushing


I get giddy at the thought of Flushing. Flushing is Chinese food at its finest--hot, authentic, and dirt cheap. I love it--just being out there is like stepping into a crack in the time/space continuum--Flushing, Queens, is an entirely different world than my neighborhood of New York.

The first time Jeff and I went to Flushing together, we had just been picked up by my Taiwanese aunt and uncle at the airport. The night before, they had requested, not very subtly, that we absolutely needed to be hungry for lunch. At 10:30. In the morning. The conversation kind of went like this:

My Aunt: "You have to be hungry when you get here. Tell Jeff!"
Me: "Sure. Don't worry. We'll be hungry."
My Aunt: "NO! You be hungry! You don't eat breakfast!"
Me: "OK! We'll be hungry! I promise!"
My Aunt: "NO BREAKFAST!!!"

I think she was expecting us to be hungry.

Which we were, having gotten up at 5:45 AM to catch a flight out of Madison to get to New York to check things out before taking the leap to actually move half-way across the country. When we got in, we were ravenous, and we were duly dragged around to three different restaurants in the space of an hour and a half. We barely made it through the third restaurant, pleading over-stuffing. That is, until my aunt started yelling, "YOU TOLD ME YOU WERE GOING TO BE HUNGRY!" She was kidding. Kind of.

The three (or more) restaurant pattern is now the one that Jeff and I follow when we go out, now that we live here. We make the rounds of the places that we like to go, which certainly include the places that we were taken to by my aunt and uncle, and we have been slowly expanding the radius that we are willing to trek away from the subway station. This, of course, was helped along by this article in the Times, which was published in anticipation of the Beijing Olympics.

So tonight we did the following, in the following order:

Corn shaped cream cakes and bubble tea from Quickly


Beef and hand-pulled noodle soup at the Golden Mall


Soup dumplings (and some utterly forgettable noodles) from the Nan Shiang Dumpling house

A trip to the Hong Kong Supermarket.



(If any one can tell me what this flavor is, please let me know.)

This was a trip utterly worthy of the 45 minute trek out, and the 45 minute trek back in. Of course, this is all framed by an unbeatable view of the Manhattan skyline from the train... come and visit, and we'll go. You have my word. I'm getting hungry just thinking about it.

21 November 2008

Hash browns, redux

Yesterday, I made a new recipe: oven baked hash browns. As I'm sure you remember, hash browns are one of my favorite things to eat.

But... not to put too fine a point on it, I discovered last night that I adore pan-fried hash browns. Part of the problem was that the oven baked ones came out gray, undercooked, and underdelicious. (I mean, seriously? Grey? Grey potatoes = gross.) This leads me to believe that either I did not properly follow directions (quite possible, who's kidding who around here?) or that only pan-frying can produce the sort of fluffy goodness and golden crust that hash browns necessitate.

So if you're in the market for a low-oil potato hash brown experience, I advise you to look elsewhere than in the most current issue of Bon Appétit. And do let me know if you find something.

20 November 2008

Apple and Lemon Perfection



Don't you love apple tart? Because I love apple tart. It is the perfect fall dessert--not to sweet, with melting, floral apples over a shattering, just so slightly sweet, buttery crust. Add a little lemon zest, and you may have a slice of heaven.



This tart goes especially well if you're eating seasonally. Since it's late fall, there's the bounty of apples, especially in the last few places I've lived*. Furthermore, we're starting to touch on the citrus season (clearly the best season, in my unobjective opinion). I saw Meyer Lemons in the store the other day, and I just couldn't resist them. I picked some up, smelled one and was immediately hit by it's seductive perfume. I put them down, because I wasn't really in the market for lemons, but then I kept circling around them, like a bee around some fragrant blooms. So into the basket they went. And then their zest went right into my tart.



If you're going to make this, you may want to adjust the sweetness to taste. I use both a tarter variety of apple (Winesaps--if you can find them, they are floral and tart and sweet and all-around divine) and less sugar than the original six tablespoons. Also, the glaze makes a more elegant tart, and is delicious to boot. Make sure also that you heat the preserves a little, so that they're spreadable and melty. But part of the joy of this is that you get to make what you like, since variety is always possible, and always a good thing.

Practically Perfect Apple Tart

1 pâté sablée, unbaked; see here

4 medium apples, preferably a tart variety--I like winesaps
4 tablespoons sugar
zest of one Meyer Lemon
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons apricot preserves (optional)

1. Make the pâté sablée, and chill in the refigerator.
2. Preheat the oven to 375.
3. Peel the apples and thinly slice, as evenly as possible. Arrange the apples to cover the pan however you like. Mix the sugar and lemon zest, then sprinkle with apples with the mixtures. Cut the butter into small pieces and dot with the butter.
4. Bake for 50-55 minutes
5. Glaze the tart with the jam, if using.

*It must be said for both the Upper Midwest and for New York State that apples are indeed one of their more anticipated commodities.

19 November 2008

Extra! Extra!

This week's issue of the New Yorker magazine is all about food. If the New Yorker isn't normally your magazine of choice, this may be a good place to start--there are some really cool pieces. One is about the search for the perfect Adriatic fish stew. Another is about Prince in his new Los Angeles digs. Another is about the art and science of good knives. And a piece about Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid, of cookbook fame. (I have to admit that I've been really into their cookbooks--beautiful, intellectual, and very, very human.)

So what are you waiting for? Go get your copy!

18 November 2008

The Joy of Boiling Water

To say that the cold has started to creep into my bones would be an understatement. I know that I can't really complain, that my friends everywhere else are getting snow, and at most I'm suffering from the wintry, watery grey light that envelopes New York at this time of year, but I feel as though as though winter is here, and here to stay. The upside of cold wether, though, as we all know so well, means frothy hot chocolate and cookies and soups and stews, but unfortunately for me, tonight was leftover night.

It had to be. My refrigerator (and the freezer, too) was (is) packed with leftovers--the end of that chili, onion tart, two soups, a listing piece of chicken pot pie, some macaroni and cheese, pasta sauce, and some leftover broccoli, to boot. I just couldn't justify making something else, though I'm sure I will regret it once Friday rolls around and there is nothing to eat for lunch and I will actually have to break down and buy something.

For all my griping, though, leftover night can be kind of thrilling in it's own right. So many choices! And not once did I have to turn on the stove, chop vegetables, marinate, make a mess to be cleaned. The most strenuous work I did tonight was to boil some water for pasta, and Jeff turned on the oven. Otherwise, the usually cheery chop chop of the knife and the scrape of the whisk and the clunk of the wooden spoon on the edge of the pot are quiet. I kind of miss it, the rhythm of preparation, the conversation between myself and the raw ingredients, but a break is always good. Essential, even. No doubt, tomorrow I'll be back on track, spreading the warmth into everything again. Warding off the chill of winter is what we do best.

17 November 2008

Fall. Thanksgiving. Winter.


There is nothing that screams TURKEY TIME!! like the cranberry. The much maligned, pucker-inducing, vampish-red cranberry, fruit flavor of too many gelatinous ridgèd gels that embrace the main event come the fourth Thursday of November. No table is complete without it, even mine--we always, always have to have a can on hand for my father.

I vividly remember the first time I made cranberry sauce from fresh cranberries. Sugar, water, cranberries, a wooden spoon, a deep pot, heat. The POP! POP! POP! of the cranberries when they were sufficiently heated through, the spraying of the staining juice both into the pot and onto my shirt. The lushness of the sauce, sweet and sour, thickening and gelling over the heat, and then again in the cold of the fridge. I was hooked--both on the magic of the stove and on anything cranberry.

Which is why I present another quick bread, even though it seems like we just made one. Cranberry orange bread, possibly among the easiest and most accessible cranberry recipes, where there's plenty of sugar to temper the tart of the berries. I hadn't made this for a long time--not since college, when I was in the process of wooing Jeff--he came over to bake, and has been hooked on it (and me!) ever since. The orange provides a nice accent for the cranberries, though next time (I hadn't made this since college, actually) I would take out about 1/4-1/3 cup of the sugar, and maybe add some orang zest next time--lemon or lime would work equally well. In any case, be sure to have with a good cup of tea for an afternoon snack.

Cranberry Orange Bread

2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter, melted
3/4 cup orange juice
1 egg, well-beaten
1 1/2 cups chopped cranberries (use a food processor and make your life easy)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a standard size loaf pan--either grease really well, or use a large rectangle of parchment paper, my preferred route.
2. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together in a large-ish bowl. Make a well in the middle, and add wet ingredients, being sure not to over mix. Fold in the cranberries in at the end; pour batter into prepared pan.
3. Bake 55 minutes to 1 hour, or until a knife comes out clean.

16 November 2008

Le Pain Quotidien: Snack Time

Jeff and I had a big day of bumming around. Bumming around is Chin family lingo for shopping/errands/hanging out/getting a snack somewhere. It felt like we went all around the town: to Soho, then east, then west, then up again, and by the time we were done wandering around downtown, we were ready for a snack. But what to eat? Dumplings were a possibility. So was a SuperHeeb sandwich from Russ and Daughters, a venerable Lower East Side kind of deli. So was a sandwich from Despaña, with it's divine imported serrano ham.

In the end, though, we spotted a Pain Quotidien, and decided to go there.

Le Pain Quotidien, no matter where you might be, has long, communal tables and cheery service. It's the kind of place that has breakfast pastries all day long, as well as tartines (open faced sandwiches), a variety of different coffee drinks, soups, quiches, and salads. The space is large and light, and has a very convivial atmosphere.

Granted, their fare isn't the best. It's never exactly what you want, and is kind of overpriced. But today, Jeff and I shared the Tuscan Platter, which consisted of four slices of homemade bread, olive tapenade, pesto, divine fresh ricotta cheese, a few sun-dried tomatoes and salad, two slices of melon, and two generous slices of prosciutto. With two cafés au lait, it was just the perfect pick-me-up from walking around in the chilliness that is Lower Manhattan.

Le Pain Quotidien
100 Grand St.
New York, NY 10013
(also worldwide locations)

15 November 2008

Comfort in a bowl


I really like dinner in a bowl. There's something so wonderful about having a steaming bowl of something in front of you, the scent drifting up to your nose, warming and readying your taste buds for what's to come. Soup falls into this category. As does soy chicken, for sure, renamed "dinner in a bowl" by my college roomates. But pasta is it's own special category, especially if it's the sauce that you've been making, and that your mother has been making for what seems like, oh, the time you were five.

Italian Sausage sauce just seems to run in the family. We all loved it: bold flavors, spice, salt, pasta. Peppers softly melting and melding into a greater being, but with enough acidity to have their own personality, with the heat of the sausage and the tomato richness of the sauce. And what kid doesn't love pasta? I mean, please, people. I started making it for myself when I went to college. It's an easy sauce to make, and to love.

Mom no longer uses the Hunt's tomato sauce--she and my father are (rightly) trying to watch their salt intake, but I can't make myself let go. Mom now will use Muir Glen tomato sauce, or will used crushed tomatoes, but I think it alters the taste, consistency, and the memory of what we're eating.

Because surely, holding tight to a recipe is nostalgia, and comfort, at it's finest. It is around my house, at least.

Italian Sausage Sauce

2 hot Italian sausages, preferably from the butcher counter
2 bell peppers, red, green or other
1 large can Hunt's tomato sauce
a very generous pinch Italian seasoning, to taste
1 teaspoon (or more) chili flakes

1. Attractively slice your peppers into bite-sized pieces. Sauté in olive oil over medium heat until soft. Add your sausages, turn heat up a half notch. Break up sausages with a spoon into bite-sized pieces; cook until no longer pink at all.
2. Pour in your tomato sauce, and bring to a simmer. Add spices, as well as pepper (and salt, should you wish, but the Hunt's is very salty to begin with, so go easy; I don't use any extra at all). Simmer for an hour.
3. Serve over pasta of choice.

14 November 2008

Saint Anthony, help me out!

Has anyone seen my garlic? I used it two days ago to make something, I'm sure of it. There were at least four plump cloves left... and now it's gone! As though it walked off of its own accord. As though it were through with me and my kitchen. And no mice, I'm sure, since there were also some cookies on the counter, and everyone knows that cookies are far more enticing to mice than garlic.

If it turns up in your kitchen, won't you let me know? Send it back my way?

13 November 2008

Wishes


DSCF1667
Originally uploaded by meizilla
I have a few wishes for today.

Wish #1: That I had a very large glass of red wine in my hand.
Wish #2: That it were the weekend already. I know I can't really complain, but that's the breaks.
Wish #3: That there were a large bowl of pasta carbonara in front of me (to go with the wine, of course).

I LOVE pasta carbonara. How could I not? It has everything that I love in it: cream, bacon, and green vegetables. (Don't give me that undeserved groan! Look at those peas! They ARE green, and don't you think you can guilt me into discounting them. Because you can't.)
Pasta carbonara is definitely the sleeping bag of pastas: cozy, tasty, and comforting.

Especially if you have a big glass of wine to accompany it. I promise.


Pasta Carbonara, adapted from Food and Wine

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, smashed
about four slices bacon, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
3/4 cups heavy cream or whole milk
3 large egg yolks
1/3 freshly grated Parmesean cheese, plus more for serving
salt
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen baby peas
3/4 pound spaghetti
freshly ground pepper

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. In a large, deep skillet, heat the oil. Add the garlic and cook over moderate heat until golden, about 2 minutes. (Try not to let your garlic brown. It will turn bitter, and the oil will, too.) Discard the garlic. Add the bacon to the skillet and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden and crisp and the fat has been rendered, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a bowl.
2. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat from the skillet, and make sure your heat is off. Add the cream and scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the skillet, then pour into a medium bowl. Whisk in the egg yolks and 1/3 cup cheese.
3. Add salt to the pot of boiling water. Add the peas and cook just until tender, about 1 minute. Using a slotted spoon; transfer the cooked peas to a bowl.
4. Add the spaghetti to the boiling water and cook until al dente; drain. Return the pasta to the pot and add the cream mixture, bacon, and peas. Season with salt and pepper and toss until the sauce coats the spaghetti. Transfer to bowls and serve immediately with the remaining Parmesean.

12 November 2008

Caramel love



Do you know what I love, aside from dumplings? I love making caramel. Not eating caramel, mind you, making it. I like it because it is finicky. You can't leave it, even for a minute, because the the sugar can go from blank to burnt in no time flat. Caramel needs attention, but it doesn't like too much handling. No spoons allowed! Watching the transition from clear sugar to bitter amber is almost magical, especially because there is the massive shift from no scent to fragrant blooming in the air.




Caramel is also intensely personal; I like mine bitter and dark. I think it has more flavor that way. It's more complex. I also like mine with a bit of salt added: it brings out the sweetness without being overpowering.



So I was thrilled when I came across a recipe for salted chocolate caramels in an old issue of Gourmet. I love to make caramel, I love chocolate, I love salt, what could be better? I'm also starting to root around in my recipe files for the annual Christmas extravaganza, which, I might add, will have a whole new face this year. Get ready.



I'd never made candy, though, not like this. But... it wasn't hard! And aside from my own stupidity burning myself on the tongue (please please please do not, I repeat, do not, attempt to taste the fruits of your labors during any part of the process because seriously, that sugar is hot, in case you forgot, and it is only folly to want to try it while it is boiling), it wasn't hard, not at all! Easy enough to perhaps make it a holiday standby. I'll let you know.


Salted Chocolate Caramels, adapted from Gourmet

1 cup heavy cream*
1/3 pound fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), finely chopped
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons water
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into smallish bits
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, like fleur de sel or Maladon

1. Line the bottom and the sides of a standard-size bread pan with parchment paper.
2. Bring cream just to a boil in a 1-1 1/2 quart heavy saucepan over moderately high heat, then reduce heat to low and add chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat.
3. Bring sugar, corn syrup, water, and salt to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Boil, uncovered, without stirring, but gently swirling pan occasionally, until sugar is deep golden, about 10 minutes. (If you need a caramel primer, see here.) Tilt pan away from you and carefully pour in chocolate mixture (give it a good stir before doing this). Mixture will bubble and steam vigorously, try to avoid getting splattered because it really, really hurts if you do. Continue to boil over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until mixture registers 255 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 15 minutes. (This time is a very vague estimate. Watch your mixture carefully.) Add teh butter, stirring until completely melted, then immediately pour into lined baking pan (do not scrape any caramel clinging to bottom of side of saucepan). Let caramel stand 10 minutes, then sprinkle evenly with sea salt. Cool completely in a pan on a rack, about 2 hours.
4. Carefully invert caramel onto a clean, dry cutting board, then peel off parchment. Turn caramel salt side up. Lightly oil blade of a large heavy knife and cut into 1-inch squares. Savor.

*This is only a half recipe. Easily doubles.

11 November 2008

No snacks! (But chili on the stove.)

Fall is slowly descending into winter. It's not cold enough to snow yet (though that can't really be said for the Upper Midwest... sorry, guys), but it's holding a brisk 40s and 50s due to the wind. New York is not the Windy City, by any stretch (though you wouldn't know it by listening to the politicians here), but Manhattan is a relatively small, skinny island surrounded by rivers. And our neighborhood is right on the Hudson.



I won't really complain about the weather. I prefer the cold, really. But man does it make me hungry. (Well, that added to running again.) Unfortunately, I generally keep a no-snack household. No snacks! It's terrible. Usually it's not so bad, but yesterday I took a day off to go to jury duty (that I couldn't fulfill anyway... but that's another story), and today is Veteran's Day, so I've been out of school, sitting in my apartment. And while there is plenty of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner, there aren't really snacks per se. Oh, don't get me wrong, I like snacking, I do, but I generally don't buy "snack foods": chips, salsa, cookies, fruit roll-ups, you name it. I don't buy them because one) they are expensive, two) they always, always have shady-sounding ingredients, and three) I don't really think about it until I'm actually hungry and moping around the house looking for something to snack on.



So to stop me from walking from fridge to pantry and pantry to fridge and back again, I decided to make my mom's extra tasty chili (the recipe involves ingredients from both places, so at least I can feel like I'm taking out food to eat... just... not now). It's the perfect thing to eat when it's cold out: warming, spicy, nourishing. I highly recommend it, especially when the wind whips around the corner and you pull your coat a little closer.

Tina's Tasty Chicken Chili

1/2 chicken, bone-in, skin on
water

2 cans kidney or black beans, or a mixture of both
1 small can tomato paste
2 bell peppers, any color, diced
2-3 carrots, peeled and diced
4 celery stalks, diced
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
cumin (about a teaspoon, maybe a little less)
chili powder (follow the directions on your favorite kind. I usually use 2 1/2 tablespoons per pot of chili)
salt and pepper
vegetable oil, to sauté

1. Poach the chicken in water, until you have a very simple stock. (If you've never done this, don't worry--just rinse your chicken really well, plop it in some cold water to cover by about an inch (NOT TOO MUCH MORE), and simmer at least 40 minutes. Salt and taste. If you think it needs to be stronger, let it go longer. For a more nuanced stock, add a leek, rinsed and halved, peeled carrots, celery, or whatever good you have lying around. Ta da! Very simple stock. When you skim the fat from the top, be sure to leave at least a little--that's what makes it taste good. I promise.) Let the chicken cool, then remove from the bone, discard skin, and chop into smaller pieces. Reserve broth.
2. Sauté the vegetables in oil, about 5-10 minutes. Add the beans. Add most of the tomato paste (about 2/3 of the can). Stir in 1/2 cup of the broth. Stir to incorporate. Add more broth in 1/2 cup increments until mixture is desired consistency; add more paste if needed. Stir in spices. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. (You may also add a little sugar, if you wish, but I usually choose to avoid it). Cover and simmer 10 minutes, stirring.
3. Adjust the thickness again, and spices. Add chicken, cover, simmering as low as possible, at least an hour. Two hours is better. (This is also fantastic the next day.)

10 November 2008

Apple harvest

Apples seem to be everywhere these days: at the market, in hands, sold on the street. Normally, I love apples, especially the heirlooms that come in a the market. I especially love apples that I pick myself at the orchard, but last time Jeff and I went apple picking there was a ten pound minimum. Apple picking is not to be taken lightly. Go with friends, I guess, is the answer to that. Crispy, sweet, flowery, and tart, apples are what make fall something to look forward to. (This is especially important when the last of the tomatoes are gone, *sob*.) I like apples pretty much in every capacity, too--apple pie, apple tart, apple butter, raw with some peanut butter for embellishment, plain, what have you. I just like apples.

But when the chill of fall rolls around, what I really think about is my Aunt Kathy's apple sauce. When I was little, she used to make jars and jars and jars of pink-hued, sweet and spicy applesauce that she would store in the basement and eat all year round. I loved her applesauce. (I think I loved it also because it had that most kitchy of ingredients, cinnamon red-hots, cooked into it, and man did I love red-hots back then.)

As an adult, I have learned that making my own applesauce is a snap, and so much better than the store-bought kind. I don't know if Kathy makes her version anymore, and I haven't had any for years, so I've had to resort to recreating the taste from memory. So far, what I have is different, but no less tasty. For the spicing, I add a cinnamon stick and a knob of ginger, and I usually add some grated nutmeg about half-way through the cooking process. Spicy-warm-delish. Promise.

Applesauce*, adapted from The Joy of Cooking

2 1/2 pounds various apples (I like ones that have a tart edge to them--that way, I can sweeten to my own taste. If you start with sweet ones, add about 1/2 a lemon's worth of juice to temper them out.)
1/2 cup water (or apple juice or cider, if you have any lying around
1 small cinnamon stick
1 1-inch knob of fresh ginger, peeled
sugar, to taste

Peel and core apples and throw into a large, heavy pot. Add water, cinnamon, and ginger. Simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until desired consistency. Taste and add sugar as desired. I like mine a little chunkier, so I don't cook it for as long.

* Please forgive the lack of photo! Mushy apples aren't terrible photogenic.

09 November 2008

French Toast, Severson style


As you can probably tell, I do most of the cooking around our house. That's fine with us, I like to cook. And then Jeff does the dishes. I hate doing the dishes. (I'm pretty crummy at it, too, but don't tell my mom.) It's nice, though, when Jeff does step up to the kitchen, especially when he makes breakfast.

Jeff makes pretty amazing French toast. And I'm not saying it because I am the victor in this reality, I'm saying it because before I met Jeff, and before he ever made it for me, I hated French toast. With a passion. Every slice I'd ever had was soggy, overly sweetened, and just plain gross. But Jeff's is not like that. Jeff's is made with sturdy bread, a judicious amount of egg and milk, almost rendering the bread into a custard, so the French toast is more bread puddingish than like scrambled eggs in bread.

So thanks to Jeff, and to his momma, for switching on the French toast light in my life. I don't even mind doing the dishes for it.

French Toast, courtesy of Lorie and Jeff

2 eggs
1/2 cup milk (I think the notation is that there is 1/4 cup milk per egg. I'll get back to you on that.)
pinch salt
a little vanilla, optional
6 thick slices of fairly rustic bread
vegetable oil and butter for the pan

Mix all ingredients together (except for oil and butter). Soak the bread pretty well on both sides, so that all the egg mixture is more or less gone.
Head the oil and butter in a non-stick pan over medium low heat, until the butter melts and the pan is nice and toasty. Nestle two slices of the bread into the pan and cook, without disturbing, until each side has a light brown hue, and the eggs seem done. Test with a fork: there should be no runny egg sticking to it. If you want cut into a corner to see that everything cooks through. Repeat.
Serve with pure maple syrup, coffee, and the Sunday Times.

08 November 2008

Sun-Chan: Bento Box Supreme

Jeff and I don't have a ton of neighborhood restaurants that we like. I mean, we have a Thai place that has delicious takeout, an equally delicious Mexican place, and a taco truck. (Man, do we LOVE the taco truck. If you're ever up by where we are, they are located at the south-west corner of 96th and Broadway. Eat some chivo. You won't regret it. Unless you're vegetarian.) For everything else, though, we are have to trek elsewhere.

Except for tonight, when we went to an easily overlooked, charming Japanese place two blocks away from the house, Sun-Chan. I'd been there a few times before, and each time I had one of those "DOH!" moments--why don't I come here more often?

Sun-Chan is great. It's this small, worn-looking box of a restaurant, squished between a 24 hour convenience store and something equally nondescript (a pizza place, maybe?). We didn't even notice it for a long time because it was obscured by this enormous scaffolding that was only recently taken down. But once inside, it's like a whole different place. The food is homey, reasonably priced, and extremely tasty. We also really enjoy the fact that a good two-thirds of the clientele are Japanese, young and old. We especially like their udon and soba soup (can you guess which one I got?) and their agedashi tofu: deep fried tofu in a ponzu/dashi broth. It's one of those dishes that I've always loved--my mom always ordered it when we went out for Japanese when I was little--and it's one of my litmus tests for quality food. And Sun-Chan's is outstanding. Hot, fresh, not oily. Perfect. Just like Sun-Chan itself.

If you're ever in the neighborhood:

Sun-Chan
2707 Broadway
New York, NY 10025

07 November 2008

Banana banana banana


For as long as I can remember, my mom has baked banana bread using the same recipe. It's a keeper, for sure, especially since it's a hand-me-down from the Kelly family, who have been friends of my parents, and of myself, for a long, long time. I love banana bread. Even when I didn't like bananas (which was a long time, let me tell you), this was a sure-fire way for me to swallow them, and happily.

I readily eat bananas now, but I still prefer banana bread. And who wouldn't? The version I make is sweet, mild, dense and lovely. It is especially good with a latte from Joe's. Recently, I've been making my own alterations (I know, I know! HERESY!), and I think I've hit upon something good. I reduced the banana content from three to two, and I add a little whole grain flour. I also prefer brown sugar to white, but half and half seems to be a good ratio. Sometimes I add a little nutmeg, since it adds a nice, complementary dimension to the bananas, sometimes a little vanilla, sometimes a handful of chocolate chips. Below is the recipe of the base that I like to use, complete with modifications. I especially like it because when it's warm, the top has a lovely nice crust that shatters pleasingly.

Happy Friday, everyone.

Banana Bread, with many thanks to Jean

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 overripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt, or a mixture of the two.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a standard-sized loaf pan by either generously greasing it, or lining it with parchment paper. (I personally prefer the parchment method, since you can just grab the paper when it's time to take the bread out--no fuss cutting a piece out of the pan and then persuading the rest of the loaf that it wants to come out, too.)
2. Whisk the dry ingredients together (not the sugar, though) and set aside.
3. Cream the butter and sugars together in a medium/large bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, stirring well after each addition.
4. Stir in the dry ingredients in a few additions--the mixture will be thick. Then fold in the banana mash and dairy, taking care to make sure everything is well incorporated. Pour into pan, and bake for an hour, or until a knife comes out clean. If you're using parchment, let cake rest 15 minutes or so, and then lift out to let cool on a wire rack. Eat warm, if possible. It's the best way.

06 November 2008

Red Velvet Deliciousness



A while back, the New York Times ran an article about red velvet cake. Until then, I had never seen one, or tasted one, but I was willing to try. Besides, as we all know how much I love cake, why not? Also, this cake looked unequivocally, unapologetically fun. So I made it.

My cake wasn't beautiful, wasn't charming, wasn't witty. It wasn't even Dolly Parton trashy. It was just kind of this red blob of a cake with crumby, white frosting (I have since figured out how not to make the frosting full of crumbs, I promise). Jeff was really skeeved out by all the red food coloring. We couldn't eat enough of it to make it go away. It was a less than promising moment.

So I steered clear of Red Velvet, until the other day. Jeff and our friend Sally and I were walking in Brooklyn. While Jeff and Sally stopped to attempt to make use of her new GPS, I perused the Not For Tourists Guide, only to discover that we were a very short distance away from Cake Man Raven's bakery.

Cake Man Raven is reported to be the master of Red Velvet cake, and I had been wanting to go to his store for quite some time. It took very little convincing to usher Jeff and Sally inside--once we got there, we discovered that he only makes Red Velvet cake--or, at least that's all there was in the bakery case. Choice number one: with nuts. Choice number two: without. We bought a piece--not cheap, at $6 per slice--but man was it worth it. It was everything that I had been hoping for: dense, moist, chocolatey but not sickeningly so, with cream cheese frosting that was sharp and sweet and that beautifully offset the cake. I urge you to obtain a piece and try it. Because I will be going back. Because, like the French, I have found a bakery that makes me say, "Why would I make that? That's what bakeries are for."

05 November 2008

HitMakers

I'll just say this for today:

As for last night, the cupcakes were a hit. Light, moist, spicy, chocolatey (though a traditional frosting might have better fit the bill), good.

But they were no where near as big a hit as this.



Which is just fine by me.

04 November 2008

If you vote, I'll make you a cupcake



Tonight is the last night our friends are going to get together to watch TV and hope for OBAMA. Make no mistake, our get-togethers have been high-anxiety, highly emotional get togethers. We sit around, cheer and jeer, and basically talk about how great Obama is, and how much we want to win. We have plans to go party in Harlem should our candidate win.

So what to bring? I've been bringing sweets for the last few meetings, so I think I should stick with that. But it's become clear that finger foods are the way to go--something you have to cut just doesn't go over well, since no one wants to look like they're eating a ton of sweets.

Finger sweets? I think this calls for a cupcake!

I know, I know. New Yorkers are obsessed with cupcakes. I'll admit it, I'm not immune. I LOVE cupcakes. But the question is, what kind to bring? I don't want to bring anything boring. And I don't want to have to deal with anything for which I'll have to buy a lot of ingredients.

So how about pumpkin spice with chocolate frosting? Not conventional, I know, but maybe the calorie-conscious among us can count the sweet potato purée as healthful. We'll see...

Sweet Potato Spice Cupcakes with Chocolate Frosting*

Pumpkin Spice Cupcakes
1 large sweet potato
1 1/2 cups cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup milk

Chocolate Frosting
3/4 cup bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate chips
3/4 cup sour cream, at room temperature

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick the sweet potato all over with a fork and roast for an hour, or until the potato is soft and its juices are running out. Remove and let cool slightly.
2. Reduce oven temperature to 350. Line your cupcake pans.
3. As soon as the potato is cool enough to handle, peel off the skin and remove any dark spots. Cut the potato into chunks and put into a food processor. Puree until smooth. Measure out 1/2 cup for this recipe, enjoy the rest as a tasty snack.
4. Sift dry ingredients together and set aside. In a large bowl, cream the softened butter, sugar, and vanilla. Add the puree. Then add the eggs and beat well to combine. With a mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients and milk alternately in two or three additins, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.
5. Divide the batter into the cupcake molds, until each cup is about 2/3 full. Bake approximately 20 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool on a cooling rack while you make frosting.
6. In a bowl over barely simmering water, melt your chocolate chips. Let cool back down to room temp. When this has happened, mix with the sour cream. Frost your cupcakes. Serve at an election party!

*This recipe is an amalgamation from here, here and here.

03 November 2008

The Anti-Abby meal



My friend Abby and I have a long history of eating together. You would have a long history of eating with us, too, if your parents had been fast friends since before you were born, and if they also decided to have most of the winter festival meals together for the vast majority of your childhood/early adulthood. Suffice it to say, we have a long history of food. (One of my sharpest memories of Thanksgiving when I was ten and her mother told me that she had alloted for about a half of a pound of potatoes for everyone except me, who needed about a pound and a half. Go figure.)

In our adult lives, though Abby and I have tastes that have diverged. She's been a strict vegetarian for a long time, doesn't like tomatoes, and doesn't like mushrooms. Abhors mushrooms.

As for me, I love mushrooms. I always have. I like eating them in all sorts of dishes, all sorts of ways. Sautéed, stuffed, fried, stewed, everything. The only ones I don't really appreciate are shiitakes, because they have a strange taste. They are also absurdly expensive. Mushrooms, to me, announce that I am eating some very homey food. Kind of like the sausage and mushroom penne gratin I made last night. Eating the mushrooms in it reminded me of the pasta, mushroom, peas and cream dish that my mom used to make when I was growing up--man, I loved eating that. I love the smell of mushrooms in cream (also, I just really love cream, let's be real), especially when there's something nice and salty providing a backbone for it. So this was just right. Just right for a time when we all need some comfort, something solid to chew on. There's been too much that's been up in the air.

I made a few changes to the original recipe, which called for lots of grated mozzarella, and to be baked. I didn't miss either step. This is the version I give below. Also, the original calls to be broiled for a few minutes, so the mozzarella on top browns and bubbles, but, as we don't have that, I would just keep it in the pot until everything has thickened up.

Sausage and Mushroom Penne (Gratin), adapted from Gourmet

1 lb dried penne
1/2 lb bulk sweet Italian sausage
1/2 lb. bulk hot Italian sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 lb sliced mushrooms
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 grated Parmasean

1. Cook penne in a pasta pot of boling water until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta and return it to the pot.
2. Meanwhile, cook the sausage in 1 tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium-high eat, stirring occasionally and breaking up any large pieces, until no longer pink. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a bowl, leaving fat in skillet.
3. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil to skillet along with mushrooms and garlic, then cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are golden.
4. Return sausage to skillet along with the cream, reserved cooking water, salt and pepper to taste, and boil over high heat, until thickened. Pour over pasta, add parmasean, and stir. Simmer until desired thickness.

02 November 2008

SWEETS!

I have been craving sweets like a fiend. I mostly crave sweets after a meal, obviously (any meal besides breakfast), and proceed to mope about the house until either I forget (option one) or I take a piece of candy from the candy jar (option two--yes, I do have a candy jar, generously filled every holiday by various care packages from Mom) or I dream of baking and flip through my cookbooks and recipes on file over and over again (option three, most widely used). For the last three days, I've been wanting cupcakes. Or a slice of layer cake. It just doesn't seem like anything else will do: I just want to sink my teeth into a soft piece of sweetness, maybe flavored with vanilla, covered with ethereal butter-cream frosting. Nothing else would suffice. It's too bad that to get one, a batch is required. (Do you think it would be possible for me to measure out 1/8 of an egg?)

So far, I have been resisting like a fiend, trying my already fried patience. Normally I wouldn't do this, but friends, it's November. Say it with me. No-VEM-ber. Do you know what that means? November, in my life, begins the two-and-a-half month eating extravaganza that is Thanksgiving, birthday (27!), Christmas and the New Year. I'm feeling rather gavet just thinking about it. So what I need to do now is run a lot, and then dream about cupcakes.

Maybe this year I could convince Jeff's mom that our contribution to Thanksgiving could be something other than stuffing or pie? Something cake-like? I'll cross my fingers.

01 November 2008

Hash browns!

Do you know what I love? I mean, LOOOOOOVE? (Aside from the usual suspects, of course.) I love hash browns. Yes, folks, the solid, homely potato, grated, fried up to a lovely crisp, often with onions, always delicious. My favorite ones come from The Golden Apple Restaurant, in Chicago. The Golden Apple is a 24-hour diner that serves its entire, picture-filled, laminated menu all 24 of its hours. Everyone goes there: nightowls, kids on the way home from school, drunks coming from the bar, families after church, people that have lived in the neighborhood for their entire lives. It's such a great place that This American Life even devoted a whole show to it. They make terrible pie but fantastic hash browns.



Hash browns are not something indigenous to the east coast. I am unaware as to why this is; it is possible to get passable home fries, french fries, fried potatoes, mashed potatoes, and everything else, but there are no hash browns. Believe you me, I have looked. Every time I pass a diner, I peek at their menu, always hoping for the elusive item. In the year and three months I have lived here, it remains elusive.



Unfortunately for me, all my previous attempts at recreating hash browns chez moi have been a bust. But today, feeling desperate, I employed a trick from the latke recipe that we use for Chanukah: you have to squeeze the potatoes dry. That's the trick! And it works, people, it works. Delicious, homemade hash browns, made how you like it. Worth every minute of squeezing.



These potatoes are too easy to merit a real recipe. So I'll give you a quick overview:



Peel a few potatoes. Grate them on the coarsest setting on a big box grater. I also grated a small onion. (I like onions in my hash browns. My mom doesn't. So, you know, as you wish.) Dump them into a clean kitchen towel, close it into a big ball, hold it over the sink, and squeeze until most of the water drains out. (The water might be a disconcerting shade of pink. That's ok. It's just the air and potato and moisture.) Melt a tablespoon or so of butter into a large skillet. Spread out your potatoes and keep a sharp eye on them. Don't turn them more than you have to, because they will not stay together. Flip with a metal spatula every now and then until cooked through and golden more or less all over. I prefer to eat mine with eggs sunny side up. I highly suggest it. Enjoy.

28 October 2008

NaBloPoMo

For those of you who just can't get enough of the Mind and Belly, NOVEMBER WILL BE YOUR MONTH. I (foolishly?) signed up for the National Blogger Posting Month, so you can expect to have DAILY UPDATES for an entire month. Yup, that's right, something new to chew on every day.

Wish me luck.

21 October 2008

Sunny soup

Today almost turned into a bad eating day. I've been pretty restrained this week (ok, so it's only Tuesday, sue me), but I didn't want to start down the takeout path until, well, at least Thursday, since we are definitely going out Friday (to Flushing! Whee!!). BUT. I've been less than diligent lately about keeping food in the house.*

Also, lately, nothing has been looking good to make. This is SO frustrating. It is hands down one of the most irritating feelings, to know that you have a massive cookbook collection that has almost bankrupted your at some point in your life, and also a large binder that is more or less organized by category full of ripped out recipes to try, only to realize that it's no good. Nothing looks tasty. I'm sure it has something to do with the change of the season. The daylight is shorter, there's a definite chill in the air, and everyone I know has gone into light deprivation sleepiness.



So I moped. And moped. And looked at a few take out menus. Peered into the randomness of my fridge. Moped some more. Kind of napped. And then, just as Jeff and I had resigned ourselves to ordering from somewhere, I remembered that I actually did have the right ingredients, at least for the world's easiest soup. SAVED!

We love this soup. It's sunny and tastes bright, and moreover, I can usually scrounge up everything we need for it. And tonight I even had a leftover yellow pepper that I didn't use the other night, which added a sweet, slightly acidic dimension. We don't love it as much as we used to, but that's ok. It's tasty, and has enough body to make you forget that there really aren't that many ingredients. It's really a perfect pantry soup. I highly suggest it for a dark night ahead.



Red Lentil Soup with Lemon, adapted from the New York Times

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon ground cumin
kosher salt and ground pepper, to taste
pinch of hot pepper to taste (I am in love with Aleppo pepper. It's smoky and subtle, but packs a punch. The Times suggests cayenne or ground chile powder. As you wish.)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup red lentils
1 large carrot, finely diced
juice of 1/2 lemon, more to taste
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro (optional)

1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over high heat until hot and shimmering. Add the onion and garlic, and sauté until golden, about 4 minutes.
2. Stir in the tomato paste and spices, sauté 2 minutes longer.
2. Add broth, 2 cups water, lentils and carrot. Bring to a simmer, then partially cover pot and turn heat to medium-low. Simmer until lentils are soft, about 30 minutes. Taste and season to preference.
4. Using a blender, purée half of the soup and add it back to the pot. Soup will be somewhat chunky.
5. Reheat soup if necessary, and then stir in lemon juice and cilantro. Serve and eat.

*NB: I know, I know, I could have gone out to the store, since it's only five blocks away. But you know what? I just didn't want to go. So there.

15 October 2008

Flancocho revisited

It was recently brought to my attention that I never gave you the recipe for Cynthia's Flancocho. I promise, it's not because I haven't wanted to make it, but it's because I've been unexcusably lazy when it comes to making anything that I'm not craving or something that comes from a box. Reading will do that to you sometimes. But as I've been on a baking kick, and as we've been watching the debates with friends who have a TV, I've taken it upon myself to bring dessert. Last week I made Gourmet's Chocolate Dolce de Leche bars. (They were fantastic.) And this week, well, Flancocho it is.

Every time that I've had Cynthia's version, it is delicious and lovely and that much better because I didn't make it myself. (I mean, let's be honest. Who doesn't love eating something that someone else made that is also gooey and wonderful? Or just plain good? I mean, even with all the delights that I manage to find in the kitchen, I still wish sometimes that my mom would cook for me instead of me cooking for me.) But after having made this cake for myself, I would like to say that the original could definitely use some tweaking: a homemade chocolate cake, such as Amanda Hesser's Dump-It Cake, would shoot it into the realm of the divine. The boxed version just wasn't that great. Surprise! It had this odd tinny taste to it, even though the cake itself was nice and moist and lovely textured. The flan, though, no complaints. Though if I were really going to go out on a limb,I might add some spices, or some real vanilla flecks, to spruce it up. But I would probably only do that if I were making my own cake... otherwise it just wouldn't be worth it.

Flancocho, thanks to Cynthia Garcia

Flan
4 eggs, beaten in large bowl
1 can evaporated milk
1 can condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract



Caramel
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoon water

Cake
1 box chocolate cake mix, follow instructions on box



Preheat oven to 350 degrees*.
1. Caramelize the sugar in the pan. If you need instructions, see this post about caramelizing sugar, but use only the ingredients listed here. Keep a careful eye on the caramel; once it starts to turn, make it as dark (bitter) as you wish, but don't let it burn or it will be exceptionally gross and difficult to clean. Pour into a Bundt pan.
2. Pour in about 3/4 of the cake batter over the caramel.
3. Pour in your flan mix.**
4. Create a bain-marie for your pan. (A bain-marie is a pan full of water into which you put your cake pan. This is also necessary if you ever plan to make crème brûlée. You never know.) Put your bunt pan in it, and bake for one hour.



(Sorry about this slumpy photo. I didn't have time to turn out the cake before we left, and this is what we brought home. It tasted much better than it looks. Promise.)

*NB: if you have a non-stick pan, as I do, it is necessary to reduce the heat by 50 degrees. This holds true for all non-stick pans; because they are dark, they absorb more heat and will sadly burn your food.

**Yes, this is the right order for your cake/flan. It looks incredibly counterintuitive, pouring this lovely, eggy mixture into a batch of cake dough. But you know what? It WORKS. What comes out you can clearly see in the picture: a ring of flan resting atop chocolate cake. Somehow, the flan seeps through the batter, coagulates, and bakes gently in the bain-marie, and covers itself with caramel. AMAZING.