25 June 2009

Busy days

For no particular reason, today was a lot more tiring than it should have been. I won't bore you with the details. Luckily, I had a friend drop by to borrow a book, and we chatted with a glass of wine. Just what the doctor ordered--things just look so much brighter after a good chat. And good wine.

But being busy also meant that I wasn't in the mood for making dinner. Luckily, making pesto is a snap--just throw some stuff into a food processor, boil some pasta, and voilà! Dinner. An intensely green, fresh and grassy and herbal dinner. (Sorry about the lack of visual here, but Jeff's camera is packed away for our upcoming trip and I'm not sure where he put it--hopefully I will remember to post them sometime soon.) Pesto freezes very nicely, too, so make a big batch and put it in the freezer, ready for the days when you just can't deal with cooking.

Garlic scapes are a great addition to pesto--they are curly and springy and nearly as pungent as garlic. I got mine through my CSA, and I wasn't sure what to do with them, but this worked out perfectly. If you don't have scapes, punch up the basil and add 2-3 cloves of peeled garlic. Works like a charm.

Garlic Scape and Basil Pesto

1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
5-7 or so garlic scapes, green parts sliced into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 cup olive oil
salt to taste
lots of Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

1. Wash your basil leaves, and put into a food processor. Add the scapes. Chop finely, until the basil and scapes make a heady green paste. (Note: this paste will be kind of chunky. Chop as finely as you like.)

2. With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil, 1/4 cup at a time, adding salt in between drizzles.

3. Serve over pasta, but be sure to save some of the pasta water to loosen the pesto. Otherwise it gets really clumpy and sad. Shower with Parmesan. Eat.

24 June 2009

More CSA madness

I have to say that the CSA experience this year is dramatically improved from last year. Last year, we had a fruit share that came in every other week. The fruit was okay, not great, and Jeff and I were constantly forgetting to go pick it up. Also, the produce was just kind of sad, wilting listlessly in its bins. I struggled for a while with the fact that I wasn't a fan. That I didn't want to do that again this year.

But I didn't want to give up on CSA in general. It's something I believe in, something important. I believe that supporting small farms is better for the environment, makes for better community, and really? The food tastes better too. (Joe would contend that I sound like Michael Pollan. So what? I think, no, I know, he's right. Go read the book(s), lazy.) It is difficult, though, to send in a fair amount of money up front, only to not know what kind of produce you'll be faced with when the growing season comes around.

So far, I'm glad I haven't given up. Our produce is beautiful, and I just bought a share of eggs, too... because really? I. Love. Eggs. On the other hand, I've been wracking my brain for ways to use chard, without going back to the world's best quiche. Tonight: quick stir-fried greens. I made these last week, before heading out to Minnesota, and they were fantastic. Not entirely original, perhaps, but waaaaaaay better than I had been expecting. Pair it with some stir fry and some steamed rice, and you're good to go. If you don't have chard, any green will do, really (like the bok choy featured along with the chard in the photo).

Soy Sautéed Greens

1 bunch fresh large-leaf greens (chard, spinach, ect.)
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste.
1 tablespoon peanut oil, or another neutral oil
1-2 teaspoon soy sauce
salt, to taste

1. Wash greens well, and remove the tough stems. If you're using large leaves, stack them, roll like a cigar, and slice, about 1/2-inch thick or so. This is only helpful, though, if you don't want to gnaw your way through large leaves. Just a thought.

2. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high. When it's hot, add the garlic and pepper, and sauté about 30 seconds or so, until fragrant. Add greens, and sauté until wilted. Add soy sauce, and stir to coat, taste, and add salt. When the greens are cooked though, take off the heat and serve. This really doesn't take long, so keep a sharp eye on them. Three minutes max, if you're working with a hot stove.

23 June 2009

CSA madness

I have to admit that I am having a teeny bit of a hard time keeping up with the produce that my CSA has been throwing my way (even though we only have half a share). What is mostly to blame is the fact that Jeff and I have been traveling fiends for the past month: first we went camping in the Catskills, last weekend we went to Reunion ('04Ever!), and Friday we're off again, this time for an extended 10 days. This time, we're headed to Colorado, to see both sets of parents, friends, and some mountains. In the meantime, I've been trying to clear out my fridge, with limited success. Today, though, I did finish up my chard from last week. Thank goodness. Tomorrow looks like more chard... it may be a stir-fry night.

In any case, if you need something to do with chard (besides lap it up with fried eggs, of course), I highly suggest these darling little rolls. Though I have to say that next time, I would increase the number of rolls to about 15 or so, maybe even a few more. I also only had about half of the chard recommended, which was fine, I think. I might also make a quick tomato sauce to replace the béchamel. Actually, this is one of the great things about Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone: her recipes are solid, but often need a little tweaking (mostly for salt). And with her, it's fairly easy to figure out what to do, because her recipes are familiar enough, but also not.

Cannelloni with Chard Filling, adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

12 sheets no-boil lasagna noodles (Barilla is a good bet)
béchamel sauce, made with 1 1/2 cups milk, 3 tablespoons butter, 3 1/2 tablespoons flour; also salt and pepper to taste
2 large bunches chard, stems removed
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 white onion, finely diced
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg, to taste

1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and blanch the chard for 5 minutes. Remove chard, and pour water over noodles, to soak them, 5 minutes. Set aside while you rinse the chard under cold water; squeeze dry, finely chop, and put into a large bowl. When the noodles are "done", place them on clean kitchen towels to rest; discard water.

2. Heat the oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and parsely and cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the onion to the chard and mix with the ricotta, half of the Parmesan, lemon zest, and 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper to taste, set aside.

3. Meanwhile, make your béchamel: heat the butter and flour over medium-low heat, whisking constantly for about 2 minutes, or until the mixture starts to turn lightly brown. Gradually add the milk, still whisking constantly, until it is nice and thick. Not milkshake thick, but definitely getting there. Remove from heat.

4. Butter a shallow baking pan and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Shape and fill the cannelloni: place about 2-3 tablespoons filling onto one edge of the pasta, and roll fairly firmly, as though you were making a fat cigar. Place into pan seam side up, nestled next to each other. Pour béchamel over rolls, and bake until lightly browned and bubbling, about 30 minutes.

17 June 2009

Beautiful cake

Doesn't this cake look beautiful? It's such a lovely one to make, and so easy. Mix some stuff, but not too strenuously. Scatter fruit. Sprinkle sugar. Bake. It tastes beautiful, too--all red-fruity and light and moist. This might turn into my go-to summer dessert this year. Raspberries are the original recommended fruit, but I had some leftover cherries from last weekend's camping trip (you can see the photos on my flickr page), and they worked out wonderfully.

I made it for my book club last night, and it went over pretty darn well--especially considering that the members of said book club are generally restrained when it comes to eating sweets. It went over so well, in fact, that I'm considering making another one to bring to the MN for Jeff the girls at Reunion tomorrow.

**A few notes on the cake**
1. I would cut the sugar just a little. Maybe 1/2 cup instead of 2/3.
2. Ideally, this should be served warm, so the sugar crust stays nice and crisp. It's not bad, don't get me wrong, when it's been resting all day, but a little heat would do it nicely.
3. I'm going to add a little lemon zest next time, too.

Cherry Buttermilk Cake, adapted from Gourmet

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup + 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh cherries, pitted and halved

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.

3. Beat butter and 2/3 cup sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 2 minutes. (I did this all by hand, and it came out just fine.) Beat in vanilla. Add egg and beat well.

4. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.

5. Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter cherries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar.

6. Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. (Mine was done right at minute 25, so be sure to start checking around then.) Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10-15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.

16 June 2009

With a bang

Summer produce has finally arrived with a bang. Yesterday's quick tour of the Union Square greenmarket proved that--there were so many different things to see and to eat: lovely bouquets of freshly-picked flowers, new strawberries, fat zucchini, green onions, and more salad greens than you could shake a stick at. I tried to restrain myself, as I was only there for a few potatoes and onions, but couldn't resist a quart of beautiful, small strawberries, shining in the sun.

Part of the reason I attempted to demonstrate a little restraint was that the veggies from our CSA started to come in last week. Perfectly sweet turnips, sharp braising greens, oh-so-pink radishes, and enough scallions and new garlic to make my house smell like onion for days. And there are a few more coming in tomorrow, so... I'm doing my best not to overstock the fridge. And so to use up those perfectly lovely greens, I made an old standby: braised greens with polenta and fried eggs.

I know. If you don't like eggs, this is not the recipe for you. If you don't like bitter greens, see the previous comment. (I'm fairly certain that most of you like polenta, so I won't have to say anything about that.) But this is one of my favorite things to eat, especially if I'm cooking for one (I just cut the recipe in half). The sharp bite of the greens, along with the sweetness of the polenta, smeared in runny egg yolk, well... this might be the ultimate comfort food, if you're me.

Polenta with Quick Greens and Olive Oil Fried Eggs

3 cups water
3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons stone-ground polenta (I cannot recommend highly enough seeking out decent polenta. The 5-minute stuff that comes in a box is foul.)
a pinch of salt
1 bunch braising greens, rinsed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped.
olive oil
1 generous teaspoon (or 2) red pepper flakes
4 eggs

1. Bring the water to a quick boil, and pour in your polenta and salt. Whisk for about a minute, and turn the heat down to low. Simmer the polenta for about 25 minutes, or as long as you like, stirring frequently. I ususally let mine go for 20-30 minutes, but longer is fine. Add water if it's getting too thick.

2. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. When it's hot, add the garlic and pepper flakes, and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the greens, stir to coat with the oil, and cover. Let steam and wilt for about 2-3 minutes. Take off the lid, and let cook a few minutes more. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Meanwhile in a non-stick skillet, fry your eggs to your preferred consistency.

Serve all together, generously sprinkled with parmesean cheese, if you like.

serves 2

09 June 2009

Still kicking

For the most part, I'm glad I've started on the Project June mission. I've been meaning to eat up my pantry for a long time, but you know how it goes. There's so many things that are good to eat, and often so appealing, that are not made of ingredients that you already have. That just seems to be how it rolls, you know? So it seemed like tackling the dried garbanzo beans would be a good way to start.

I tried making garbanzo beans from scratch a few years ago, and it was a complete and utter disaster. I don't even know where I went wrong, but I know I soaked those beans for hours, and then had them simmering for hours more on the stovetop, and they just refused to cook through. After that one, pathetic attempt, I decided that cooked, canned beans were the way to go. I trust them pretty well. I mean, they taste fine. They are a little more expensive than I would like, but hey, that's the breaks. Every time I so much as glanced at a dried bean, I remembered the garbanzo bean debacle. Canned it was.

And then. I keep reading about these beans from Rancho Gordo. They are supposed to be more delicious than delicious. I caved and bought a pound, and they now stare at me reproachfully whenever I open the pantry. In order to assuage my guilt, I decided to take another stab at the garbanzos before heading for the reportedly delicious ones. So I consulted with Mark Bittman, followed his directions and... voilà! Perfect, and really good tasting. I can't believe I waited this long. But you knew where that was heading, didn't you? Obviously.

The garbanzo beans don't really merit a recipe. Instead, I present to you the moronically simple steps I followed. (I'm still kicking myself about this. It's a little ridiculous.)

Rinse and pick over a pound of garbanzo/whatever kind beans. (Mark Bittman says to source your beans from a place with a high turnover, so they don't sit on the shelf for a million years before you cook them, rendering them impossible to cook.) Before you go to work in the morning, pour the beans into a large pot with a tight-fitting lid, and cover with plenty of water (a couple of inches). When you get home, 8-12 hours later, drain the beans and taste for doneness. If they still need time, cover them with about 2 inches of water and set them on the stove. Bring to a simmer. Taste for doneness every 10 minutes or so. Salt. Use in whatever bean dish your heart desires.

08 June 2009

Non-winner pie

Secret project revealed:This weekend I entered a pie contest. Oh, I know, I know. Why the secrecy? Well... I just didn't want to jinx it, ok? I kind of wanted to win, but I didn't. I had a really good pie, too--it was creamy and chocolatey and crispy crunchy on the bottom. Honestly? We think it should have won. This was completely unbiased opinion, by the way. But it probably didn't help my case that I had to carry it to Governor's Island from my house on a fairly warm day, and it really needed to be refrigerated. So it was a drippy pie by the time it got to the contest.

BUT: the Jazz-Age Festival was fun--there was a live band playing music from the 20s, and there were plenty of people walking around in white linnen, flapper dresses, and cloche hats. There was even a dance floor. And it was a completely gorgeous day: sunny, breezy, a lawn for sitting. Governor's Island is less than a mile off of the southern tip of Manhattan, and we met some friends for a picnic. I provided the pie. A non-winning pie.

(I don't mean to sound bitter, really. But you know what? The winner was a brownie pie. I know what you're thinking. "What's wrong with a brownie pie? That sounds good!" Yeah, well, as far as I could tell, it was some brownies baked into a crust. Excuse me, but since when are brownies baked into a crust "pie"??? As far as I can tell, the judges really needed to be judging brownies. Brownie pie seems like cheating. Grumble.)

Cream of Coconut-Chocolate Ganache Pie with Ginger Crust

for the crust
1 thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
7 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, diced, plus a pat to grease the pan
1-2 tablespoons cold milk

for the chocolate ganache
10 ounces good-quality bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped
1 cup heavy cream

for the coconut pudding
4 large egg yolks
3 cups canned unsweetened coconut milk
2/3 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. make the crust Grease a tart or pie pan with butter and set aside. Grate the ginger using the smallest grater you have; discard the woody fibers and save the pulp and juice. In a medium bowl, combine the sugar, flour, and salt. Add the butter and ginger remains, and rub them into the dry ingredients with the tips of your fingers or with a pastry blender, until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add a tablespoon of the milk and blend it in, handling the dough as lightly as you can. The dough should still be crumbly, but it should clump if you gently squeeze a handful in your hand. If it doesn't, add a little more milk, teaspoon by teaspoon (there are 3 in a tablespoon), and blend again, till working lightly, until it reaches the desired consistency.

2. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and use the back of a tablespoon to spread it evenly over hte bottom. Using the heels of your hands and your fingers, press down on the dough to form a thin layer, covering the surface of the pan and creating a rim all around. Don't worry if the dough feels kind of dry--this is normal. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes and up to a day.

3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until golden, keeping an eye on it. Transfer to a rack to cool.

4. make the ganache Put the chocolate medium mixing bowl, preferably stainless steel. Bring the cream to a simmer in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-low heat. Pour half of the cream on the chocolate, let stand for 20 seconds, and stir gently in the center with a whisk, gradually blending the cream with the chocolate until smooth. Add half of the remaining cream, and stir again until combined. Repeat with remaining cream.

5. Pour the chocolate into the tart shell, and level the surface with a spatula. Put in the refrigerator to set for an hour.

6. for the coconut cream Prepare an ice bath and set aside. In a bowl, lightly whisk egg yolks and set aside. In a saucepan, whisk together coconut milk, granulated sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Bring to a simmer (do not boil), and cook, whisking constantly, 3-4 minutes.

7. Whisk a quarter of the hot milk mixture into the egg yolks, then whisk in the remaining milk mixture. Strain into a clear saucepan, and cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until custard is thick and bubbles appear in the center, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl, and cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Set in the ice bath until completely chilled, 30-35 minutes. Filling can be kept in the refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap, for up to 1 day.

8. When everything is nice and chilly, pour the custard on top of the ganache, and chill once again before eating.

04 June 2009


I've been thinking a lot about dessert lately. About how much I like to make dessert. About what I like to eat. And about what other people like to eat. More specifically, I've been thinking about pie. See, I have a project involving pie, but I don't want to tell you about it--not yet. I will, soon, I promise. All my thinking means that I've been looking through my millions of dessert recipes for inspiration, pie-related and otherwise. So when we were invited to dinner for tonight, with a request to bring dessert, I knew exactly what I wanted to make.

This never happens. I mean, I usually hem and haw and choose something and then something else. I'll put in a call to my mom, and try ideas out on various and sundry ears. This time it was different. See, I had to clean out my massive stack of cooking magazines, and, in a fit of extreme organization, I collated all the recipes I wanted to try out into a nice, neat, less than half-pound notebook. Fresh from that little escapade (collating, whoo!!) I had in mind a coconut mint cake. Reading the recipe, though, I wrinkled my nose at the thought of making a double layer cake. Cupcakes, though... perfect.

And they are delicious. The coconut milk-sweetened condensed milk mix makes the cupcakes really moist and lovely, and the mint whipped cream was a nice addition, too. Next time, though, I think I would make a not-terribly-sweet mint buttercream frosting instead, since the whipped cream doesn't travel well. And despite the strong presence of coconut, they are very mild. I refrigerated them before we ate them, and I think that helped the consistency, too; I suggest you do the same.

Coconut-Mint Cream Cupcakes, adapted from Food and Wine

1 1/3 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 + 1/4 cup sugar, divided
2 large egg whites
10 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk
10 tablespoons coconut cream (the thick stuff on the top of a can of coconut milk--I needed two cans worth of milk and saved the rest)

mint whipped cream
3 tablespoons chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons water
3/4 cup heaving whipping cream, chilled

sweetened flaked coconut, for garnish

1. cakes Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 12 cupcake tins with liners, and set aside.

2. Sift cake flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Mix milk and vanilla extract into a small bowl, and set aside.

3. Beat butter and 1/2 cup sugar in large bowl until well blended. Beat in flour mixture alternately with milk mixture in several batches, alternating, and beating just to blend after each addition.

4. With clean, dry beaters, beat egg whites in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff but not dry peaks form. Fold egg whites into batter in 3 additions.

5. Pour batter into muffin tins. Bake until tester comes out clean; check at 15 minutes. (Be very careful with your timing here--cupcakes can go from perfect to terrible in about 2 minutes.)

6. Meanwhile, combine condensed milk and coconut cream in a small bowl.

7. Remove cakes from oven and let cool 5 minutes. Poke holes all over top of each cake layer with toothpick. Pour coconut cream mixture by large spoonfuls over cakes, allowing mixture to be absorbed before adding more. Cool completely in pans.

1. mint whipped cream Stir mint, sugar, and water in a small saucepan over low heat until sugar dissolves. Cook just until bubbles appear. Cover and remove from heat, let steep 30 minutes.

2. Strain syrup into large bowl, pressing on mint. Cool completely. Add 3/4 cup whipping cream to syrup and beat until firm peaks form. Turn cakes out of pans, and frost.