Posted on February 7, 2010
If I had to be banished to the bowels of a dungeon with one tin of food to eat, I would cry out for my macaroni and cheese. Perhaps it’s my old-school memories of Kraft out of a box (we went from the powdered to the phosphorescent cheese packet, and equated this to an elevation in status) or Stouffer’s frozen dinners heating in the oven, but mac & cheese is sacred, incomparable.
And although my palate has evolved and I’ve indulged in the truffle oils and pancettas and blue cheese variations, my little lip quivers at the sight of a caramelized crust, unctuous cheddar and elbow pasta. Recently, I slipped into MacBar, in dire need of comfort food, and would you believe that I ate the whole tin on the sidewalk? In the freezing cold? Oblivious to passersby? The eats are that good and worth the $6 splurge for the classic. Friends of mine have sung the praises of the carbonara and the stroganoff, and I fear I may need a restraining order.
Posted on January 24, 2010
Posted on January 23, 2010
Tonight’s dinner involved no recipes, no web searches and no cracking of cookbook spines. This was all about me, in my kitchen, with simple, affordable ingredients. During the summer, at the Greenmarket, proprietors sport their wares and who could resist (I mean, really) crates and crates of juicy, in-season tomatoes. Yet it’s winter and all the legumes are dark and fibrous, and instead I focus on delicious San Marzano tomatoes at my local market. I wanted to fix the requisite tomato soup with the volume turned way up. And what better way to do that with pancetta?
I’ve been using the same T-Fal pans, which were a birthday gift from a man I’d rather forget, so I was overjoyed (more like SCREAMING IN MY OFFCE WITH RAPTURE kind of joy) when the folks over at Target sent me Giada De Laurentiis for Target’s 6-qt. Stainless Steel Stock Pot ($39.99)* to road-test. I’m quite particular when it comes to cookware, having waited nearly a decade to acquire my first Le Creuset pot, so I admittedly came to this line with a little hesitation, which quickly abated. I love this stainless steel pot because of its even heat distribution (all ingredients cook evenly), the handles weren’t blistering hot during use, and its properties won’t react with acidic (i.e. tomatoes) food. With proper care, stainless steel pots have a useful life expectancy of over 100 years, and are totally recyclable. In short, Giada has given me the epic butternut squash and indelible cookware. BLESS HER HEART.
This recipe was all about improvisation in the kitchen, so adjust all the measurements (which are not exact) to your taste. But I assure you that this, dear friends, is heaven in a bowl. Trust me, you will not feast on better. And find your favorite sourdough — mine is whole wheat and olive oil — and sop away!
INGREDIENTS (all local/organic)
2 large red tomatoes (when in season)
1 28oz can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes (when fresh tomatoes aren’t in season, use 1 1/3 cans of crushed tomatoes)
1 quart of chicken broth
1/4 lb of pancetta, diced
1 large yellow onion, rough chop
4-6 fat garlic cloves, rough chop
2 cups of basil (in season only; tonight I opted to nix this)
1 cup of freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese
2 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 1/2 cups of pasta (I used a 1/2 cup of orzo and a cup of rotella, as this is all I had on hand. I wouldn’t recommend a spaghetti for this. Orzo, rigatoni & penne would work smashingly!)
1 handful of grated mozzarella cheese
1 bay leaf
Salt/pepper to season and taste
De-seed and dice the tomatoes (no need to get all exact about this. My rule of thumb is to cut everything the same size so as everything cooks evenly). Chop the onions & dice the garlic. In a large saucepan, add the olive oil & butter. Why both? Butter yields more flavor and the oil stops the butter from burning as it has a higher smoking temperature. Add the onions, garlic with pinches of salt & pepper. Cook for 3 minutes on medium-high heat. You’ll notice that the onions are translucent and soft. Add the pancetta and cook for another 6-7 minutes. Add the diced tomatoes and cook for another 1-2 minutes.
Once the mixture has softened, add the can of San Marzano tomatoes and the chicken broth. Bring the mixture to a boil. Add the bay leaf, salt and pepper to season, and stir for 1-2 minutes. Bring the heat down to medium. Cover the pot with a lid and cook for 15-20 minutes. While you’re lying on the couch watching The Bourne Identity, make no mistake – your soup will fragrant the kitchen, wafting through the rooms.
After 20 minutes, add the fresh basil and remove the bay leaf. You are ready to blitz! I have an immersion blender (one of the best investments I’ve made since I cook a lot of soup), which I recommend. Blend to smooth. Alternatively, you can blend this in batches in the blender. Warning: when blending hot liquids make sure you fill the blender only half-way & cover the lid with a towel and press down. This will prevent a steam/liquid explosion. After the soup is smooth, return the mixture to the pot. It will look watery! No worries, the starches released from the pasta will serve to thicken the soup. Add the pasta, grated Romano cheese. Cook for another 10 minutes. Add the grated mozzarella.
Ladle hot soup into a bowl and with a thick chunk of buttered sourdough bread (or baguette, if you choose), kick back and enjoy!
Tip: Don’t want to use pasta as your thickening agent? Quarter some potatoes and add them at the same time as you’re adding the diced tomatoes. In general, starches, flours (not recommended for a soup) and creams serve as thickening agents.
*Full Disclosure: The folks at Target sent this delicious pot for potential feature/review.
Posted on January 23, 2010
Lately I’ve found myself waxing nostalgic. Although I spent years working on a book that would have you believe that my childhood was altogether horrific — and it was, at turns — there were those shimmering, superfine moments that I still cleave to, am frightened of losing because they’re constantly overshadowed by all that was dark. There was a silver fork plunged into a stack of pancakes, licked lips and sticky grins. Ours was an Aunt Jemima and Bisquick home, and back then, I’d have it no other way.
Sometimes when I think about those weekend, when the world was reduced to me, my mother, and a bowl of batter, I wince, feel my heart put on pause. Because sometimes I would give anything to journey back to that place. Before the rage, before cocaine, before I regarded the woman who hovered over me with fear and disdain.
Below me there is a family and sometimes the smell of smoky bacon and warm waffles wafts up through the floorboards and I miss a home with a table, a family and a Saturday morning breakfast. But I make my adjustments, calibrate the maths, and create my own special kind of bliss, which includes an avalanche of easy pancakes, sweet syrup and tart blackberries. The recipe comes courtesy of Nigella Lawson, but the minor touches and the love are wholly mine.
American Breakfast Pancakes
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess: Baking and the Art of Comfort Cooking
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
1 1/3 cups milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup of blackberries
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
butter for frying
The method to make these deluxe, spongy pancakes is incredibly simple — Nigella is queen of convenience that way. Essentially, make sure all the dry ingredients are well mixed and evenly distributed, and then mix in, with a fork, all of the wet ingredients. Although Nigella recommends that you allow the batter to stand for twenty minutes (to activate the leavening agent, garnering towering fluffs of pancakes), I waited five and my pancakes were delicious and thick.
When you cook the pancakes, all you need to remember is that when the upper side of the pancake is blistering and bubbling it’s time to cook the second side, and this needs only about 1 minute, if that. You can get over a dozen silver dollar cakes with this recipe.
Posted on January 1, 2010
After two days of laboring over the stove, I’m opting for quick, delicious eats and my quick pasta dish fits the bill. As you guys know I’m enamored with arugula pesto — it’s shades superior to the traditional basil simply for the fact that the baby greens pack a peppery punch. A quick blitz in the food processor (two handfuls + 2 cloves of garlic + parmesan cheese + slivered almonds + olive oil), some al dente whole wheat linguine, sautéed ground sage sausage and you have an epic lunch. Fixed in fifteen minutes you’ll love the deep, layered flavors and the greens you sneaked on your plate.
Posted on December 31, 2009
Now that you’ve had a moment to breathe into several brown paper bags, you’re ready to tackle the next stage of THE EPIC BABKA SITUATION OF 2009. I’m going to be candid with you — I was worried that I’d spent two days failing. Perhaps I hadn’t the stuff for tackling yeast. Perhaps confections and pastry were only in my purview. In the past forty-eight hours I sliced open my finger, struggled with a dough that would go through several rises, and transformed my kitchen into a miniature hurricane. All in an effort to challenge myself. Step outside of my comfort zone, feel vulnerable and constantly uncertain. Perhaps this the beginning of my Odyssean journey back to Ithaca, to home.
So I did what any sane person would do. I downloaded the Rocky soundtrack and blasted “Eye of the Tiger” from my laptop. I wouldn’t let some pile of dough reduce me to rubble.
Get ready for the Chocolate Babka with Streusel Topping, courtesy of Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking, the cookbook that has replaced the Martha Stewart Handbook, albeit temporarily. A delicious cross between a luscious cake and a flaky bread, you will savor this with your morning coffee or tuck away with a slice for midday tea.
Makes two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaves
Dough for Brioche Bread
FOR THE STREUSEL
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling out the dough
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp kosher salt
3 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
FOR THE FILLING
10 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1/3 cup sugar
2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for pans
2 large egg yolks
Prepare the dough through the second rise.
FOR THE STREUSEL: In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt. Add the butter and stir with a fork until the mixture is damp throughout and in chunks. Set aside.
FOR THE FILLING: In two batches, pulse the chocolate in a food processor (or slice finely with a serrated knife if you’re using a bar of chocolate) until the pieces are the size of small pebbles. A note about the chocolate. Do not use chocolate chips — this isn’t that kind of party, as my friend Amber would sagely say. Chocolate chips have a lower fat and cacao content, and won’t heat and yield the texture you’re seeking. I’d either opt for chocolate coins, bars or chocolate, or the insane brick I opted to purchase and use as a torture device (aside: If you’re looking for an upper arm workout, slice a pound of chocolate). I will say that I got enraged slicing nearly a pound of chocolate, I broke down and added SOME chips.
But back to the babka, if you please. Transfer the pulsed chocolate into a bowl. Add the sugar and cinnamon and stir to combine. Divide the mixture in half.
Line the bottoms of two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pans with parchment, and grease the bottoms and sides with butters. Years ago, when I was a fool, I would skip this step. And I would suffer when the loaf stuck to the pan. Learn from my mistakes, people.
This is the part of the story where I took a rest. I played “Eye of the Tiger” on repeat and swore this damn dough wouldn’t psych me out. I’d be a baking cage fighter if I had to. So after a pep talk with my best friend, I went back in the proverbial ring.
Divide the cold brioche dough in half. Wrap one portion in plastic and return to the refrigerator. Roll out the other half of the dough into 12 x 14-inch rectangle, about 1/8-inch thick. But let’s get real, you’re not going to get perfection on the first go. Keep the measurement for the most part and a “circular rectangle” will suffice. Spread 4 tablespoons of the butter on top, leaving a 1-inch border all around. Sprinkle one portion of the chocolate mixture over the butter. Whisk together the yolks and 1 tablespoon cold water; brush some egg wash over the border. This will serve as your sealant.
Brace yourself! Starting with the 14-inch side closest to you, roll the dough into a tight log. Go slow and roll tightly or your babka will fall apart. Firmly pinch the ends to seal in the filling. Twist the roll gently several times and brush with egg wash. Sprinkle about 2 tablespoons of the streusel over half the roll and fold the dough in half like a sandwich. Fold the ends under and twist the dough to fit it into one of the pans. Don’t freak out if the dough unwinds a bit or some of the filling seeps out. Just hold as compact as you can. Push the dough to the edges of the pan and brush the top of the loaf with some of the egg wash and sprinkle with 3 more tablespoons of the streusel.
Repeat with the remaining dough, filling, and streusel to form the second loaf.
Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and set them aside in a warm spot until the dough rises (3rd rise) up to the tops of the pans, about 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Bake, turning the pans halfway through, until the babkas are dark, golden on top and the bottom of the loaf has a hallow sound when unmolded and tapped, about an hour. Although the recipe calls for an hour, check at forty minutes as my babka was done in 45. Ovens are tricky that way. Transfer the pans to a wire rack to stand for five minutes. PLEASE DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP OR YOUR BABKA WILL FALL APART AND SO WILL YOU. If a recipe calls for the loaves to rest, listen. This means the ingredients need to cohere. After 5 minutes, turn out the loaves onto the rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Babka is best the day it’s made, but you can wrap it in plastic or foil at room temperature for up to three days or in the freezer for a month, thawing and then toasting to serve.
Posted on December 31, 2009
Believe me when I say that the journey to making the EPIC BABKA OF 2009 was Odyssean. Normally I’m proud of being dramatic for effect, however, there was a point during the course of the past two days where I really wanted to give up. But I pressed on.
If you are a baker you must own Karen DeMasco’s The Craft of Baking, which was my wisest purchase of the year. But I warn you — the making of the chocolate babka with streusel topping isn’t for the impatient and meek. So in an effort to not frighten you (as I was – cruel world and all), I’m dividing this recipe into two parts. Strap on your aprons & let’s rock and roll.
But permit me one minor digression. DO NOT LET YEAST OWN YOU. My last experience with yeast was in a failed German fruit bread recipe in 2002, and I’ve been frightened to tackle this tough technique since. But if you follow Karen’s recipe and my notes to the letter, you won’t suffer the brick bread fate.
DAY ONE: THE BRIOCHE DOUGH
2 1/2 cups high-gluten bread flour
1/4 cup sugar
6 large eggs
1 (1/4-ounce) packet active dry yeast
1 tbsp kosher salt
12 ounces (3 sticks) chilled, unsalted high-fat butter, cut into small pieces (plus more for the pan)
In the bowl of an electronic mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix together the flour and sugar on low speed (2) until combined.
Bring about two inches of water to a simmer (not a boil!) in a medium saucepan (or pot). Whisk together the eggs and yeast in a medium heatproof bowl. Set the bowl over the saucepan of simmering water until the mixture is warm to the touch (100-130F), about one minute, whisking the entire time. Two things to note: make certain that the water does not touch the base of your heatproof bowl and that you are CONSTANTLY STIRRING. Otherwise you’ll have burnt, scrambled eggs. No one needs that nonsense in their life.
Add the warm egg mixture to the flour mixture and beat no medium speed (4-5) until the dough comes together in a bowl, about 4 minutes. With the mixer running, slowly add the salt.
With the machine running, add the butter quickly, piece by piece. Of note, make certain that your butter is cut into SMALL pieces. Don’t think that shoving a stick of butter is going to make your life easier, it won’t. You’ll suffer and weep and cry on the floor like the lazy baby that you are. Don’t cut fat pieces (exhibit A: FELICIA) because you will likely slice your finger off (exhibit B: FELICIA) and the butter won’t adhere to the dough. This was the point in the day where I freaked out. But I digress. Continue to mix until the dough is shiny and makes a slapping sound on the sides of the bowl, about 6-8 minutes.
Lift the dough out of the bowl and transfer it between your two fists, bouncing it up and down and folding it back into a ball, until the dough begins to tighten, about 4 minutes. Essentially, this technique is all about creating gluten — that coveted bread-like texture necessary for brioche. The dough will be incredibly sticky but keeping moving it back and forth, molding it into a fat ball.
Transfer the dough to a large, buttered bowl, cover it well with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel, and let the dough rise at room temperature until it doubles, about 2 hours. This is your first rise and this was the point when I had my second breakdown, because while my dough rose, it didn’t double. Don’t fret.
After 2 hours, fold the dough down, return it to the same bowl, and cover it well with plastic wrap. Let it rise in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours or overnight (I opted for overnight, being paranoid and what not).
Posted on December 20, 2009
Cue the men in the starched white waistcoats because I’m going to need restraints. I’m going to need to be held down, because my obsession with homemade pizza will not go away. What was originally conceived as an unhealthy indulgence gets a dramatic makeover with a handful of healthy ingredients and thirty minutes to kill. For the past two weeks I’ve been fixing homemade pizzas and oh dear god, the permutations are endless. Mixed veggies, meaty variations, triple cheese (gruyere, anyone? HOLD ME!), and a simple miniature pie with sundried tomatoes and curls of nutty Romano cheese. And what I love most about this dish is the fact that you control the ingredients. Long gone are the days of plastic cheese and suspect meat toppings, for here is yet another delicious homemade pizza option — pesto sausage.
1/3 lb of whole wheat pizza dough (store-bought)
2 tbsp arugula pesto
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese
3/4 of a sweet sausage link, casing removed
Salt/pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 425F. In a small skillet, sauté the sausage link. With a wooden spoon, break up the sausage and stir occasionally. Cook until brown, approximately 5-7 minutes.
While the sausage is cooking, flour the counter (and rolling pin) and starting from the center of the dough, roll out until the dough is a 1/4 thick. I tend to like my pizza quite thin, so I keep rolling and circulating until the dough is evenly sized. Transfer the pizza to a cookie sheet.
With a brush, add the olive oil and pesto, ensuring that you cover all of the pizza. I adore whole wheat crust because it’s not only hearty and filling, but it also yields a rustic flavor. That having been said, whole wheat can sometimes be a bit dry, so make sure you cover the entire surface with glistening olive oil. Mind you, we don’t want an epic oil spill, just a light coating.
Add the cooked sausage, cheese, salt and pepper. Cook for 10-15 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the cheese bubbles and oozes. Cut, serve, sob!
Posted on December 15, 2009
After an exhausting day, it’s practically impossible to fix yourself dinner. When igniting the stove and dicing the chicken takes Herculean feat, sometimes it’s acceptable, downright necessary, to cut a few corners. Let me clarify – this is no Sandra Lee, high fructose syrup, partially hydrogenated oils, packaged nonsense – rather quick, unbelievably delicious meals made in under fifteen minutes.
My best friend Susan turned on to the rapture that is the homemade pizza. The options! Pancetta and pesto, gruyere and olive tapenade, the flavor combinations are endless, and why not fancy yourself a gastronomic tour-de-force in the kitchen?! Here’s my quick dinner delish recipe.
1 lb of store-bought whole wheat pizza dough
1/4 lb pancetta, sliced 1/2 thick
1/4 cup of basil pesto
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese (not fresh!)
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 tbsp of olive oil
Salt/pepper to taste
Flour for the board/counter
Serves 4 people, 2 if you’re having a BRUTAL day.
Pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees. Lightly oil a cookie sheet. Dusting the counter (and rolling pin) with a handful of flour, roll out the dough working from the center out. The dough need not be perfect, just evenly distributed.
On a small pan, fry up the pancetta until near crisp. Set aside. Brush the crust with olive oil, and add the pesto, pancetta (sans pan drippings), garlic, cheese, salt and pepper. Bake for 10-15 minutes until golden brown and delicious.
Posted on December 14, 2009
There’s something decidedly insouciant about fixing granola, magic, and lemon bars as an adult. We gorged on them as children, savored the lemon tart and toasted coconut on our tongues. When I think of granola bars, I harken back to grade school and plastic lunch boxes and thermoses filled with hot ravioli and soup. So the week that I turn 34, I mark it by infusing my meals with sweet, childhood indulgences. I invite you to indulge in these hearty granola bars. A delicious texture play, you have the meatiness of the nuts juxtaposed with the cool, sugary preserves combined with the deep, warm molasses of the brown sugar. I love, love, love these bars, and I’m continually grateful for having purchased Karen DeMasco’s wonderful cookbook!
From The Craft of Baking: Back-to-School Raspberry Granola Bars
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
1 cup pecans, roughly chopped*
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats*
1/3 cup granulated sugar*
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup raspberry preserves
(Makes 16 bars)
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Butter an 8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Spread the pecans on a baking sheet. Bake until lightly golden and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Cool the sheet completely on a wire rack.
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, oats, granulated sugar, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, and pecans. Pour in the melted butter, and using a wooden spoon, mix together until well combined.
Transfer about two thirds of the dough to the prepared baking pan. Press the dough evenly into the pan, forming a firmly packed layer. Using an offset or rubber spatula, spread the preserves over the dough. Evenly sprinkle the remaining dough over the preserves. I love seeing a pop of blistering red poke through the topping, so don’t overdo it, as you’ll be shoveling bricks rather than bars.
Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, until the top is golden brown and fragrant, about 40 minutes. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it cool completely. Then cut into 2-inch squares. The bars can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
Recipe Notes: As I ran out of pecans, I used 1/4 cup of pecans + 3/4 cup of Marcona almonds. Certainly, any substantial, meaty nut will do – walnuts are equally fabulous. To note rolled oats aren’t the same as oatmeal – do not make this mistake as I have many, many moons ago. Rolled oats do not equal Quaker instant oatmeal, nor do they equal crap in a packet. As always, I use cane sugar.
Top image snapped by Sarah Conley