Sunday, December 18, 2011

blackberry streusel muffins

do you remember summer? i know everyone's all excited about christmas and that's cool. i like christmas a lot. this is going to be the first christmas that mike and i have on our own, which sounds awfully grown up. i like having family time, too, of course, but i just saw my family in november and i'm sure we'll see mike's family soon as well. in the meantime, i'm just as glad to not have to brave the airport or otherwise make myself insane.

we've already talked at length about what to eat for a special holiday dinner. right now the contenders are duck (exciting, since i've never made it), halibut, or maybe just a roasted turkey breast. of course there will be broccoli casserole. roasted brussels sprouts will almost certainly make an appearance. there will be cocktails and there very well may be pie. i might even try my hand at fancy potatoes.

but right now i want to talk about blackberries and summer. ah, sweet sweet summer! this summer was the best in recent memory because it was not at all hot and i had very little in the way of responsibilities. it was awesome. in fact, blackberries were actually one of my heavier responsibilities, because i would pick cups of them and by the next day there were cups more that were ripe. i didn't want to waste them, so i was basically picking them every day. luckily, all the scratched arms and near-bee-stings were totally worth it, because now we have bags of berries in the freezer ready to pull out when winter seems all too much.

i adapted this recipe a bit from here. i didn't have any buttermilks, for one thing. i realize buttermilk is great and all in baked goods, but when i am thirsty, it is not the first thing i reach for. my mom and brother drink it plain, which i think is weird and southern.

so. start with a lemon. here is a good tip for when you are zesting something - move the zester, not the fruit. it is so so much easier. it will also cut down on the grated knuckles that most people don't much care for. you can also catch all of the zest in the thing, as above. this is only moderately helpful, if at all, but it's nice to know where you are with zest.

zest a whole lemon and divide it in half (the zest. well, you are going to want to cut the lemon at some point, too, so you can do that now, if you like). half goes into a big bowl and half into a quite small bowl or, if you're me, a washed-out thing from the bulk olive bar. we seem to have a thousand of those little things. they fall on me when i open the cabinet. good old celtic thrift!

the half that is in the tiny bowl/thing should be mixed with 3 tablespoons flour, 3 tablespoons sugar, 3 tablespoons finely cut pecans (or other nuts - i happened to have toasted pecans and rather than cutting them i just bashed them on the counter with a rolling pin. it totally worked), and 2 tablespoons melted butter. or you could use 3, if you like everything to be even. i like a good little pinch of salt in there, too. this will be the delicious streusel topping.

preheat the oven to 375. in the big bowl, add 2 cups of flour to the lemon zest. here is where it is nice to have a scale, though, because i used what appeared to be 2 cups of flour, but was definitely about 300 grams or about 11 ounces. add sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt. mix those guys around a bit.

here i decided to use some grated apple in the place of some of the butter. i know applesauce is frequently used in place of some oil in recipes, and i think apples and blackberries go together well. applesauce is another thing i never have sitting around, though, so i used the microplane to grate about 1/3-1/2 of a small apple (~3-4 tablespoons, once grated). you also need an egg that's been beaten a little - next time i would just mix the apple and egg together and then add them to the flour mix.

since i didn't have buttermilk, i used 3/4 of a cup of regular 2% milk and 1/4 cup of lemon juice. i think usually when one makes ersatz buttermilk one would use a higher ratio of milk to lemon but that's all we had, so i made do like a pioneer. oregon trail! i'm sacagawea!

let the lemon juice and milk sit together for 5-10 minutes. the milk gets all curdley and unappetizing - just like buttermilk! it is a chemistry miracle. then add about 2 tablespoons of melted butter (did i brown that butter? yes i did!) and mix everything together (dry, wet, appley). with quick breads and muffins, you really want to be careful not to overmix. these things go from perfect to tough with a few overzealous turns of a wooden spoon.

once everything's basically incorporated, add the blackberries. i used a good 2 1/2 - 3 cups, and they were Very Blackberry-y (see top). they were definitely more like blackberries suspended in some muffin than they were muffins incorporating some blackberries. i like that, myself, but if you demand more sweet bready goodness i would use maybe like 2 cups (frozen) instead. these would obviously be great with fresh blackberries, too, but it might be somewhat hard to incorporate them whole - the batter is really really thick. just be careful, is all i'm saying. fold them in, don't stir them in.

then just scoop some up and stick it in well-greased muffin tins. these proportions made 12 good-sized muffins - i filled the tins basically to the top and then divided the delicious streusel topping over them. then just pop them in the oven (kind of towards the middle).

check these and maybe turn them around in your oven after 15-20 minutes. if you are using lots of frozen berries, they take perhaps 40 minutes or more, but keep a close eye on them. your oven may be better at cooking things than is mine. in fact, it probably is.

since the blackberries made me feel all summery, i ended up taking most of these to my old coworkers from my summer job. even though there were only two of them still in the office (the rest were on their vacations already), they fell upon them eagerly and with gusto. if you don't have any awesome former (or current) coworkers, you could make these for christmas morning - they keep perfectly well overnight, so you don't have to fiddle with stuff on the big day. or you could make them to celebrate a lazy weekend morning, if you are not of the christmas persuasion. instant summer!


streusel topping:
3 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons bits of nuts
2 tablespoons melted butter
zest from 1/2 a lemon
pinch of salt

2c/300g/11oz flour (these could maybe not be the same amounts, given flour's propensity for mismeasurement. get a scale!)
3/4 cup/~170g/6oz sugar (these were pretty sweet - i think you could cut it down to 1/2c, easily)
2 teaspoons/8g baking powder
1/2 teaspoon/2g baking soda
zest from 1/2 a lemon
big pinch of salt

1 large egg, beaten
3-4 tablespoons grated apple (or applesauce)
2 tablespoons melted butter (or you can use 5 tablespoons butter and omit the apple)
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup lemon juice (or use 1 cup buttermilk, if you keep that stuff around)

2 1/2 cups frozen blackberries (not thawed)

mix dry, add wet, stir only slightly, add blackberries, bake.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

roasted root vegetables with mustard/shallot/dill sauce

pity the poor parsnip. its name sounds like an old english measurement (a parsnip of your finest brandy, my good man!) and it looks like a pallid and misshapen carrot. even in the notably unattractive root vegetable family, the parsnip got hit with the ugly stick. its saving grace is that it is quite tasty. well, i guess that's actually its downfall - otherwise we'd probably leave it alone.

i had never cooked parsnips before making this dish. they were featured in a vegetable hash brunch dish i had last week, though, and despite being slightly undercooked, they were delicious. when i noticed them at the produce market later, i snapped some right up.

i decided to roast them, because that's what one should do with any vegetables and especially knobbly root ones. they get all caramelized and soften a little and toast up a little and just generally become much more friendly.

the members of the illustrious allium family are also well served by a trip to the oven. i like to roast scallions with most of their green tops still on - they get all melty and imbue the rest of the vegetables with a pleasant low-key onion flavor that won't attach to your breath like garlic does. you can eat roasted scallions and still go out on a hot date that night!*

*of course, by "go out on a hot date" i usually mean sit on the couch with three snoring dogs taking up most of the cushions, watching parks and recreation. is that not everyone's idea of a hot date? okaaay, then. nevermind. it's still not nice to have garlic breath.

you'll probably want to throw some carrots in there, too. mine were giant monster carrots, so i only used two, but use however many you need in order to end up with about the same amount of carrots and parsnips.

shallots! shallots are awesome in everything. i would probably even give shallot ice cream a try. i doubt that i'd like it, but i'd be willing to try it. that's how awesome shallots are. in everything.

so. alls you do is peel and cut up the carrots and parsnips. actually, first you should turn on the oven so it preheats. for some reason, i set mine at 415. just a little resistance to the oven temperatures-at-25-degree-increments hegemony, i suppose. if you want to do what The Man tells you, go ahead and set it at 425 or 400 and you may have to slightly adjust times accordingly (down or up, respectively, but you knew that, right? i'm sure you did - you're very clever. everyone thinks so).

cut the carrots and parsnips into wedges - i cut the larger parsnips into 1/6ths and the smaller ones in quarters. the carrots i cut in half crosswise and then into quarters. take the little whiskery bits off the bottoms of the scallions and maybe also the outer peel, if they're looking scroungy. trim the tops a bit, but you definitely want to leave most of the greenery intact. peel the shallots and cut them into chunks. shallots come in wildly different sizes, so just use your best judgment. i had mediumish ones and cut them in quarters. take this time to also mince one up for the sauce. you'll need about 2-3 tablespoons, minced.

toss everything together on a large sheet pan with a tablespoon or so of olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper. then stick it in your now-hot oven and let it go for 20 minutes. if your vegetables are very small, you might check them after 15, but 20 was perfect for mine. then toss everything around a bit so some of the other sides get a chance to brown. it was at this point that i also added some (already cooked) chicken sausages that i'd halved lengthwise. if you don't have any sausages, i'm sorry, because they were good. put everything back in the oven for 10 minutes.

time to make the sauce! cook the minced shallot over medium heat in about a tablespoon of butter. once it starts smelling really good and getting the tiniest bit brown, add a tablespoon or two of vermouth (or white wine or chicken stock), a tablespoon of dijon mustard (ours happened to be grey poupon), a couple of squeezes of lemon juice (less than a tablespoon, more than a teaspoon), a tablespoon or two of fresh dill, and some salt and pepper. turn the heat down to medium-low and let it cook for perhaps 5 minutes. by then your roasty things should be just about done. if the sauce seems too thick, add some water or broth.

we had our deliciousness over rice, but i think it would also be good with mashed potatoes or some nice crusty bread. the sauce on its own would be good with things like roast chicken or salmon, too. from start to finish, the whole thing takes less than 45 minutes, half of which are unsupervised. not too shabby for a nice wintry roasted dinner to keep the cold at bay. not too shabby.

(you can't really see the sauce in this picture because it isn't there. but picture a nice sauce with lots of dill)

equalish amounts of carrots and parsnips (i used 5 small parsnips and 2 gigantor carrots)
1 bunch scallions (6?)
a few shallots
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt & pepper
sausages, if desired

for the sauce:
1 tablespoon butter
2-3 tablespoons minced shallot
1-2 tablespoons vermouth, wine, or stock
lemon juice
1 tablespoon dijon mustard (this made it quite mustardy, so feel free to use less if you want to tone it down)
1-2 tablespoons fresh dill, torn into bits

Monday, November 28, 2011

goat cheese, honey, black pepper, bread

you can use any kind of breadish thing - sandwich, ciabatta, one of those scandinavian rye crisps, or even a biscuit. maybe especially a biscuit.

then you need some nice soft chalkylicious goat cheese.

let it warm up a little out of the fridge, so you can spread it all over the bread or what-have-you.

then toast it, if you like. or stick it under the broiler for a minute or so. or leave it as is.

then spread it with lots of good honey. if you ever see meadowfoam honey anywhere, you owe it to yourself to try it. it's like vanilla beans making out with caramel in a field on a brilliant summer day.

one of the less florid floral, less sweet honeys would be good, too - like buckwheat or chestnut. or of course you can use just regular ol' honey out of a honey bear. you can't go too far wrong.

then grind lots of black pepper over. i like to use a fairly coarse grind level, so that you crunch into bits of pepper. but whatever. just make sure to grind it right over the honey and cheese - the pre-ground dust will not be anywhere close to as good.

if you make this with homemade bread and really fresh goat cheese and good honey, it is pretty much the best thing in the world.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

broccoli casserole

broccoli casserole is The Dish in my family. it's the dish that's certain to be there at any holiday and which, strangely, we only make for holidays. i honestly can't figure out why that is, because it's easy and quick to toss together and isn't totally unhealthy and is immensely delicious. every year i'm like, why don't i make this all the time? and then i don't do it until the next holiday. maybe it's my subconscious trying to keep it extra-special.

i used to have to call my mom every thanksgiving to get the recipe for this. i have no clue where it originated, but i can't remember a thanksgiving or christmas without it. i've been making it for the last few years just based on remembered amounts and what looks right. my brother has now taken up the mantle of annual recipe-transcribing calls to my mom and my mom actually called me this year to ask a question about covering it or not.

i find it comforting to know that even though i wasn't able to be with my parents or my brother this thanksgiving, this casserole was being made and enjoyed in texas, oregon, and arizona. no doubt we will each be making it for christmas, too. it's nice to have traditions that are so good to eat.

first, preheat the oven to 375. then you need a whole mess of broccoli. i used 6 smallish stalks - i think it was about 6 cups or so. the wonderful thing about casseroles, though, is that you don't need totally exact amounts.

peel the tough outer parts from the stems, then slice them into ~1/4" pieces (you can cut the pieces in halves or quarters if the stems are thick). then cut the florets into bite-sized pieces.

these are most of the other illustrious ingredients. you need two eggs, 3/4 - 1 cup mayonnaise, 1/2 cup greek yogurt (or you can probably change the percentage of mayonnaise and yogurt - 1/2 and 1/2, etc. you just usually want about 1 1/2 cups combined), a can of condensed cream of celery soup (i know, i know. this is literally the only time i ever use canned soups. if you can find something that tastes just like campbell's cream of celery soup, you're welcome to use it instead. i'm sticking with tradition here), ~1/3 of a medium-large onion (minced), and about 8-10 ounces of extra sharp grated cheddar.

i think the extra sharpness of the cheddar is really important here, so don't chicken out and go with medium sharp or something. extra sharp or bust!

i like to mix everything up in a big bowl and add a lot of freshly-ground black pepper and a little bit of salt (the mayo, cheese, soup, etc. are pretty salty, so don't go overboard. i used less than a teaspoon). then add the broccoli pieces and mix it all around so that it gets fully coated. if it seems a little dry, add more mayonnaise and/or yogurt. it should basically be well-coated but not swimming. again, casseroles are pretty forgiving.

then put it in a casserole dish. this is a cast iron enamel-covered one, which i like because it has a cover and seems to heat things really evenly. and it is pretty. but you could also use a regular pan and cover it with aluminum foil.

the crispy topping is an area of contention in my family. okay, just with me. everyone else puts crumbled ritz crackers on top, and if that's your thing, go for it. i am just not a ritz cracker person (lime-vanilla icebox cake notwithstanding), so i usually use breadcrumbs or panko. i was out of panko this time, so i used 1 slice of sourdough and 1/2 slice of whole wheat bread, crumbled up with a tiny bit of olive oil and a little salt. my bread was pretty dry already, so i just put some oil and salt on my hands and kind of rubbed them over the bread to crumble it. you could also just whiz them up in a food processor or chop them or whatever. i don't need to tell you how to crumble bread.

then just stick it in the oven for awhile. i leave the lid on for the first 40 minutes or so, then take it off so the top browns nicely. it should take maybe a little over an hour in total, but it depends on how deep your pan is. just use a sharp knife to stick into a broccoli stem near the top and if it goes in easily, it should be about done. basically the cheese/soup/mayonnaise gets all custardy, so if there's still a little softness in the center, it's probably okay. you want to let it set up a little after you take it out of the oven - 10 minutes' rest should do it.

this is a really forgiving casserole, though, so just play with it. i cooked ours at our house, then reheated it for about 15 minutes when we were about to eat and it was fine. more than fine, actually. it was incredibly delicious, as usual, and i once again vowed to make it more often.

this thanksgiving, people outdid themselves with delicious things. we had: great appetizers (crackers, goat cheese, homemade jalapeno jelly, pickled cherries, roasted hazelnuts, pickled okra, bread & butter pickles), green bean casserole, broccoli casserole, sweet potatoes with an amazing streusel crust (much better than marshmallows), turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, cornbread dressing (aka stuffing, if you are not from the south), rolls, cranberry sauce, salad, a 6-tier chocolate caramel cake, Mike's Famous Pie, and pumpkin pie. it was sort of insane, since there were only like a dozen of us, but also it was sort of magical. and extremely tasty.

i love this thanksgiving potluck-with-friends tradition and it just gets better every year. thanks for hosting, clifton and shantelle! and thanks for giving me the recipe so many times over the years, mom!

~6 cups chopped broccoli
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise/yogurt (usually ~1 cup mayonnaise to 1/2 cup yogurt, but it's up to you)
1 can condensed cream of celery soup
~1/3 of an onion, minced (~1/3 cup)
2 eggs
8-10 ounces shredded extra-sharp cheddar
salt and pepper
breadcrumbs (or ritz crackers) - enough to cover the casserole - i used 1 1/2 slices of bread

mix all the ingredients except the broccoli and the breadcrumbs. mix in the broccoli, stick it in a pan and top with breadcrumbs. simple!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

garlicky roasted cauliflower

lately i've been really frustrated with the gets-dark-at-4:30 part of living in the pacific northwest. now that i don't get home before 6, my only time to see the sun is during my lunch break. that means it's tough to get pictures of things for posting.

poor quality drawings from the computer's paint program are not exactly the same, but as those of us working for state agencies say, "good enough for government work!" (note: no one actually says that. state employees are incredibly dedicated and selfless individuals, clearly.)

you know how cauliflower is really gross when you eat it raw or boiled? well, it is. it's a little weird and sharp-tasting raw and once you boil or oversteam it, it gets all sulfur-y. no thanks. but when you roast it in a hot oven with chili flakes and garlic, it becomes another beast altogether - a pleasant and piquant taste sensation that i can't get enough of. if it helps, you could call it its french name - chou-fleur. that sounds fancy and perhaps tastier than boring old gross old cauliflower, aka the last vegetable on the tray when the dip runs out.

first, preheat the oven to 425. then cut a head of cauliflower into little florets. they don't have to be totally uniform in size, but you should aim for some degree of sameness. i usually cut the head in half, take out the stem part, then try to slice along its natural branches somewhat. then cut the bigger parts in halves or quarters - the more flat sides they have, the more delicious browning there will be (maillard reaction, ftw!).

then mince a good 4-5 cloves of garlic. you don't have to get them minutely small.

put the cauliflower chou-fleur on a large baking sheet with some chili flakes and perhaps a tablespoon or so of olive oil. stick it in the oven and let it go for 15 minutes or so.

after the 15 minutes, check to see if it's becoming brown. if so, go ahead and stir the florets around a little, so the other sides can get some heat. check it every 5-10 minutes after this and stir if it seems to need it. depending on how large the florets are (and how hot your oven actually is - those dudes can range pretty far afield from their nominal temperatures), it could take another 15 minutes or so.

when the little darlings are cooked through and nicely browned, add the garlic and let things cook for another 5 minutes or so, just so the garlic can get toasty and delicious without burning.

then lemon up the whole thing, add some salt and pepper, and eat up. this is good as a side for chicken or fish or with a couple of fried eggs on top and some crusty bread on the side. you can also add other flavorings, like thyme, za'atar, smoked paprika, etc. tossing some sesame seeds in when you add the garlic is not a terrible idea, either.

This method works well with brussels sprouts and broccoli, which are also among the poor maligned members of the brassica family. just cut them (brussels sprouts in halves or quarters) and roast away. green beans are also amazing done like this (especially the sad stringly green beans of fall). seriously, even if you think you don't like these guys, you will probably like this. also, none of these would be at all out of place at your thanksgiving repast.

1 large head cauliflower
4-5 cloves garlic
chili flakes
salt & pepper
juice from 1/2 - 1 lemon

Saturday, November 19, 2011

honey/brown butter/bourbon-glazed carrots with crispy sage

omg you guys, thanksgiving is just around the corner! luckily, we at chez living awesomely are part of the best thanksgiving tradition ever - a group of food- and drink-loving pals gets together every year to try to out-dazzle each other with tastiness.

potluck is totally the way to go for thanksgiving, by the way - you get to taste different people's traditional family dishes and bring your own favorites, ensuring that it's never boring and that no one has to do everything (only to become bitter when guests don't fully appreciate the work that went into the puff pastry swan placecard holders that took 17 hours to make).

in that spirit, this is an easy and quick little side dish that would be more than welcome at any holiday gathering (or a regular old weekday dinner - it only takes like 15 minutes). sage, carrots, brown butter, honey, bourbon - what could be more autumnally appropriate? nothin', that's what!

first, peel the carrots. or don't. i prefer them peeled, and if you have a good peeler it doesn't take long. you also get all the joy of watching your dogs fall over themselves to grab up the peelings, never realizing that they have like 10 stuck in their fur at any given time. let the hilarity ensue!

you can cut them up however you like, although personally i find discs to be rather kansas-city-split-level-1987, but maybe that's just me. i was going to do this faux tourné cut, but apparently i lack the basic sense of spatial relationships that this requires, so i just made ~45 degree cuts facing alternate ways down each carrot. does that make sense? the picture above is meant to demonstrate this, but you could always try the other way (particularly if your parents acceded to childhood demands for a video game system - that might give you better hand-eye coordination than i ended up with).

once they are all cut up in whatever way you figure out for yourself, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat in a pan big enough for all of the carrots. once the butter melts, add some small sage leaves, stirring a little to make sure they aren't sticking together. this isn't an absolute requirement, and i think the carrots would still be good without it, but the little crispy sage leaves are really pretty delicious and provide a nice counterpoint at the end.

my sage leaves got crispy just as the butter was starting to brown, which was rather perfect. you may remember brown butter from such desserts as brown butter cherry berry clafoutis. it is a delicious marvel in everything it touches, and these carrots are no exception. it adds just the right nuttiness to bring out the sweetness of the carrots and honey.

so when the butter browns and the sage leaves crisp, remove the leaves and set them aside on a paper towel or something. then add the carrots, 1 tablespoon or a little more of honey, 1 tablespoon (or more) of bourbon, a cup of water, and some salt and pepper. you don't want to totally overdo it on the salt at this point, since the water will be evaporating and might make it too salty. i put in probably less than a teaspoon. i also put some more sage in - another 5 or so leaves.

then you turn the heat to high, cover the pan, and cook those beauties on up - it only takes 10 minutes or so. stir it pretty frequently - every couple of minutes is probably a good rule of thumb. you might have to kind of see what works for you with the lid - basically you want the water to evaporate enough to make a glaze and the carrots to cook through all at the same time.

once the carrots are done enough for your taste (mine were in fairly large chunks and took 12 minutes), take them off the heat and add a couple of teaspoons or so of lemon juice and some more salt, if it needs it. this'll brighten the whole thing up.

when you're ready to eat these, sprinkle them with the fried sage leaves - they add crunch and a lightly sage-y buttery flavor that brings it all together into a perfect distillation of the holidays.

~ 1 1/2 pounds carrots (~5 large)
2 tablespoons butter
10 or so sage leaves
1 tablespoon honey (+)
1 tablespoon bourbon (+)
1 cup water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
salt & pepper

other good thanksgiving dishes:

also, pretty much any cocktail here would be good, particularly pear/ginger/lemon/bourbon. word on the street is that we will be having some kind of pear/rosemary/prosecco concoction at our festivities. i am All Sorts of excited.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

spicy carrot cake and a trip to arizona

i was on a plane last week! it went over mountains, which always makes me nervous, because whenever planes crash it seems to be over mountains. or the ocean. i guess i should be grateful we weren't over an ocean as well. anyway, we didn't crash, so it's sort of moot.

i made it safely to phoenix, which, no offense, is not one of my favorite cities. luckily i wasn't going to phoenix, though - i was going to prescott to surprise my dad for his birthday. my brother and i took the shuttle up and surprised him but good. unfortunately, we didn't do the whole jumping-and-bouncing-and-yelling-SURPRISE kind of surprise, but it's probably just as well because he isn't as young as he used to be. he's still pretty young, though.

see? he hikes! old people don't hike. he probably could have stood a more shouty surprise than he got, actually. oh well, next time. watch out, dad!

it snowed lots when we were there, which was exciting for me, since it's only snowed twice in portland in the last two years. it was very pretty.

i also got to meet the dog that they'd adopted since i last visited. isn't he the cutest?! i almost smuggled him home in my bag, but i refrained. it took some major strength of character to refrain, though, as you can imagine. plus, he is pocket-sized, so he is eminently portable. they would probably have missed him, though. and i already have three dogs, so i shouldn't be greedy, i guess.

we ate lots of nice things when we were there. my mom had a bunch of green cherry tomatoes that she wasn't doing anything in particular with, so i sliced some up, dredged them in flour with salt and pepper, and fried them. delicious! i liked the thinner crunchy layer better than the thick breading i've had on some fried green tomatoes. i think they were a success.

on the morning of my dad's birthday, they went on their daily constitutional and i made some hash with roasted root vegetables and leftover roasted salmon. the vegetables were carrots, purple potatoes, turnips, and onion. there were some beets in the original roastings, so everything was a delightful medley of pinks and oranges and purples. fancy!

i just sautéed the diced vegetables in a little olive oil and let the edges get a bit crunchy. then i added some salt and pepper, a little sour cream, and the salmon, just to let it warm up a bit. we ate it with over easy eggs and some ridiculously good biscuits made with my mom's sourdough starter. i didn't even know you could use sourdough for biscuits, but damned if they weren't fantastic. in case you have your own starter, i used this recipe. i just patted the dough down rather than rolling it out, though.

i used some more of the green tomatoes (and some ripe ones) to make some little tomato and sharp cheddar free-form tarts/galettes for the party that happened that evening. i cut the tomatoes super-thin and salted them and let them drain for a bit on paper towels so they weren't too watery. then i put them on top of the grated cheddar on little rounds of tart dough.

they look cute in the picture, but i wasn't crazy about the dough recipe i used. it had sour cream in it and when i baked them there was a lot of deflation and grease that i was not anticipating. i let them rest on paper towels, though, and they were eaten up quickly, but i don't know. i would use a different crust next time. i think the idea's solid, though, so if you have some tomatoes you don't know what to do with, it may be worth some experimentation.

here is the point of birthdays and, incidentally, this post - CAKE. i asked my dad what kind of cake he wanted and he sort of hemmed and hawed for awhile. he is very easygoing and i'm pretty sure he would like basically any kind of cake. finally i narrowed it down to spice cake or carrot cake and decided to combine the two.

for the basic recipe, i turned to good old epicurious, which has tons of recipes from gourmet (rip) and bon appetit (not my favorite, but sometimes okay), among other publications. i used this carrot cake with marmalade as a base recipe, since my dad loves marmalade. i made a few significant changes, however.

for one thing, my parents don't have any pans with which to make a layer cake, so i had to use a 13" x 9" one instead. i also lowered the sugar a little and added many more spices than the recipe called for. the actual recipe uses 2 teaspoons of cinnamon, but i also added about 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, and a few grinds of black pepper. you can play around with the amounts - i think it could actually have stood up to even more in the way of spices. some fresh grated ginger would have been great as well. i also used pecans instead of walnuts and added more than were called for. they were in bigger chunks, too - i just crushed the pecan halves in my hands as i added them and used probably 1 1/3 cups or so in all.

because it was in the larger pan, it took longer to cook than the recipe states. i started checking it after 40 minutes, but it took a solid 50+ in all. you can tell it's done when you stick a knife or something in the center and it comes out clean. i think if you bake cakes with any degree of frequency you can kind of tell by feel and smell, too. if you press the middle down with your finger a bit and it bounces back rather than staying sunk in, it's done.

for the frosting, i used my go-to basic cream cheese frosting recipe/method - cream together 3 packages of softened cream cheese (a total of 24 ounces) and 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) of softened butter (i left the cream cheese and butter on the counter overnight to make sure it was soft enough). then add powdered sugar until it tastes sweet enough. i usually start with 3/4 of a cup or so, mix that in, then add 1/3 of a cup at a time, mixing in between until it's right. i like it to be on the not-as-sweet side, so i used probably a little over a cup in total. maybe 1 1/3. you also might want to add a little vanilla extract - 1 teaspoon or a little less.

once the cake is baked, let it cool in the pan on a rack. if you'd like, you could just frost it in the pan. that is the easiest method. you can also flip the cake out and frost it (fancier). i covered the whole cake with frosting, then put some in a plastic bag with a hole cut out of a corner and made a diamond pattern. then i filled alternating diamonds with finely chopped toasted pecans and marmalade. the marmalade is easiest to use if you heat it up first, so it's soft. then just dab it in the diamonds. pretty! i also put some chopped pecans along the edges for extra-fancy.

this would actually be a great addition to your thanksgiving table for those who eschew pie. i like some pies, myself, but if my choices were this or pumpkin, i would choose this every time. it has a lot of nice spicy fall flavors and colors and who doesn't like cream cheese icing? no one, that's who.

no trip to visit my folks would be complete without an obligatory dash down memory lane - it seems i used to be less particular about both sharing food with animals and my sartorial choices. although that shirt is sort of amazing, in a giant-lapeled, hideous color scheme sort of way...

(adapted from
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
~ 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil (you could probably swap out some of this with applesauce, if you want to be healthyface)
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 cup brown sugar (i don't pack it - you can if you want)
1/2 cup orange marmalade (i used this one)
1/2 cup orange juice
3 cups lightly packed grated carrots (thanks for grating them, mom!)
1 1/3 cups crunched-up or chopped toasted pecans

3 8oz containers cream cheese, softened (i've never noticed a difference using that lower-fat neufchatel cheese, so i usually do that)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter, softened
1 - 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla

preheat the oven to 350. butter and flour a 13" x 9" pan. sift the dry ingredients (1st 8) together (or just put them in a bowl and whisk to get them mixed). in a separate bowl. mix the eggs, oil, sugars, marmalade, and orange juice. add this to the dry ingredients and stir/mix just until combined. then add the carrot and toasted pecans and mix a tiny bit until things are somewhat evenly scattered throughout.

pour into the pan and bake for 45-50+ minutes, until a knife or toothpick comes out clean or you can just tell it's done with your 6th sense of cakes. let it cool on a rack. then mix together the frosting ingredients, frost that puppy and eat it up! (singing happy birthday optional)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

pasta sauce with olives and seared tuna

so. early. i don't know what's wrong with me, but i woke up stupid-early this morning (3:45!) and couldn't go back to sleep. believe me, i tried, but my brain wouldn't shut up and turn off. it wasn't even thinking about smart or important things - in the hour i spent trying to will myself to sleep, i thought about: a) turtles; b) which kinds of socks are better than others; and c) 90s song lyrics. way to go, brain!

anyway, all that by way of saying that i am up too early and am not 100% happy about it. and i don't feel able to talk coherently about gougères, even though they are so pretty and tasty:

but choux pastry, while easy, is not the easiest thing to describe properly on not enough sleep, so instead we are going to talk about a simple and delicious pasta (or whatever) sauce with tuna and olives. doesn't that sound nice?

here is a rather terrible picture of most of the ingredients:

it gets dark so early these days that it's super hard to get enough light in our kitchen to make for a good photograph. i mean, i totally meant to make this all overexposed and weird! awesome!

from the top, going clockwise, you have: tuna (cut in ~ 1/2 - 3/4 inch chunks), two of those peppadew-type peppers that are in fancy olive bars now, a medium onion, some italian parsley, oregano, and thyme, minced garlic, and (in the center) some oil-cured black olives. the only other things you need are a large can of tomatoes, about half of one of those little cans of tomato paste, pepper flakes, wine, olive oil and butter. i know it sounds like a lot of ingredients, but you can probably skip or change out some of them and not be too much the worse for wear.

just heat up a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a largish pot on medium-high heat, then sear the tuna a bit - just so it gets a little browned on the sides. it's probably not a terrible idea to put a little salt and pepper on the tuna before you sear it. you aren't really cooking it right now, so don't worry too much about that. then take it out of the pan and set it aside.

add the onion to the pan (i was using a dutch oven - you want something big enough to hold everything) and let it cook down a bit over mediumish heat - maybe for 5 minutes or so. then add the garlic and the pepper flakes and cook for another minute or two. then add the tomato paste and let it caramelize a bit. lidia bastianich said to do this in one of her pbs shows one time, so now i always do that. you don't argue with that lady. at this point, i like to add a splash of dry vermouth - like 1/4 cup or so, but you could also use a dry red wine. i just didn't have any.

next, add the tomatoes. i like to get whole plum tomatoes in their juices and just crush them in my hands as i add them to the pan, but maybe that's not fun for everyone. you can get pre-crushed ones or chop them up or something instead, if you like. then i add 1/3 or 1/2 can of water as well as the chopped herbs, peppers, and olives. you could also use green olives, if that's your thing. i really like the oil-cured ones, though.

then just turn the heat to medium-low and let it cook for awhile so all the flavors meld. i think i left it on for maybe 45 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. you can put the tuna back in whenever you think it won't overcook - it depends somewhat on how cooked it got when you were searing it. personally, i like my tuna cooked more thoroughly than many people do, so i put it back in after 20 or so minutes. i know - such a philistine.

the crowning glory is just before it's done, when you put a lump of butter in there. it sounds weird to put butter in pasta sauce, perhaps, but it really does add a nice silky richness that brings everything together. you don't have to use it, but you should. i got the idea from marcella hazan's ridiculous-famous (seriously, look it up - it is ALL over the internets) simple sauce, which is just canned tomatoes, butter, and onion and is really quite tasty. so.

anyway, this is a good simple sauce with a lot of flavor. we had it on capellini pasta, but it would also be good on rotini or something like that. or polenta!

man, i bet i could go to sleep now. too bad it's time for me to get ready for work.

2 medium tuna steaks, cubed
1 medium onion, diced
3+ cloves garlic, minced
several tablespoons of herbs - i used thyme, italian parsley, and oregano, but you can use whatever. i bet marjoram would be good.
about a dozen or 15 olives, chopped
2 medium-large peppadew-type peppers, chopped (or roasted red peppers would be good, or you could skip them altogether)
1 28-ounce can of plum tomatoes
3 ounces tomato paste
1/4 cup+ dry vermouth or dry red wine
pepper flakes, to taste
~ 1 tablespoon+ butter

Sunday, October 30, 2011

sweet & spicy roasted squash

i made these last night for a halloween party to which we were meant to bring spooky foods, so i called them goblin ribs.* when you make them, you can just call them delicious!

delicata squash is fantastic when roasted with an asian-inspired glaze that is equal parts sweet and savory and entirely tasty.

do you know the delicata squash (Cucurbita pepo)? it's one of my favorite winter squashes because it's dead easy to cook and you can eat the skin, so you don't have to take your life into your hands as you (i) do when trying to peel butternuts and the like. it's also a good size - two people can eat one and not have ridiculous leftovers.

all you do here is preheat your oven to 375. then trim the top and bottom from the squash and cut it in half. scoop out the seeds with a spoon. if you're the adventurous type, you could roast the seeds too, but we just got composting here in portland and my roasted squash seeds are never that awesome, so i don't feel too bad tossing them.

then cut each half into ~ 1/2 inch thick slices. don't they look a little like ribs? weird little alien goblin ribs, maybe? or maybe not. whatever.

just spread the slices on a cookies sheet and drizzle a little olive oil over them - maybe a tablespoon or two. then stick them in the oven for half an hour or so, flipping them after maybe 20 minutes or whenever the bottom sides are browned. while they're cooking, mix up the glaze.

i wanted them to be nice and garlicky, so i minced up two big cloves of garlic. you can use however much you prefer, though. mix this with about a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon and a half or so of soy sauce. you also need a good few shakes of pepper flakes - however much you feel comfortable with. i also used a teaspoon of molasses, but you can skip that if you don't have any. it does add some nice depth, though.

pour the glaze over the sliced squash and stir it around a bit so all the slices get covered. then stick it back in the oven for 5 or 7 minutes - just until it gets nice and sticky and the garlic cooks up. you don't want it to burn, though, so keep an eye on it.

ta da! the glaze melts into the squash a bit and gets kind of candyish. these are good just eaten with your fingers, but you could also have them atop a salad or in a sandwich with some chicken or with rice and greens. you could also use the glaze on other winter squashes, like acorn or something.

*for the curious, other spooky foods included chicken witch's fingers, more witch's fingers made of cheddar-thyme gougères (soon to appear here), broken leg bones of phyllo-wrapped asparagus, pig-in-blanket eyeballs, and other delights. it was a deliciously spoooooky repast.

1 delicata squash

2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
pepper flakes, to taste
1 teaspoon molasses (optional)