Monday, December 31, 2012

chicken liver pâtè and pickled cherries

no doubt you've resolved to start eating better or you're about to begin some new fitness regimen for the new year. that's all well and good, and you should (although you look great now!). but maybe there's still room for pâtè in your newly virtuous life. 

even if there isn't, if you act fast you can have it this year. or it will still be there in february when you start backsliding (well, not you. other people who lack your willpower).

plus, even if pâtè isn't your thing, you should still make the pickled cherries because they are good in other stuff. like... sandwiches? on a cheese plate? even (stay with me here) over ice cream (maybe that's too much)? 

these are stupid-easy and well worth your time. i used frozen cherries, because pitting them is not fun and i didn't have time. however, i think they suffered a bit in terms of texture (they're a little soft, though still totally good), so if pitting cherries is your jam, by all means use fresh.

above are the spices used - crushed red pepper, cloves, coriander seeds, and star anise. mix these, 1/3 cup sugar, 2/3 cup red wine vinegar, and 1 cup of water and bring it to a boil. let it boil for 30 seconds or so, then pour it over a pound or so of frozen cherries.

you actually should probably do this in a more heat-proof container, but the glass jar worked for me. then just refrigerate for a day or so (or at least a couple of hours). delicious! they look very pretty when you put them in a bowl with some of the star anise pods.

they are also a good match for the pâtè. somehow the unctuously rich pâtè goes extremely well with the sweet & sour juiciness of the cherries. they cut the richness a little and add some texture to the whole thing.  

if you've never made it, pâtè is probably a bit daunting. however, it's actually quite easy and cheap to make and tends to be pretty impressive as well, making it a home run for dinner parties or fancy cocktail snacks.

unfortunately the first thing you have to do is clean the livers. gross, but necessary. get all of the weird sinewy things and other stuff out of there. then heat some butter in a medium/smallish pan over medium heat until it begins browning. add chopped shallots and four sprigs of thyme and cook them for a minute or so. then add the livers and some salt, pepper, allspice, and brandy. cook everything for 7 or 8 minutes or until the livers are still just a tiny bit pink in the middle.

let things cool, take out the thyme, and blend with a little cream in a food processor until it's very smooth. if you want it to be more rustic, you can serve it as-is, but i think it's better to press the pâtè through a mesh strainer to ensure that it's smooth. it only takes a minute to do and it's much better - just use a spatula to press it through.

you can serve it immediately or (preferably) let it sit in the fridge for a little bit to let the flavors meld. it's great with crackers or little toasts or the like. adding some cornichons or other pickles to the mix is not a bad idea either.

even if your new year brings resolutions of better living, i hope there's room in there for a little bit of indulgence once in a while. moderation in everything, right?


pickled cherries:
1 pound frozen or fresh sweet cherries
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon whole cloves
5 whole star anise pods
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
1/3 cup sugar (can use more - this will not be terribly sweet)
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup water

5 tablespoons butter
4 sprigs of thyme
2 medium shallots
1/2 teaspoon salt
12-15 grindings black pepper
1/4 teaspoon allspice
3/4 pound chicken livers
2 tablespoons brandy
1/2 cup heavy cream

Thursday, December 13, 2012

apple-oat cake

this isn't one of those showstoppingly lovely tiered cake creations, all perfect smooth crumb-free icing looking down from an ornate pedestal. it's more along the lines of a slightly slumpy ugly duckling cake. however, it's the one that ends up getting enjoyed more in the end, with its soft, sweet apples, delicate crumb, and endearingly cheerful air of just wanting to be pals.

i made this for my good friend's bachelorette party/shower/dinner party thing. now that we are all Mature Ladies in our early 30s, a dinner and a couple of drinks and some low-key hanging out are more the general speed than cheesy veils with novelty accessories and ill-advised trips to LaBare (i should say, however, that i've never actually been to LaBare, so i'm only guessing that it would be ill-advised). 

anyway, the cake made for a sweet and wholesome end to a sweet and wholesome evening.

this looks like a lot of apples, but these little beauties are quite small. all together, there were about 2 1/2 cups, once sliced. these are little jonagolds, and were very good, but any kind(s) of decent baking apple will work. maybe your farmer's market has some?!

so peel and core them, then cut them into fairly thin slices - maybe like 1/8 of an inch or so (but it's not that big a deal - just eyeball it). then toss them with a little acid so they don't oxidize too much. i often use lemon juice, but this time substituted apple cider vinegar to great effect. i think something like balsamic would be gross (?) but champagne vinegar would be nice. or stick with lemon juice. 

i have a bunch of steel cut oats and never really get around to making oatmeal out of them. i decided to make some oat flour to use in the cake because it seemed autumnal somehow. you could, of course, use all regular flour or use whole wheat flour instead of oat or you could even buy oat flour already floured, in case you don't want to run your food processor for 10 minutes.

flour takes longer than i'd expected.

i just let it grind for a minute or so, then pulsed it a bit, then let it go back to grinding. finally the oats achieved a flour-like texture, although it was definitely still a little grainier than store-bought flour. it wasn't a problem in the cake, though. 

the good thing about using the food processor is that you can just add the other dry ingredients to it and mix them all together there, effectively breaking up any gross baking soda lumps.

i guess you should turn on the oven to preheat at 350. now's as good a time as any.

as for the wet, just whisk (or beat with a mixer) 3/4 cup oil, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons bourbon or applejack and 1 egg. you could probably use less sugar, too (i found it pretty sweet, but i like non-sweet desserts, so ?). i also want to try making it with some applesauce or maybe apple cider/juice that's been reduced and concentrated - i could have used a little more apple flavor in the final product, although everyone else thought it was plenty apple-y.

then mix in the dry ingredients, trying not to overstir. add the apple slices and fold them into the batter, trying to keep them relatively intact. 

i used an 8-inch high-sided pan that i buttered and lined with parchment paper as diagrammed in the chocolate-pear cake post. 

you can use other pans - you may have to adjust the cooking time, however. in this iteration, it took about 55 minutes, but ovens vary, etc. basically it should be done when the center is obviously set, it pulls away from the sides of the pan and the top is a rich golden-brown.

somewhere in this cooking time, it would be smart to stick a pan of pecans in to toast so that you have something nice to put on top of the cake. they just take 5 minutes or so, so don't burn them.

the cake takes a while to cool, so let it hang out on a wire rack or something. i ended up topping it with a kind of caramel-y praline-y topping that i made, but unfortunately i didn't write down what i did. and now it's been like a month and i can't remember. BUT i think that any caramel topping would be great, like this or this. or you can leave the topping off and congratulate yourself on your good health and moderation-based sweets attitude. everyone is very impressed.

once the cake's coolish, slap some caramel on there, toss the pecans about with wild abandon, and sprinkle a good pinch of nice flaky salt over everything. 

the more rarefied tastes of the highbrow food-besotted have already deemed salted caramel passé, but in fact it remains very delicious, so who cares if it's on applebee's menus now?

if you happen to have a little tiny bit left over the next morning, the apples and whole grains make a pretty convincing case for having it for breakfast. just fyi.

apple-oat cake
(quite adapted from this, which was itself adapted from a 1973 recipe in the new york times)

3/4 cup oat flour (3.25 ounces steel-cut oats = 1/2 cup)*
3/4 cup regular flour*
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 cup oil**
1/2 cup granulated sugar***
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 - 2 tablespoons bourbon or applejack
1 egg

5 small jonagold apples (~2 1/2 cups, sliced)
1 tsp apple vinegar

8" round pan
45 minutes to an hour

*i've also used all whole wheat pastry flour instead of regular + oat, and it was very good.
** you can definitely use less oil and add some applesauce to make up for it - like 1/3-1/2 cup oil + applesauce (or microplaned apple) to make 3/4 cup total
***you can also cut down on the sugar. this is how i made it initially, but now i'd probably use maybe 1/4 cup granulated sugar instead.
****a note on spices - some people like them in cakes like this (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.). i am not one of those people. but i guess you could toss some in if you like gross things.

listening to: zaz! i have no idea what she's saying, and the kids in this video are a little creepy, but it's fun music to have on while you're cooking.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

stir-fried leafy greens

now that you feel all awesome and self-satisfied about voting (if you're in america, of course. and if you voted - DID YOU?!), you can keep the momentum going by making some healthy vitaminlicious greens for dinner. treat. yo. self.

this is a very basic method that works for all kinds of greens, although the more tender ones like baby spinach or something will take less time than the more brawny specimens. 

we went to the local asian market the other day to get things like japanese curry powder (to finally make katsu kare from scratch!) and pocky. pocky and gummy fruit candies are very necessary, particularly if you're being good and eating your greens.

i feel a little weird saying "asian market," because obviously asia is a gigantic continent with many different cultures and foods. however, this particular market, while leaning mostly toward vietnamese and chinese food (the japanese curry powder was in the "foreign foods" section), bills itself as the "premier asian grocery" of central texas, so whatever, haters. 

we also loaded up on frozen things like edamame and tofu skin (apparently you can make noodley things with it?) and lots of produce, like the adorable and tiny indian eggplants below (that's a reference quarter at the bottom - so tiny!). 

i got a ton of greens and greens-like things, because there's so much more variety than you find at typical supermarkets. the only problem is that they need to be eaten fairly quickly, so i've definitely been getting my nutrients this week. we got little baby bok choys, chinese broccoli (like broccoli rabe, but less bitter/spicy), yu choy (pictured below), and amaranth greens (which are pretty and delicious). 

i hadn't had yu choy before, but it's sort of like bok choy mixed with chinese broccoli. and it has pretty yellow flowers. to stir fry it, i used the basic template i almost always use with greens, which can be dressed up if you're going for the flavors of a particular cuisine.

the basic form is to cook lots of minced garlic and some chili flakes for about 30 seconds in some pretty hot oil, then add the greens and a little liquid and let things cook until the greens are tender (5-10 minutes, depending on heartiness). then if you're making southern-style greens, for instance, you could add some chopped bacon or smoked paprika and diced onion to the garlic/chili flakes mix.

in this case, i wanted to go more chinese in style, so i used about 2/3 garlic to 1/3 minced fresh ginger and added some soy sauce as the greens were cooking. once everything was just about done, i added some leftover cooked rice, toasted sesame seeds, a bit of rice wine vinegar and a little sesame oil.

when you're cooking something with relatively thick stems like this, it's a good idea to put the stem parts in first, let them cook a bit, then add the leaves. that way nothing gets too overcooked. in this case, i just chopped the yu choy into ~1 1/2 - 2 inch sections from the bottom of the stems up through the leaves. i added the stems to the hot pan after the garlic, ginger and chili flakes were getting nice and toasty and let them cook (with a tablespoon or two of water) for a minute or two before adding the leaves and a bit more water. then just let things cook until the greens are tender - this took about 7 or 8 minutes. it's not a big deal if it's not all perfectly separated into stems and leaves, though - think broad strokes.

this is a super-easy and very quick (going from washing the yu choy to eating it took about 10 minutes) and incredibly healthy. it's just what we all need to keep from worrying ourselves sick over this election. fingers crossed!

~ 1 pound greens (yu choy, bok choy, kale, spinach, mustard, chard - ALL the greens are good)
5 - 6 cloves of garlic, minced
~ 1 - 2 tablespoons of minced ginger (i used a coin about a centimeter thick and 1 inch in diameter)
big ol' pinch of chili flakes (to taste)
~ 3 tablespoons water
~ 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce/tamari
1 - 2 teaspoons rice wine (or other) vinegar

the rest is optional, but good:
lots of toasted sesame seeds
~ 1 teaspoon sesame oil
garlic chili sauce
mustard (it's a little weird, but it works. for me.)
leftover rice
some kind of cooked tofu/chicken, etc.

listening to: new mountain goats album! (duh)

Friday, September 21, 2012

indian summer

and now we've come to the weird interstitial time between summer and fall. here in texas, summer doesn't really give up the ghost until november sometimes, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to get out the scarves and start wearing boots again. this year, however, i'm trying to stop and enjoy whatever weather we actually have, since it's been a few years since i've experienced a texas fall.

the greatest thing about autumn in texas is cold fronts. the air will be still and sticky and you can't believe it's late september and then all of a sudden there's an electrical charge in the air and the wind starts blowing briskly from the north and the temperature drops 20 degrees in 20 minutes. it's very exciting.

this drink kind of reminds me of that, since it's full of summery gin and citrus and warming spicy ginger. it's refreshing, but not too light. the ginger and the use of the rinds of the citrus gives the whole thing some heft that's usually lacking in summer cocktails. thus it's perfect for this weird liminal time when you don't know what kind of weather the day will bring.

basically you probably need a food processor for this. all you do is cut the citrus into medium-sized chunks, cut the ginger into coins, and blend the whole thing up with some sugar. process it for a minute or so or until everything's well-blended.

then put the delicious sludgy mass into some cheesecloth to strain it. gather up the edges of the cloth and bring them together (if you don't have cheesecloth you could use a really fine strainer, probably).

then just squeeze the juices out as hard as you can. it's quite therapeutic. 

mix a little gin and some club soda and a few tablespoons of the citrus-ginger syrup (it's pretty thick and intense, so go with your tastes), and you have a friendly but assertive drink to keep by your side as we wave goodbye to summer and hello to fall.

*ingredients* (syrup for 6 - 8 drinks or so)
1 lime
1 lemon
1 small orange (i would spring for organic on all of these, since the rinds get included in the drink. no one wants a pesticide cocktail)
~3 inches of fresh ginger root
3/4 - 1 cup sugar

club soda or tonic

instead of what i'm listening to, here's something else i wrote:
it's about the many (many!) places i've lived over the last few years. also you should probably read the billfold and its friends the awl and the hairpin anyway, because they are good. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

creamy corn soup with zucchini & tomato

first off, please excuse the weird illustrations. i neglected to take any pictures of this delicious soup and so had to draw some things on my phone. this is not quite as easy as you'd think.

nevertheless, hopefully they won't put you off making this soup, because it's quick, easy, and remarkably delicious. mike said that i could make it every day and he wouldn't complain (the subtext of that being that generally he DOES complain. just kidding! he is very easygoing, though he will suffer neither mushrooms nor fools gladly).

the corn here is amazing right now, so it would be great to snap some up and make this asap. out of corn season, i think frozen corn would be okay, but fresh is the only way to go when it's as juicy and sweet as it is now. zucchini and tomatoes are also pretty terrific, making this the epitome of the seasonal! local! eating! thing that everyone's always yapping about.

i also added some leftover grilled salmon, but you could also use chicken or tofu to add protein and bulk it up a little. it's also great with just the vegetables. so adaptable!

first, cut the kernels off of 4 ears of corn. this post regarding a tasty corn salad has a thing about cutting up corn, in case this is foreign to you. then put the cobs in a large pan with about 4 cups of milk. i used 2%, since that's what we keep around for coffee, but whole milk would of course be more decadent and skim more ascetic, so go with your instincts. heat the cob-milk mess over medium-high heat until it starts edging towards boiling, then let the cobs sit in there while you do the rest of the things. i think this just gives the end result a deeper and more complex flavor, but obviously if you're using frozen corn it'll presumably not come with cobs and should still be fine, so if you don't want to mess with this step, just skip it! it's your corn soup party! do what you want!

it's not in the picture, but you should cut an onion into smallish dice. heat up a bit of olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat and add the onion. also chop some garlic into little bits. you can even cut the zucchini and tomato into bite-sized-or-a-little-smaller pieces at this point as well, if you're one of those fancy people with enough room on your cutting board to do so. 

so the onion starts getting translucent fairly quickly and then you can add the garlic and some herbs. i used a small bunch of lemon thyme stems that still had a few leaves on them. it was maybe like 1/2 the size of my thumb (i like to think that i have normal-sized thumbs, if that measurement was unclear) and i changed out the rubber band holding it together for one of those wire bread bag wrapper things from which i removed the paper. maybe you have some kitchen twine or something? just don't melt rubber into your soup and you'll be okay.

i also added a couple of big pinches of dried fines herbes, but pretty much anything not too weird would go well here - marjoram, chives, a little tarragon... (so, like, the things in fines herbes)

then throw the corn in, along with the milk in which the corn cobs have been steeping (sans cobs, obvs). probably some salt and pepper wouldn't be too out of place, either. bring it to a low boil and then turn the heat down to medium-low, so it keeps simmering. let it go for 20 minutes or so. 

at this point i like to blend some of it (like 2/3) up so that the soup has a thicker, creamier texture. you could blend the whole thing like crazy, but i prefer it with some whole kernels. an immersion blender would be best here (avoiding the thyme bundle), but i broke mine a few years ago in an ill-fated margarita disaster, so i made do with the food processor (a regular blender would be better than the processor, leakwise, but i don't have one). 

finally, brown the zucchini in a little olive oil, add some cumin and then the tomato, then add the whole thing to the now-blended soup. ta da! if you have some cooked fish or chicken you could flake/shred/chop it and add it so that it heats through.

don't eat the little bundle of thyme, if you used one.

somehow this ended up tasting almost kind of coconut-y - i guess maybe from the sweetness of the corn? i did use some really superlative corn, so that definitely helps the end result. 

4 ears corn
4 cups milk
1 small bunch thyme - lemon thyme is particularly good (or some dried thyme)
other herbs
1 onion
3 or 4 cloves garlic
1 zucchini
1 tomato
1/2 teaspoon cumin (optional)
cooked fish or chicken (optional)

listening to: my kind of dumb/kind of awesome spotify mix of 90s-ish hip hop/r&b, so like GZA's shadowboxin', 2pac's california love, destiny's child's say my name, and tlc's waterfalls.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

ratatouille cobbler with cheddar biscuit topping

did you know you can make savory cobblers? 

i mean, i am definitely on board with all kinds of sweet cobblers, slumps, grunts, and whatever other semi-icky name people come up with for fruit cooked under a sweet biscuity top layer. for instance, i am currently mourning the loss of the blackberry forest in our old backyard, since a blackberry-lime cobbler is never an unwelcome guest at the table.

but things change and we move on and deal with it. here in texas, late summer means tons of zucchini, tomatoes, and eggplant, so, inspired by memories of cobblers past, i decided to brave the oven and make a ratatouille-type dish with a fluffy, cheesy biscuit topping. 

aren't those eggplants darling? i think all eggplants are pretty lovely, as far as vegetables go, but the color variegation and petite size of these made them especially fetching. apparently they're called antigua eggplants, but i just call them presh. you could use a regular big old purple one, too, although make sure the skin isn't too thick (if it is, you could peel it).

other old friends in the cast of characters include zucchini, tomatoes, onion, garlic, and herbs. apparently traditional ratatouille also has bell peppers, but we didn't have any and i'm not hugely into cooked bell peppers anyway, so i didn't miss them. you could certainly add one or two to the mix if you like.

basically just chop everything into smallish bite-sized pieces (except the garlic. that should be more minced-y). mine were probably all less than 1/2" square. you don't have to be too methodical about it, though. first, heat up (over medium-high heat) a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a large oven-proof pan. an enameled casserole pan is perfect for this (i used the rachael ray one that i got at goodwill and am somewhat embarrassed by, even though it's actually pretty great). 

you don't want to skimp too much on the oil because it adds a nice velvety mouthfeel (sorry, "mouthfeel" is kind of a gross word) to the finished dish. once it's shimmery, add the onion and let it cook for perhaps 5+ minutes, stirring occasionally, until it gets translucent and a little bit brown. then add the garlic and cook for about 30 - 45 seconds before adding the zucchini. once that's cooked down a bit (4 or 5 minutes, maybe), add the eggplant, then the tomatoes. at this point you can also add some salt, which will help the vegetables release some of their juices. 

you should also add some herbs now - i used fresh lemon thyme and italian parsley, along with a big pinch of dried fines herbes. herbes de provence are more traditional, and fresh basil would be more than welcome as well. a few chili flakes and some grindings of pepper aren't a bad idea, either.

at this point, the vegetables should be pretty tender, but not completely cooked to mush. take the pan off the burner and let it hang out while you make the biscuit topping. this is also a good point to start preheating the oven (450 degrees).

these biscuits are dead easy. i modified my normal biscuit recipe slightly, adding cheese and using milk alone, since we didn't have any yogurt. also, instead of rolling them out, i just dropped them in dollops across the top of the vegetables.

you can grate the cheese, but i like chopping it into little bits (as above) so that you get little tasty pockets of cheese in each bite. this is a great way to use up random bits of cheese that may be knocking around your refrigerator - i used a couple of kinds of sharp cheddar, but pretty much any not-too-soft, flavorful cheese would be good - gruyere or gouda, etc.

mix the dry topping ingredients, cut in the butter (with your fingers, a pastry cutter, or in a food processor), then add the cheese, then the milk. try not to mix it too much at this point so they don't get tough. then just dollop the biscuits over the vegetables as above. 

bake uncovered for about 20 minutes or until the biscuits are browned and cooked through. the vegetable mixture will bubble up while it's baking, so it's not a bad idea to place the dish on a ridged sheet pan to keep your oven from getting too messy.

be sure to let things cool down for at least 20 minutes or so before eating - it'll be super-hot. i actually liked it best at just a little warmer than room temperature - that way you can taste all of the flavors better. plus, who wants to eat a hot dish when it's 100 degrees out? no one, that's who.

1 large onion
lots of garlic (i used about 3 tablespoons, minced)
2 large zucchini
3 small eggplants (or 1 large)
3 medium tomatoes (or 2 large)
herbs (3+ tablespoons fresh +/or a couple of teaspoons dried)
(**if you like a thicker sauce around the vegetables, you could add a slurry of ~ 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water to the vegetable mix before putting the topping on. i thought it was fine with a thinner sauce)

2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter
~ 1/3 - 1/2 cup cheese, chopped or grated
1 cup milk (or buttermilk or milk/yogurt mixture)

listening to: bishop allen + the rosebuds

Thursday, August 16, 2012

multi-herb ad hoc pesto

wow, the last few weeks have been intense. at the end of july i flew to austin, took the bar exam, and flew back to portland, only to immediately pack up our whole house, say some flurried goodbyes (including a really fantastic happy hour(s) at victory bar with a bunch of the portland people that i already miss the most), and drive the almost 2000 miles back to austin.

the drive back was long, but pretty awesome on the whole. utah was way more gorgeous than i expected it to be and the animals (FIVE, plus the two or us, in a toyota matrix piled high with our stuff!) were actually very well-behaved. i think in the end, though, it was the mix cds mike made and the endless quoting of arrested development that got us through the rougher stretches. 

we've been here for almost two weeks now and things are finally starting to feel more normal. we still don't have much furniture, but the internet works and the gas (finally we have a gas stove again!) is hooked up, so i'm happy. 

after the weeks of being without a functional kitchen, it's great to be able to just whip something up on a whim, like this ad hoc pesto. i got a giant bunch of basil at the farmers' market last week and it was starting to get a little frazzly, so i'd been thinking of pesto anyway, but this post on food52 was just the impetus i needed to actually put it together.  

some of the basil was getting pretty scroungy-looking, so i used what i could salvage and added cilantro and parsley to bulk up the green quotient (and add some extra complexity). i just put a few washed handfuls in the food processor with some garlic and a little olive oil and blended it up. 

once it was getting smooth, i added some parmesan cheese and some toasted almonds. i like pine nuts in pesto, too, but we more often have almonds around and also i've read those things about pine nuts making your mouth all weird (PINE MOUTH!!!) and no thank you. finally, i added some lemon zest and juice and a little water (maybe this is sacrilege?) to brighten and thin it out.

using multiple herbs in pesto makes it more interesting (although i love regular pesto as well) and ensures that you don't have to have giant bushels of basil every time you want to make it. some arugula (of course, an all-arugula pesto is also nice) or other herbs like tarragon or marjoram would probably be good additions, too, and you could also try adding things like celery leaves or carrot tops or really whatever kind of greens you have around. i'm not promising it'll be good, but it will be yours. live a little!

you can use this on pasta (or a cold pasta salad) or fish or in a sandwich or on pizza. you can thin it even more with extra lemon juice and some more water and call it salad dressing. it was fantastic on the simple romaine salad with little sweet tomatoes and shavings of ricotta salata above, for instance. using it in a composed salad of heirloom tomatoes and burrata or mozzarella wouldn't be totally crazy, either.

now that we're edging toward the end of a long and fairly rigorous summer, it's nice to be able to slow down a little and enjoy some of the season's great produce. it's also nice to be home.

*ingredients* (approximate - this is really flexible)
1 big handful cilantro (like a cup?)
1 big handful parsley (i used flat-leafed, but you can probably use whatever)
2 big handfuls basil 
1-3 medium cloves of garlic (depending on your tolerance/love for raw garlic)
1/4 cup or so olive oil
1/3 - 1/2 cup toasted almonds
1/3 - 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (~1 ounce or so? again, to taste)
zest and juice from 1/2 lemon (~ 1 - 2 tablespoons juice)
water, to thin to taste
salt, to taste

Thursday, August 9, 2012

chocolate & berry pavlova

pavlova. paaavloooooova. doesn't it sound fancy and delicious and elegant and maybe a little exotic? that's pretty much how it tastes, too. also, it's fruity and fresh and comes together really quickly, but looks like a million bucks. thus, it is the perfect summer dessert.

pavlovas basically consist of a large meringue shell with whipped cream and berries sunning themselves on top. they're named after russian ballerina anna pavlova, so you needn't start thinking of drooling dogs, although they are apt to inspire anticipatory salivating when you behold their resplendency.

a meringue, as you are no doubt aware, is basically whipped egg whites 'n' stuff. i had a bunch of leftover egg whites after making ice cream, so this was a great way to use them up. i had frozen them and then just let them come to room temperature before beating them and it worked a treat. first things first - preheat the oven to 350 (~ 180 celsius).

i based the recipe off the incomparable nigella lawson's, but had to adjust a couple of things due to too many egg whites and an inability to keep from tinkering. i had 8 egg whites, so i upped the other things accordingly. 

i also apparently lost all my math skills somewhere along the line, because i added more chocolate than i should have. it was still good, and it made for a nice deeply chocolatey bottom to the meringue, but when i make it again, i'll use less - it kind of overpowered the berries and cream. and that is unacceptable.

when you make a meringue, it won't get properly whipped-y unless there's no yolk and no grease on the bowl or first make sure your egg whites are at room temperature and that they don't have any bits of yolk in them. actually, i just looked this up and there are differences of opinion on the room temperature/cold issue. so i guess do whatever? mine were room temperature and they were fine.

the no-oil/fat thing is pretty universally acknowledged, though. you need to use a metal or glass bowl because it's really difficult to get plastic clean enough. so just put the eggs in there and turn the mixer on medium for a minute or so, then increase the speed to high and let the whites mix and fluff for perhaps 3-5 minutes or until they form soft peaks. here's a little visual of soft vs other peaks.

then add the sugar a little at a time while still mixing away. keep on a'mixin' until the soft peaks become stiff and shiny. pretty! then you can fold in the cocoa and chopped chocolate and vinegar. vinegar - weird, i know. apparently it works to stabilize the meringue and keep it all together, much like cream of tartar, which a lot of meringue recipes call for. but i don't think anyone really keeps cream of tartar on hand (i certainly don't), so vinegar is a much easier substitute.

for folding everything in, you just want to do it gently so that the fluff doesn't evaporate. here's a video that shows how, but basically just use a rubber spatula and do it softly so that things are mixed properly but you don't lose the air that you just added to the egg whites.

then just flop it gently onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and spread it flattish to maybe an inch thick or a little less. you could also make baby individual ones, which would be awfully pretty and fancy. but a big one is large, in charge, and impressive. so do what you like. the size won't change too much during cooking, but if you make smaller ones, try to get at least a couple of inches between each. 

then bake it! you've preheated the oven, but now as soon as you put the meringue in, you need to turn it down to 300 (150 celsius). then just forget about it for a little bit and go about your day. perhaps you could paint your nails or do a jigsaw puzzle. just kidding! jigsaw puzzles are the worst. read a book or something. 

after about an hour and 15 minutes or perhaps a bit more, it should look like the above - it doesn't matter if it gets all cracky - that's part of the charm. rustic! basically it should be dry on the top but you can tell that its insides hold softer chocolatey secrets. 

let that puppy cool and wash your mixing bowl so you can make some delicious whipped yogurt-cream. also put your mixing bowl and mixing whisk attachment thingy in the freezer because whipped cream is kind of the opposite of meringue in that it works best if everything is quite cold. then just mix up 2 cups of heavy cream on high, then add maybe 1/3 cup of powdered sugar when it starts getting whipped-y. you really don't need much sugar here, so just use a little and taste and adjust accordingly. powdered sugar is supposed to keep it more stable, but you can use regular sugar if you're going to eat it right away. once the cream is sufficiently whipped (soft peaks or whatever texture you like - you know what whipped cream looks like), fold in 1/3 - 1/2 cup whole greek yogurt. you can actually skip this if you like, but i think the tangy note that you get with the yogurt really adds a lot to the final result. otherwise you can just use boring old delicious freshly whipped cream.

finally, it's berry time! i used raspberries AND blackberries, because it was the fourth of july and it seemed more patriotic, but probably any berries would be good. maybe not mulberries. those things are weird. 

when you're ready to eat, pile the meringue with clouds of whipped cream and hearty handfuls of juicy berries. then you can shave some chocolate over the top if you like. honestly, i am not the most chocolate-oriented person, so i would probably skip that next time, but it was devoured with aplomb nonetheless, so whatevs. 

this was a great and (despite the length of this description) easy summer dessert that looks fancy and tastes light and refreshing (despite the CUPS of whipped cream). it easily fed 8+ with leftovers, so it's great for a potluck or other party situation.

whether you accompany it with bb gun target practice in a sunny portland backyard (as we did) is up to you.

meringue base:
8 egg whites
1 3/4 cups granulated sugar
4 tablespoons sifted cocoa powder (i normally don't sift, but that stuff gets lumpy!)
1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar (i used red wine vinegar, but i don't think it matters much as long as it isn't like tarragon vinegar or something weird)
~ 2 - 3 ounces chocolate, chopped (again, i used more like 3, but would use less next time)

whipped yogurt-cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sifted powdered sugar (see: cocoa/lumpiness otherwise)
1/3 - 1/2 cup greek yogurt

lots and lots of berries! (i used maybe 3 or 4 cups. this is not a time for precise measurements)

listening to: passion pit and wolf parade

Sunday, July 8, 2012

garlicky green beans, almonds, hard-boiled eggs

this is a quick post for a very quick and easy dish. seared green beans with blackened-y bits, lots of garlic, crunchy almonds, and just-right hard-boiled eggs come together in no time flat to make a hearty side dish, potluck favorite, or a light dinner for these summer dog days.

of course i shouldn't complain, living in relatively cool portland, but even 90 degrees feels hot when there's no a/c and fuzzy animals insist on wrapping themselves around you at all times. we've been keeping cool by eating lots of salad dinners and refrigerator scroungings and thinking cooling thoughts of arctic breezes. 

i don't even want to think about how i'm going to deal with being back in texas (in AUGUST, no less). lots of complaining and praising of central air conditioning, i guess.

anyway, this is simplicity itself. heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a large pan on pretty high heat (like 8 out of 10 high). the heat is important because you want to get the beans nicely singed - it makes them way more flavorful. once the oil's shimmery, add about a pound of trimmed green beans.

let them sit for a minute or two, then you can stir every minute or so. don't get too crazy with the stirring - you want them to develop those nice black spots. they'll take 5 -6 minutes total. while that's happening, you can start the eggs. i don't know where i heard this, but the best way i've found to cook hard-boiled eggs is to cover them with about an inch of water, put them on high, let it boil for 1 minute, then take them off the heat and let them sit for 10 minutes before cooling them off in an ice bath. it's always worked really well for me and avoids that chalkiness and grey yolk layer that makes people hate them.

when the beans are just about tender (grab one out and nibble it, if you like), add a few big pinches of salt and 3-6 minced cloves of garlic. we are huge garlic people, so i err on the side of lots. you can go ahead and take the pan off the heat and just stir the garlic and beans around a bit so that the garlic loses its rawness. then after a minute or so, put them in a bowl with the juice of half a lemon and a handful of chopped italian parsley. or regular parsley. i'm not sure there's much of a difference.

this is best at room temperature, so once you're ready to eat, add perhaps 1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds, more salt if it needs it, and some chopped up eggs. you can make it look nicer if you make each plate up individually, but i also like adding the eggs to the bowl because the yolks add kind of a creaminess to the whole thing.

regardless, it takes about 15 minutes total and it's actually really filling and tasty. you could also add like grilled chicken to it if you wanted, but personally i think it's kind of creepy to eat chicken and eggs together.

but maybe that's just me.

1 pound green beans (asparagus would also be good!)
3-6 cloves garlic
handful parsley
1/2 cup or so toasted almonds
3? eggs (i don't know - maybe like an egg per person?)
tomatoes would not be half bad, either

listening to: now that chicken and egg together thing made me think of paul simon's mother and child reunion. so that.