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