Friday, January 28, 2011
Is it rude of me to tell you about this cake right as your January health goals are catching steam? Just as you’re hitting the gym more and contemplating that maybe celery isn’t that bad after all? Maybe. But I’m a strong believer that certain foods feed the parts of us that aren’t concerned with antioxidants, saturated fat content or dietary fiber. The foods that not only tickle our taste buds but nourish our hearts: this is one of those foods. You’re going to want to go out on several intimate dates with it, and then immediately introduce it to your extended family. It’s a keeper.
It’s also ludicrously simple. And you know I wouldn’t ever say that about a baked good unless I really meant it and had done the research. I made this cake twice in a two day period and on the second go round, I barely even had to glace at the directions. It has but five ingredients, dirties only one bowl and tastes like it ought to be served at the Ritz. You don’t even need a mixer. I used a FORK! See what I’m talking about? Cancel your match.com subscription, this is the One.
The recipe author tells a very sweet, heartfelt story in her book about how this cake got its name and how, eventually, this was the cake she made (herself!) and served at her wedding. The story is wonderful, but for me, it was the practice of putting this cake together that sold me. Normally I make a cake or a cookie recipe once, 50% of the time it’s decent and the other 50% it’s a total dud (hi, liquid pie much?) and then I never make it again. Not sure if you missed it above, but I made this TWICE in two days. It’s a big winner.
WINNING HEARTS and MINDS CAKE
From My Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenburg*
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 ¾ sticks unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
1 cup plus 2 tbs. granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1 tbs. unbleached all-purpose flour
Optional: lightly sweetened whipped cream, for serving
*Seriously, who else? Honestly at this point she might have to get a restraining order against me.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter an 8 inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a circle of parchment paper, and butter the paper as well. To cut the circle, simply trace your pan with a pen on the parchment and cut just slightly inside your drawn circle with scissors, trimming if necessary.
Place the chocolate and butter in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave on high 30 seconds at a time, stirring often to distribute the heat until just smooth. (I think, if I remember correctly, I went through about 4 or 5 30-second cycles, stirring in between each one thoroughly). When the mixture is smooth, add the sugar, stirring well to incorporate. Set the batter aside to cool for five minutes, then add the eggs one by one, stirring completely after each addition. Add the flour and stir to mix well, the batter should be smooth and silky. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until the top is slightly cracked and the edges are puffed. About 25 minutes in a normal oven; however in mine it took almost 35. It’s done when the center jiggles only slightly, if at all when you give the pan a little shake.
Remove the cake to a cooling rack and let cool for 15 minutes. Carefully turn the cake out of the pan onto a plate, then placing your fingers between as a brace between, so as not to smoosh the cake in transit, place your serving plate, face down on top and then invert the plates so that the serving plate is on bottom and the cake appears now, face up on your serving plate. Dust with confectioner's sugar, like I have here; serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream or ice cream (on Christmas I served it with peppermint stick) OR eat it as I do with a tiny sprinkle of sea salt on top. Salty+Sweet=4eva. True love conquers all.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
I love me some Asian food. Pretty much from any far reaching corner of the great continent. Indian? Ooooh, Namaste. Thai? Yes please! Japanese? Domo Arogato, Mr. Roboto. “Chinese” accompanied with drinks wrapped in plastic leis and garnished with crepe paper dolphins? Holla! Before my taste buds ripened to adult capacity I was pretty picky, but these days if I’m dining out or taking food home, I’m usually sopping up saag with a little naan or firing down some Thai basil Drunken Noodles. If my dad and I go out for dinner our default choice is to warm our blood streams with sake as we make jokes over a gorgeous platter of sushi.
I love how dishes are sometimes called the most ridiculous thing like Good Luck Fun Beef and Super Golden Chicken. Life would be better if we described everything like a Thai food menu. “Hey how was your day?” “Meh. It was strange sounding chicken, but there’s always tomorrow for it to be #1 good luck.” At my favorite Thai joint they have a chicken dish called “XTREME!” (capitalization and exclamation point theirs). All I can think of is Harold and Kumar when I see that and it makes me smile every time. I haven’t tried the dish, but I’m sure it’s totally extreme.
The problem with me is that I can’t just go out to eat and be done with it. I need to learn how to make the food myself. It’s an annoying habit, but it’s just the way I am. My mom has always made really great stir-frys. Stirfrys? Stirfries? Whatever. She has the touch and she usually does her best work with a little help from a jarred or bottled sauce. LaChoy brought the Far East to our Massachusetts kitchen long ago and in recent years a Taste of Thai or Annie Chun’s (I think that’s her name) sauces have put the finishing touches on a big skillet filled with veggies, and beef or chicken. There is nothing. I repeat NOTHING wrong with getting your stir fry on with a good bottled sauce. I mean really, I don’t advocate food snobbery on here and I certainly don’t advocate going out and buying 17 random ingredients from the Asian market just to try and make a stir fry you’re going to eat one night for dinner. But I wondered if I could do it without the premade sauce.
My reasoning for reaching outside the bottle was three fold: (1) I hate waste. And whenever I buy a bottle of a stir fry sauce I use a quarter of it and then it languishes inside my refrigerator door for the next 3 years until I finally get grossed out enough by its presence to throw it out; (2) these sauces are expensive. They’re like, $5.00 a bottle and you can really only use it for a single purpose! and (3) they have a lot of sodium and/or corn syrup in them. Why do you think they taste tangy, salty and delicious? So, was there a simple way to get some kickin’ ethnic flavors into my decidedly American kitchen? There was and I’m here to share with you.
You may have to seek out a couple of these ingredients, so be forewarned. However, most are condiments that keep, in the cupboard or the fridge for a long, long time. AND, they can be used in many other dishes, so they aren’t single purpose solutions. I had everything except for ginger already at my house. All I had to buy was the tofu and the veggies and it was Stir Fry Central. If you need to purchase these things, I found everything I used here at the regular grocery store (in the Asian food aisle) or Trader Joes (they have the cheapest soy sauce and sesame oil). Also, when I told my sister I had sesame seeds stocked in my kitchen she was like “wow, fancy.” and then I told her where I got them: Target. Yup. They have sesame seeds there.
So yes, this is a tofu stir fry. I know that people hate all up on tofu and I’m not going to lie and say that it’s everyone’s cup of tea. I myself have mocked this humble soy product. And I myself have eaten some pretty crappy tofu in my life. Tofu needs a little bit of TLC to taste good, but if you adhere to a few simple rules, it can taste delicious. It’s very healthy and performs like a little flavor sponge soaking up whatever you’re cooking it in and taking on its flavor completely. If you were looking to try your hand at cooking tofu, the method I outline here might change some of your presumptions. BUT if you’re unconvinced, the recipe would work perfectly using only vegetables; or using chicken or even lean beef. Whatever tickles your fancy. If you are cooking with chicken or beef, make sure they are cut into small pieces and cook the protein in the pan first, then take it out and tent some foil over it while you fry up the veggies, when you’re ready to add the sauce, add your protein back to the pan and stir everything together.
TOFU and VEGGIE STIR FRY
Vegetable or canola oil (about 2 tbs.)
One small ginger root, peeled and minced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
About 2 tbs. sesame seeds (optional)
½ cup salted, roasted peanuts, chopped (optional)
2-3 tablespoons rice vinegar
3-4 tablespoons soy sauce
1-2 tsp. sesame oil
1-2 tsp. honey
Pinch sugar (if needed)
One package extra firm tofu, pressed and marinated
Snow peas (about 1 ½ cups)
One red bell pepper, sliced or chopped
One medium onion, sliced into strips or chopped
Cremini or button mushrooms, cleaned and chopped (about 1-2 cups)
2-3 scallions, chopped
I know that this looks like a lot already, but once your initial prep is done, this dish comes together in minutes. The first thing you will need to do is press your tofu to remove some of the moisture. Remove it from its packaging, discard the water and place on a plate with a big enough lip to hold some fluid in. Place tofu on the plate and stack a few other kitchen plates on top. Let sit for at least 15 minutes. When it’s done you can discard any water that has purged and marinate the tofu for a bit. For my marinade, I cut the tofu into chunks and placed it in a Tupperware with a few generous shakes of soy sauce, a small drizzle of sesame oil and 2 or 3 cloves of garlic. Then I let it hang in my fridge, turning every once in a while, until I was ready to cook.
If you are serving this dish over rice, check how long your rice takes and if it takes 40 minutes, like mine, start the rice first. Then, clean and chop all of your vegetables and set them aside. Prepare the ingredients for your sauce; solids first. Peel ginger with a regular vegetable peeled and mince it as you would garlic, just not as small. Set aside, alongside the garlic, sesame seeds, peanuts and chopped scallions. Remove tofu from the fridge and set a stir fry pan or non stick skillet over medium high heat with vegetable or canola oil in it. Heat oven to 375.
When the skillet is good and hot add the tofu with some, but not all of its marinating liquid. Let tofu brown on each side a bit. When it’s browned, remove it from the skillet onto a cookie sheet and place it in the oven. While you cook the rest of your stir fry, the tofu will continue to crisp up a bit in the oven. If necessary, add a touch more oil to the pan. Cook onions and peppers first, stirring frequently, add mushrooms and sauté an additional few minutes, until the mushrooms have wilted a bit and purged a little of their liquid. Another few minutes.
Add the ginger, garlic and scallions, stirring together for a minute, then add the soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar and honey. If you’d like, you can stir the liquid ingredients of your sauce together in a small bowl prior to adding it to the skillet, but it’s not necessary. Now, stir in the snow peas and take the tofu out of the oven and add it back to the pan. Taste test one of your vegetables to see if you like the balance of the sauce. If necessary add a little more soy (for salt), vinegar (for tang) or honey (for sweetness). Add peanuts and sesame seeds and serve immediately over brown or white rice.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
So, it snowed here. Like, a lot. And I got a real, live snow day just like back when I was young. So what did I do with this gift of time off? Did damage in the kitchen, of course. Oh, I also shoveled wet, heavy snow like a mofo and also braved the snowpocalypse to go get a manicure. Because apparently, although the whole Commonwealth was in a state of emergency the only people required to report to work yesterday were emergency medical personnel and the lady who does nails at Nails & Spa on Gallivan Boulevard in Dorchester. Don’t worry we tipped her like a million dollars (or ten) for risking her life to provide vital cuticle care in this time of inclement weather.
So what else did I do besides exploiting the one poor soul who had to work yesterday? I made chili. A white bean and chicken chili to be exact. I’ve had thoughts about this kind of chili for a long time now and I figured what better time than a snowstorm to turn the idea into a reality. The kind of reality I can eat garnished with shredded cheese and pickled jalapenos while I wear sweatpants all day long. Yee haw.
I have to confess I’m normally “just not that into” chili. The regular red kind with the kidney beans and hamburg and all that. In fact, even the black bean chili I made on here before, I really wasn’t head over heels for. I think I like chili in as much as I like the melted cheese which garnishes it and then as for the rest of the cup, I could take it or leave it. BUT, I love white beans and I love chicken, so I had a feeling if there ever was any kind of chili that I would feel a little more smitten with, it would be this kind.
CHIPOTLE CHICKEN CHILI with PICKLED JALAPENOS
For the chili:
White beans*, either two 16 ounce cans or one bag of dried beans, cooked through
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs or comparable amount of ground chicken
One large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
Approx. 2 tbs. (or more) ground cumin
Approx. 2 tbs. (or more) ground coriander
1 can corn kernels, drained
32 ounce container chicken stock, or comparable amount of homemade stock
2 tbs. chipotle paste**
For the pickled jalapenos:
One small, clean glass jar
2 jalapenos, seeded or not, sliced into thin rounds
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup water
1 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
Few pieces of lemon peel
Peppercorns (I used pink)
*I cooked dried white beans for this recipe. Which took up about 4 hours of time. If you’ve got the time, they are less salty than canned beans and cheaper (as if that’s even possible) to boot. Rather than soaking them overnight, because I am truly terrible at planning ahead, I covered them with cold water and brought them to a boil, then turned the burner off and let them soak for an hour. Then I drained and rinsed them, returned them to the pot and covered them again with cold water, brought them to a boil and then turned the heat to a simmer for about 2-3 hours. I then let them just hang on low until I was ready to add them to my chili. The extra time on low allowed them to get creamy and delicious and I think really added to the chili. BUT, if you’re not trynta hear this method because you don’t have a spare four hours to chill at your house, just buy two cans of white beans a/k/a Great Northern Beans a/k/a Cannellini beans, I don’t know why they have more aliases than Puff Daddy, they just do.
**Chipotle peppers in adobo can be found at most specialty grocery stores. They are not easy to find at say, Stop and Shop, but they do have them in the ethnic aisle at Whole Foods. Take the whole can and puree it in your blender or cuisinart and voila, chipotle puree. After using, you can store the paste in your freezer. I have already gotten two uses out of one can of pureed peppers, so saving it is really worthwhile. Especially since the first time I bought it I had to go to two or three stores before I found it. I dislike high maintenance ingredients. So once you have some, preserve it and use it again, it doesn’t lose any of its punch by being frozen and defrosted.
Okay, back to the recipe: originally, I bought the jalapenos to maybe add to the chili itself and then come yesterday morning as I eyed them on my kitchen counter I thought I might be pushing it with too much heat. I like spice but I don’t like atomic. I did want to use them though, so I figured I would take a chance on seeing if my quick pickle recipe would work on them. These are completely optional, as the chili can stand on its own, or you could use a more traditional garnish like some crunched up tortilla chips or say some chopped avocado and a dollop of sour cream.
If you want to make pickled jalapenos but you don’t want them to be super spicy, you could scrape out about half the seeds from the middle of the peppers before slicing your rounds. I did not and they are intensely spicy, but delicious all the same. I made these in the morning, and by dinner time when my chili was done, they were pretty pickle-y tasting but still had a nice crunch.
Combine vinegar, water, salt sugar and lemon peel in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and let boil to dissolve sugar and salt. This happens quickly, so stay nearby. Once dissolved, remove the pan from heat and let cool slightly. Meanwhile, slice your jalapenos, discarding the stem end of each pepper and keeping all, or only half of the seeds with the peppers. Remember to take caution when cutting hot peppers. Maybe use gloves and make sure you wash your hands thoroughly afterwards and don’t touch your eyes (or your genitals- like if you go to the bathroom, sickos- true story, happened to someone I know) after cutting and handling hot peppers. How did I end up here at genitals? Okay moving on. Place your sliced peppers in a jar and pour the vinegar mixture over to cover. Add peppercorns and clamp the lid on. Let sit at room temperature, or refrigerate. I think these should keep in the fridge for at least a week or two.
On to the main event. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onion and sauté for about 8-10 minutes. Then push the onion over to one side and add your chicken. I used thighs, because I love how they are inexpensive and don’t tend to dry out or get stringy. You could certainly use ground chicken, or skip the chicken altogether, use vegetable stock and make this a vegetarian chili. If using thighs, while your onions are cooking, coarsely chop them into bite sized chunks and then salt and pepper generously. Add chicken to pot, stirring occasionally, browning on all sides. Don’t fret about cooking the chicken through at this point, it will have plenty of time to cook once you add the remainder of your ingredients.
At this point, you can add the garlic, cumin, coriander and some salt and pepper. As for the amounts on the spices, I would venture to guess I used about 2 heaping tablespoons of both the cumin and coriander. I used my palm, so exact measurements I’m not sure. So, uh, a palm full of each. And then a dash more after a taste test, stir everything together then add the beans, stock, corn and chipotle paste. Let the whole mixture come to a light boil and then turn the heat down to medium or medium low and let it hang out for a while. You could probably serve it immediately; I let mine simmer for about 40 minutes, before turning it down just to low until I was ready to eat it.
Serve with a sprinkle of shredded cheese and a couple pickled jalapenos. I can’t wait to find out what it tastes like today. Last night it was really good, but you know all soup and soup like things get better after a day or two in the fridge.
For a more hands off version of this recipe, I’m pretty sure you could make the whole shebang in your Crock Pot. I’m not sure what the setting or the time would be but take a look around the internet and see. If you find a chili recipe for the slow cooker, just use their suggestions. If I were making this in my Crock I would brown the chicken and onions first to add that extra layer of flavor, and then put everything into the bowl of my cooker and let it work its magic while I was at work or out sledding or something.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Oh maaaan, Jess, lentil soup aggaaaaain? Hear me out. Your only other options right now are Egg Nog Bread Pudding, Chocolate Cake or Homemade Peanut Butter Cups, as these are the other recipes I’ve got in the queue. Is that what you want the first week of January? Is it? Huh?? I didn’t think so. Now I don’t believe you need a New Year’s Resolution to make a change in your life, but I do believe that by this time of year our collective glycemic indexes are crying uncle and the sweet tooth is ready to take a well earned week off. Whether you start the year off resolving to change your diet or not, it is the perfect week to add something truly healthy to your arsenal, is it not? This recipe is easy, healthy and cheap. You cannot beat this combination right now. All December long our schedules and mouths are packed full and our wallets are drained and emptied; it’s time to reverse the cycle.
This soup is indeed very healthy but yet…intriguing (eyebrows raise), thanks to the earthiness of pungent curry and the slight tang of lemon. It’s a thick and hearty soup that will stick to your ribs like a bowl of mashed potatoes without any of the quilt of well, eating a bowl of mashed potatoes.
I know that not that long ago I crowed from the rooftops about a red lentil soup that was slightly similar so I’m sorry if I’m boring you. But right now it’s January, it’s freezing (if you live near me) and it’s time to fight back against the deluge of sweets and cheese plates that assaulted us from November until now. I have to tell you I have made this soup twice in the past month or so and the first time I licked the bowl. Seriously. Don’t worry I was at my house by myself so it wasn’t awkward for anyone else.
This recipe is from my favorite girl crush of all time, Molly Wizenburg. I have read every blog entry she has ever posted, laughed and cried over her cookbook/memoir, A Homemade Life and every month, when my Bon Appétit arrives in the mailbox, I turn straight to her column to see what she’s cooked up there. I’m a little obsessed. It’s almost creepy at this point, but just to be clear, when Molly says this lentil soup is good, I know with complete confidence that she would not lead me astray. I can trust her, which is more than I can say for a lot of recipes that fly around out there. Additionally, when I read her article in last month’s Bon Appétit where she wrote about this soup I was fascinated by the addition of a chickpea puree, essentially almost a hummus, as the thickening agent. I don’t know if you know about us and hummus but it’s like currency at our house. If we’re out we flounder in front of the fridge lost and confused. It’s a staple to put it lightly (right now we have two party sized tubs I anticipate will last until probably Saturday) We HEART chickpeas. So as you can gather the opportunity to try out a lentil soup with chickpea puree was something that simply had to happen. And we weren’t disappointed in the least.
CURRIED LENTIL SOUP
(from Bon Appétit)
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 small or ½ large onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, minced, divided
1 cup French lentils*
2 tablespoons (or more)** Curry Powder
4 cups water
1 can chickpeas
1-2 tbs. lemon juice
2 tbs. butter
*French lentils are dark green and can be found in the bulk bean section of most grocery stores. And don’t worry even though they sound fancy, they’re not expensive. I bought a container for I think $2.77 and was able to make two pots of this soup out of ‘em.
**I’m a bit of a spice slut, so I used way more. It was delicious but my house smelled like a Mumbai taxi cab for four days, so be forewarned.
Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Add carrot and onion and sauté for a few minutes until softened. Add half of the garlic and sauté another minute. Sprinkle in curry powder and stir everything together until fragrant (about another minute) add water and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and let cook until lentils are tender (about 25-30 minutes).
While the lentils cook, get out your trusty food processor and make your chickpea paste. Drain and rinse one can of chickpeas and then dump them in your Cuis’, drizzle a little olive oil (about 1-2 tbs.), lemon juice and the remainder of your chopped garlic. Puree until it looks a bit like hummus. Check your lentils for tenderness, if they are ready, simply add the chickpea puree and the butter to the pot and stir everything together to combine. Serve garnished with chopped scallions and a wedge of lemon for squeezing over, if you wish.