Archive for September, 2011

Lima Bean Falafel

Falafel is one of those incredibly simple dishes that I never make from scratch, because the boxed stuff is perfectly tasty and takes about 40 seconds to make.

Of course, when you’re trying to convince a slightly picky Mr. B that he will, in fact, like lima beans if he just tries them, these are probably the way to go. As a bonus, they’re quite tasty and filling. I like that they’re green on the inside, and just a tad spicy.

I know one generally stuffs falafel into pita bread, but that always seemed a bit heavy to me. These are, however, delightful with braised lamb.

Ingredients (serves 4)

2 cups lima beans

1 egg

2 t cumin

1 t cayenne

1 T salt

handful of basil (or your preferred herb)

oil, for deep-frying

Directions

Cook the lima beans and pour them into the bowl of a food processor.

Pulse them for a few seconds, then add the basil.

Pulse a few seconds more to incorporate. This would be a good time to move everything to a bowl in order to avoid over-processing the lima beans. I didn’t do that. Add the egg, cumin, cayenne, and salt.

Mix all the ingredients until fully incorporated, preferably with a spoon.

Wet your hands to prevent sticking and form the lima bean concoction into 14-16 balls.

Heat the oil in a deep pot over medium-high heat. Fry the falafel in small batches to avoid overcrowding. They need about 3-4 minutes to cook, until they are a deep, warm brown.

Serve with pita and tzatziki or a lovely serving of braised lamb shank.

These are very solid and hearty. Honestly, I ate four of them and about two bites of lamb, and I was completely stuffed.

If I’d realized how easy it was to make these, I probably would have given up on the boxed ones ages ago. As comfort foods go, falafel probably ranks only just below macaroni and cheese, and they’re virtually guilt-free to boot.

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Sweet Potato Pancakes and Cinnamon Roll Syrup

You know what’s awful?

No, not the pancakes. Those are freaking glorious. I mean, you should probably stop whatever you’re doing and make these, right now, for dinner if necessary, because they are the tastiest pancakes that have ever existed and you’ll never forgive yourself if you wait another day to make them.

The awful thing is that I made these almost two weeks ago. I ate them almost two weeks ago. And in the intervening time, I’ve done very little besides work and watch TV shows and dip various fruits in the leftover cinnamon-roll syrup.

We got Netflix for the X-Box. It’s the first time I’ve had unlimited access to television shows since I moved out of my parents’ house.

I’m not going to get my life back until I’ve watched everything good that’s come out in the last eight years. That’s just all there is to it.

Anyway. Pancakes. There’s a vegetable in them, which means that they’re probably healthy, which means that you definitely don’t have to feel guilty about the fact that you’re going to douse them in a syrup made completely out of brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon. It’s all about balance.

Pictured: Balanced breakfast. Sort of.

The sweet potato flavor is mild. The texture it imparts is not. These are the softest pancakes in the world. Also slightly salty. Also, you should probably just go straight to the recipe now, because everything that isn’t making these is really just a waste of your time.

Ingredients (makes 12 pancakes, serves 4)

1 1/4 cups sweet potato puree

3/4 cups flour

3/4 T baking soda

3/4 t kosher salt (bigger crystals are better)

1/2 t cinnamon

1/4 t nutmeg

2 T butter, melted

1 egg

3/4 cup milk

2 T molasses

1 T vanilla extract

Directions

Sift the flour, salt, baking soda, and spices together.

Push the sweet potato puree through a fine-mesh sieve onto the dry ingredients. It will take a lot of pushing. You will probably hate me for it.

This removes any unpleasant stringly bits. if you happen to like unpleasant stringly things in your pancakes, you may skip the sieve, but I do reserve the right to call you weird.

Mix the dry ingredients and the sweet potato together.

Pour in the butter, egg, molasses, vanilla, and milk.

Mix just to combine.

[Of course I didn’t take a picture of the batter. That would have been sensible. It looks like pancake batter, only orange.]

Plop some butter in your favorite skillet.

Yes, I have a favorite skillet. This one. And the cast iron. Not that other one, though. It's on the list.

Melt it over medium-high heat.

Pour pancake batter in 1/4 cup scoops into your buttery skillet.

Wait until the bubbles that pop on the topside of your pancakes leave determined little pockmarks behind instead of just filling back up.

Then flip ’em. Cook for about a minute on the second side.

While all that’s going on, you probably want to start thinking about the syrup. I’m guessing you have a bottle of syrup hanging out in your fridge door right now. It might be a cheap plastic bottle of mostly corn syrup. It might be best-quality Vermont maple.

You may as well just throw it away, because this syrup is going to knock your socks off.

I keep calling it cinnamon roll syrup, because that’s what it tastes like: the ooey, gooey cinnamon-sugar filling of a cinnamon roll.

Ingredients (serves 4-6)

1 stick (8 T, 1/2 cup) of butter

1 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup water

2 T cinnamon

Directions

Put the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat.

Melt it. If you’re more patient than I am, brown it. I was extremely busy not burning pancakes, thank you very much.

Add the brown sugar. Don’t just upturn the cup measure into the butter, though! Tightly packed brown sugar will land in the butter like a rock and splash boiling butter all over you and you freshly laundered shirt. Not that I’d know from experience or anything.

Stir the sugar into the butter.

Bring it to a lovely sticky boil. Remember Candy Land? This stuff should look like Gloppy the Molasses Monster come to life.

If your parents made you play KosherLand instead, you have nothing to compare it with. Sorry about that.*

What, you thought I made it up?**

Once it’s boiling nicely, reduce the heat to medium-low. Move your camera a safe distance away and pour in the water.

Stir vigorously, then let it boil again.

Keep boiling for 8-10 minutes. It will become very rich and dark.

Remove the syrup from heat and let it cool enough to stop bubbling. Toss in the cinnamon and mix well.

Serve over the sweet potato pancakes, or dip bananas or apples in it, or just eat it with a spoon.

The syrup seems to keep in the fridge for at least ten days. I can’t vouch for longer than that, because I ate it all. As for the pancakes, we devoured them. Breakfast one morning, dinner the next night. I think this is one of those dishes we have to put on the guests-only list, or risk undoing any good our new cardio routine might be doing us. Because the pancakes themselves are almost–but not quite–savory, they really beg for this over-the top sweet syrup. Because the syrup is so over the top, the sweet-potatoful pancakes really smooth it out, providing a perfect base for the syrup. But really, I don’t know why you’re still reading this. Go make pancakes.

* My parents didn’t actually hate me, therefore I got to play real Candy Land, which is merely boring, as opposed to KosherLand, which is both boring and preachy.

** If I recall correctly, instead of Gloppy the Molasses Monster,  Kosherland has a swamp of Oops-I-Mixed-Meat-With-Milk, and also the treats are matzoh. With faces. Talk about nightmare fuel.

 

 

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Ravioli Nudi

I’m slowly cooking my way through all the delightful things we ate in Atlanta. I won’t lie; I ordered these for the name. (Okay, for the name and because there are rarely more than three items on an Italian restaurant’s menu that are tomato free.) Naked ravioli. Ravioli without, well, the ravioli. Without the pasta. Sounds crazy, I know, but it’s actually bloody brilliant.

We had these at Sotto Sotto in Atlanta, and despite a late (3PM) lunch at Flip Burger and a fairly hearty appetizer, when a plateful of about 30 of these appeared in front of me I ate them all. Slowly. Complaining of the pain in my stomach from eating so much. Then I got a bowl of chocolate soup for dessert. That is how good the food in Atlanta was.

I really need a lighting solution for late-night dinners.

The basic idea seemed pretty simple–just ricotta and spinach, well salted, rolled into balls and baked. It took a bit of experimenting to make the cheesy spinach balls not fall apart, and a bit more to bake them just right so that the center is meltingly hot before the outside burns. Once you’ve found the technique, though, these are unforgivably easy to make.  Honestly, I can’t forgive myself these last 26 years of not eating these things. It’s shameful.

Ingredients (serves 4. We had half a batch for dinner and reheated leftovers a few days later for lunch.)

1 pound spinach*

1 1/4 cups ricotta

1 egg plus 1 yolk

1 cup grated Parmesan, divided use

Kosher salt, to taste

3 T butter

basil, for garnish

*Okay, for attempt number three, which otherwise is perfect, we had to use frozen spinach because the grocery store had exactly one bunch of yellow, wilted baby spinach in all of the land of produce. As soon as I opened the frozen bag, I was suspicious because the contents smelled distinctly sweet. Nevertheless, I pressed on. The end result tasted sweet. I don’t know what was up with the sweet spinach, but the flavor of fresh spinach in the other batches was far better.

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Combine the ricotta, egg, and yolk in a mixing bowl.

Mix well and add 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan and kosher salt to taste.

If you’re using frozen spinach, don’t do this. Thaw it, rinse it, and press all the water out first. A potato ricer, I discovered, is perfect for the pressing part.

Not shown: The part where I pick all the frozen spinach out so I can thaw, wash, and dry it.

 

Mix the spinach into the ricotta mixture.

Form the mixture into balls. This recipe yielded 25 spheres.

Bake the ravioli nudi at 350°F for about 20 minutes.

While they’re baking, melt about 3 T of butter in a small saucepan.

Remove the butter from heat and stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of Parmesan.

The cheese should melt if you leave it alone for a minute. Don’t try to stir it; that can make it clump up out of sheer rebelliousness.

This is just a nice Parmesan-butter here. Enjoy it.

Plop 6-8 ravioli on a plate and pour a bit of your magical butter over it. Add a hunk of bread, and enjoy.

The texture is surprisingly solid, yet it still tastes like it ought to be a ravioli filling. It’s almost too easy to make, yet could easily impress as a fancier dish for a dinner party. In other words, these little cheese balls may be among the world’s most perfect dishes. You should try them. They’re fantastic.

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Double Coffee Brown Butter Blondies

Those of us who work retail know that labor day is only a holiday for other people. For us it’s a weekend of whirlwind activity while we try not to let our sale-crazed customers tear down the shelves along with the books on them. It’s also the second week of school, so every third customer wants half a dozen college textbooks, and they just stare at you as though you can make the textbooks that we don’t have magically appear so that they can buy them during the sale.

The sad thing is, I actually kind of like sales. They’re so insanely busy that you don’t get to stop and think for 30 seconds, which means that when the shift is over you’re left tired and sweaty but thinking, “It’s been eight hours already? I just got here!”

Because I work in a bookstore, and because I spend so much of my time there among the cookbooks, I don’t use the many blogs I read for recipes nearly as often as I use cookbooks.  Not that I know how to leave a recipe unchanged, but I have a sort of addiction to glossy pages full of photography infinitely better than mine sitting dangerously close to messy things bubbling on the stove.

These blondies are an exception. I found them first on Une Gamine dans la Cuisine, where they were called Jensen bars.  That blogger adapted them from Not Without Salt, where they were simply brown butter blondies. Not Without Salt adapted them from Honey & Jam, where they were called toffee brown butter blondies. Honey and Jam adapted them from Martha Stewart. In other words, I’m fifth in a game of culinary telephone from an actual print-on-paper cookbook.

There’s something sublime about that, and it’s hard to see it in most cookbooks. Recipes change every time someone new makes something, or every time a cook gets bored and decides to shake up a recipe he’s made a thousand times before. Watching a recipe change significantly over the course of two short years, yet remain easily recognized from its roots is something special.

Corvids love coffee, but we do not drink it.

For my own version, I added coffee. Then I though about it for a second, looked at the huge amount of butter in all of the recipes that came before it, reduced it (I know, I know. Butter’s even in the title. But trust me) and added coffee again. Coffee liquor and instant espresso. The result is unspeakably good. I panicked. If I didn’t get rid of these things I was going to eat them all and them go on a maniacal caffeine-induced rampage about the town.

Ingredients (makes a 9×13 pan of blondies, about 20 bars)

2 sticks (16 T) butter

2 1/4 cups flour

1 t baking soda

1/2 t baking powder

1 1/2 t salt

2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 eggs

1 T vanilla extract

2 T instant espresso powder

1/4 cup coffee liquor (Kahlúa or my favorite, Caffé Lolita)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. The first step is to brown that butter. Put the butter in a saucepan over medium heat.

Melt it.

Bring it to a boil. Stir it to keep it from heating unevenly or boiling over.

Keep stirring. It will become quite frothy and sea-foam like as the butter turns brown. Your kitchen should smell distinctly of roasting nuts.

Pour the browned butter into a large bowl and give it a minute or two to cool.

Add the sugars.

Mix the sugars well.  Contemplate just eating this mixture, because it smells like the tastiest thing in the whole world.

Add the eggs, vanilla, and coffee liquor.

Mix the wet ingredients thoroughly.

Combine the flour, leavenings, salt, and espresso powder in a sieve.

Sift them into the batter.

Mix the dry ingredients into the batter gently. Don’t overdo it; you want the blondies to be very tender. The finished batter will be a lovely golden brown.

Because the batter is so thin, I lined my baking pan with buttered parchment paper. It probably isn’t necessary, but it was nice to be able to lift the blondies free of the pan to cut them.

Bake at 350°F for 35 minutes for a very moist blondie, or 40 minutes for a firmer one. I like them very moist, just on the edge of uncooked. That way it almost feels like eating cookie dough.

This is definitely a bar for coffee lovers. It’s extremely dangerous, because eating one of these caffeine-laden delights after dinner (with a scoop of coffee ice cream, obviously) will keep you up half the night. While you’re buzzing around the apartment wide awake, one thought will keep coming back to you every five minutes, with increasing urgency: “I really want another blondie.”

Thankfully, they make great gifts. Mr. B’s car battery died while we were on vacation, and we discovered it the day we made these. So when our extremely helpful neighbor gave it a jump, I hopped on to the excuse to present him with a pile of these as thanks. If I actually ate all the desserts I’ve been making lately, I’d be in for a lot more time at the gym, and probably still need bigger pants.

There are a thousand more things I could say about these, but as I mentioned, labor day is not a holiday for us retail folks. It’s 11:30 at night and I just got home from work half an hour ago. For the rest of you who worked today, reward yourselves with some of these. You know, in a few days, once you’ve recovered from the sale.

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Artichoke Pesto

Pesto has been in short supply in our apartment this summer, since the heat has so thoroughly stunted the growth of basil that we haven’t been able to save up enough for a pesto. I kept looking back at the pea pesto  posted on Smitten Kitchen back in June, but Mr. B hates peas. He hates them like a four-year-old boy, making faces and stomping his feet if I even talk about putting peas in something he has to eat, too.

We both love artichokes, though. And if pureed artichokes can be used to fill pierogis, I couldn’t see why they wouldn’t make a perfectly good pesto.

I was right. It’s creamy and rich, but still fresh and light as a pesto should be.

Ingredients (serves 2)

8 oz frozen artichoke hearts, thawed

1/4 pound asparagus

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1-2 cloves garlic

2 T lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil, plus a few teaspoons for cooking the vegetables

salt and pepper to taste

6 oz. dry pasta

2 chicken breasts

a few basil leaves

2 T butter, oil, or schmaltz

Directions

Heat a splash of olive oil and the 2 T of lemon juice over high heat.

Add the artichokes.

Sauté the artichokes until they are well browned.

Set aside the artichokes and add the asparagus to the pan.

Sauté the asparagus as well. Also the garlic, if your garlic has not been stolen by a squirrel.

Put the artichokes, asparagus, and garlic into the bowl of a food processor. Add the olive oil.

Process until it forms a smooth paste.

Add the parmesan, salt, and pepper and process it again.

Set the pesto aside. Heat some oil or butter or schmaltz over medium-high heat in a grill pan.

Add the chicken and some basil leaves to the pan.

Cook the chicken 4-5 minutes a side until it’s fully cooked through.

Remove the chicken from the heat and chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta.

Drain the pasta and top it with the pesto.

Stir in the pesto.

Divide the pasta among your plates and top with the basil chicken.

Serve immediately. The pesto might be easier to stir into the pasta if you thin it out with a bit of pasta water, but I never remember to reserve any and it was delightful without alteration. We had a bit of pesto leftover and spread it over some toasted French bread for lunch the next day. If you like artichokes, this pesto is a must.

 

 

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