Archive for October, 2011

Stir Fried Pumpkin and Greens

A friend asked me a while back if there was any possible use for those inexplicably tiny pumpkins one finds at the grocery store. Sure, small children paint faces on them and people without extremely rambunctious cats may put them over the fireplace for decoration, but that’s not really useful.

They make little owls feel taller, too.

I have an answer. Actually, I have quite a few answers and they all revolve around one simple but apparently little-known fact: pumpkin is not just for pie. Sure, it perks up beautifully with a dash of cinnamon and a generous scoop of brown sugar, but pumpkins are just as good in savory recipes as they are in sweet. In this instance, stir fry. Combine sweet pumpkin, bitter greens, and peas (snap peas would have been better, for the crisp texture) for a delightful Western stir fry.

It pains me that I’ve run out of Chinese hot mustard powder. I ran out of it almost a year ago, and just can’t seem to get up the energy to drive into the city for more. If you like mustard, see if you can find the hot stuff. If you can’t find it, just use an lot of ordinary mustard powder. Hate mustard? Some Chinese five spice, or just chili powder and nutmeg, will do the trick nicely.

Ingredients (serves 1, easily doubled)

1/2 of a baseball-sized pumpkin

4-5 leaves collard greens, mustard greens, or kale

1/4 cup peas (or sugar snap peas)

1 t mustard powder (a bit less if using the hot stuff.)

a dash of mirin

a dash of soy sauce

salt, to taste

1 cup cooked rice

Directions 

Start heating a bit of butter, oil, or chile oil in a wok or large saucepan over medium-high heat. Peel the pumpkin. I hear the peel is edible, but the texture is rubbery and unpleasant, so I’d just peel it.

Slice the peeled pumpkin into 1/2 inch wide strips.

Dice the strips and toss them into the hot oil.

Remove the central rib from the greens. If you plan to eat it, dice it and toss it with the pumpkin immediately–It’ll need longer to cook than the leaves. If not, discard it.

Roll the leaves up tightly and cut them into 1/4 to 1/2 inch chiffonade.

Toss the greens and peas in with the pumpkin.

Stir vigorously, adjusting the heat if it’s not sizzling well or cooking too fast.

Add the mustard powder (or whatever spices you like.)

Place the cooked rice in a bowl.

Top the rice with cooked vegetables.

Add a splash of rice vinegar.

Then a splash of soy sauce.

Stir the rice and vegetables together with your chopsticks.

Serve hot. This is a light, simple, ten-minute meal, perfect for work nights or a bagged lunch.

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S’mores French Toast

I love breakfast. If there’s nothing but fruit or yogurt for breakfast, I will grump about the apartment all morning and probably not let up until (a) I have to go to work or (b) lunchtime.

Five days a week, I have either fruit or yogurt for breakfast. I love yogurt. I love fruit. What I don’t love is eating cold meals first thing in the morning when I’m already cold because Mr. B likes to keep the thermostat set to approximately four degrees Kelvin. (Okay, it’s not that bad. I’m just cold if it’s under 85°F, and that’s weird apparently.) But who has time to make waffles on a workday? Or pancakes? Even hash browns are a stretch if I want to have time for my morning run (and if I’m going to eat potatoes fried in butter or duck fat I had better not skip the running).

French toast is the easy breakfast, the I’m-too-lazy-too-cook-but-I-don’t-just-want-a-yogurt breakfast. It’s ten minutes from idea to meal. Add chocolate and marshmallow fluff and prepare to swoon.

You could make this even more s’more-like by dredging the French toast in graham cracker crumbs after soaking it in the egg and cream mixture, but in the spirit of keeping this quick and easy (Okay, I was lazy and sleepy) I left it as-is.

Ingredients (makes 3 French toast sandwiches, serves 2-3)

6 slices challah (not too thick)

4-6 T Nutella

3-4 T marshmallow fluff

2 eggs

1/2 cup heavy cream (or milk, but let’s be realistic; you’re not gonna make this healthy)

3 T brown sugar

1 t vanilla

pinch kosher salt

1/2 cup graham cracker crumbs (optional)

Directions

Combine the eggs, cream, sugar, and vanilla in a nice wide bowl.

Mix the batter well.

Spread Nutella on three of the bread slices and marshmallow fluff on the other three, and sandwich them up. Try not to use too much marshmallow fluff; it will ooze out the sides while you cook the French toast and burn. Which smells delicious at first, but then it starts to burn too much and is not so great.

Get ready to cook the French toast. Plop a pat of butter in your favorite pan.

Melt it over medium-high heat.

Soak the Nutella-fluff  sandwiches for about 15 seconds in the batter. Dredge the soaked sandwiches in graham cracker crumbs, if using, then transfer them immediately to the pan to fry. Fry them about 3 minutes on the first side.

Flip and fry about 3 minutes on the second side.

Serve as is or with a drizzle of honey if you’re feeling particularly decadent (of course I was. Do you even have to ask?) The filling are molten and delicious, the edged crisp and crunchy, and the challah perfectly sweet. This is definitely the breakfast for not having to work until 11 A.M.

 

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Pickled Carrots

There’s been maybe a little too much sweet going on around here lately. Not that there’s any such thing as too much chocolate, but there’s certainly such a thing as not enough crispy, crunchy vegetables.

I don’t put up vegetable recipes all that often, because five nights out of every week I just choose something green, steam it, and toss a little olive oil or butter and salt on top. The other two nights I’m likely to have salad. Every now and then, though, my broccoli comes out of the fridge wanting to be roasted, or lima beans demand to become falafel, or a sad few remaining carrots in the back of the drawer wonder at me, “what would it be like to be pickled?”

I don’t even like pickles. Not the cucumber kind, anyway. It wasn’t until recently (in Atlanta, again) that I learned that carrots could be pickled, or that they’d become even more delightful once they soaked up a garlicky and herb-infused brine.

It’s easy. It’s crunchy. It takes less than two days of just leaving your vegetables in the refrigerator. And let’s be honest here: we’re all guilty of just leaving our veg in the fridge and having a chocolate bar instead sometimes. May as well make that time useful.

Ingredients (makes 2 jam jars full, serves 1 dinner party as part of an appetizer tray.)

3-4 carrots

1 cup water

1 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup sugar

3-4 cloves garlic

1 1/2 T salt

2 big sprigs of rosemary

Directions

Combine the water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic in a saucepan.

Bring the brine to a boil and turn off the heat. all the salt and sugar should dissolve.

Meanwhile, peel the carrots and cut them either into sticks or chunks.  Fill the jars with the carrots and stick the rosemary branches in among them.

Pour the vinegar mixture, garlic and all, over the carrots to fill the jars.

Use a tea towel to put the lids on the jars–the hot liquid won’t feel so great if you try to leave out the towel. Refrigerate the carrots for at least 2 days or up to a month or so.

These are good as an appetizer alongside sweeter hors d’oeuvre such as challah toast with salmon.  They’re even better grated on a sandwich with turkey and mustard on toasted pumpernickel rye. Either way, the only simpler thing to do with these carrots is to eat them raw. And at least in this apartment, there’s usually something more interesting calling to be eaten than a raw, plain carrot (like an apple, or peanut butter out of the jar). These pickled ones have enough zazz to catch my attention, when I’m rummaging through the fridge for a snack, and it’s easy to find more and more dishes they seem to complement. I’m wishing I hadn’t run out of them so quickly; now I have to wait two more days for the next batch!

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Not-Quite Mary Mac’s Peanut Butter Pie

I know it’s been said about 84 million times before, but it still bears repeating: peanut butter and chocolate are made for each other. It’s Mr. B’s favorite-ever flavor combination. So you can imagine my shock when, at a delightful restaurant in Atlanta clever enough to ask you to order dessert before you eat, he went with peach cobbler.

I ordered the peanut butter pie for him. After I tried it, I wouldn’t share. It was that good. (Mary Mac’s, people. I’d move to Georgia just for this restaurant.) That pie was the sort of dessert that leads to religious conversions and serious risks of diabetes (the peach cobbler was also delightful.) It was the silky texture of a Key lime pie, and tasted more peanut-buttery than peanut butter by itself. It was an awe-inspiring dessert.

When I decided to make it at home, I had to guess. There are a million peanut butter pie recipes on the Internet, and half a dozen in my modest scary and growing cookbook collection, but none of them seemed quite right. The one I ended up making was good, but I had to go order the Mary Mac’s cookbook at the end of it, because after eating theirs a close second simply would not do.

This didn’t stop us devouring it.

Ingredients (makes one pie, serves 8-12 depending on gluttony and availability of ice cream)

For the crust:

24 Oreos

4 T melted butter

For the filling:

1 1/2 cups sugar (I’d probably use 1/2 brown sugar next time; I was out.)

1 1/4 cups peanut butter

1 8-ounce package cream cheese

1 T vanilla

1/2 t salt

4 egg yolks

1 cup heavy cream

Directions 

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Place the Oreos, filling and all, in the bowl of a food processor.

Process them until finely ground. There will probably be a few outlying chunks. I just ate them and didn’t worry about it.

Pour the crumbs into a bowl and mix in the melted butter.

Press the chocolate cookie mud into a buttered pie pan. Set the crust aside.

Place the cream cheese, peanut butter, and sugar(s) in a mixing bowl.

Mix well. The mixture will be very grainy and thick, like cookie dough.

Add the egg yolks, salt, and vanilla.

Mix them in, too. The mixture should be creamier now.

Add the cream.

And mix.

Pour the mixture into the Oreo crust.

Bake at 300°F for 40-50 minutes until the filling doesn’t slosh anymore. The filling on mine cracked and bubbled and was altogether rather evil-looking (I’d have taken pictures, but we had guests.) but it was very tasty. I think it needed less cream, maybe even none at all, to get the thicker and richer consistency.

Chill before serving. As with most pies, this only gets better with ice cream!

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Apple Confit

Rosh Hashanah came and went in a blur this year, and before I knew it Yom Kippur was here, with no time to stop and think, let alone give myself a few hours of Internet time to mess around on foodie websites write on my blog. Now that’s passed, and I find myself in an awkward position. See, I really want to talk about all the delicious things we ate on Rosh Hashanah. However, an apple confit isn’t really something any sane person wants to make at any other time of year.  You see, it’s kind of a huge time investment. I spent an hour and a half slicing and peeling only to have to bake the darn thing for five hours, chill it, heat it in a water bath to loosen the caramel from the dish, and finally serve. It’s pretty much a major pain.

On the other hand, it’s very tasty, like is homemade applesauce and caramel apples got together and combined all their best qualities under the care of a talented mad scientist. It’s delightfully tart, gently caramel flavored, and just about the most apple-filled Rosh Hashanah dessert anyone could come up with. Plus, it’s completely pareve so you can still have meat as a main course. Which is good, because brisket is the best thing ever.

This recipe is adapted (slightly) and reduced from the delightful Crave, by Ludo Lefebvre. While I admit there are a tom of recipes in there that I will never ever make–the man loves pork and shellfish, apparently–it makes me sad that this cookbook has gone out of print, because it’s charming and fresh and can really make a person feel inspired to get into the kitchen right now and create a masterpiece. Keep that in mind, if you make this. It isn’t pretty, and it isn’t quick or easy, but it’s a work of culinary art nonetheless.

Ingredients (makes 1 2-quart confit, serves about 6, maybe 8 with ice cream.)

For the candied zest:

2 oranges

2-3 lemons

1 cup water

1/2 cup sugar

For the confit proper:

2 cups sugar (divided use)

3 T water

8-10 Granny Smith apples (about 5 pounds)

about 1 T vanilla

cinnamon or anise to taste

Directions

Wash the citrus in hot water to remove any wax, dirt, chemicals, or whatever else from them. Peel the lemons and oranges.

Julienne the peels as finely as you’re comfortable with. This takes longer than it ought to.

Put the peels in a  pot of water and boil them for 5 or 6 minutes, to leach out the bitter flavors.


Drain the peels.  Combine 1 cup of water and 1/2 cup of sugar in a wide saucepan.

Heat the sugar and water up to dissolve the sugar.

Add the julienned peel and simmer the mixture for about half an hour.

While that’s simmering away, let’s make some caramel. Combine 1 cup of sugar and 3 T of water in a small saucepan.

Bring it to a boil.

Keep boiling.

Let it just barely start to turn golden brown.

No, not that brown!

If you burn it (like I did. Twice.) just throw it away and start over. If you didn’t burn it, pour the caramel into a 2-quart soufflé dish and swirl it around so the caramel coats the sides. When you’ve done that, plop the dish in the freezer to firm the caramel up.

Finally, you can start working on the apple part of this dish. if you have an apple corer, use it. If not, just cut each apple in half.

Slice them either manually or with a mandoline. Full disclosure: I hate my mandoline. It’s bulky and gets dull faster than any of my knives and takes about ten minutes to clean. But nothing makes cleaner slices. So about twice a year I grouse and groan and pull the darned thing out of the cabinet. Use a small biscuit cutter or a knife or an ice cream cone mold to remove any bits of core.

Lay some apple slices in overlapping circles in the caramel-lined soufflé dish . Brush that layer with a bit of vanilla and sprinkle on 2-3 T of sugar and a bit of cinnamon or anise.

Continue making layers and topping them until the apples are just taller than your dish. Top that with about 1/4 to 1/3 of your candied citrus peels.

Top the whole thing off with a round of parchment paper and an oven-safe plate.

Put the confit in the oven at the low, low temperature of 250°F for five hours. Just ignore it, it’ll be all right.

Once it’s fully baked,  put it in the refrigerator for at least two hours. When you’re ready to serve, put the  soufflé mold into a big pot of simmering water for about two minutes to melt the caramel on the outside of the confit.

Remove the confit from the pot of water. Place your serving dish up-side down on top of the soufflé dish and flip the confit over onto the serving dish. The confit should slide out onto the plate.

Top with the remaining candied  peels and serve.

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Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate Bread–for Breakfast!

I never used to make breakfast. That would involve getting up early in the morning, which I was not fond of doing. Now, though, I like to have something to look forward to when I get up in the morning. While waffles and pancakes are great for days when one doesn’t have to be at work in the morning, breakfast breads and muffins can be made the day before and scarfed down as you run out the door in the morning.

I thought that banana bread was the closest thing to dessert that a reasonable person would eat for breakfast. Sure, breakfast is often sweet and decadent, but some things go over the top. Particularly chocolate bread with three different chocolate sources.

Then again, I could get used to decadent. This loaf is not actually all that sweet. It’s a dark and deep chocolate and not the slightest bit subtle. It’s good on its own, toasted with a bit of butter or peanut butter, or slathered with marshmallow fluff.

This recipe is adapted (heavily) from Baked: Explorations by Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito.

Ingredients (makes one 9×5 loaf, serves 12-15)

2 eggs plus one yolk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup chocolate milk

1 t vanilla

1 cup cocoa powder

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 t baking soda

3/4 t baking powder

1 t salt

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

3/4 cup granulated sugar

8 ounces dark chocolate, chopped (or 8 oz. chocolate chips)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place the eggs and yolk in a large bowl.

Beat the eggs well.

Add the oil, sour cream, and chocolate milk.

Mix the eggs, oil and dairy well.

Combine cocoa, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a sieve.

Sift the dry ingredients into the batter.

Mix the dry ingredients in and add the sugars. Make sure to press out any lumps in the brown sugar.

Mix the batter well.

Add the chopped chocolate or chocolate chips.

Fold the chocolate chunks into the batter.

Pour the batter into a buttered and parchment lined 9×5 loaf pan.

Bake at 350°F for an hour and 10-15 minutes.

The finished product is extremely soft and tender, only just firm enough to hold its shape when sliced. Once toasted, it firms up a bit more, enough to hold a smear of marshmallow fluff or any other topping you’d care to add to it.

 

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