Archive for March, 2012

Carrot Ravioli Nudi

Long ago, in a city far far away, I ate something called ravioli nudi. I made it at home a few times, declared it awesome and easy and perfect in all ways, and I moved on to doing other things with my greens. I have no loyalty to foods, you see; even my favorite recipes are things I make only a few times a year, simply because I have so many new recipes I want to test and tweak and re-test that to make a favorite weekly would seriously cut into my new recipe time.

Then I made an appointment to have my third molars removed. I picked up my antibiotics and pain killers, and read the instructions from the oral surgeon.

“Crunchy or particulate foods not recommended for 7-10 days.”

I panicked.

Carrots are my go-to health snack. The default addition to any plate that looks too sparse. The side dish that goes in my lunch box every single day. How could I quit carrots?

They’re soft when roasted, I reasoned. The tooth thieves can’t possibly object to soft cheese, I convinced myself.

So I made these ravioli nudi with carrots a few days before the surgery. And ate them all, a few days before the surgery. They were too good to save for later.

Thankfully, I couldn’t have cared less about food those first few days; pain killers give me nausea.

Turns out, after enough hydrocodone, lovely crunchy carrots don’t hurt the bloody places where teeth used to be, anyway.

Ingredients (serves 4 as a main dish)

For the roasted carrots:

1 1/2 pounds carrots

2 T butter

1 T celery salt (or 2 t salt plus herbs to taste)

For the ravioli:

1 batch roasted carrots

1 1/4 cup ricotta cheese

1 egg plus 1 yolk

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

kosher salt, to taste

Directions

Set a large cast iron over medium heat and start 2 T of butter melting in it.

Peel and chop your carrots while the cast iron heats up.

Add the carrots and celery salt to the heat and roast, tossing occasionally, for 30-40 minutes. They should be tender but not mushy.

Let the carrots cool enough to not melt your food processor (is that a risk? I worry.), then add them to its bowl.

Pulse very briefly a few times until most of the carrot pieces are slightly smaller than peas. Do not worry about the pieces all being the same size. Do not puree. Do not pass go. Do not collect two hundred dollars.

Set aside the carrot mixture and preheat the oven to 350°F.  Combine the ricotta, egg, and yolk in a mixing bowl.

Stir them together well and add the grated Parmesan and salt.

Stir the Parmesan in, breaking up large clumps with your fingers if necessary.

Add the diced pan-roasted carrots if they are cool. If they are still hot to the touch, toss all your ingredients (carrots included) into the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to chill and congratulate yourself on being a far more efficient cook than I am. You don’t want the carrots steaming hot when they touch the cheese and egg mixture; they could shock the egg bits and possible cause some curdling.

Mix the carrots into the cheese.

Form into about 30-36* spheres of about 1-1 1/2 T of mixture apiece. I made eighteen enormous 3T spheres, and had to cut them with a fork. These should be bite sized little morsels, though, not cheesy behemoths*.

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

Serve with a light drizzle of espresso vinegar. Do not even get me started on the subject of this vinegar. It is not-quite-sweet and not-quite-savory and I want to drink it with a straw, but I bought it as a gift for Mr. Blackbird, who only seems to want to use it on “special occasions”, whatever that means, and I think it would be rude of me to use more than he does. Is there a statute of limitations on gifts, where they stop being presents and just become household items anyone can use? How long is it? If it’s more than about 3 months, I need to learn to make this stuff from scratch. It’s too good.

As for the ravioli? Well, there’s a saying about peas and carrots.

It’s not wrong.

These are, if anything, better than the spinach version. My next plan is to make a half batch of each and eat them together, maybe with a red beet version as well for the most colorful plate of pasta-less pasta known to man.

*Cheesy Behemoths would be a great name for a band. I’m not planning to start a band. You’re welcome.

 

 

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Peanut Butter Waffles

Waffles are, quite simply, superior breakfast foods. They have handy compartments for syrup, berries, or whatever other toppings you deem appropriate, for one. Unlike pancakes, it’s easy to keep a waffle fluffy and light while adding flavors to the batter. As much as I love gingerbread pancakes, they’re kind of dense for a pancake. A bit chewy, even. These peanut butter waffles, though? Not a bit. They’re crisp on the outside, moist and light in the middle, and seriously peanut buttery. Add a bit of cocoa powder and you may never eat anything else again. (Assuming, of course, that you understand that Reese’s candies are the best of all possible flavor combinations and should be emulated elsewhere whenever possible. If not, that’s all right. We just can’t be friends anymore.)

 

I adapted this recipe rather heavily from the Culinary Institute of America’s Breakfasts and Brunches recipe for buttermilk waffles. Their recipe contains no peanut butter. Also, I used goat milk instead of buttermilk. Feel free to substitute buttermilk or regular old milk for the goat milk if you don’t have any on hand, but consider keeping the goat stuff around in future. It’s tasty.

Ingredients (makes 8-10 waffles)

1 3/4 cups flour

1 t salt

1 T baking powder

1/4 cup dark brown sugar

4 eggs, separated

1 1/2 cups goat milk

8 T room temperature butter

1/2 cup peanut butter

Directions 

Combine butter and peanut butter in a mixing bowl.

Mix until smooth.

Add goat milk and egg yolks.

Mix again. It will be messy.

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

Sift them over the peanut butter mixture.

Mix the dry ingredients in gently, then add the brown sugar and mix it in, too. (note: brown sugar probably ought to have been added with the peanut butter and butter in the beginning. It worked out just fine this way, though.)

Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.

Add the egg whites to the batter. Fold them in gently, leaving a few swirls of egg white throughout. Over-mixing will break all those lovely air bubbles you’ve just added for lightness.

Cook waffles using approximately 1/2 cup of batter per waffle, or otherwise if your waffle maker is bigger or smaller than mine.

Serve with a generous handful of Reese’s peanut butter chips and some honey.

Prepare to swoon.

These waffles are minimally sweet (before you cover them in candy and honey, that is), and extremely peanut buttery. Honey brings out the peanut flavor better than syrup, and a pile of peanut butter chips seal the deal. Mr. Blackbird doesn’t usually like waffles–normally I have to bury one under about a pint of blueberries before he’ll eat it–but he devoured these and went back for seconds. I know waffles aren’t the quickest breakfast food, but if you want to make a lazy weekend morning absolutely decadent, add these to your repertoire. They’re pretty much fantastic.

 

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Stracciatella. . .sort of

Have I mentioned that I don’t eat soup? I just have a problem with food that you drink. That’s not called food, it’s called drinks. I don’t have drinks for dinner, I have them with dinner.

And yes, everyone else thinks I’m crazy, too.

I tried to get out of this one. I called it “tortellini in brodo.” Mr. B. retaliated by eating with a spoon. I insisted it was just a different way of eating pasta. He pointed out the delicate bits of egg and kale that could only be accessed by also eating the liquid. I tried to use a fork. It was too messy. I tried blaming the painkillers, but I haven’t actually been taking them.

So I made this. . . soup. (There, I said it.) Because my teeth have been pulled out, and my mouth hurts, and solid food isn’t completely an option yet.

Because I bought a jar of applesauce when I didn’t feel well enough to make applesauce, and there was mold inside. So clearly, that wasn’t an option, either.

Because I’m tired of mashed potatoes for the first time in my life.

I, the soup-hating corvid, made soup. For dinner, not with dinner.

But I put pasta in it so I could still eat it with a fork.

The pasta kind of hurt the places my teeth aren’t anymore.

The stracciatella? Pretty darn good. Salty and savory and full of things that aren’t supposed to be in stracciatella, because a thin, watery soup isn’t worth looking at, much less drinking. And why shouldn’t a stracciatella have shreds of kale along with egg, and tortellini as well?

Ingredients (serves 3-4)

3 cups vegetable or chicken broth

1 cup water

1 large bunch kale

8 oz tortellini or other pasta

about 1/2 cup (1 oz) of Parmesan cheese, finely grated

1-2 eggs

salt and pepper, to taste

Directions

Combine broth and water in a deep pot and bring to a boil.

Remove the ribs from the kale, roll it up, and slice it into 1/4 inch chiffonade.

Grate the Parmesan.

Add the kale and Parmesan to the boiling broth.

Simmer 5-6 minutes, stirring well. You don’t want giant Parmesan clumps, if only because that means somewhere in your soup there are cheese-free zones, and that’s just terrible.

Add the tortellini and simmer an additional 2-3 minutes. Fresh pasta doesn’t take long to cook.

Whisk your egg(s) in a small bowl and pour them into the stracciatella in a slow stream, whisking the soup as you pour.

It will look very cloudy briefly, but clarify after just a few seconds.

Serve hot, with crusty bread if your teeth allow it and a few slivers of grated Parmesan over the top.

The best thing about this is that the pasta absorbs a huge amount of flavor from the broth. Even I broke down and ate this with a spoon, because all that rich, eggy liquid could not be allowed to go to waste.

The kale brought its usual bitter tones to to table, making the soup more aromatic and hearty that it would have been. I loved the little shards of cooked egg that kept popping up unexpectedly, and though I only used one egg for this volume, two would have been better.

Now I just need a few more semi-solid meals to get through the next few days before my doctor clears me for people food again!

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More GMO Notes, and a Chocolate Caramel Coffee Tart

Do you see the little “Science!” label down there on the right? After you scroll down a bit, underneath all the tasty stuff?

Exhibit A: Tasty Stuff

Those scientists and science bloggers are working hard to make foods better, safer, and more understandable for everyone else. Recently, the good folks at Biofortified have explained, in very clear terms, why GM foods don’t have any more scary genes in them than any other foods you’ve ever eaten, since of course bacteria and viruses are already everywhere, and every time you eat anything you eat the little guys and all of their genes as well. And if you still think after my earlier discussion of the subject that GM foods lead to horizontal gene transfer and presumably plant-people? The GMO Pundit explains an article that shows that a happy little beetle managed to get a useful little bacteria gene all his own, without a GMO in sight.

I know this is a food blog, and I promised chocolate, so I’ll keep this short. Basically, if you cook, you use science. You don’t have to think in terms of chemistry when caramelizing sugar, because following the protocol recipe will get you results just the same. You don’t need to know the biological mechanisms of capsiacinoids to add the heat of chile to a dish. But I think at least knowing the information is out there– and that it’s available and understandable if you’re interested whether you did well in science in school or not– is important. And hey, it’s cool! Scientists are doing things with plants and nutrition that look straight out of science fiction, and it’s brilliant. Give it a quick peek, is all I’m saying.

So now we can get back to caramelizing sugar and melting chocolate and keeping that smell in your kitchen as long as possible.  Because caramel and chocolate go together like nothing else. Because coffee makes both caramel and chocolate taste better. And because everyone should have a chocolate tart recipe. So I adapted one from David Lebovitz. I removed the flour from his filling, as mine seemed thick enough without it and I want to be able to pour it into a gluten-free crust* if we have company with Celiac. The chocolate is a tad darker in mine as well, but offset by the slightly sweeter chocolate ovals used to decorate it. And the smell in the kitchen? I turned off all air circulation in the apartment just so we could breathe it a little longer. It’s sweet and complex and full of coffee. If we could bottle that smell, I could quit my day job and just sell chocolate-caramel-coffee scented candles because who doesn’t want a dozen of those?

Ingredients (Makes 1 9-inch tart; serves 10-12. Crust adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s sweet tart dough, filling adapted from David Lebovitz’ chocolate tart)

For the crust:

1 1/4 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 t salt

1 t vanilla

9 T butter

1 egg

For the filling:

1 cup sugar

6 oz. espresso

8 T (1/4 lb, 1 stick, 4 oz) butter

3 oz unsweetened chocolate

3 oz bittersweet (72% +) chocolate

2 eggs at room temperature

1 T vanilla extract

optional: for a bit of heat, add 1-3 t chile powder when you add the chocolate (how much you use depends on the heat of the powder you’re using; a pinch of Habañero powder goes a lot further than a whole teaspoon of Poblano).

Directions The crust comes first, of course. To prevent it being grainy, you’ll want to use superfine sugar. To make superfine sugar, place granulated sugar in the bowl of your food processor  and run it for about 30 seconds to a minute.

Add the flour and salt and pulse briefly to combine.

Add the butter and egg (and the vanilla, not shown).

Apparently I forgot to keep taking pictures of dough making, but if you’d find them helpful it’s just about the same dough as used way back here for a lemon-blueberry tart. Sorry about that. Pulse the dough in 2-3 second bursts until it comes together in a smooth ball. Chill the dough for two hours or more, then roll it out to about 1/4 inch thick. Line a buttered 9-inch tart pan with the dough, and line the prepared crust with buttered tin foil. Add pie weights and bake with foil and weights at 375°F for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and weights and bake another 10 minutes to brown. Set aside the crust and turn the oven down to 350°F. Start the filling by caramelizing some sugar. Just pour a cup of sugar into a saucepan. . .

. . .and heat it up over medium-high heat, stirring gently, until you have thick, bubbly caramel.

Pour in the espresso and whisk vigorously to combine.

Try not to spill espresso all over the chocolate. Add the butter to the coffee-caramel mixture.

Whisk in the butter and add the chocolate.

Whisk the mixture until smooth.

Test the temperature of the mixture by dipping a spoon in it and tasting. If it’s scalding to the tongue, keep whisking until it’s merely pleasantly warm before adding your eggs. Unless of course you want scrambled eggs in you chocolate tart. When the mixture is not too hot, add the eggs.

Whisk the eggs in, giving the filling a lovely pudding-like texture, and pour it into the waiting tart shell.

Bake at 350°F for 20-22 minutes until the filling is just set but not dry or cracking. If you have any pretty chocolate pieces like these Valrhona fèves lying around, grab a handful for decorating the top. What can I say? I can’t resist the bulk chocolates at Central Market.

The texture is completely smooth, almost a warm pudding. The tart shell adds sweetness and a lovely crunch to the mixture, and the sweeter chocolates on top (only 53% cocoa) finished it out perfectly.

I didn’t cut into the tart warm, as it was a birthday tart for a co-worker and tradition dictates that the birthday boy or girl gets to cut the first slice, but I did re-heat a slice in the oven the next night and it was divine. Not that anyone complained at room temperature; there really is no comparison to a good chocolate tart.

Sadly, I can’t make or eat anything like this right now; I had my third molars removed this morning and am having a certain amount of difficulty with yogurt and mashed potatoes, let alone a delightful flaky-crisp tart shell. So eat one of these for me, okay?

* to make this a gluten-free pie or tart, simply use this filling and the gluten-free graham cracker crust found here, or any other GF crust that you like.

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