12.29.2010

Fever, chills and lentil soup





I knew I was in trouble Sunday night. I had every blanket in the house heaped on me, I'd jacked the thermostat up to 75 degrees, I was wearing flannel pajamas, and still I was shivering, freezing cold despite my best efforts. I've recovered after two days at home with multiple mugs of TheraFlu, lots of sleep, and a little light reading.


What to do the night before returning to work? Make a big pot-o-lentil soup, of course.


This is the soup I wish I'd had in the freezer, ready to be reheated and enjoyed when I caught this nasty cold + fever + chills thing. Hearty and flavorful, I find this earthy soup very comforting. It smacks of all that is right with rustic peasant fare.  A few basic ingredients combine to create a dish that warms the body and soul on a cold afternoon. The best part — it tastes even better the next day, when the ingredients have a chance to meld.


As always, use only high quality ingredients; old veggies make for a lackluster soup. I used both homemade vegetable stock and water in this batch, but chicken stock works well. A sprinkle of freshly chopped parsley and a good crusty bread are the only garnishes required. Don't forget to drizzle a few teaspoons of red wine vinegar in at the end to brighten the flavor.



Lentil Soup
Makes 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 celery stalks, finely diced
1 1/2 cups French green lentils, picked over and rinsed
1 28 oz. can whole peeled plum tomatoes, drained and diced
2 quarts vegetable broth, chicken stock, or water
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
a few teaspoons red wine vinegar
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot over a medium-low flame. Add the onion and garlic and cook slowly, until softened but not browned, about 5-6 minutes. Add a pinch of Kosher salt, stir, and add carrots and celery. Cook another 3-4 minutes. Add the green lentils, diced tomatoes and broth, stock or water. Cook until the lentils are cooked through, about 25-30 minutes.

Season to taste with salt, pepper, and a few teaspoons of red wine vinegar. Garnish with freshly chopped parsley.

12.24.2010

Christmas Eve + Banana Bread



It's 4 p.m. on Christmas Eve and I'm baking.

I'm at my own home this evening, but tomorrow I'll drive to my parents' house, a fresh loaf of whole wheat banana bread in tow. This is the quick bread I often bring as a hostess gift around the holidays, when everyone is inundated with plates of cookies and confections (very few of which are worth the calories). 

Last weekend's banana bread recipients were pleased — one friend consumed it at least twice a day and swore it was never-ending, like the loaves and fishes. A scoop of ice cream turns it into dessert, but I love it lightly toasted alongside a cup of coffee. The highlights of the recipe: sour cream for moisture, dark brown sugar for a more complex flavor, and whole wheat flour for a firmer texture.

I discovered this recipe in Molly O'Neill's New York Cookbook, a terrific compendium of stories and recipes for a truly astonishing array of dishes, from falafel to Southern-style greens to chopped liver (yes, chopped liver). This banana bread keeps for about 4 days at room temperature if well-wrapped. Best of all, it freezes beautifully.

My apologies for the far-from-ideal photo. It's getting dark — no natural light to be had. Merry Christmas!


Whole Wheat Banana Bread
Adapted from New York Cookbook
Makes 1 loaf

1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1 1/3 cups dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon basking soda
1/4 cup sour cream
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas, about 2 medium

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9x5x3 1/2 inch loaf pan with butter or Baker's Joy spray.

Cream the softened butter and brown sugar together. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat together. Combine the baking soda and sour cream, then beat this mixture into the batter.

Sift together the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour and salt. Alternately add the flour mixture and the mashed bananas to the batter and mix until well combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly into the corners. Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour. Allow it to cool on wire rack.

12.09.2010

Carrot-Apple-Ginger Soup


It's cold outside. Really cold.

Temperatures took a dive into the teens Tuesday night, so my evening walk with the dog was very brief (i.e. down the street and back).  The weather also affected the dinner menu. A cold salad? No way. I rummaged through the fridge and opted to make Carrot-Apple-Ginger soup.

This soup, or a variation thereof, was a standby when I attended culinary school back in the early 1990s. It was a new flavor combination for me, having grown up on cans of Campbell's chicken noodle and tomato soup, with the occasional tin of cream of mushroom thrown in on special occasions. I was amazed that simply simmering a few ingredients together could result in something so rich and flavorful.

Carrot-Apple-Ginger soup lends itself to a myriad of interpretations. Use pear in place of apple, a winter squash instead of carrot — just don't leave out the ginger. It provides the underlying oomph that makes this simple soup something special.

Carrot-Apple-Ginger Soup

2 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons butter
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and chopped
2 apples, peeled and chopped
3-inch piece of ginger, peeled and minced
5-6 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil and butter in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and a pinch of salt, cooking until the vegetables are soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the carrots, apples and ginger, cook for a minute or two, then add the stock or water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook until the carrots are soft (about 25 minutes) then puree with a blender (immersion or standing) adding more liquid as needed. Season to taste and serve.

12.07.2010

Best ever cranberry relish




I spent Thanksgiving in Los Angeles this year. It was lovely: the people, the food, the weather. The weather! A bit cooler than usual, Southern California's sunny skies were still a nice change from the truly cold temperatures back home. I helped with the food, but I simply followed someone else's recipes. Everything was good, but one thing was missing — Jasper White's Cranberry Relish.


Cranberry sauce made an appearance on the Thanksgiving table and it was very,very good, but it lacked the caramelized sugar, fresh ginger and white pepper that make Jasper White's zesty version my hands down favorite. It's graced my own Thanksgiving table annually since I first discovered the recipe in White's outstanding book, Cooking From New England (out of print, but worth searching for).

When I landed at RDU, my mind turned immediately to the bags of cranberries I'd purchased before the holiday and stashed in the freezer. Happily I had all of the necessary ingredients in the fridge and pantry, so pulling it together took just a few minutes. This relish is good enough to eat straight out of the pan, but I saved most of it for turkey-cranberry sandwiches.

I eyeball my ingredients, and probably add more lemon juice, white pepper and ginger than called for in the recipe that follows. Taste and adjust quantities as you see fit, but trust me, this is close to perfect.

Cranberry Relish
Adapted from Cooking From New England
Makes about 3 cups

2 oranges
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, julienned
1 12-oz. bag cranberries, fresh or frozen
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

Finely grate the zest of one orange and set aside. Squeeze the juice from both oranges into a small bowl.

Combine the sugar and freshly squeezed lemon juice into a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the sugar begins to turn a light brown, washing down the sides of the pan with a little water if needed to prevent burning.

When the sugar is caramelized, add the julienned ginger and orange zest. Continue to cook for about 1 minute. Add the cranberries, orange juice, and white pepper. Increase the heat to medium-heat and continue to cook, stirring frequently, for 5-7 minutes, until the berries pop and are broken but not mushy. Remove from the heat and cool.

12.05.2010

Snow! And Havremel Flatbrod


It snowed last night. In other parts of the country, this isn't unusual. But in central North Carolina, it doesn't necessarily snow every year, and wintry white flakes are uncommon in early December. I took a cue from Mother Nature and holed up at home. Chicken stock simmered slowly on the stove and I rummaged through the pantry for a crunchy snack. There were none to be found, so I took note of available ingredients, then browsed through Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Small Breads for a recipe, settling on Havremel Flatbrod, or Norwegian Oatmeal Flatbread.

These crackers are slightly sweet, crispy, and addictive (the dog loves them). The dough is sticky and wet, and was a little difficult to work with. Clayton recommends using a pastry cloth and pastry sleeve-covered rolling pin, but I settled on smearing it across parchment paper with a flexible plastic dough scraper (and used my fingers). The result was a thicker cracker that took longer to cook than the recipe indicates — but I was still pleased.

Clayton writes that this flatbread is traditionally served with cheese, spreads, and soups, but I've been munching on them straight out of my handy Tupperware container. They should last for weeks stored this way, but I don't expect them to be around that long.

Havremel Flatbrod
Adapted from The Complete Book of Small Breads
Makes 1 pound

2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup melted unslated butter
1/2 heaping teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
3 cups all-purpose flour or 2 cups all-purpose flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour
2 cups quick-cooking oats


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Combine the sugar, melted butter and salt in a large bowl. In a separate container, combine the buttermilk and baking soda. Alternately add the flour and the buttermilk to the sugar-butter mixture, then stir in the oatmeal. If you're using a heavy duty mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix for 2 minutes, adding a bit of flour if needed. Knead for 4 minutes.

Working with 1/3 cup of dough at a time, roll it into a ball and then flatten it onto the pastry cloth. Roll it paper-thin with a rolling pin covered in a pastry sleeve. Roll it onto the rolling pin, then unroll it onto a baking sheet. If you don't have a pastry cloth and rolling pin sleeve, spread the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet with a dough scraper, using your fingers as necessary.

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned (my thick flatbread took close to 17 minutes). Slide the flatbread onto a metal rack to cool, and break into pieces.

12.01.2010

Popcorn meals

I've been away from the blogosphere for too long, but the truth is, I haven't cooked much worth writing about in the past few weeks. There were a few batches of what I'll call Disappointing Muffins (not worth posting)  and I've spent a lot of time eating this:


Popcorn, straight out of the microwave bag. Who needs a recipe for that?

I am trying to get out my funk, and have a few blog-worthy items in the hopper, so I hope to return soon with a few tales and recipes to share. I hope you'll stay tuned.

11.11.2010

Pumpkin madness





Pumpkin madness has begun.

Piled high on farmers' market tables, the orange-hued squashes remind shoppers that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Their canned brethren — plain puree and the-too-be-avoided-at-all-costs pie filling — are prominently displayed in end-of-aisle pyramids at the grocery store. And for those not paying attention (or spending time) in food venues, pumpkin spiced drinks now receive top billing at coffee shops.

As much as I like the traditional spices associated with pumpkin pie — nutmeg, cinnamon, clove, sometimes a touch of molasses — I wanted to bake a little pumpkin something-something that veered in a slightly different direction. Regan Daley's recipe for Pumpkin and Orange Breakfast Cake fit the bill. Light and moist, this cake ushers in autumn with a bright citrus note.

I'm tempted to add cranberries in the future, but I stuck to the original recipe this time. Though I'm a coffee girl, I think this would be perfect with a cup of hot tea and the morning paper; a dollop of whipped cream on the side makes it an ideal dessert. And actually, it's delightful served plain, without any garnishes.

I took the lazy route and use canned pumpkin in this recipe, but roasting a pumpkin is easy. Cut a small pumpkin (about 3-4 pounds; use any type other than those sold for jack-o-lanterns) in half, remove the seeds with a spoon, and place in a large cassole dish or jelly roll pan with a few tablespoons of water. Roast at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 50-60 minutes. Scrape the flesh from the skin and pulse in a food processor until smooth. Most pumpkins are very fibrous, which can ruin the texture of baked goods, so don't skip this step.



Pumpkin and Orange Breakfast Cake with a Fresh Orange Syrup
Serves 10
Adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen

Cake:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons finely grated orange zest
3 large eggs, two of them separated
1 cup pumpkin puree, homemade or canned solid-pack pumpkin
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Syrup:
1 large orange, juiced
1/2 cup sugar

additional unsalted butter for greasing the pan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 9-inch fluted tube pan (be sure to get into the nooks to avoid unhappiness later) and set aside.

Cream the butter, sugar, and orange zest until light and fluffy. Add the whole egg and 2 yolks - one at a time - to the butter mixture, scraping down the bowl after each addition. Beat in the pumpkin puree.

Sift the fours, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Add to the batter in 3-4 stages, blending gently after each.

In a small bowl, whop the egg whites to soft peak. Fold them into the batter, then scrape it into the buttered pan and smooth with a spatula. Bake in the center of the oven for 50-60 minutes, until the sides begin to pull away from the pan and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the syrup. combine the 0range juice and sugar in a small pan over low heat and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil without stirring for 2 minutes, then use it immediately (pour a few spoonfuls on invidualy slices) or allow the syrup to cool and refrigerate for up the 3 days.

The cake holds for several days at room temperature if well-wrapped, or can be frozen for up to 2 months.

11.05.2010

Not enough time. And butternut squash soup.



I shouldn't complain about being busy. I'm much better busy. It's sitting around with lots of time on my hands that gets me into trouble. Current time sucks include:

- Work. Enough said.

- Reading. I'm working on Colum McCann's wonderful novel Let the Great World Spin and debating whether or not to download Keith Richards' autobiography Life to my new Kindle. Not a typical Lynn book, but I'm fascinated, because really, that man should be dead by now.

- Line-by-Line, the amazing New York Times series by artist James McMullan (part of the online Opinionator Blog) that teaches readers how to draw. I come home at night, curl up with my laptop, a piece of paper, and a 2B pencil. I haven't created anything worth sharing, but I'm having fun.

- Writing. I signed up for National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNoWriMo.  The goal? To write 50,000 words in the month of November. This particular project isn't going so well.

All of this means I haven't been cooking dinner as often as usual. Or writing about it. Or taking photographs. Which makes me a lousy food blogger.

I did find time to make one of my favorite fall soups earlier in the week: curried butternut squash soup with caramelized pear. Most squashes are fairly delicate in flavor, but butternut holds up well to more assertive spices, like curry. Roasting the squash before adding it to the soup pot would be a great way to enhance the sweetness, but I simply chopped it up and cooked it in chicken stock (the whole time-saving thing). There's no cream in this pureed soup, but it's so smooth you won't miss it. Or feel guilty taking a second helping.

I often caramelize diced apple for this soup — it's a beautiful, tasty garnish — but I had pears in the fridge, so I used them instead. Make this with water or vegetable stock if you like — it will still be great. The soup is simple, good, and worth finding time to make. I promise.


Curried Butternut Squash Soup with Caramelized Pear
Serves 6 to 8

2-3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large white onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
2 teaspoons Madras curry powder
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped into 1x1-inch pieces
6-7 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Kosher salt
white pepper

2 pears (or apples), peeled, cored and finely diced
1 tablespoon butter
pinch sugar

Melt 2-3 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy stockpot. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic, sprinkle in a pinch of salt, and soften over medium heat, about 7-8 minutes. Add the bay leaf, curry powder, and turmeric, and cook for another minute, stirring constantly. Add the butternut squash and stock, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cook 25-30 minutes, until the squash is tender. Puree with an immersion blender or in a standing blender. If you use a traditional blender, be very careful. Hot soup is dangerous stuff. Taste and season with Kosher salt and white pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon of butter in a saute pan until foamy. Add the diced pear and sprinkle with a pinch of sugar, tossing to coat. The fruit will soften and caramelize in a couple of  minutes. Use this as a garnish.

10.31.2010

Smoke detectors and grape focaccia


My home's smoke detectors are very, very sensitive.

I never worry that I'll be asphyxiated in my sleep if the house begins to smolder, which is generally a big positive. But baking things at high temperatures on a stone — crusty, tasty things like pizza — sets off the smoke alarm. I'd forgotten (or blocked out) that tidbit before firing up the stove to make grape focaccia Saturday. The harsh, blaring noise forced me to throw open each and every window while flailing a kitchen towel around my head like a madwoman. It also drove my dog Gus into the backyard. He stayed as far from the house as possible, and had to be coaxed back inside.

It was worth the hassle. Tossed with freshly chopped rosemary and thinly sliced shallots, the grapes wrinkled and softened as they cooked. The natural sugars are intensified as they bake. It's a great textural experience, biting into oozing fruit, warm juices dribbling down your chin, then encountering a mellow bread with a crisp crust.

In the past, I've added a bit of turbinado sugar and crushed fennel seeds to the topping, when I'm going for a sweeter bread, or thrown in a couple of thinly sliced garlic cloves if I want a slightly more savory option. I think thinly sliced roasted fennel would make for an interesting combo — that goes onto the Things To Make in the Future List.


Grape Focaccia with Rosemary and Shallots

This recipe makes enough dough for 2 focacce, about 10 x 16 inches each. The topping quantity listed below is enough for one focaccia. Double the topping quantity if you plan to bake both, or freeze the leftover dough for future use.

Dough
1 package active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water (for dissolving yeast)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 heaping tablespoon Kosher salt
2 1/2 cups water
6 1/2 - 7 cups all-purpose flour

Topping
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups seedless grapes (red or green)
1 tablespoon rosemary, finely chopped
1 large pinch Kosher salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil


Combine the yeast and 1/4 cup of water in a mixing bowl and stir to dissolve. Let it stand for about 10 minutes to proof.

Add the olive oil, salt, 2 1/2 cups of water and flour to the mixing bowl. Stir with a heavy wooden spoon. When the mixture comes together, knead it by hand on a floured work surface until smooth, about 12-15 minutes (a little less if you're using a mixer). Place it in an oiled bowl to rise, covered with plastic wrap or a tea towel, until doubled in size. This will take about 1 1/2 hours.

Divide the dough into 2 pieces and press into the desired shape on lightly floured or parchment-lined baking pans (mine are most often misshapen rectangles). Press your fingertips into the dough, forming small dimples. Cover and allow the shaped dough to rise for about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Brush the dough with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Toss the grapes and sliced shallots with a pinch of Kosher salt and finely chopped rosemary. Spread evenly over the focaccia dough, then bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating once to ensure even browning. Cool on a baking rack for 5 minutes before serving.

10.28.2010

The beauty of roti



Unleavened bread is a wonderful thing. I've known this for a while, but it fell off my radar screen for a couple of years. I got caught up in the hoopla that (justly) surrounded Jim Leahy's No-Knead Bread  and turned to the magic of an easy artisan-style loaf whenever it came time to bake. That changed this past weekend, when I went with an Indian dinner menu for an informal gathering (a.k.a. Game Night).

I'm no Indian food expert, but with the help of Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking, I turned out a great meal featuring braised chicken with bay leaves, cardamom and cloves; lentils in garlic butter; a fresh mint relish; saffron rice; and Besan ki Roti, or Chickpea Flour Bread. Roti requires a bit of last-minute effort, but the recipe couldn't be simpler and the results are terrific. Griddle baked and finished over an open flame, the roti puff up, the soft aroma of chickpea flour wafting into the kitchen as the breads gently deflate and are brushed with ghee (clarified butter). The bread is lovely by itself, though it's the perfect vehicle for scooping up other foods. I'll be making roti for solo meals, rolling out small portions of dough on an as-needed basis, but it's fun party food, something guests can help with just before you sit down to eat.

Note: I plan on increasing the amount of red pepper a bit the next time I make roti. I couldn't taste it and didn't get any heat using the recommended 1/2 teaspoon in the original recipe that follows. Follow your taste buds.


Chickpea Flour Bread (Besan ki Roti)
Makes 24 six-inch roti, enough for 8-12 people
Adapted from Classic Indian Cooking

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup chickpea flour
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon red pepper (optional)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 1/4 cups (or more) warm water
additional all-purpose flour for dusting

Put the whole wheat flour, one cup of all-purpose flour, chickpea flour, Kosher salt and red pepper (if you're using it) in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse a few times to combine, then add then the water slowly through the feed tube with the machine running. The dough will come together in a shaggy mass.

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead for 10-15 minutes by hand. The dough will be soft and slightly sticky. Cover and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes, but up to 24 hours, before you plan to bake.

Place the dough on a work surface, dusting flour at the ready, and knead gently for about a minute. Divide it into 2 balls, then divide each of those into 12 equal portions. Roll the pieces into small balls and cover with plastic wrap as you work with them individually.

Place one ball on your work surface, dusting with flour to prevent sticking, and flatten with a rolling pin. Roll into a disc about 6-inches in diameter.

Bake on a hot griddle (I used a cast-iron skillet) until a few brown spots appear and the bottom is cooked, then flip over and cook the other side for about 30 seconds. Using a pair of tongs, hold the bread flat over another burner  — over the flame — with the gas set to high. Cook for 10-15 seconds, then turn and cook the other side for another 10-15 seconds.

Serve as is, or brush with ghee (clarified butter). Roti doesn't reheat well — it gets dried out and leathery — so enjoy fresh off the flame or at room temperature.


10.21.2010

Hibernating with orange flower-buttermilk sorbet



What to do with the three-quarters of a quart of Maple View Farm buttermilk sitting in the refrigerator? Though I am the type to drink it, I decided to make sorbet — something to share. I was headed to my friend Cathy's house for dinner and a movie, and dessert was in order. Rather than stick with the ever popular buttermilk-lemon combination, I opted to use the orange flower water that's been sitting in my pantry for eons (alongside an almost identical pretty blue bottle of rosewater).

Orange flower water has a floral quality that makes a nice counterpoint to buttermilk's rich, slightly sour flavor. Combined with simple syrup for sweetness and brightened with a few drops of fresh lemon juice, the sorbet was a big success. Cathy and I enjoyed a quiet evening with a few episodes of HBO's New Orleans drama Treme, bowls in hand. I highly recommend both. 

Note: I added orange zest to the sorbet for color and flavor, but it should be considered optional — the sorbet would be good without it. If you opt for pretty orange flecks, add them after your sorbet is frozen, stirring it into the finished product as it comes out of the ice cream machine. Zest sometimes catches on the mixing paddle of the ice cream maker, forming a big clump rather than the evenly dispersed look you're going for. 

Look for orange flower water in Middle Eastern stores or the ethnic section of an upscale grocery like Whole Foods. You can also order it (and rosewater) from Amazon. I'm a big fan of the frozen canister type ice cream makers made for home use — they come in 1 and 2-quart sizes, and you can buy an extra canister or two if you make lots of frozen desserts.


Orange Flower - Buttermilk Sorbet
Makes about 1 quart

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
3 cups buttermilk
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon orange flower water
zest of 1 orange, finely grated

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then turn off the heat and set the simple syrup aside to cool. 

When the syrup is room temperature, combine it with the buttermilk, lemon juice and orange flower water to create the sorbet base. Chill for at least one hour, then freeze according to your ice cream machine's instructions. Add the orange zest to the sorbet after removing it from the machine and freeze for up to 1 month.

10.15.2010

Rhett's Southern pantry



One of things I like most about my friend Rhett is his love of all things Southern. He is fiercely devoted to his hometown of Charleston and will never live anywhere else. He doesn't want to. I, too, am a Southerner, but my loyalties aren't so strong. I left North Carolina as soon as I graduated from college planning never to return. 16 years later I find myself enjoying life in Chapel Hill — enjoying it very much — but I threaten to move far, far way on a regular basis. I think it's the way I'm wired.

Rhett's reaction to my recent blog post on pantry basics came as no surprise. He sent a brief list of things he thought I missed, things his kitchen never lacks. All of these items are very regional, very Charleston, very much like Rhett himself — and I thought it would be fun to share. What follows is a slightly edited version of his email, as well as my own input. Maybe you'll be inspired add a few items to your list of kitchen staples.

Rhett's Pantry Staples

Bourbon

Rhett: I drink it, yes. However, it does amazing things to pork, chicken, soups and chili; it's also great with chocolate and nuts.

Lynn: I don't drink it, but I keep a bottle of Maker's Mark my liquor cabinet. Friends (you know who you are) love the stuff, and I cook with it occasionally, using it to flavor ice cream, cake and hard sauce.

Buttermilk

Rhett: Without buttermilk there is no reason on this good earth to make biscuits, cornbread, pancakes/waffles or fry much of anything. It elevates wild game to new heights.

Lynn: Agreed. And I like to drink it, something my restaurant coworkers back in Boston thought was particularly disgusting.

Grits and cornmeal

Rhett: These are the most under-rated food items in the world. They pair well with seafood, chicken, veal, and wild game (marsh hens with grits and gravy). Fried grits can be topped with anything from pulled pork to caviar and creme fraiche.

Lynn: I keep cornmeal from White's Mill in Abingdon,Virginia in my pantry at all times. Your comments have set off a shrimp and grits craving.

Local honey

Rhett: Sue Bee is the Coors Light of honey — tasteless. Making the extra effort to buy local is more than worth it. It helps local farmers, the local economy, and provides many health benefits.

Lynn: Good point. I buy honey from Little Tree Farm in Oxford, NC. It's more expensive than nationally distributed honey, but worth it.

10.14.2010

Joy's cornbread




My father claims that it took my mother, Joy, two years to perfect her cornbread. Many of her initial cooking efforts were, um,  unsuccessful. I've heard tales of burnt pot roast, fallen cakes, and undercooked vegetables, though those last dishes would be considered overcooked by many today — think green beans stewed for hours with bacon. To be fair, Joy had just turned 20 when they married, and she didn't have much cooking experience. She went from her parents' house to a dorm room to sharing a trailer with her new spouse in Jackson, Mississippi.

When I stop to think about it, my father was probably just looking for his mother's cornbread. Don't most men want food like Mom used to make? Maybe this post should be named after my paternal grandmother.

I compare all other cornbread to this one, the one my mother made daily when I was growing up. When I left home it was the one recipe of hers I had to have, the one thing I knew I'd want to recreate wherever I lived, so I set out to record the process exactly. But Joy doesn't measure ingredients when she makes this particular dish. The cups and scoops come out for just about everything else, but cornbread she creates by eye, by feel. We came to a consensus after a few tries, and I'm happy to report that the following recipe will very accurately reproduce Joy's version.

This isn't for everyone. I expect that anyone accustomed to what my father calls "Yankee cornbread" will be appalled by the crisp exterior, lack of sugar, and somewhat dry crumb, but these are things I like best about it. I love the crunch, the fact that this cornbread is perfect for scooping up the juices that surround slow-cooked Southern summer vegetables like pink-eyed peas and butter beans.

Compared to Miss Effie's cornbread, described by my friend Kitty in her guest post back in August, my mother's cornbread is loaded with "extras" like flour and baking soda. Joy used to cook this with bacon grease — she kept it in an old orange juice concentrate container in the fridge — but she's lightened up and uses vegetable oil now. An iron skillet is mandatory. Don't even think about baking this in another type of pan. Leftovers can be frozen — they're great for stuffing.




Joy's Cornbread

1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil, lard or butter for the skillet
1/3 cup cornmeal (yellow or white)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon table salt
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Place a 10-inch cast iron skillet — the bottom coated with a tablespoon of bacon grease, vegetable oil, or butter —  in the oven as it heats. The hot oil creates that crispy exterior you're aiming for.

Combine the dry ingredients in a medium mixing bowl with a fork or whisk. In another bowl, whisk the egg into the buttermilk, then pour this mixture into the dry ingredients. Pour the batter (it will be pretty thick) into the preheated skillet, spreading it to the sides with a spatula. Bake for 20 minutes. Warm slices are best slathered with butter.

10.12.2010

The pantry




My friend Kathleen emailed me a few months ago with a question. She wondered how I could "whip up dinner every night," making a modest meal out of whatever was already in the house. My culinary background helps, but the truth is my day-to-day meals are nothing fancy, just good, simple dishes made from great ingredients. I visit the grocery store or farmers' market a couple of times each week for fresh produce or proteins, but I do have a well-stocked kitchen. The refrigerator always contains eggs, a hunk of parmesan cheese, a couple of lemons; the pantry is never without pasta, rice, a large assortment of dried herbs, and a few vinegars. The assortment varies a bit, but below is a list of basics I think every kitchen should have. It limits multiple trips to the store and allows you to create something tasty with whatever fresh items you bring home.

A few hints: it's wise to buy dried herbs and spices in the smallest containers you can find, unless you have a big cooking or baking day planned. Yes, they are more expensive per ounce, but they age quickly. Old oregano that smells and tastes like dust is no bargain. Check for bulk items at the grocery - you can buy as much or as little as you'd like, the turnover is usually pretty good, and the pricing is better.

The following is a very basic list of pantry staples. Herbs are dried unless otherwise noted.

Salt  - Table salt and kosher salt. I almost exclusively use kosher salt, but table salt is often called for in baking recipes because the smaller grains dissolve more easily. Kosher salt doesn't contain additives - typically iodine - found in table salt.

Whole black peppercorns - grind to order in a pepper mill

Vinegars - My first choice is sherry vinegar; I always have white wine and red wine vinegars as well as a good quality balsamic

Pasta - I keep one long, skinny pasta (spaghetti, fettucini) and one or two shorter types (penne, macaroni)

Rice - long rained white rice is my first option; brown rice allows me to feel virtuous

Mustard - Dijon (regular or grainy) and dried ( I love Coleman's)

Kalamata olives (in a glass jar, not a can; canned olives taste like tin)
Canola oil (or another neutral vegetable oil)

Chile oil
Bay leaves
Cinnamon, sticks and ground
Coriander seeds
Cumin seeds
Fennel seeds
Oregano leaves
Baking powder
Baking soda
Unsweetened cocoa powder
Vanilla extract
All-purpose flour
Unsalted butter
Eggs (large)
White or yellow onions - 2 or 3
Fresh garlic heads - 2 or 3
Red onion -1
Whole peeled tomatoes, canned - 2 or 3 cans
Extra virgin olive oil
Dried red chile peppers - whole
Hot red pepper flakes
Sugar - granulated and light brown
Soy sauce - I prefer Kikkoman
Tabasco sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Fresh lemons - 2 in the fridge at all times
Fresh parsley - I grow my own, so it's available at a moment's notice

10.07.2010

Creamy bean soup



Scrumptious, smooth, creamy. Herb-scented, olive oil-enriched, crouton-garnished. I need to create quite an impression of the simple bean soup I made last weekend, because the pictures, well, the pictures aren't so great. And if you don't try this (brown soup with beige croutons) you'll regret it.

Spectacular fall weather inspired a bit of bean cookery over the weekend. I ventured into the pantry and broke out a bag of better-than-average heirloom beans — snowcap beans — from Rancho Gordo. Beans I ordered and got all worked up over in June, and with good reason. The heirloom varieties I've tried thus far have been amazingly good. Like all great ingredients, the Rancho Gordo beans haven't needed much help, just the addition a few aromatic vegetables and an herb or two.

Snowcap beans remind me of cranberry beans with their rich, velvety texture — perfect for soups. When I make this type of pureed bean soup I typically use a little pancetta, cooking the vegetables in rendered fat before adding the beans, herbs, and water or chicken stock, using the crisped meat as a garnish. Feel free to do that here if you'd like, but if you go to the trouble of procuring heirloom beans, try it first without the meat. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

You'll find many different opinions on the best ways to cook dried beans. Some people recommend adding dried seaweed or crushed espazote to the water to aid digestion; others insist that a pinch of baking soda does the trick. Many advise that you not add salt to the bean pot until they're done, lest you toughen the skins and prevent them from ever truly cooking through. I haven't found that any of these things are true, and I've tried them all. Seaweed and espazote are nice for flavor, but I'm not convinced that they help the, er, bean problem. Dried beans benefit from a soak prior to cooking —  this simply speeds up the process.




Velvety Bean Soup
Serve 6-8

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound dried snowcap or cranberry beans
1 large onion, diced
5 garlic cloves, minced
2 carrots, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 rosemary sprigs
10 sage leaves
water
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper


Cover the dried beans with cold water and soak, refrigerated, 8 hours. When it's time to cook the beans, drain and proceed with the recipe. If you're pressed for time, place the dried beans in a large pot and cover with water by about 2 inches. Bring to a boil, cover with a lid, then shut off the heat and allow the beans to soak for one hour. Drain, then proceed with the recipe below.

Warm the olive oil in a heavy-bottom stockpot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the celery and carrots, stir, and cook another 5 minutes. Add the herbs and soaked beans, and cover with fresh water by about 2 inches. Simmer the beans until tender, adding more water if necessary. My batch of beans cooked in about 35 mintues, but please note that the cooking time varies, as some beans are older (and therefore more dried out) than others.

Remove the herb sprigs and puree with an immersion blender or standing blender. If using an upright, work in small batches with the lid loosely covering the top, and allow the soup to cool a little bit before pureeing. Hot splatters are painful as well as messy. Add more water to thin the soup if necessary and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish with freshly made croutons (toast small cubes of the best white bread you can find in a little extra virgin olive oil on the stove top) and a drizzle of olive oil.

10.01.2010

Slightly cooler temps = spicy three bean chili



All of my bitching about hot temperatures brought about a change in the weather. OK, that had nothing to do with it, but we've been hit with 2 days of much needed rain, the kind of weather that makes me want to curl up with a book and put a pot of soup on the stove. So what if it's a comfortable 74 degrees? Cooler weather calls for a celebration, and the promise of autumn brings thoughts of football, colorful leaves, and hearty foods. Fall is the best time for chili.

I took a yoga class after work, delaying my return home by an hour, so I used canned beans for my veggie chili meal. I use dried beans whenever possible (better flavor, less sodium, significantly less expensive), but this was a last minute decision, and I wanted chili before midnight.

My vegetarian chili recipe isn't set it stone — sometimes I add smoky chipolte peppers, toss in a zucchini or two, add a bottle of ale — but this recipe is a pretty standard starting point. I love the heat and complexity provided by fire-roasted tomatoes and jalapeno peppers, but feel free to make adjustments. Cooling garnishes include sour cream and cheese, if you like that kind of thing. I settled for a sprinkling of scallions on top, a piece of cornbread on the side. Hunkered down with a bowl of spicy bean marvelousness, my legs tucked underneath me on the couch, and a book in hand (The 19th Wife, which is good, but I've reached the saturation point with this polygamy thing), I couldn't have planned a better night.


Spicy Three Bean Chili
Makes about 8 servings

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery stalk, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
3 jalapeno peppers
2 teaspoons ground cumin (freshly ground if possible)
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 bay leaves
2  15-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes, including juice
1 28-ounce can whole peeled or diced tomatoes, including juice
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans, drained
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Possible garnishes:
scallions, chopped
sour cream
lime juice
cilantro, chopped
cheddar cheese, grated

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed stockpot. Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium low heat until soft. Add the green pepper, celery and jalapeno, and cook for another 3-4  minutes. Add the chili powder, freshly ground cumin and bay leaves. Add the tomatoes and beans, stirring well to combine. Sprinkle with a few pinches of kosher salt and bring to a simmer. If the chili is too thick, thin it with a little water. Cook for at least 30 minutes before serving — longer is better. Like most chilies, this one improves with time. For best results, make it a day in advance.

9.28.2010

The promise of fall and spaghetti squash joys


.
I am desperate for fall to arrive. It officially began September 22 this year, but you wouldn't know it. Summer heat continues, with average high temperatures in the eighties, so my sweaters remain tucked away, the air conditioner continues to run throughout the afternoon, and my thoughts of warm autumnal foods remain just that. Thoughts.

Happily there is one super simple, light fall squash dish that doesn't seem terribly out of place in this unseasonal weather: spaghetti squash with butter, parsley and parmesan. A dish so easy it requires only a quick description rather than a formal recipe. A dish that allows me to cook and consume a vegetable in season, without feeling heavy and weighed down. Plus, it's fun - the cooked flesh pulls away from the yellow skin in long, willowy strands that wrap perfectly around a fork. Mild in flavor, I think spaghetti squash shines when paired with these light ingredients, but it's sometimes tossed with tomato sauce, a dieter's stand in for the more caloric pasta.

I like to roast the squash in a medium oven, but you can cook it in the microwave if you're in a hurry. If you opt to nuke it, split the squash down the middle, remove the inner guts and seeds, and cook with 2 tablespoons water on a microwave safe plate for about 10 minutes. Microwaves differ (as do squash), so it make take a little more or less time. When the squash is soft and the strands pull out easily, you're good to go. They will retain a little crunch when cooked.


Spaghetti Squash with Parsley and Parmesan
Serves 3-4

1 spaghetti squash, weighing about 3 pounds
3/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup parsley, grated
3-4 tablespoons of butter
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Pierce the spaghetti squash several times all over with the tines of a fork. This will allow steam to escape during cooking - you don't want it to explode in the oven. Bake until soft, about 1 hour. Remove from the oven and split in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon, then use a fork to pull the spaghetti-like strands away from the skin. Place the strands in a bowl, toss with the remaining ingredients, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

9.26.2010

Cell phones and pecan shortbread




It was a quiet Saturday. Very quiet. I was busy with meetings and errands, household chores and dog walks, but I enjoyed an unusual amount of down time, time for reading and movies — pleasures I don't get enough of on weekends. It was fantastic. I was a little miffed that I hadn't heard from a few people, but happy with the silence, the tranquility. When I went to recharge my cell phone Saturday night I realized the ringer was turned off. Five messages on voice mail, seven missed calls. Lesson learned: put the phone on vibrate more often, though do it intentionally.

Baking was included in Saturday's roster, as I planned to meet friends for coffee and wanted to bring a snack. I think coffee meetings beg for snacks. These can come in a savory form, but most often a sweet, sugary something-something is the best accompaniment to hot beverages and scintillating conversation. Or even not-so-great conversation. Our meeting was lively and fun, but I do think the cookies added a bit of cheer.

This was my first time baking cookies from celebrated author Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours (my very first post featured her pound cake). If the pecan shortbread is any indication of how good her other cookie recipes are, I look forward to more time in the kitchen with this book.

Greenspan's technique for rolling out shortbread dough was a revelation to me. I've always patted the soft dough into a prepared pan, pricked it with a fork, and preceded with baking. In this recipe, the dough is placed in a plastic bag with a zipped closure and rolled out into a smooth rectangle using a rolling pin. The top of the bag is left open during the rolling to let out air and avoid a nasty explosion. When the correct size is reached, the bag is sealed and the dough is left to firm in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before it's cut into squares and baked. The result: the neatest, cleanest looking shortbread cookies I've ever made. Tasty, too.

Brown Sugar-Pecan Shortbread Cookies
Makes 32 cookies
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
pinch of ground cloves
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup finely ground pecans

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting (optional)

Sift the flour, cornstarch, salt and cloves together and set aside.

Beat the butter and brown sugar together until the mixture is very smooth (about 3 minutes in a heavy stand mixer using the paddle attachment). Reduce the speed to low and add the dry ingredients. Mix only to incorporate - don't overwork. Add the ground pecans and mix the dough just a few more times, evenly distributing the nuts.

Use a rubber spatula to transfer the dough to a gallon-size zipper-lock plastic bag. Leaving the top open, place the bag on a flat work surface, and roll the dough into a 9 x 10 1/2 inch rectangle that's about 1/4" thick (mine was little thicker). Turn and lift the bag as you roll to avoid creases. Seal the bag, pressing out air, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or for up to 2 days.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and position the racks to divide the oven into thirds. Line  baking sheets with parchment or silicone mats.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and slit the bag open. Turn it onto a cutting board (throw out the bag) and cut the dough into 1 1/2-inch squares. Place the squares on the baking sheets and prick each with a fork, gently pushing the tines through the cookies until they hit the sheet.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through (back to front and top to bottom). The cookies will still be very pale when they're done. Cool on a rack. I skipped the confectioners' sugar, but, if you like, dust the cookies with it while they're still warm. Cool to room temperature before serving.

These will keep in an airtight container for about 4 days at room temperature. They can be frozen for up to 2 months.

9.22.2010

Just because peanut butter cookies




Peanut butter cookies remind me of my Uncle James. More accurately, they remind me of my mother, Joy, who bakes them for her brother a few times each year. Christmas is a given, but she's been known to whip up a batch of cookies for his birthday, when he's not feeling well, or just because. I think just because is the best reason of all. Fresh flowers gracing Monday night's dinner table, a hand written note that doesn't mark a special life occasion — these are the things that make me smile.

Joy relies on an old, well-worn copy of The Joy of Cooking for many recipes, and peanut butter cookies are no exception. They're crumbly and rich — wonderful cookies that remind me of home. One big whiff of the very peanut buttery dough transports me to childhood. My elementary school age self, slightly dusted with flour, stands at the kitchen counter, pressing the tines of a fork oh-so-carefully into the tops of the raw dough, simultaneously flattening and marking the cookies with a cross-hatch.

As a forty-something, I've strayed from my mother's standard recipe, adding coarsely chopped peanuts to the dough and often opting for the extra-large variety, which I find extra-appealing. I made a batch Tuesday night (regular size) and mailed half to Uncle James; the remaining cookies made it to work the following day. It's no one's birthday, (happily) no one is ill; it's a batch of Just Because Peanut Butter Cookies.

Peanut Butter Cookies
Makes about 28 cookies

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup peanut butter (smooth or chunky)
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of kosher salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup lightly salted peanuts, roughly chopped (optional)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking soda. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter, then add the peanut butter and sugar, beating until light. Add the egg and vanilla, mixing until combined. Add the dry ingredients, mixing until well blended. Add the chopped peanuts (if using).

Roll the dough 1 1/2- inch balls and space them 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Flatten them slightly with the tines of a fork (I like to mark them in 2 directions, the lines running perpendicular to each other in a crosshatch pattern — old habit). Bake for 10-11 minutes, until light golden brown. Remove to a rack to cool.

9.15.2010

Most excellent cherry oatmeal cookies




A package of dried Bing cherries caught my eye at Trader Joe's over the weekend. Clipped neatly to a hanger that ran the length of the shelf, the ruby spheres looked, well, interesting. Desirable. Promising. Surely they'd add something special to a grain salad or batch of brownies (those marketing people know what they're doing). Into my cart they went.

I began leafing through Cindy Mushet's cookbook The Art & Soul of Baking when I got home. Buoyed by my recent success with her cream scone recipe, I was eager to try more of her creations. Is it merely coincidence that the book included a recipe for Cherry Oatmeal Cookies? Divine intervention? I don't know, but in less than an hour I had a batch of homemade goodness a coworker described as "the best cookie ever." I've already received a request to make them again for Halloween. Is there a Halloween party at work I don't know about?

The only change I made to the original recipe was to increase the amount of dried cherries and oatmeal in the dough — in my opinion, more cherries and more oatmeal make for a better cookie. If you want to follow the recipe as written, decrease the amounts listed below by 1/4 cup. According to the cookbook, this recipe makes about 50 cookies, but I ended up with 36. Okay, so I ate a few spoonfuls of raw dough (I couldn't help myself), but not 14 cookies worth. I swear.


Cherry Oatmeal Cookies
Makes about 36 cookies

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup light brown sugar, firmly packed
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup dried cherries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and place a rack in the middle of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula to be certain the ingredients are evenly combined. Add the egg and vanilla extract and blend well.

In another bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer at a low speed, combine the dry ingredients to the butter mixture.  Add the oatmeal and dried cherries and mix until evenly combined.

Use a small ice cream scoop or spoon to portion the dough, spacing the cookies 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake for 13 to 16 minutes, rotating the baking sheets once to ensure even cooking. The cookies should be cooled on a rack and may be stored in an airtight container for up to 3 days.








9.10.2010

Improving my morning scone



Scones are lovely when properly made, but many store bought versions are lackluster at best.  I knew better than to purchase one at Starbucks the other day — none of their food is worth spending my money on — but they looked so pretty, sprinkled with sugar and piled high under a glass dome next to the cash register. I couldn't help it. I caved.

Maybe it would be different this time, I thought. Maybe this particular scone would have real flavor and a tender crumb, maybe it would bring back memories of clotted cream and jam at high tea. No such luck. I choked down the dry, bland crumbs with my Venti half-caff and swore I'd never waste my hard earned money on a Starbucks pastry again. It was time to start baking scones at home.

I tried a few different sources before declaring Cindy Mushet's cream scone from The Art & Soul of Baking the winner of my find-the-best-scone-recipe contest. Rich flavor + tender crumb + crisp crust = a good morning. I added orange zest and fresh rosemary to the dough for a different twist, though I baked three batches before I was really pleased with the results.

The first batch was tasty but the flavors were a little too faint. Batch two was a classic case of overcompensation — too much orange zest resulted in a slightly bitter scone (not what I want in my morning pastry). The third go round proved most satisfactory, a nice balance of sweet and savory, no trace of bitterness, but not cloying. As always, use the following recipe as a starting off point and make adjustments to suit your taste buds. A drizzle of orange glaze (1/2 cup powdered sugar and 1-2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice) would be a nice touch if you like a sweeter scone.

And now my mind focuses not on work to be done, but scone varieties:  classic currant, lemon-poppy seed, ginger, blueberry. As I write, Mushet's buttermilk raisin scone recipe beckons — additional scone postings are very likely to follow.


Orange Rosemary Scones
Makes 8 scones

Adapted from The Art & Soul of Baking

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 orange, finely grated
2 heaping tablespoons rosemary, chopped
1 stick (4 ounces) cold unsalted butter, cubed
1 cup chilled heavy cream
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon sugar and a touch of brown sugar for topping

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone mat.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a food processor and process for several seconds to combine. Add the orange zest and rosemary and pulse again. Add the butter and pulse a few times, until cut into small pieces. Add the cream and pulse until the dough begins to clump together. I opted to finish pressing the dough together by hand on a work surface rather than risk over processing.

Pat the dough into a 1-inch thick circle, roughly 7 inches in diameter, then cut into 8 equal wedges. Place the wedges on the prepared baking sheet about 2 inches apart, then brush the tops with lightly beaten egg (there will be some left over) and sprinkle the tops with sugar.

Bake in the center of the oven for 14-16 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a rack for 5 minutes before serving. The scones are best served the same day, but (despite Cindy Mushet's warnings) I found they were still acceptable 24 hours later if stored in an airtight container.

9.07.2010

A soft shell legacy




Old boyfriends leave legacies, some better than others. Exes have, in no particular order, improved my computer skills, introduced me to camping, and tried (unsuccessfully) to turn me into a runner. One of the better gifts of the past: grilled soft shell crab with Thai spices, a specialty of former boyfriend Joe Number One. Number One is not to be confused with Joe Number Two, whose legacy included thrift store t-shirts and Indie music.

Huddled over a Smokey Joe Weber Grill on the back porch of my Boston apartment many years ago, Joe Number One introduced a new approach to the soft shell crab. (Never mind that we weren't supposed to be grilling anything on the rickety wooden porch of a triple decker; I kept a large bucket of water and a fire extinguisher at the ready). I was accustomed to sauteed soft shells, usually served with a pan sauce in a fancy restaurant or squished between two buttery rolls slathered with mayo. Joe Number One's crabs were a revelation. The flavors were bright and clean, accented with lemongrass and cilantro. When I learned that soft shell crabs would be part of my Core Sound Seafood share last week, I knew exactly what I'd do with them.

Joe Number One is long gone — he's married, has a daughter, and calls California home — but I think good thoughts and give him a big thumbs up when soft shells come into season. They aren't in season this time of year, but were included in last week's CSF share due to rough fishing conditions.

My frozen soft shells were already processed, but if you purchase live crabs in the spring, you may have to clean them yourself. Cut off the eyes and mouth with a pair of kitchen scissors or paring knife, then lift the pointy shell ends and remove the gills. Lastly, flip the crab over and remove the remove the apron, a flap on the underside. This isn't as difficult (or ghastly) as it sounds, though I find it's easier if I thank the crabs for their sacrifice before beginning.

Marinate the crabs for 30 minutes to 1 hour before grilling. I enjoyed mine with a pile of jasmine rice and sauteed bok choy — they are best with simple sides. And when you bite into your beautifully seasoned soft shell crab, try to recall a few (positive) things your ex(es) left you.


Grilled Soft Shell Crabs with Thai Spices
Makes marinade enough for 3-4 soft shell crabs

2 stalks lemongrass, outer leaves removed, minced
2 serrano chiles, minced
6 scallions, white and light green parts, minced
juice of 1 lime
pinch sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
4 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
kosher salt

Preheat the grill.

Combine the first seven ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Pour over cleaned soft shells and allow to marinate for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with kosher salt and grill over a medium flame, turning once. The crabs will turn red as they cook, and should be done in about 5 minutes. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

9.06.2010

Late nights and food processor poundcake




Fistfuls of chocolate-covered almonds and late day caffeinated beverages conspired to keep me up way past bedtime Saturday night. I spent the evening with my good friends Rob and Kirstin, dining outdoors in their lovely backyard, dogs underfoot, followed by a (sloppy) game of darts. Rob won. When I returned home it was time to wind down, but I was far too jacked up by artificial stimulants to sleep. What to do close to midnight when sleeping is impossible? I broke out the food processor and started a baking project I'd put off for a over a week.

My friend CB emailed me in late August with a request. Attached was a link to Mark Bittman's New York Times piece "Sneaking a Poundcake Out of the Food Processor," which she wanted me to try. Is it really possible to make a decent cake batter in the food processor? I was curious, especially since I'd made a version of that very recipe (it was adapted from Flo Braker's The Simple Art of Perfect Baking, a wonderful book I've used for years) using a stand mixer. The primary difference between the newspaper version and the original (aside from technique): the Grandaisy Bakery poundcake is soaked in a citrus syrup after baking, intensifying flavor as well as the moisture level. This is a moist cake anyway, due to the almond paste in the mix. Using the food processor was quick, easy, the resulting cake wasn't tough, as I'd worried — try it yourself and see.


Citrus-Almond Poundcake
Serves 10-12
Adapted from The New York Times and Grandaisy Bakery

12 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
flour for pan
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
3 cups plus 2 tablespoons sugar
7 ounces almond paste
7 large eggs
2 teaspoons lemon zest
2 teaspoons orange zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Thoroughly butter and flour an 8-cup Bundt pan, making sure to cover all nooks and crannies.

Put the lemon and orange juice in a small heavy saucepan with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place the almond paste and 2 cups of sugar in the bowl of a food processor and process until completely combined. Add cold, cubed butter and process until light. Add the eggs individually with the machine running; add the zests and vanilla and process until smooth.

Stop the machine and add the flour, baking powder and salt. Pulse a few times, being careful not to over process, which will result in a tough cake. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake about 1 hour and 10 minutes, until golden. The cake is done when a cake tester or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool in the pan, on a rack,  for about 15-20 minutes, then pour the citrus soak over it. Let it stand for 30 minutes, until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from the pan and slice.

9.02.2010

An edamame spread





Fresh edamame pods have a rather magical quality. Fuzzy and green, they're something I want to reach out and touch, rather than tear apart and eat. When they appeared in last week's CSA box, I debated how to prepare them. I frequently boil or steam the pods, sprinkle them with coarse salt, and pretend I'm in a Japanese restaurant, splitting them open and popping individual beans into my mouth. I've added edamame to salads, soups, and risotto, but this time I opted to turn them into a dip or spread — something healthy to snack on when I come home famished.

Cooked until tender and pureed with olive oil, fresh mint, and garlic, the soy beans morph into a bright green, beautifully flecked spread that's a nice alternative to the ubiquitous hummus. I added lemon juice, scallions, and a serrano pepper for spark; you might try red onion or lime juice instead. This is good stuff — I nearly consumed the entire batch while reading (The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; highly recommend).

Edamame Dip
Makes about 3 cups

2 cups edamame beans, shelled
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 serrano pepper, seeded and chopped
2 small bunches scallions, white and light green portion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup warm water
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper

Bring a quart of lightly salted water to a boil; add edamame and cook until tender, about 7-8 minutes. Drain and place in a food processor with mint, serrano pepper, scallions, garlic and lemon juice. Pulse a few times, then scrape down the sides. With the motor running, add extra virgin olive oil and water through the feed tube. If the dip is too thick, add more water. Season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.

8.29.2010

Breakfast baking — blueberry cornbread


The baking bug got me this weekend — Saturday afternoon, to be exact. I wanted something with a crust, a bit of crumble, a piece of baked goodness that I could reheat and smear with butter for breakfast or a snack. After running errands all day I wasn't willing to make another trip to the grocery store, so a quick review of the pantry determined the menu.

The refrigerator contained a near empty quart of buttermilk, a half eaten container of my favorite Greek yogurt, a carton of eggs, and a pint of blueberries. Pantry staples flour, cornmeal, baking soda and salt were a given; combining all of the aforementioned ingredients resulted in Beth Hensperger's Yogurt Cornbread (with blueberries).

Without the berries, this would still be a nice cornbread. More cake-like than the cornbread I grew up with (or that described by my friend Kitty in her guest post), this bread is lightened with a cup of all-purpose flour, given rise with baking soda, moistened with egg, buttermilk and yogurt. The addition of blueberries transforms it from a lunch or dinner accompaniment to a breakfast-worthy treat. On Sunday morning, I toasted a slice in a cast-iron skillet and dabbed it with honey butter, which added the touch of sweetness I thought it needed to pass as breakfast food. With hot coffee and The New York Times, it was a wonderful way to start my day.


Blueberry Cornbread
Adapted from The Bread Bible
Makes one 8-inch cornbread

1 cup fine yellow cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
grated zest of 1 orange
2 large eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/4 cups plain yogurt
1/4 cup corn oil (I used canola oil)
1 pint blueberries, rinsed

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Thoroughly butter an 8-inch springform or deep cake pan and set aside.

Combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, baking soda, sugar and zest in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk and yogurt. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk together. Add the oil and blend to combine. Fold in the blueberries taking care not to over mix, then spoon the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake in the center of the oven for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Let stand for at least 15 minutes on a cooling rack before serving.