Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Vegetarian Fajitas

It's Cinco de Mayo! Let's go loco! Just kidding. I made these a few weeks ago. Also, someone once told me that Cinco de Mayo is not such a big deal in Mexico, so just sit on your sombrero until September 16th.

I made these fajitas sort of on a whim (which explains my lack of authentic photos), but I feel the need to post them because there are no really good, simple vegetarian fajita recipes out there in internet land. All of them have got something weird and complicated going on, whereas I feel like fajitas should be a really easy and fuss-free dinner, not something that involves roasting and weird vegetables.

I didn't include any green peppers because I find them too bitter, but feel free to throw them in if you want. I also didn't get too fancy with the toppings since the whole point was quick and easy with limited chopping. If you find yourself with extra time on your hands, these would be even better with chopped tomatoes, tomatillos (which are apparently in the nightshade family--cool!), and/or cilantro.

Update: Apparently making vegetarian fajitas makes me a "terrorist" in the eyes of my aforementioned Mexican history expert. Recipe redacted.

Vegetarian Fajitas
serves about 3

2 TB vegetable oil
1 yellow pepper, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 orange pepper, sliced
2 portobello mushrooms, sliced
1 head broccoli florets
1 yellow onion, sliced
1/2 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 tsp. cumin
1 cup shredded monterey jack cheese
sour cream
black bean salsa (I used Newman's)
1 pkg smallish tortillas

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In large saucepan heat oil until shimmery. Add broccoli and saute, about 2 minutes. Add all other vegetables and saute until crisp-tender, about 6 minutes. Add curry powder, chili powder cumin and allow to cook to desired tenderness. In the meantime, wrap tortillas in aluminum foil and stick in the oven to warm.

Fill each tortilla with veggie filling and top with shredded cheese, sour cream and salsa.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Easy, Delicious, Cheap Carrot Soup

I made this soup on Tuesday night for dinner after experiencing a strong craving for carrot soup that afternoon. All the carrot soups I have had and made before involve ginger, which means peeling it and grating: kind of an annoying and time-consuming process.

This soup was different! Pure carrots, onion, and broth (plus spices). It's seriously a no hassle dinner, and you may even be able to make it from your pantry/veg drawer--you know, if you have carrots. Also, if you have an immersion blender (which, if you don't, Go get one, crazy!) you can just blend it up right in the pan. So, so easy.

Also, the soup tastes like it has cream in it because it is so rich and...well...creamy. It doesn't. Seriously, these are all the ingredients:

(minus the beer. That was my "to drink while cooking" beer.)

This is called Moroccan Carrot soup and is from the most current issue of Bon Appetit. I guess the spices are what makes it Moroccan? Eh, who cares. It's yummy.

Moroccan Carrot Soup
Bon Appetit April 2010

makes 4 [small] servings

2 tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
1 cup chopped white onion
1 pound large carrots, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 2 2/3 cups)
2 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 cup plain yogurt, stirred to loosen

Melt butter in large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 2 minutes. Mix in carrots. Add broth; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes.

Stir cumin seeds in small skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, 4 to 5 minutes; cool. Finely grind in spice mill.

Remove soup from heat. Puree in batches in blender until smooth. Return to same pan. Whisk in honey, lemon juice, and allspice. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle soup into bowls. Drizzle yogurt over; sprinkle generously with cumin.

Belated: Irish Soda Bread

I'm starting a drunken brawl with the first person today who stereotypes the Irish

I've been making soda bread for as long as I've been baking. I still remember idly searching through my mother's recipe box and stumbling upon "Mary Cuthbert's Soda Bread." Mary was a neighbor of my grandparents: both sets--my parents grew up catty-corner to each other...awww. Mary's bread was a success the first time I made it and really delicious. My family gobbled it up immediately and then broke into rousing renditions of Danny Boy and The Fields of Athenry. Or something. When my mother mentioned to my grandmother that I had made it--and that it was good--my grandmother was amazed because "whenever she tried to make soda bread the only thing it was good for was throwing against a wall."

This Paddy's day I decided to try another recipe, one that, because it used whole wheat flour, is closer to the brown bread I ate and loved and miss in Ireland. This one is Mrs. O'Callaghan's (also a Mary, no joke) and is from the March issue guessed it...Bon Appetit. The other reason I had for using this recipe is that the one from Mary Cuthbert has you turn the dough out into a cask-iron skillet in order to get the right shape. I, ashamedly, do not have a cask-iron skillet. (My birthday is October 4th, but I accept gifts year-round.)

The one from BA turned out pretty well, but it didn't really cook all the way through, even though my oven is really hot and I left it in for about 15 minutes more than the recommended baking time. I could eat the edges, however, and they were very good and pretty damn close to Irish Brown Bread. I'll definitely make it again, but next time I might try leaving it in for about an hour. One weird thing about the recipe is that it tells you to stir until the dough is "shaggy." I'm not sure what that means, but I think mine was more Scooby, or Scrappy.

For your baking pleasure, here are both the Irish-American Soda Bread (with raisins and caraway seeds) from Mary Cuthbert and the Irish Brown Bread from BA.

Mrs. O'Callaghan's Irish Brown Bread
Bon Appetit March 2010

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
3 cups all purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (packed) brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) chilled margarine or butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425°F. Spray heavy baking sheet with nonstick spray. Whisk both flours, sugar, and baking soda in medium bowl to blend. Add margarine and cut in until margarine is reduced to pea-size pieces. Add buttermilk; stir until shaggy dough forms. Turn dough out onto lightly floured work surface. Knead until dough comes together, about 10 turns. Shape dough into 7-inch round. Place dough on prepared baking sheet. Cut large X, 1/2 inch deep, in top of dough.

Bake bread until deep brown and bottom sounds hollow when firmly tapped, about 40 minutes [check it at 40, but be prepared to keep going]. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely.

Mary Cuthbert's Irish [American] Soda Bread

3 TABLESPOON BUTTER, cut into 1/2 inch cubes

Mix flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder in large bowl. Using pastry cutter or your hands, blend in butter until the dough resembles corn meal. Add rest of ingredients and stir until a dough forms, adding more flour or buttermilk if necessary.

Turn out into cask-iron skillet, that has been greased with either butter or vegetable oil spray.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Fettuccine di Vino with Beets

I've been craving beets lately, which seems like a strange thing to crave. I had never even had anything but canned beets until a few years ago. When I was growing up, my mom almost never used canned vegetables...except for beets. I think she justified it because they take a long time to cook and the canned ones have a similar taste and texture to the fresh ones, in a way that canned green beans or carrots don't (mush city).

Beets are also kind of a weird vegetable because people don't usually think to put them alongside dinner in the same way they might with asparagus or corn. Their flavor is pretty distinct, so they're a little harder to pair with a main dish. They're also purple, which makes them seem a little bit like something you might be served at the mess hall of the Yellow Submarine. Which is possibly a little too psychedelic for some.

The following recipe is from The Spirited Vegetarian by Paulette Mitchell, a cookbook I bought shortly after my 21st birthday and, unfortunately for the book, right before I started eating meat again. So, shamefully, I haven't really made that many recipes from it. I've had, however, great and delicious success with the ones I have tried.

All the recipes have booze in them, which is a good excuse for buying wine on Monday night. And, like this one, many of the recipes are easily made vegan (useful if you're feeling like you need to balance out the naughtiness of pouring booze into your saucepan and, let's be honest, mouth).

The original recipe uses spaghetti instead of fettuccine. I swapped it out because I have a longstanding and inexplicable hatred of spaghetti. Feel free to use whatever long pasta you prefer.

Fettuccine di Vino with Beets
from Paulette Mitchell's The Spirited

makes 4 servings (or 3 if you're hungry)

3 medium red or yellow beets, scrubbed, with 1 inch of stem still on (set aside greens)
8 oz. Fettuccine
2 TB olive oil
1 large sweet onion
2 cups finely chopped reserved beet greens
4 garlic cloves
3/4 c. Merlot or other full-bodied, plummy red wine, with medium tannins
1/4 c. dried currants (don't skip these if you can! they add an interesting sweetness)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
2 TB lemon juice (from 1 juicy or 1 1/2 lemons)
1/4 c. toasted pine nuts
Feta cheese for garnish (I also added pecorino romano because I love cheese)

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to boil over high heat. Add the beets and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer until the beets can be pierced with a knife, about 30 to 45 minutes. When the beets are cool enough to handle, remove the skins (you can score the skin with a paring knife if you need to). Cut the beets into 2" x 1/4" strips, placing wax paper on your cutting board to protect it from purple fever.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the fettuccine 2 to 3 minutes less than the package directions suggest. (The pasta should be slightly undercooked, but not crunchy.)

While the pasta is cooking, heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the beet greens and garlic and stir constantly until the greens are wilted, about 1 minute.

Stir in the beets, wine, dried currants, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring often, for about 5 minutes. The wine should be reduced but not totally evaporated. Stir in the lemon juice.

When the pasta is cooked according to the above instructions, drain it well. Add it to the beet mixture. Stir over medium heat until it absorbs the wine and turns red. Remove from the heat. Add the pine nuts and toss again. Taste and adjust seasoning. (Remember that the feta will add saltiness.)

Garnish plated servings with pepper and feta cheese.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pear-Raspberry Heart Pies: Sweets for your Sweet

So, every once in a while, I completely loose my mind and decide to make a Martha Stewart recipe, despite the fact that I do have plans at some point during the next week. This very thing happened the night Mike was getting back from Ecuador, and which just so happened to be the Wednesday after Valentines Day. For whatever reason, I decided that I was not only going to spend all day running errands in Manhattan, something that usually exhausts me to the point of collapse, but I was also going to spend the evening making pesto, kimchi pancakes, and heart-shaped pies. Obviously, something had short-circuited in my brain.

Further, it's worth noting that these were not a regular old Martha Stewart Everyday Food deal. Oh no. These are from Martha Stewart Living (for which I got a free subscription from my JetBlue miles. What?). The "Living" in MSL means that in order to make anything from the magazine you must commit your life to making your own flower pots, infusing your own tea, and making pies in shapes other than "round"; i.e. you do not have a job. Luckily for me, I do not have a job. Well, one that pays me, anyway.

To make these pies I toiled away for five hours pain-stakingly rolling dough I cut by hand, tenderizing each individual raspberry with a gentle squeeze, and carefully positioning each granule of finishing sugar. Okay, okay. I'm bluffing. These were not all that hard to make; they're just time-consuming because you have to fridge the dough a couple of different times.

In addition to being relatively easy, these pies could also work with any larger-sized cookie cutter you have, so don't worry if you don't feel like getting all mushy and nummy with your snookums. As you can see, I also made an owl, which came out just as well and will not cause you to say something with pie you're not ready to say with your words. Or something.

As a testament to their deliciousness, I didn't get to eat even one of these! So, apparently, they are good. The recipe is pretty straight-forward, though I might make a bit more of the filling next time, just to make them extra plump and lovely.

Pear-Raspberry Heart Pies
From Martha Stewart Living, February 2010
Makes 10 (or 9 and 1 owl)

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
2 sticks cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons ice water
2 firm, ripe pears (1 pound), such as Anjou or Bartlett, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 cup fresh raspberries, coarsely chopped
1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon heavy cream, for egg wash
sanding sugar, for sprinkling


1. Make the pastry: Pulse flour, salt, and granulated sugar in a food processor until combined. Add butter, and pulse until mixture resembles coarse crumbs with some larger pieces remaining, about 5 seconds.
2. Evenly drizzle ice water over mixture. Pulse until mixture just begins to hold together, about 10 seconds. Turn out dough onto plastic wrap, and wrap. Shape into a disk. Refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour or overnight.
3. Make the filling: Toss pears with lemon juice. Melt butter in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add pears, and toss to coat. Cook, adding granulated sugar a little at a time, until pears begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Stir in nutmeg. Transfer to a bowl, and mix in raspberries.
4. Divide dough in half, and roll out each piece to 1/8-inch thickness on a lightly floured surface. Refrigerate until firm, about 15 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drain pear-raspberry filling in a sieve. Cut out 20 hearts from dough using a 4-inch cutter (I found mine at Sur La Table), transferring them to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Lightly brush rims of half the hearts with egg wash, and top each with 4 heaping teaspoons filling. Top with remaining hearts, and gently press around sides to seal.
6. Brush pie tops with egg wash, and sprinkle with sanding sugar. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kimchi Pancakes: A Qualified Success

I grew up in a house with a considerable taste for all things pickled and salty. We always had a jar of spicy pepperoncini in the fridge, and on holidays Mum's family, especially, always had an elaborate spread of pickled watermelon rinds, olives, cornichons, etc. So I guess it's no wonder that I took to kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage) like white on paper. The first few times I had it, I ate it plain along with dinner at Korean restaurants. My love grew when, about a year ago, I made the Amateur Gourmet's fabulous Kimchi Fried Rice on one especially monetarily desperate evening.

Recently, at the Greenpoint Food Market, I had the good fortune to try Kimchi Pancakes from Bing Means Pancakes. These were very similar to scallion pancakes--light and chewy pancakes with a delightful crunch from the handmade kimchi. Afterward, I couldn't stop thinking about them, and, on my next visit, I was sorely disappointed that Bing had either packed up early or had not come at all. My craving was in high gear and getting desperate, so, as you can imagine, I was excited to see this blog feature a NYTimes recipe for them.

I was a little put off by the inclusion of potato starch in the ingredient list. What was it? Would I have to trek all over hell and creation to find it? Would I ever use it again? Or would it sit on my shelf for years, only to be picked up during cabinet clean-outs, accompanied by the question: "What in God's Name did I buy this for?" Well, I don't know if it was luck, or if Polish people use a lot of potato starch, but, just as I was giving up on finding it, and was even looking up a different recipe on my phone, I took one last look at the baking shelf--and there it was. Eye Level. Srsly. Right in front of me, in very nifty packaging that should have caught my eye right away.

I can't tell if this is sincerely retro or faux retro, but I don't care. Love. Oh, and just in case you were wondering, potato starch smells like potatoes but looks like cornstrach. And no, I don't have any idea what else to do with it.

Ultimately, this recipe was a little weird. Once I had all the ingredients mixed together, except for the kimchi, I had a very, very dry looking batter. I was really concerned that I was about to have a giant fail. But, almost magically adding the kimchi and its juices made the batter just as goopy as I wanted it to be. Bizarre.

My pancakes, while yummy and craving-dampening, did not come out as uniform as the blogger's, nor were they even close to the heaven of the GFM ones. The level of satisfaction I gained from them would, normally, encourage me to add them to my "oh shit it's 9pm on a Sunday and only the bodega is open" dinner arsenal. However, though my corner store has very good kimchi, I feel like expecting them to carry potato starch is a little far-fetched. So, I probably won't be making these again. The search for a good kimchi pancake recipe continues....

Here is the NYTimes recipe, if you're interested:


1 tablespoon soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

1/4 teaspoon vinegar

1/4 teaspoon minced scallion

1/4 teaspoon sesame seeds


1/2 cup flour

1/2 cup potato starch

1 egg

2 scallions, cut into 1 1/2-inch-long pieces

1 1/2 tablespoons garlic, sliced thinly

1 1/2 tablespoons Korean red pepper powder or 1/2 tablespoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup prepared cabbage kimchi, cut in 3-inch-long pieces

2 tablespoons kimchi juice

6 tablespoons vegetable oil.

1. Make dipping sauce: In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, scallion, sesame seeds and one-half tablespoon water. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, mix flour, potato starch and egg until smooth. Add scallions, garlic, red pepper powder, salt, kimchi and its juice. Mix well. Batter will be pale pink.

3. Place an 8- or 9-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat and add 1 tablespoon vegetable oil. When oil is hot, pour in one-third of the pancake batter. Fry until golden and crisp, about 3 to 4 minutes. Lift pancake with a spatula, add 1 tablespoon oil to pan and swirl it. Flip pancake and fry other side until golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Flip again, without adding oil, and fry for 1 minute. Flip one more time and fry 1 to 2 minutes. Pancake should be dark gold.

4. Repeat with remaining batter and oil, making 3 pancakes. Remove to a large round plate and cut each pancake into 6 wedges. Serve with dipping sauce.

Yield: 3 pancakes.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Bacon, Cheddar and Chive Biscuits

My friend Molly hosted a dinner party on Tuesday for a couple of us ladies. In between chatting about NPR, knitting clubs and health care, we managed to eat a fantastic meal. Molly made Mark Bittman's recently posted Scallop Gumbo. This is a "lighter" gumbo than the traditional ones (usually containing sausages and either shrimp or chicken), and still manages to be rich and satisfying due to a well-developed roux. Instead of using the recommended larger sea scallops, Molly used smaller bay scallops which worked perfectly and required no slicing.

Fun Fact: the scallop is the State Shell of New York. No bull!

Doesn't Molly's table look gorgeous?

For my contribution, I made the aforementioned biscuits (a word I ALWAYS spell "buiscuts") from this month's Bon Appetit. These guys are monsters--the magazine suggests making ham sandwiches from them--but, of course, their decadence is part of their appeal.

I don't have a baking tray big enough to accommodate all that dough at once, so I baked them on two sheets, one on the lower rack and one above, and rotated them half-way through baking. I'd also recommend keep a close watch on them: mine took way less than 18 minutes (more like 12). And, most importantly, make sure to fry up an extra piece of bacon for the inevitable kitchen gnome who always seems to make off with (at least) one slice every time.

As a bonus, the leftovers (if there are any) make a killer egg sandwich, somewhat reminiscent of this one that's been going around the internets--except that I couldn't poach an egg to save my life.

I pretty much stuck to the recipe this time, but I imagine that other combinations of cheese/herb/cured ham would work beautifully. My only change was not using bread flour because I didn't feel like hauling it from the store.

Cheddar, Bacon and Fresh Chive Biscuits
Bon Appetit February 2010, adapted slightly due to laziness

6 thick-cut bacon slices
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, plus melted butter for brushing
2 1/2 cups (packed) coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese (about 12 ounces)
1/3 cup chopped fresh chives
1 3/4 cups chilled buttermilk

Position rack just above center of oven and preheat to 425°F. Line heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Cook bacon in heavy large skillet over medium heat until crisp and brown. Transfer bacon to paper towels to drain, then chop coarsely.

Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in processor; blend 5 seconds. Add butter cubes. Blend until coarse meal forms, about 30 seconds. Transfer flour mixture to large bowl. Add cheddar cheese, fresh chives, and chopped bacon; toss to blend. Gradually add buttermilk, stirring to moisten evenly (batter will feel sticky), adding more buttermilk if needed.

Using lightly floured hands, drop generous 1/2 cup batter for each biscuit onto prepared baking sheet, spacing batter mounds about 2 inches apart.

Bake biscuits until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, 18 to 20 minutes. Brush biscuits lightly with melted butter. Let cool 10 minutes. Serve biscuits warm or at room temperature with honey, if desired.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Even More Cake!: Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

New Year's weight loss resolutions be damned! I mean, it's almost February, right?

Pretty much all the credit for this cake goes to my friend, Meredith. She came up with it after having the Banana Cake at Momofuku Milk Bar, and decided to make a birthday cake out of it for her friend Cricket (best name ever). I was, at most, a consultant on this project, and yet, in the grand consultant tradition, I was richly compensated (in bourbon). Good deal.

The cake we made was a "trial run" for the actual birthday cake. This kind of thing is important when you're just making something up, or are intending to present your baked goods to someone else as a gift. No one likes an busted cake on their birthday.

To make the cake, Mer and I complied two recipes from Epicurious and made some changes:

For the cake we started with a Banana Layer Cake recipe from 1997, and for the frosting we started with the icing from a Hazelnut Cream Torte.

In what can only prove that a trial run is important, the banana cake recipe was entered incorrectly on the website, because, once we had added all the ingredients in, the "cake" was essentially had bread dough. Now, I do love banana bread, but Mer and I wanted a light, fluffy cake--a ladies cake if you will--and the tough mass staring up at us from the bowl was just not going to cut it (ha! get it! :(). We ended up adding an additional cup of buttermilk to the thing before the batter looked right. Amazingly, no one in the recipe comments even mentioned that a cup of buttermilk was missing! They must have all wanted dense, chewy lumberjack cakes.

Something I didn't realize until the cake was already pretty much eaten was that we were supposed to have put some liqueur in the frosting. Whoops! The truth is that by the time it was time to finish the frosting, we were a couple of Old Fashioneds deep (made with a splash of apricot brandy instead of sugar, yum!)so...I think we had the liquor taste covered.

Banana Cake with Peanut Butter Creme Frosting

2 1/4 cups cake flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (about 2 large)
1 1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar
2 large eggs
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter two 8-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides; dust pans with flour.

Combine cake flour, baking soda, baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon salt in medium bowl. Mix mashed bananas, buttermilk and 1 teaspoon vanilla in another medium bowl.

Using electric mixer, beat butter and sugar in large bowl until blended. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating to blend after each addition. Add dry ingredients alternately with banana mixture in 3 additions, beginning and ending with dry ingredients and beating just until blended after each addition. Divide batter equally among prepared pans.

Bake cakes until tops are just beginning to color and tester inserted into center comes out with a few crumbs attached, about 30 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 10 minutes. Using small knife, cut around cakes to loosen; turn cakes out onto racks and cool completely.

For filling and frosting:
1 cup peanuts
2 cups chilled heavy cream
3 1/2 tbsp confectioners sugar
bittersweet chocolate, shaved, for toppings
1 banana, sliced, for decorating.
Make filling and frosting

Grind nuts in a food processor until they are chopped finely.

Beat 1 1/2 cups cream with the confectioners sugar with electric mixer until it holds stiff peaks. Chill until ready to assemble cake.
When you are ready to ice the cake, fold the ground nuts and remaining cream into the chilled mixture. Ice the cake, using half the banana slices on top of the icing between the layers. Decorate top with banana slices and chocolate shavings.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Red Velvet Cake

My first introduction to Red Velvet cake was at the rehearsal dinner for some friends' wedding. Red Velvet was the groom's favorite cake, and so it was meant to be a present to him from the bride. Unfortunately, the restaurant somehow forgot to make a red velvet cake, and so, when we cut into the cake, it was just plain chocolate. Yikes.

I remember two things from the aftermath:

1. the bride handled this mistake with considerable grace (personally, I would have had the manager's head on a platter as my centerpiece).
2. when I asked her what, exactly, makes red velvet cake "red," she replied only that I "didn't want to know."

Anyway, I did eventually find out that red velvet is usually colored with not the blood of misbehaving southern children but with either red food coloring or beets. It occurs to me that red food coloring is probably terrible for you (red dye 40 apparently gives you ADHD or something). So maybe I should have used beets--which are certainly an effective dye for counter-tops, in any event. Well--maybe next time.

The following recipe is from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2008. I know I was a little cranky about their website (Cooks' Illustrated is by the same people) in the last post, so this is my peace offering--the books are usually pretty damn good. In fact, this cake is so good I don't think a week went by in my old apartment that we didn't make red velvet cupcakes from this very recipe.

Even though you probably can't tell from the photos, I actually only baked half a cake. This is an easy thing to do if you don't feel up to eating a whole cake. Just half the recipe and then cut the resulting cake in half and frost as you would normally, laying one half on top of the other. How many times can I say "half" in one sentence? Jeez.

The cake kinda looks like the Eye of Saruman because I couldn't find a toothpick, and so I checked it with a knife.

Red Velvet Cake
from The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2008


12 TB unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pans
2 1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
pinch salt
1 c. buttermilk
1 TB white vinegar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 TB natural (not "Dutched" [ew?]) cocoa powder
2 TB red food coloring
1 1/2 c. granulated sugar


16 TB unsalted butter
4 c. confectioners' sugar
pinch salt
16 oz. cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces and softened
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 with rack in the middle position. Generously grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans. Whisk the flour, baking soda and salt together in a medium bowl. Whisk the buttermilk, vinegar, vanilla, and eggs together in a medium bowl. Mix the cocoa and food coloring together in a small bowl until a paste forms.

2. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar on medium-high speed in a large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add one-third of flour mixture and beat on medium-low speed until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Add half the buttermilk mixture and beat on low until combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Repeat, ending with the flour mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the cocoa mixture, then mix on medium speed until completely incorporated, about 30 seconds. Using a rubber spatula, give the batter a final stir.

3. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans and smooth with a spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes, rotating the cake pans halfway through. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour. Make sure they are completely cool before attempting to frost. ...And it will be an attempt if they're still warm.


With an electric mixer, beat the butter, confectioners' sugar, and salt on medium-high speed in a large bowl until fluffy, about 3 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the cream cheese, 1 piece at a time, and beat until incorporated, about 30 seconds. Refrigerate until ready to use, but allow to approach room temperature before starting.


Place one cake layer on a cake plate or cardboard round (I like to stick strips of wax paper underneath to protect the platter). Spread 2 cups of the frosting evenly across the top of the cake with a spatula. Place the second layer on top, then spread the remaining frosting evenly over the top and sides of the cake. Slip wax paper out from under the cake and serve.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Acorn Squash and Cheddar Bread Pudding

This is not the dish I set out to make. What I wanted to make was Molly Wizenberg's Butternut Squash and Cheddar Bread Pudding from the November 09 issue of Bon Appetit. I had already made her version once for a pot-luck. It was a super hit at the party and was also delicious when Kate and I wanted a snack a few hours later.

Unfortunately, Sunday night is not the ideal time to shop at an organic grocery; I think because there's no delivery. And this Sunday selection was especially ill-fated for me. Every major ingredient for this recipe (barring the cheddar) was out of stock!

Butternut Squash. No.
Kale (of any kind). No.
Baguette. No.

I was actually counting on the Sunday shop for the baguette, since Ms. Wizenberg calls for "day-old"--which Sunday baguettes almost certainly are--but, alas, no baguettes were to be found.

Not to be deterred (though, honestly, I almost was), I pushed on with alternative ingredients, a determination which gave me the chance to work on both my recipe improvisation and my optimism (two goals for the new year). The final dish actually turned out just as tasty as the original, especially because the Swiss chard added a little more color and flavor to the mix.

P.S. I am obsessed with Swiss chard.

*thank you lovely assistant*

Here's my improvised recipe:

Acorn Squash, Swiss Chard and Cheddar Bread Pudding
reluctantly, but happily adapted from Molly Wizenberg, BA Nov. 09
makes 6-8 servings

2 pounds acorn squash, sliced in half
3 TB olive oil
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
7 large eggs
2 1/4 cup half and half
6 TB dry white wine (plus the rest of the bottle for drinking)
1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 day old large rustic bread (I used Pain au Levain), sliced into 1-inch cubes
1 c. chopped shallots
2 bunches Swiss chard, stems removed and chopped separately, leaves coarsely chopped
8 oz. extra sharp cheddar, grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle squash with olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for about 40 minutes, until tender--checking after 30 minutes. Allow to cool until you can handle them. Use a knife to score the skin, and then peel. (If anyone has a better way to peel these, let me know. This is just something I improvised when the ridged shape of the squash made peeling them raw difficult.) Chop into 1-inch cubes.

Whisk eggs in large bowl. Add half and half, wine and mustard; whisk to blend. Add bread pieces, folding gently into egg mixture. Allow to soak for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, heat 2 TB oil in large pot and add shallots and chard stems. Saute until soft, about 5 minutes. Add chard leaves by the handful, cover and cook about 2 minutes. Uncover and cook until fully wilted, but still bright green, about 5 more minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350.

Generously butter a large baking pan (13 x 9 inch). Using a slotted spoon, place 1/2 of bread pieces in the bottom of the pan, arranging to cover most of the dish. Add 1/2 chard mixture, then 1/2 of the squash and 1/2 of the cheese. Repeat with remaining bread, squash and cheese. Pour remaining egg mixture over dish.

Cover bread pudding with foil and bake about 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake until custard is set and bread feels springy to the touch, about another 20 minutes.

Preheat broiler and broil pudding for 2 minutes, until cheese browns slightly. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Spinach and Artichoke Bechamel Lasanga

Ok so this is not a weeknight lasagna by any stretch of the imagination, unless you are unemployed. (In which case, every night is a weekend. WOOO! Actually, folks, it's not that fun.) I would call this is more of a Martha Lasagna in that it takes 400 years to make, but has a big payoff--creamy, starchy goodness with some veggies thrown in for "health."

To make it I used this Betty Crocker recipe for inspiration. I just love old recipe books with splashes of sauce on them.

For help with the arrangement and sauce I used this recipe from the Cook's Illustrated website. You need to pay to access most of their recipes, but, honestly, I find that site so infuriating that it's not even worth it unless you can get one through dubious means. Which is, of course, what I did.

My problems with that site are many, but what bothers me most is that: number one: the design is like something out of a children's stencil book with a word document tacked on. Number two: there's no way to search recipes in order of date, and their catalog goes back so far that the first hit for spinach lasagna was one that called for Velveeta. VEL-frickin'-VEETA. Ok, Cook's is a little low-brow on purpose, but I can only assume that they haven't included a recipe with Velveeta in at least 15 years. Have they? :(

Anyway, the lasagna I made was loosely based on these two. I didn't use as much mozzarella as the Cook's recipe called for, mainly because I was tired. However, I'm glad I did skimp on it, because if there were any more dairy in the recipe it would be a recipe for making a cow.

I only used one can of artichokes, and I might consider using more if I made it again, especially because the acidity in them would cut some of the richness of the bechamel and 4 pounds of cheese. And yes, I know, canned artichokes are not fresh and whatever, but I have TRIED to use fresh artichokes in the past and it has never, EVER, been edible--even when I followed a six-part diagram of how to cut them. So there.

This baked up all poufy like a souffle, which was, admittedly, mildly scary, but very pretty. Maybe too much egg? Eh. Whatever.

Spinach and Artichoke Bechamel Lasagna


6 cups milk
1 cup butter
1 cup flour
1/8th tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper


1/4 c.vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cup onion
1 1/2 lb. fresh spinach
1 or 2 cans of artichokes, drained and chopped
3/4 cup parsley
1 lb. ricotta cheese
2 eggs
1 1/2 c. grated Parmesan
1 c. grated mozzarella (it helps if you stick it in the freezer for a bit)
1 package lasagna noodles

For the sauce:

Heat milk until hot but not boiling. In another pan, melt butter and gradually whisk is flour. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, stirring constantly. Add milk slowly, whisking all the while. Stir until incorporated and sauce is thickened. Flavor to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper.


Put a large pan on to boil and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute garlic and onions until transparent, add spinach by the bunches with 1/2 c. parsley in the last addition. Allow to wilt and add artichokes. Heat through and set aside.

Mix rest of parsley and ricotta with eggs and half of Parmesan. Blanch lasagna noodles, about 2 minutes. Oil a large pan and layer the ingredients in this order: 1/2 to 2 cups Bechamel, then cover the pan with noodles (I used about 5), 1/2 of spinach and artichoke mixture, and all of mozzarella. Next, 1 1/2 to 2 cups of Bechamel, another layer of noodles, all the ricotta mixture and then the rest of the spinach and artichokes. Last, another 1 1/2 to 2 cups Bechamel, noodles, and then another layer of sauce. Sprinkle with remaining Parmesan.

Bake covered for 45 minutes. Uncover for the remaining 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Case of 68 Restaurant and the Inconsistent Dining Experience

I just cannot figure out why 68 Restaurant in Greenpoint is not a dining mainstay of North Brooklyn. Yelpers (that gilded fount of culinary expertise) seems to feel mainly ok to awesome about the place. Though there are a few exasperated "I am so over you" posts. Personally, I think the chef has some real talent, they offer great deals in addition to more than reasonably priced menu items, and the decor is fitting to the industrial venue without going overboard with North Brooklyn Baroque or whatever we want to call it.

That said, there are a few problems:


It's really hard to staff an inconsistently busy restaurant. I know. I've been there for brunch on days where there was only one waiter for a full restaurant. Of course service was slow that day! Poor guy! But I've also been when there were three servers for two tables, and, in that case, things were even more frustrating. Yes, it's hard to get a rhythm when you have one table--you don't want to be right in the diner's face all the time, so you need to spend some time hiding out somewhere. But. I feel like if my beer is empty when you walk by on the way back from your smoke break or wherever...maybe you should ask if I want another? More beers faster = bigger check = bigger tip. God, I feel dirty even bringing that up. Moving on.


The flavors are always really great and sometimes even unexpected. Last time I was there I got butternut ravioli with walnuts and sage butter sauce. Really good. It sounds like a pretty run-of-the-mill winter/fall dish, but I found it super satisfying. My dinner companion ordered wild sea bass with brussels sprouts and saffron orzo (trying to remember here, apologies). The fish was cooked perfectly, and the accompanying flavors were succulent and bright at the same time.

However: Things sometimes seem like they've been hanging out under a heating lamp in the kitchen for a while. The edges of my ravioli were bordering on crispy, and I've been served eggs at 68 that had that weird film on them that eggs get when they sit for even a short time. This evidence, coupled with the fact that no matter how busy or slow, I always feel like I wait forever for food here, makes me call this problem plain ol' TIMING. Any home cook can crank out a dish at a time that tastes great; what sets restaurant chefs apart is that they can crank out lots and lots of them in an hour. Or should be able to.


I didn't even know that this place was called 68 Restaurant and not Coco 68 until I googled it for this post. I guess no one ever talks about it or something. I'll bet half the people who go to Coco 66 (the adjoining bar and original business in this space) don't even know there's a restaurant next door because there's NO SIGN. Yeah, I get it, not having a sign is cool. Well, you know what else is cool? Getting people to eat at your restaurant. On Coco 66's (mildly disastrous-looking) website, the restaurant has only the smallest mention-- in 12 point font--in the middle of a sea of other information. Help your Siamese twin out! Give her a mention at the top of the page! A tab! Something! Finally, 68, get yourself some press. Don't allow Yelp and one post from Greenpointers control your image (or lack thereof).

Anyway, I guess the reason I am being crazy about this is that I really like 68: I think it could be a go-to neighborhood spot. The food is well-conceptualized, the prices are fair, and, when they are either not bored to tears or waiting 25 tables of hungover people at once, the servers are really nice. I want it to succeed, but I can't quite figure out how it should launch itself out of this conundrum. I'm no restaurant consultant, so I don't really have the answers.

Maybe the problem is that I just keep coming in at weird times, and everything is just fine, thank you very much. Or maybe they should just change their name to sound a little less like 99 Restaurants--where my grandmother and I once had to promise not to sue in order to get our burgers medium retrospect eating those was probably a bad idea.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Rustic Wheat Bread

Like every other obnoxious Brooklyn/Cali foodie, after reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan (it's the short one) I was completely terrified by all the weird chemicals that are in basically every food (and especially "food") ever. Now, I've never been a big processed food eater, and I pretty much make everything from scratch due to the overwhelming guilt I would feel for taking a culinary shortcut. That's right, people, I make my own pie crust in order to avoid feeling guilty. Actually, the avoidance of guilt has been pretty helpful along the way in helping me make decisions. For realz!

What was I talking about? Oh. Chemicals.

Right. Well here's the deal--I was sitting around on my high horse while reading Pollan's book because I'm sooo virtuous and don't eat processed food (except for hot dogs on Kate's birthday) when I happened to take a look at the ingredients in my fancy twice-wrapped Healthy Multi-Grain bread. Ready?


So far so good. Rice is a little weird...ok...but wtf are half of these things?


Hmm. Not so "healthy" after all. So, in a frenzy of righteousness, curiosity and just a shake of unemployed boredom, I decided to start making my own bread. I've been tweaking this recipe from Bittman's How to Cook Everything (a.k.a. the Bible) for several loaves now. It takes all told about five hours to make, but most of that time can be spent twittering or messaging people on facebook since the bread is just rising. The texture is not quite as elastic as normal supermarket bread, but it makes really tasty and satisfying sandwich bread and really good peanut butter toast when you come home wasted at 5am. *cough*

Rustic Wheat Bread
adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

makes 1 large loaf

1 c. wheat flour
2 1/2 c. white flour
2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tap. instant yeast
2 TB honey
2 TB butter, cut into 1/4 in. cubes,
at room temperature, plus a bit more for the pan
1 1/3 c. (scant) cool whole milk

Place half the wheat and half the white flour in a small bowl and blend. Place other portions of flour and remaining ingredients in the bowl of a strong stand mixer. Mix on low until butter starts to become incorporated, then slowly add the remaining flour to the bowl. Continue to mix (you may have to steady the mixer with your hand) until a dough forms. Do not over-mix. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface with a ramekin of extra flour set aside. Knead for about a minute or more, folding the dough over itself, adding flour to the board until the dough is smooth and no longer sticks to your hands as you work.

Lightly oil a large bowl and shape the dough into a ball. Let rise for 2 hours covered by plastic wrap, until the dough doubles in size. Once the dough rises, deflate it and reshape it on the same floured surface. Flatten it into a rectangle and then fold the sides under and pinch together to form a loaf shape. Butter a 8 x 4 inch pan and press the dough down into it with the back of your hand, seam side down. Cover with a towel and let rise for 1 to 2 more hours until nearly level with the top of the pan. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush top with just a bit of water and place in the oven for 40-45 minutes.

When it's done the loaf will sound hollow if you tap it and the sides will pull just slightly away from the pan.

*P.S. The photo positioning was being an asshole. So I'm sorry if this posted to anyone's RSS 400 times.