Saturday, September 29, 2007

The best buttermilk pancakes

It's hard to believe that I've spent the last 20-something years making whole-wheat, no-fat pancakes. I won't tell you that they taste bad, because they taste quite good. Especially with some homemade raspberry preserves. But they're the kind of things you can just pick up and pop in your mouth; they're pretty firm, pretty small, and Let's put it this way: they're not in the same ballpark as the buttermilk pancakes I'll be making from now on. These are totally indulgent, not only calorie-wise, but time-wise as well. They involve three separate bowls, which is a definite downside -- but even as I'm such the one-pot cook, these pancakes are worth every last moment in the kitchen or at the gym. And the best part is that they taste no less wonderful when you substitute whole wheat for half the white flour, which is my preference. And about the buttermilk -- I admit, it's not something I keep in my fridge on a regular basis, but after today, I'll certainly be stocking it more often.

The Best Buttermilk Pancakes Recipe
adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, taken from Beltane Ranch
serves 4-6.
1 1/2 cups unbleached flour -- I use half whole wheat
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups buttermilk
6 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
maple syrup

In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt.
In a large bowl, mix milk, butter and egg yolks.
Whip egg whites until stiff peaks form.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir just until combined.
Using a rubber spatula, fold in egg whites gently, and stir just until combined.
Heat a lightly buttered castiron skillet over moderately low heat.
For each pancake, use 1/4-cup batter.
Let cook for about two minutes, or until top begins to set around the edges.
Flip and cook 30 seconds longer, then transfer to a 280-degree oven to keep warm while you cook the rest of these beauties.

Serve with good maple syrup and a big appetite.

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Friday, September 28, 2007

A sweet sort of salad and a holiday dinner

On the first night of Sukkot (the Jewish holiday where we build funny booths and, if we're good, live in them for a week), I made a brisket so finger-lickin' that none was left over for sandwiches. Truthfully, I never plan recipes in advance, and I'm not one for precise measurements (as you may have noticed...) so making a brisket consists of taking sauces and spices out of my pantry and adding them to the pan, one by one, until it seems right. I can't taste the sauce as I go, since I add make it in the pan with the meat, but so far I haven't had any problems, so be it a flawed method, it's my method and I'm stickin' to it.

Anyway, the brisket was so good, I decided to make my chicken in exactly the same way: a mix of homemade tomato sauce, last night's red wine (a nice cheap cab), a splash of bbq sauce, a dash of soy sauce, sea salt and fresh pepper, and the key ingredient -- dried oranges and cranberries. The fruit infuse the sauce as it cooks, leaving you with an orange-scented brisket (or chicken) which deceives your guests with its complexity. Unfortunately, due to the holiday, I have no pics of the meat. Some other time though, promise.

About the salad....I wanted to bring the same orange scents into the salad I was serving, but dried oranges are rather unpleasant to eat, in my opinion, as they can be a bit leathery and slightly bitter. I decided instead to add some of the cranberries, which had absorbed much of the orange scent from being dried and roasted together. Their tart, citric quality complemented my salad of baby spinach, asian pear, carrot, and caramelized nuts. My vinaigrette was super simple: 2 parts dijon, 2 parts honey(I used buckwheat, which has a very distinctive flavor), 3 parts lemon juice, salt, pepper, cumin, and a health drizzle of olive oil whisked in. Try this one at home, folks -- it's a winner. Read more!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Stuffed Squash Blossoms with ricotta, cheddar, baby squash, sausage and chili

Being that it's summer and zucchini is in abundance, these little numbers have been popping up all over the place. I've been wanting to make these for quite some time now, but hadn't quite settled on a recipe for the filling. I've seen any number of variations, from plain white or cotija cheese to corn-laced ricotta to bread crumbs and monterey jack, but none quite fit my bill. I wanted a mix of vegetables, cheese and non-cheese protein (but since I keep kosher, I couldn't use meat). So ever since my Sunday trip to the farmers' market at Dupont Circle, the blossoms have been sitting untouched in my fridge.

When I got home last night and opened the fridge, there they were, staring at me. That was it, I decided. These babies won't last forever anyway -- might as well make use of them before they wilt and I lose my chance. I had a nice hunk of sweet ricotta in my fridge, and I decided to pair it with with some good Vermont cheddar, which I grated into the ricotta.

The other obvious inclusion was chili. I had two baby jalapeños, which I roasted over an open flame, steamed in a paper bag, and julienned.

Through the vegetable drawer I saw a couple baby squash that I had completely forgotten about; typical me. In keeping with that very trendy "____ two ways" concept, I decided to include the squash in my filling. But what else?

Enter Morningstar Farms, my best friend. Actually, we're going steady. I have at least four of their products a day -- two of the fake-bacon strips in the morning, and two of the sausage links sometime during the rest of the day. I've been addicted to these as long as I can remember, and the Safeway near my house has this automated coupon dispenser that coaxes you to try new things by giving you big coupons, then cutting the savings in half on your next coupon for the same item until you're addicted to buying it, regular price, from now on. That's how I got onto the bacon strips.

But I digress.

I actually thought that a somewhat spicy, smoky sausage would make a nice accompaniment to the richness of the cheese and bitter chili, and boy was I onto something, if I dare say so myself!

While I was sautéing the squash, I tossed in three sausage links. Once they had thawed, I roughly chopped them and tossed them, along with the squash, into the big cheese-chili bowl. I guess, in retrospect, I was also going for texture here, and the sausage added a much needed toothsome quality to the mixture. Did I really just use that word? That's such a restaurant critic word ... eek, sorry sorry.

So now I had an appetizing mush (if that makes any sense) of ricotta, cheddar, jalapeño, sautéed baby squash and fake sausage. mmmmm.

(Okay that pic is before I added the squash and sausage. Too much coordination required!)

I guess it was about this point when D asked me what was for dinner. She's got this skill of being totally not ready for dinner one second and being OH MY GOD FAMISHED the very next. By the time she's asking what's for dinner, she's way beyond the point of hungry and just dying to put food in her mouth. This clearly doesn't bode well for my cooking experiments, which take longer than, say, throwing together a deli sandwich.

...which is exactly what she did.

Now I was left with four squash blossoms, a bowl full of cheesy filling, half a pan of oil, and myself. Thank god I skipped the gym this morning. Wouldn't want to compensate for the thousands of calories I was about to consume, not one little bit.

It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it. I cleaned the little green bugs off the blossoms (yea, make sure you do that...), stuffed each one with a hefty amount of filling (do not be afraid to overstuff them), and twisted the ends together in a lame attempt to keep the filling inside.

Next, I dunked each one in a bowl of half-and-half, then rolled each in a mixture of flour, cornmeal, salt, and pepper. A quick bath into the deep-fryer (also known as my cast-iron skillet with an inch and a half of oil in it) and they'd be ready to eat....

Which I dutifully did. What's really nice about these is that if you like burnt things like I do, you can leave these in a little longer than a professional would, giving them a nice, crisp exterior and oozy, melty innards. Otherwise, leave them in the oil about 45 seconds per side, just until the flowers are warmed through.

Bon appetit! Read more!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pesto, two ways

When I first learned to make pesto, it was "dump everything in the cuisinart and pulse." I'm still of the philosophy that if you have good indregients, that method is just fine. However, when Heidi over at 101 cookbooks posted about making pesto like an Italian grandmother, I knew I'd have to try it the "proper" way at some point. (Her pics are beautiful...too bad I can't say the same for my own; they really capture the dim lighting of a classic first apartment.) Heidi, thank you for inspiring amateurs like myself to try this technique!

The major difference between store-bought pesto and classic Italian pesto is texture. The bottled stuff spreads like a paste, whereas the more traditional, labor-intensive product is like a finely-chopped salsa (just, uh...more finely chopped). Without further ado, pesto:

Heidi says that a mezzaluna is the best tool for chopping. Alternatively, use a half-moon-shaped pizza slicer (or just make do with a good, big, sharp knife). In any event, plan on allotting about half an hour for all the chopping, since you'll only be chopping a bit at a time.

As you'll notice from my pictures, I actually tried this twice. The first time I used a silicon cutting mat and the traditional proportions: a bunch of fresh basil, a few cloves of garlic, a handful of pinenuts, and about a cup of parmigiano reggiano. I followed Heidi's directions to first chop the basil and garlic, then add the pine nuts, then add the cheese. It worked quite nicely, though I added olive oil to the top to preserve it as she recommended, and I found that it made the pesto more oily than I had wanted it.

The second time, I used a wooden cutting board (smart Rivka, smart), varied the proportions a bit, and changed my technique as well. I made a pine nut-heavy pesto, as a compromise for D, who is not a basil lover (I know, I don't get it either.) (Of course, I forgot that she also hates pine nuts. Silly me.) I also decided to chop the pine nuts and cheese before the basil and garlic, to see how it would change things. In the end.....the Italian Grandmother knows best. If you don't start with the basil and garlic, they become very difficult to chop to the degree of fineness required. The nuts and cheese are much easier to incorporate into the basil and garlic than vice versa. Am I shocked that an Italian pro knows better than amateur me? no. Did I have to try just to make sure? apparently.

One handful fresh basil
a few (2-4) cloves of garlic, to taste
heaping handful of pine nuts
scant cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated fresh
good olive oil

Begin by chopping the basil and garlic together until fine.
Add pine nuts in two or three additions, chopping until the mix resembles a finely-chopped salsa.
Add cheese in two or three additions; I find that the cheese helps hold the pesto together, so that by the second addition of cheese, the ingredients start to become well-incorporated.
Pour some olive oil over the top (about 1/4 cup?) and continue chopping, until mixture can be combined into a block on the cutting board.

If you're planning to use this later, pack it into a bowl or tupperware and cover with a generous layer of olive oil, which will prevent the basil from oxidizing and turning dark.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Yummy pics from my travels....and welcome!

Really, those things are in reverse order: first, welcome to my new blog! After years of loyally reading and shamelessly admiring others' food blogs, I've decided to join the fun. With absolutely no promises about what this blog will or won't contain, my guess is that I'll blog about anything and everything food-related, including but not limited to:

  • teaching D, my SO, to like food that isn't Subway (or "subwayeatfresh," as she affectionately calls it)
  • the good, bad and ugly of trying new restaurants
  • lots and lots and lots of home cooking and baking
  • the general rants on being a foodie with very few foodie friends

So start reading and don't stop! Because the posts and laughs will keep coming as quickly as I can get a good bite to eat or put food on the table (and drag D away from her footlongs).

Now, for the pics I promised....

This one is from a delightful little chocolate shop in the Marais section of Paris. You'll learn quickly that my total lack of self-control is mitigated only by my frequent trips to the gym. Put differently, I make up for all that running and lifting and pretty disgusting sweating by eating my way through hoards of chocolate, of all varieties. I would pretty much kill for a heath bar or skor bar; My food-illiterate friends think I'm a snob for liking toblerone, so when I splurge for the occasional bar of single-origin chocolate, it stays in my desk drawer at work. Plus, D would be horrified at the thought of wasting money that could otherwise guessed it.

On my last day in Paris, I ate at a bistro in the 5th Arr. called Le Petit Vatel. D and I both ordered this vegetable plate as our entrée. Jasmine rice sat beneath the veggies and sopped up the ample liquid from the carrots, zucchini, tomatoes and french lentils. Like many of the things we ate, this was remarkably simple, and absolutely delicious. As you can see, the whole thing is topped with some mysterious flowers. To this day, I don't know what they are. I tried to ask the maître d, but she mumbled something in French. It was too quick to catch, and I didn't want to be a nuisance. Boy, do I regret that. I'd ask three times if I could do it all over. must. have. me. some. of. those. flowers.

Fish market at closing time. Really there are more boxes than anything else -- and this man sure looks like he wants to go home. He was just thrilled that wanted to take pictures. By thrilled I mean wildly entertained. By wildly entertained I mean ready to go home.

That's all for now. Soon enough, I'll make the pie for which this blog is named, and post about it. Until then, happy reading and thanks for checking out my blog!

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Sunday, September 16, 2007

"Your hands are the best kitchen tool" -- ha.

Imagine my surprise when, as I was leaving my parents' house, I spotted a big, unmistakable box in their basement.

It most certainly wasn't empty.

I knew my mom's kitchenaid was upstairs (being used that very moment, in fact, to mix her challah dough), so this big box downstairs must contain.....another kitchenaid!

Indeed, after just one round of thinly-veiled pleading, my mom picked me up from the metro for a matinee performance, and insisted on driving me home afterward, new toy in tow. Needless to say, as soon as I got home, I popped this baby out of the box and took it for a test drive.

It's everything I've ever dreamed a kitchenaid would be -- like a second set of hands that's better than my own. Ok, there are certain things my digits can do that a kitchenaid can't.

If you think of any, let me know. Read more!

Saturday, September 1, 2007