Friday, February 22, 2008


Remind me to stop trying non-sweet quickbreads. I just don’t like them that much. Cornbread? Soda bread? Scones? Bah humbug.

After the delicious Dill Bread, I got cocky. I craved more savory, herby homemade breads, but I didn’t want to have to work so hard. So I got lured into this recipe, which promises plenty of cheese and ease. It has a fine pedigree from the inimitable Dorie Greenspan, the user reviews are glowing, and with no yeast, “It takes less than 10 minutes to put together, requires no special equipment, and really takes no special skill.” Bingo!

It certainly turned out a gorgeous loaf (it helps that I made it during the day and got to photograph my food during full sunlight, for once). And it didn’t taste bad or anything, but it didn’t taste how I expected—in fact, it didn’t really taste that strongly of chives or cheese. Everyone who tasted it (me, A, P) agreed that it seemed as though something were missing. I tried eating it with butter, even a sprinkling of salt, but the slightly flat flavor stubbornly remained. P described it as “eggy.” I wonder if maybe I should have used medium cheddar instead of sharp. A wanted a more flavorful herb. And to be fair, Greenspan suggests that you play around with the recipe however you like, using any hard cheese that suits your fancy, varying the herbs however you like, or including add-ins like ham or nuts or vegetables. I appreciate this versatility, and I’m sure I could keep trying this until I found a flavor I liked.

The texture of the bread was also unusual; Greenspan describes it as a “savory cake,” and indeed, it felt oddly like cake in the mouth. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, but it wasn’t what I expected. It had a little of the dry crumbliness I don’t like about cornbread.

I still have half a loaf left, and I’m looking forward to trying it lightly toasted, as Greenspan suggests—that might really make the difference for me, as I love toast far more than “raw” bread. And I really can’t blame this recipe for differing from my expectations. I’d still recommend it, since it was just as quick and easy and reliable as promised, and you can flavor it however you want. But it wasn’t what I was craving, and with so many other delicious-looking bread recipes out there clamoring for my attention, I probably won’t be making it again. I think what I’m looking for is a yeast bread, and I should resist being tempted by shortcuts.

Still, that photo is awfully appealing, if I do say so myself.

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ to 1 teaspoon salt (depending on what add-ins you’re using; I used the full 1 teaspoon for the basic cheddar-chive combo)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup milk, at room temperature
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 ounces coarsely grated cheddar or other cheese
2 ounces cheddar or other cheese, cut into very small cubes
½ cup minced chives or other herbs

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and generously butter a loaf pan.

2. Put the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl and whisk to combine.

3. Put the eggs in another mixing bowl and whisk for 1 minute, until foamy and blended. Whisk in milk and olive oil.

4. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ones and gently mix with a wooden spoon or sturdy rubber spatula until dough comes together. Because beating the dough makes it tougher, there’s no need to be too thorough or energetic—just mix until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in the cheese, the herbs, and any other add-ins you’re using. Turn the dough into the buttered loaf pan and even the top with the back of the spatula or spoon.

5. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the bread is golden and a slender knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack, wait about 3 minutes, and then run a knife around the sides of the bread and turn the loaf over onto the rack. Invert to right-side up and cool to room temperature. The bread can be served slightly warm, but it’s better when fully cool, and best when given some time to “ripen”—wait a few hours or overnight to serve.

Serves: 8
Time: 1 hour

Thursday, February 21, 2008


I am way behind with recipe posting; I think I made this three weeks ago! So I’ll be brief. This is a good, basic vegetarian lasagna recipe, which is exactly what I was hungry for at the time. I found it in Vegetarian Suppers From Deborah Madison’s Kitchen, courtesy of the local library. Changes I made to the recipe: it originally called for 1 cup of finely chopped walnuts or pine nuts, added in thirds right after each ricotta layer, but I left that out because I thought the crunchiness would interrupt the smooshy texture I was longing for. Having forgotten to photocopy Deborah Madison’s recipe for tomato sauce (which was in another section of the book) at the same time I copied the lasagna recipe, I was forced to punt: I wanted something plain and non-chunky, so I just sautéed a couple of cloves of minced garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes in about a tablespoon of olive oil, added two 14-ounce cans of Trader Joe’s plain organic tomato sauce, and seasoned with pepper, fresh oregano, and dried basil (I didn’t have fresh on hand). It was easy and tasted great. Use whatever tomato sauce you feel like.

In all, I was surprised by how quickly this dish came together—I made it on a weeknight, even—and I would certainly make it again, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of lasagna recipes for me. There was a significant amount of zucchini; I kept feeling like it was almost on the verge of being too much, but then it was nice to see and taste something green in the otherwise cheesy-noodliness of the finished product. I should have sautéed the zucchini a bit less long, though—I took the “until it glistens and is tender” directive a bit too seriously, forgetting that the zucchini would then be baked for another 40 minutes. And if 40 minutes is long enough to soften no-boil lasagna noodles, it’s certainly long enough to soften zucchini. They became a little too army-green for me. Next time I’ll stick to the “5 minutes” part of the directive instead.

Speaking of no-boil lasagna noodles, can you believe I’d never used them before? What a miracle of modern technology! Not only are they easy to use, but I also prefer the texture to “regular” lasagna—they retain a slight firmness that’s not only pleasingly al dente to eat, but also helps the casserole maintain its structural integrity, for easier slicing and serving. I now have half a box left and am itching to use them, so look out for more lasagna recipes in the future.

2½ cups tomato sauce
1 pound ricotta cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 ½ pounds small zucchini
olive oil as needed
8 ounces no-boil lasagna noodles (12 noodles)
½ pound fresh mozzarella cheese, grated or shredded
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil a 9-by-12-inch baking pan.

2. If ricotta is densely textured, thin it with several tablespoons water and season with salt and pepper. If it’s milky and wet, set it in a fine strainer to drain (season with salt and pepper before using).

3. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. Cut each half into diagonal slices as thinly as possible. Heat the oil (I used 1–2 tablespoons) in a large nonstick skillet. Add the zucchini and cook over medium-high heat, turning frequently, until it glistens and is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Spread ½ cup tomato sauce in the bottom of the baking dish and set 3 noodles over it. Cover with a third of the ricotta and a third of the zucchini. Cover with ½ cup of the tomato sauce, a quarter of the mozzarella, and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Add the second layer of noodles and repeat twice more (in case you’re confused—I know I was—that’s ricotta, zucchini, tomato sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan, noodles, ricotta, zucchini, tomato sauce, mozzarella, Parmesan, noodles). Cover the final layer of pasta with the remaining tomato sauce, mozzarella, and Parmesan.

5. Cover the dish with foil and bake until bubbling hot, about 40 minutes. Let rest for several minutes before serving.

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Serves: 6

Friday, February 01, 2008


Goulash! Goulash, goulash, goulash. Sure, the word might sound unappetizing, too close to “goo” or perhaps “ghoulish,” but the stuff itself is delicious, perhaps the perfect winter food. And I don’t even like beef that much, so this is truly a ringing endorsement.

Fellow beef-take-or-leavers: The pieces of meat are really tiny (that is, if you read the recipe correctly—I somehow misread it as “2-inch cubes” instead of “1/2-inch cubes” when I started cutting, then realized my error and had to go back and pare down the giant beef chunks after I’d browned them), and they cook for so long they get nice and tender. Everyone else: beefy goodness! Plus bacon, red peppers, and a rich, spiced, beautifully glossy reddish-brown broth. I was particularly fond of the flavor imparted by the caraway seeds. Oh, and let’s not forget that after talking your ear off about Spanish smoked paprika for the last month, I’m finally moving on to a new paprika—Hungarian sweet. It didn’t jump out and grab me the way the smoked stuff did, but it’s key to the warm flavor of this dish—and sure is more flavorful than ordinary red-powder-on-top-of-your-deviled eggs paprika.

The nitty-gritty: The recipe is from Gourmet, via The Smitten Kitchen. Some of the quantities are odd because I halved the recipe (it originally served 12). It was quite easy to make, especially since once you get everything mixed together, it just simmers for an hour while you talk on the phone or do yoga or watch TV. It’s sort of a soup, sort of a stew (depending on how much and what kind of liquid you add), and sort of a sauce you can ladle over egg noodles, as I did. (It turned out I had exactly 3 cups of frozen beef broth in my freezer, so I used all of that and didn’t add any water or beer, and I was very happy with the consistency…though beer might add a really nice flavor.) Served with a green salad, and with some homemade chocolate-chip oatmeal cookies for dessert, it was the perfect Sunday-night food: solid and comforting, but not heavy or decadent. Last week was cold and rainy, and this stuff braced my spirit and warmed my tummy.

3 slices bacon, diced
1½ pounds boneless chuck, trimmed and cut into ½-inch cubes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 medium onions (about ¾ pound), chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ tablespoons sweet paprika
¾ teaspoon caraway seeds
5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2½ cups beef broth
½ cup to 2½ cups water or beer (use water to make a stew, beer to make a soup)
½ teaspoon salt
1 red bell pepper, chopped fine

1. In a large, heavy kettle, cook bacon over medium heat, stirring, until crisp. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a paper-towel-lined plate and set aside.

2. In fat remaining in kettle, brown chuck in small batches over high heat, transferring the browned meat with a slotted spoon to a bowl.

3. Reduce heat to medium and add oil. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until tender and golden. Stir in paprika, caraway seeds, and flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Whisk in vinegar and tomato paste and cook, whisking, for 1 minute. Stir in broth, water, salt, bell peppers, bacon, and chuck and bring to a boil, stirring. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 60 to 75 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and serve over egg noodles if desired.

Serves: 6
Time: 2 hours