Wednesday, September 23, 2009
At this time of the year, I get a little cranky about living in Southern California. It’s fall—school’s started (and with it, the horrific post-Labor-Day traffic), the days are getting shorter (it’s dark when I get up in the morning and nearly dark when I come home at night), the clothing stores are full of wool and fleece, and I’ve even seen a few leaves turning orange (yes, some of our trees do change colors in the autumn, contrary to popular belief). The food blogs are suddenly full of talk of pumpkins, apples, long-simmered soups, and pot roasts. And…it’s 103 degrees in Pasadena. September is traditionally one of our hottest months, not to mention that some part of the Southland is usually on fire. It’s still too hot for me to even make ice cream, let alone start canning and braising and roasting and baking and cuddling up under blankets the way online peer pressure and my own Northern instincts compel me to.
But I’m trying to look on the bright side. At least I get a little longer to say goodbye to summer and perfect all my salad recipes, right? Like the other night I revisited this one from Cooking Light, which I first made a few months ago and enjoyed, but never got around to writing about. I couldn’t get wax beans, my photos turned out sort of blah, and A—who I’d expected to be enthusiastic about anything involving bacon—was skeptical (“the pieces are too big and it’s hard to eat”). So, in the midst of this new heat wave, I thought I’d give it another shot—this time, with wax beans, a little extra bacon, and the beans and potatoes halved crosswise to address A’s objections. The result was a perfectly pleasant potato-green bean salad, heavy on the green beans (I like that), dressed in a simple vinaigrette, and jazzed up with crumbles of bacon. It’s good…but if this doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, it’s because not even the allure of bacon can rival the other potato-green bean salad in my life, the one I discovered a few weeks ago and can’t stop craving. So I’m not sure whether this recipe will quite make it into my repertoire. But I recommend it to you, and I might turn to it every now and again, just for variety, when summer starts feeling a little too long.
¾ pound green beans, trimmed
½ pound wax beans, trimmed
½ pound fingerling potatoes, halved lengthwise
¼ cup white wine vinegar, divided
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt, divided
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1tablespoon minced fresh parsley
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
1. Cook beans in boiling water 5 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and run under cold water for a few minutes, then let drain again.
2. Place potatoes in a saucepan; cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes or until tender; drain. Return potatoes to pan over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons vinegar to pan; bring to a boil. Remove from heat.
3. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons vinegar, oil, ¼ teaspoon salt, and pepper in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Drizzle beans with vinegar mixture; toss well to coat. Place beans on a serving platter; arrange potatoes over beans. Sprinkle with remaining ¼teaspoon salt, parsley, and bacon. Serve at room temperature.
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: OK. The vinegar will discolor the green beans, so it won’t be as pretty, but it will still taste fine.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
Eventually, I’m just going to end up cribbing Eggs on Sunday’s entire Pizza category. I can’t help myself! There’s so much variety, and all the kinds I’ve tried have been seriously good. Left to my own devices, I’d just be throwing some tomato sauce, zucchini, mushrooms, sausage, and mozzarella on there and calling it a day. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but considering that I make pizza once a week, I feel the need to branch out. And I’m OK at improvising every now and then, but with pizza, the possibilities are so endless that I tend to get overwhelmed and would prefer to seek guidance from a recipe so my little head doesn’t spin too much.
Mushrooms are my #1 default pizza topping, so I knew I had to try this one. It’s simple, but with the big, bold flavors of pungent asiago and sweet roasted garlic (mmm…gaaaarlic…) The flavors pair fabulously, and it’s easy to throw together (for weeknight-cooking ease, I roasted the garlic the night before and kept it in a sealed container in the fridge until I was ready to make the pizza). The only thing I’d change would be to use more mushrooms—I suspect my pizza was larger than the one in the original recipe, and although 1 cup seemed to provide plenty of mushroom coverage at first, I’d forgotten how much mushrooms shrink up once they cook, and in the end they looked a little meager. So next time, I’ll try a whole 8-ounce package. No such thing as too many mushrooms, right? In addition to amping up the flavor even more, I think it’ll help the moisture content—I know I overcooked my pizza a little, but even with the drizzle of olive oil it was a bit dry.
1 whole head of garlic
1 ball of pizza dough (1 pound)
1½ cups grated asiago cheese
1–2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms (I like cremini)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon thinly sliced tops of green onions (optional; I didn’t want to buy some just for this recipe, but if I’d happened to have some on hand, I would have used them)
1. To roast the garlic, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cut the top ¼ inch off a whole head of garlic, so just the very tops of the cloves are exposed. Drizzle a little olive oil over the head of garlic, wrap it loosely in foil, and place the foil package in the oven for about 1 hour, until the cloves are soft. Squeeze the soft cloves out and roughly chop them. (Roasted garlic can be stored in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed container for several days.)
2. When you’re ready to bake the pizza, preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Stretch out your ball of pizza dough and lay it out on a pizza peel or baking sheet that’s been generously dusted with cornmeal.
3. Layer the toppings as follows: grated asiago cheese, mushrooms, roasted garlic, thyme, and green onion slices. Drizzle the pizza with a little olive oil.
4. Bake until the cheese has melted and the crust is golden brown, about 8–10 minutes.
Time: 1½ hours
Leftover potential: Good.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I made this dessert with some gorgeous “dinosaur egg” pluots a couple of weeks ago, but even though it knocked my socks off and A’s too, I neglected to write about it. At first I couldn’t figure out why I kept procrastinating, and then one day I caught myself thinking, “Hmm, I seem to have forgotten what this tastes like…how will I describe it on my blog? It’s been so long since I tasted it, I really don’t think I can do it justice anymore. Maybe I should whip up another batch, just to inspire myself.” Yes, I had managed to trick myself into making this again. Sometimes having a food blog comes in handy.
Purely in the spirit of scientific inquiry, I used nectarines the second time, and it turned out just as amazingly as the first time around. So: versatile, possibly foolproof? Check. Delicious? CHECK. Astoundingly easy, requiring only a few common ingredients (I didn’t plan on making that second batch ahead of time—just gave in to my craving one day and delightedly found that all the ingredients were already in my kitchen) and some fruit that happens to be in season right now? Check, check, and check. Clearly, I can’t in good conscience keep the recipe from you people any longer.
This isn’t really a cake per se, but that’s what the original recipe (from Classic Home Desserts by Richard Sax) calls it: Quick Apple Cake. Occasionally, while eating, you do get a chunk that seems cake-reminiscent, where the batter has oozed down to surround a piece of fruit. But on the site where I found the recipe, Baking With Julie, it looks more like a pie, baked in a pie plate and cut into wedges. I don’t own a pie plate, if you can believe it, so I used an 8-inch square Pyrex baking dish, and rather than slicing the dessert (which didn’t have much structural integrity anyway the first time I made it, probably because I used too many of those juicy pluots) I just scooped out spoonfuls into bowls, like a cobbler or crisp or crumble—and indeed it’s put together that way, with lots of cooked fruit on the bottom and just a layer of batter on top. Julie calls it “Browned Butter Bliss,” and that’s certainly accurate, as well as being kind of catchy—and really, if we can have desserts called grunts, slumps, buckles, bettys, and pandowdies, why can’t we popularize the bliss? Still, I’m not sure I can pull it off without air quotes, so in the end I opted for a more straight-up descriptive name, mainly so I don’t have to deal with the “huh?” that would probably result each time I told A we were having Bliss for dessert.
The magical ingredient here is the browned butter, which gives the cake a wonderful caramelized flavor (seriously: taste a fingerful of the uncooked batter; the caramel is even more pronounced than in the finished dessert). If you’ve never browned butter before, all that means is melting butter in a pan on the stovetop and then letting it go a shade or two darker—this happens quickly, so you do have to be vigilant, but otherwise it requires no skill on your part. Then you just mix that—by hand; no mixer required—with some sugar, eggs, and flour, and pour the batter over some cut-up fruit you’ve tossed with a little sugar in the baking dish. You don’t even have to peel that fruit! Sprinkle some more sugar on top and bake. One bowl, one baking dish, a few measuring cups, and that’s it. In 40 minutes you’ll have meltingly soft baked fruit, sweetened but still a little tart, nestled beneath a crusty, buttery topping. I’m willing to bet you could use just about any pie-friendly fruit: peaches, plums, apricots, berries, cherries, pears….Obviously I’m going to have to experiment with each and every one. And I haven’t even tried it with ice cream or whipped cream yet—it’s plenty good plain, whether eaten warm from the pan or cold from the fridge the next day. I'd also like to try it with brown sugar, though that might just be gilding the lily.
Even more so than the berry buttermilk cake, my other favorite simple-baked-fruit-dessert discovery of this summer, this is a recipe I can totally envision myself effortlessly memorizing, then whipping up spontaneously at a moment’s notice when guests drop by (of course, guests never really just “drop by” my apartment, but in this fantasy I live in some close-knit, old-timey community with all my friends in easy reach and leisurely afternoons to spend in each others’ kitchens). Or, you know, when I just have some fruit lying around that needs to be eaten.
8 or so small plums or apricots, or 3 large peaches or nectarines, thickly sliced (the original calls for 3 tart apples, peeled and thinly sliced, in which case also add a squeeze of lemon juice to them in the pan)
¾ cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon (optional; I didn’t use it)
½ cup butter
2 large eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Butter a pie plate or 8-inch square baking dish. Toss your fruit in the baking dish with about 2 tablespoons sugar and the cinnamon, if using; spread evenly over the bottom of the dish.
3. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat (I find that a light-colored [i.e., non-nonstick, such as stainless steel] pan works better, because you can see the color of the butter more clearly) and keep cooking it, swirling the pan occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until it turns golden brown (you should see brown flecks in the butter). Remove from heat and pour into a medium mixing bowl.
4. Stir the ¾ cup of sugar into the butter, then the eggs, then the flour. Pour over the fruit and sprinkle with the last tablespoon of sugar.
5. Bake for 40–45 minutes, until golden and crusty, and the juices ooze from around the edges. Serve warm with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or thick vanilla yogurt.
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: High. I was surprised how much I liked the cold leftovers the next day—almost more than the hot-from-the-oven version (though if you wanted, you could just reheat the leftovers in the microwave—which I’d do if I were serving it with ice cream; I love that warm/cold contrast). Sure, the cake topping gets less crisp, but the flavors seem to meld more.
Tuesday, September 08, 2009
With just two vegetables in a basic vinaigrette, this salad is almost too simple to talk about. You may note that it’s also suspiciously similar to this salad, but with shallots instead of corn. But it’s plenty tasty, and since it happens to contains the two vegetables I’ve been most obsessed with this summer (as well as following the vegetable + acid + shallots formula that’s worked so well for me in the past), I’m…going to talk about it anyway. After all, you can never have too many summer salads in your arsenal, particularly when the temperature hits the triple digits and forests in your immediate vicinity are on fire.
The recipe is from Chez Panisse Vegetables, via Smitten Kitchen, and I made it for the first time on the fourth of July, when A was out of town and some friends kindly invited me to share in their cookout, so I volunteered to bring salad and we all enjoyed it. But I forgot to photograph it or write about it, so I made it again last week, as a side dish for a hot-weather dinner of hummus and pita crisps. A, being not really a fan of either cherry tomatoes or green beans, politely tried a few bites and then gave me the rest of his bowl, so I guess we won’t be eating this all the time. But I’m fine with making myself a big bowl to eat by my lonesome when the green-bean-and-cherry-tomato craving strikes again.
I made a half-recipe, but otherwise no other modifications. I haven’t added an herb so far, but I do think basil would be tasty.
1 pound green beans (or a mix of green and yellow beans)
1 pound cherry tomatoes
1 large shallot
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Basil or other herb (optional)
1. Trim the beans and cut them into large segments. Parboil in salted water until just tender, about four to five minutes. Drain and immediately spread them out to cool.
2. Stem the cherry tomatoes and cut them in half.
3. Peel and mince the shallot and put it in a large bowl with the vinegar and salt and pepper. Whisk in the olive oil. Taste and adjust the balance with more vinegar, oil, or salt, as needed. Toss the cherry tomatoes in with the vinaigrette. This can sit for a while, but do not add the green beans until just before serving or they will discolor from the acid in the vinaigrette. For variety, the salad can be garnished with basil or some other fresh herb such as parsley.
Time: 15 minutes
Leftover potential: Low to OK. I did eat some leftovers the next day and they tasted fine, but the vinegar had turned the green beans an unappetizing army green, so be forewarned.
Thursday, September 03, 2009
Holy crap, I love this salad. And you know my usual lack of enthusiasm for salads. In particular, I’ve always been an avowed potato-salad hater (detest mayonnaise, don’t care much for mustard, and could never see the point of eating cold potatoes), but for some reason, this summer it’s started to look good to me as I’ve seen it paraded across the food blogs (at least the German-style vinegar-based kinds), and I’ve tried a couple of recipes with decent, if not blogworthy results: one had bacon and was therefore quite palatable, and I’ve been meaning to try it again so I can photograph it and write it up here; the other had pesto and was OK but not something I’m likely to crave again. Both of them had green beans, which I am apparently extra obsessed with this year.
But this recipe from Smitten Kitchen (adapted from Martha Stewart) is just what I was looking for, even though I didn’t really know I was looking for it. It’s not a potato salad, but rather a normal (i.e., leafy) salad with potatoes in it, yet the dressing is a sly allusion to potato salad—a vinaigrette with a tiny hit of mustard (not enough to scare off this Dijonphobe, though I was suspicious) and a bit of creaminess (mercifully provided by yogurt, not mayonnaise). What really made this salad about as addictive as salads can get was the wonderful interplay between contrasting textures: the leafy arugula, the tender potatoes, the crisp green beans, the crunchy walnuts, and the creamy dressing. I was worried it would be bland, just plain boiled vegetables with greens and walnuts and some dressing, but it was far from it, even though I didn’t bother to buy walnut oil. (So expensive! Such a big bottle!) It tasted so great with plain old olive oil that I’m going to advise you not to bother with the walnut oil unless you already have it in your cupboard or have been waiting for an excuse to buy some.
Other than the olive oil, I didn’t make any changes to the recipe. I made a half-recipe (but a full amount of the dressing, just because it was easier to measure and whisk that way; of course, then I had some left over, which I really should have saved to put over ordinary salad) and split it into two big servings, which we ate for dinner with garlic-butter salmon on the side—and I kid you not, the salad outshone the salmon for me; I actually, for perhaps the first time in my life, wished I could just have two bowls of salad for dinner. I did think the recipe called for slightly too many potatoes—I would venture to say 1 pound might do it—but I’ll let you make that call. I didn’t really measure out my arugula, just pulled enough handfuls out of the bag to fill our bowls and then tossed the other ingredients on top. And I flubbed a bit and put all the salt and pepper in the dressing, rather than saving half to sprinkle over the salad. It didn’t seem to make too much difference.
I can’t wait to make this again. I like that even though it’s perfect for summer—a more vitamin-rich, colorful riff on the old picnic side dish—you could just as easily make this in the winter if you can find decent-quality potatoes and green beans and bagged arugula. Something about walnuts always seems Christmasy to me anyway. But I certainly won’t wait that long…in fact, I might make more this weekend.
1 ounce walnuts (about ⅓ cup)
1½ pounds fingerling potatoes, cut crosswise into ½-inch-thick rounds
6 ounces green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch segments
2 tablespoons white wine or other mild vinegar
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons walnut oil or olive oil
3 ounces baby arugula
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees, place walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, and toast in oven until fragrant, about 8 minutes (you can do this in a skillet on the stovetop over medium heat, if you prefer). Let cool slightly, then coarsely chop and set aside.
2. Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Add potatoes and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer potatoes to a colander to drain and cool. Set aside.
3. Return pan of water to a boil. Add green beans, and cook until tender and bright green, about 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a colander and run under cold water to stop the cooking.
4. Whisk together vinegar, yogurt, mustard, and ½ teaspoon salt in a small bowl; season with pepper. Add oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking until emulsified. Set dressing aside.
5. Arrange arugula, potatoes, and green beans on a platter. Season with remaining ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with toasted walnuts; toss to coat.
Serves: 4 as a main dish, 8 as a side dish
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: Low; as with most leafy salads, the arugula will get wilty and slimy if it sits in the dressing for too long.