Friday, July 31, 2009
For those of you in the same boat (or not), here's some ideas to help you eat well and stay cool this summer:
Bon Appetit's week of no-cook dinners: tomato-bell pepper soup, ceviche tacos, lettuce wraps with smoked trout [via BA]
Back on another 101 kick, Mark Bittman concocts 101 recipes for simple salads. And most are oven-free! [via NYT]
Shelterrific has a round-up of oven-free dishes: toaster oven tomatoes, watermelon popsicles, curried pasta salad [via Shelterrific]
I'm not sure how I feel about dessert soups, but Chef Michael Laiskonis makes a delicious-sounding case for them over at Gourmet [via Gourmet]
Drool-worthy coconut-macadamia ice cream [via Evil Chef Mom]
Simple, good, and stove-free: strawberries topped with sour cream and cinnamon [via Lottie & Doof]
And the Kitchn has tips on keeping your kitchen cool: use a crockpot or toaster oven, drink cold beer, grill outside, cook in your underwear(!) [via the Kitchn]
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Lately, I've been making homemade pizza for dinners on Sunday nights. It feels sort of special, I always have time to make pizza dough on a weekend, and a whole pie leaves us with leftovers for lunch on Monday. For my rustic Italian-ish dinner a few weeks ago, I thought about making something similar for an appetizer but with less toppings—more like a flatbread. I didn't want everyone to fill up too much before dinner, so instead of piling it high with vegetables like I usually do, I kept things simple with sauteed red onions and a sprinkling of parmesan.
It ended up being a great idea. Paired with beer and cocktails, the pizza went down easy without overshadowing dinner. But if you were planning a light meal, it would easily work as a main course with some salad. Or perhaps some meat and cheese...which completely defies my original plan.
Caramelized onion flatbread
I've made this pizza dough recipe, adapted from Louise Pickford's book Grilling, so many times that the page is flecked with oil and bits of flour—a sign of a good recipe. Pickford's recipe calls for cooking the flatbread on a grill, but I use my pizza stone and bake it in the oven. Feel free to vary the toppings—sauteed sausage or peppers would be a great addition.
(Serves about four people as a starter)
1 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for dusting
1 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tsp. salt
1/2 cup hot water
2 Tbsp. olive oil
For the topping:
2 red onions, sliced thinly
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
1 handful parsley, minced
1/2 cup handful grated parmesan
Sift the flour into a large bowl and stir in the yeast and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour, then add the hot water and olive oil. Stir with a spoon until it has formed a soft dough. Knead the dough with floured hands, pressing it against the bowl until it is smooth and elastic. Shape it into a ball and cover the bowl with a dish towel. Let it rise in a warm place for 45 minutes to an hour, or until it has doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, make the topping. Coat the bottom of a medium-sized pan with olive oil and heat over a medium-high flame. When the oil is hot, add the onions and shallot and cook until soft. Add the garlic and salt, and cook for a few minutes more, until the onions start to brown. Turn down the heat to medium low and add the vinegar. Sautee the onions for about 10 more minutes on low heat, stirring often. Remove from the heat when they are deeply caramelized, sweet and dark.
When the dough is ready, heat your oven to 450 degrees. Roll out the dough on a floured surface to make a 6-inch round circle. Place the dough on a pizza stone and brush it all over with olive oil. Add the onions and spread them out evenly over the crust. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with parmesan and parsley. Serve immediately or at room temperature.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Early in our relationship, Dan and I went to an Italian restaurant in Park Slope, where we now live. It is called Al Di La, and is everything you'd want in a neighborhood place—a cozy and romantic dining room with delicious, rustic Northern Italian food. The menu doesn't change very often, but that is more of a testament to how well-loved it is, rather than a stagnant kitchen. People come from Park Slope and beyond for the bright pink beet ravioli, the caper-studded beef carpaccio, and the most incredible lamb ragu over papardelle. And the desserts—oh, the desserts. My favorite dessert—possibly my favorite dessert ever—is the torta di pere, chocolate-pear cake. It tastes a little like a pear-studded blondie, but airier and moister. After the first time I ordered it, I knew, like lots of other diners, I'd have come back to the restaurant again and again just to get my fix. Or so I thought.
The problem with Al Di La? It is always packed, and the owners don't take reservations so it's very hard to get in. And it's only gotten harder over the years. People line up at 5:00 PM and the crowds don't slow down until closing time. The place that I thought could be our place is clearly everyone's place, and we've sort of given up on it after too many nights of standing in the restaurant's doorway hopefully, only to be told there is a two-hour wait.
So when Smitten Kitchen posted the recipe for the chocolate-pear cake, I was stunned. THE torta di pere? How did she get it? I thought that the recipe would change my life and I'd make the cake all the time, but like going to the restaurant, I filed it away and forgot about it. Happily, when searching for a dessert for my Italian-y dinner party the other week, I started thinking about Al Di La and the cake came back to me in a flash, so much so that I exclaimed, "Oh!"
Which is what my friends exclaimed when they ate it. "Oh!" and "Mmm!" and "This is the best dessert you've ever made." All of which is to say it is exactly like the restaurant's version, an accomplishment I am way prouder of than I should be.
Torta di pere
The secret ingredients in this cake are brown butter and whole eggs that are beaten to the point of forming stiff peaks. When combined, they give the cake its springy texture and subtle nutty flavor--something I couldn't put my finger on when I ate it in the restaurant. Smitten Kitchen served this cake with whipped cream with a hint of amaretto, so of course I copied that too, using almond extract. And it was exactly the right decision.
(Makes one 9-inch cake, which serves about eight people)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, at room-temperature
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3 pears, peeled, in a small dice (I used anjou)
3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks (I used chocolate chips)
Lightly whipped cream with a touch of almond extract, optional (but recommended)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with breadcrumbs (I cheated and used flour), set aside. Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together, set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs on high speed until pale and very thick. (SK says in a professional Kitchen Aid, it takes at least five minutes; on a home machine, it will take nine minutes to get sufficient volume. It took me about ten minutes using a hand mixer, but I beat the eggs a little longer to be extra-safe.)
While the eggs are whipping, brown the butter. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan (because it will foam a lot) and cook it until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Remove from the flame but keep in a warm spot.
Add the sugar to the eggs and whip a few minutes more. Just as the egg-sugar mixture is starting to lose volume, turn the mixture down to stir, and add the flour mixture and brown butter. Add one third of the flour mixture, then half of the butter, a third of the flour, the remaining butter, and the rest of flour. Whisk until just barely combined — no more than a minute from when the flour is first added — and then use a spatula to gently fold the batter until the ingredients are combined. It is very important not to over-whisk or fold the batter or it will lose volume.
Pour into prepared pan. Sprinkle the pear and chocolate chunks over the top, and bake until the cake is golden brown and springs back to the touch, about 40 to 50 minutes, or a tester comes out clean. (Try this a few times to make sure you're not hitting a pocket of pear.) Serve with whipped cream.
Thursday, July 23, 2009
Doesn't mind that you opened and drank half of the wine intended for tonight's dinner the night before.
Will eat olives straight from the plastic container, saving you a bowl to wash.
Doesn't mind that there are several gnats trapped in the apartment, circling around in the most maddening way.
Provides an extra set of hands to help make the sandwiches while you assemble a salad.
Doesn't mind polishing off the dregs of a pint of gelato, and calling that dessert.
Always brings good conversation and laughter to the table, which naturally makes any meal, however thrown-together, taste better.
Thursday night dinner with Mindi
Prosciutto, ricotta, and pesto panini
Arugula with mustard vinaigrette
Gelato (Key lime-graham cracker from Ciao Bella)
Dear friend, I'm going to miss our weeknight dinners (and drinks on the stoop, and holiday candy-making sessions, Sunday brunches, and picnics, and pedicures) so, so much. I always knew our friendship was a fortuitous thing, but I never realized how lucky I was that you've always been just a few subway stops away. It will be hard to get together for sandwiches on a Thursday night when you are living in another state, but we'll find a way to try.
Prosciutto, ricotta, and pesto panini
I don't own a panini press (my little kitchen can barely contain my essential pots and knives, let alone single-use gadgets) but I created the same effect with a makeshift press: heating the sandwich between two heavy pans.
1 baguette, sliced lengthwise and in half
1/2 lb. prosciutto
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup pesto
Coat the bottom of a large frying pan with a bit of olive oil and heat on medium-high heat. Assemble your sandwiches by spreading a layer of pesto on each piece of bread, then adding prosciutto and ricotta in between. Assemble the sandwiches, then place one in the pan. Place a large, heavier pan (like a cast iron skillet) on top of the sandwich, and press down. Don't press too firmly, or the sandwich will spill out its contents. Yuck. Hold the pan down for a few minutes, or until one side of the sandwich browns. Flip the sandwich and repeat the process. Then repeat the process again to make a second sandwich. Serve immediately.
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
But not last weekend. Our friends E, Lara, and Jon came over for dinner Saturday night and the stars aligned. Not to brag, but dinner was really good. I wanted to make a rustic Italian menu that also used the great produce that's available right now. So we nibbled on squares of onion-topped flatbread and drank Gordon's Cups to start, then ate savory stuffed chicken legs, a summery tomato salad, and spinach sauteed with garlic and lemon. Dessert was a reproduction of my favorite cake from one of the best restaurants in our neighborhood (more on that later) and it was almost identical to the restaurant's version. I didn't burn anything. There was just enough food. Everything was tasty, colorful, and satisfying.
Sometimes you just get in a comfortable cooking groove and everything comes out the way you've imagined it. Saturday was my night. Maybe it's just practice, maybe it's just choosing good recipes, maybe it's having friends whom you are happy to cook for. Either way, hitting the right note every so often feels great.
Rustic Italian-y dinner
Flatbread with caramelized onions
Stuffed chicken legs
Simple tomato salad
Sauteed spinach with garlic, lemon, and red pepper flakes
Simple tomato salad
This recipe is so simple it's not even a recipe--it's just assembly.
(Serves about 4 people)
3 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced into 1 inch round slices, then cut in half lengthwise
1 pint mixed cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 handful tarragon leaves (or basil, or oregano, or thyme)
1 shallot, sliced thinly
Red wine vinegar
salt and pepper
Layer the beefsteak tomatoes on a platter. Scatter the cherry tomatoes on top. Top with a layer of tarragon. Drizzle with vinegar and olive oil, and season well. Serve immediately.
Stuffed chicken legs
Adapted from Mario Batali's Molto Italiano. I am not the most adept at following directions, but sometimes I think Mario's recipes can be a little confusing or overly difficult. Case in point: these stuffed chicken legs are supposed to be boneless, yet he writes that they can be eaten with one hand. Wha? I kept the bones in (which adds extra flavor anyway) and filled them with his stuffing, a salty-herby-lemony mix that flavored the chicken so well. He also instructs you to tie the legs with twine, which I did not have. I used toothpicks, as you can see, which made them look like voodoo chickens, but whatever--it worked!
(Serves 6, generously)
4 oz. prosciutto, sliced into 1/4-inch wide ribbons
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1 1/2 cups grated parmesan
1/2 cup grated provolone (I omitted this)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 bunch basil, leaves only, chopped
1 Tbsp. rosemary
Zest of 3 lemons
12 whole chicken legs (look for small legs, unless your guests have huge appetites)
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the prosciutto, bread crumbs, cheese, eggs, herbs, and lemon zest until mixed. Lay the chicken legs skin side down on a cutting board and season all over with salt and pepper. Place 2 Tbsp. of the filling into the cavity of each leg (I used kitchen shears to cut a small pocket, which helped), spreading it into the thigh and upper part of the leg. Roll each leg up starting from a long side, and tie tightly with butcher's twine. (Or use toothpicks. Lots of them.) Season the thighs with salt and pepper and place in a roasting pan. Roast the chicken for 35 to40 minutes until it is crisp and golden (the internal temperature should read 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Unlike a lot of ice cream-based desserts, this truly is a tart. Under some fancied-up chocolate ice cream (Dorie recommends adding almond extract, nutmeg, and ground almonds, which makes it extra rich and flavorful), there is a chocolate-lined, shortbread-like crust on the bottom. The overall effect is like eating cookies and very, very good ice cream.
Other than its size and decadence, the other thing that makes this tart a special occasion dessert is that it takes awhile to make. Almost all day, to be honest. But stay with me here--before you click away to another food blog, Judy said it was a leisurely process, a lot of little steps that took a little time, spread out throughout the day. Dorie calls the recipe "undemanding" and "patient," which are very nice qualities in people, as well as desserts.
Another bonus is that the tart can keep (well-covered, in an airtight container) in the freezer for up to two months, so if you know you have a dinner coming up, you can make it in advance when you've got a day around the house planned. It's the perfect thing to make in between washing a few loads of laundry, doing a crossword, or while having an hours-long phone conversation with a friend.
Coffee ice cream tart
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan's Baking: From My Home to Yours. One drawback to the tart is that the crust was pretty hard. It was easy to eat, but not as easy to cut. Judy used a 9 1/2-inch tart pan, which may have caused this, but when making the recipe, I'd make a thinner layer of cookie dough.
(Makes one 10 or 11-inch tart)
1 cup (4 oz.) toasted slivered almonds (or sliced blanched almonds)
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
pinch of salt
1/2 stick (4 Tbsp.) cold unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. almond extract
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
For the filling:
1 cup (4 oz.) toasted slivered almonds (or sliced blanched almonds)
1 quart good-quality coffee ice cream
1/2 tsp. almond extract or 1 Tbsp. amaretto
pinch of nutmeg
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped, for decoration
To make the crust: Lightly butter a 10- or 11-inch fluted tart pan and line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat (Judy skipped this step.)
Put the almonds, flour, sugar, nutmeg, and salt in a food processor and pulse for about 10 seconds, or until the nuts are coarsely chopped. Toss in the pieces of butter and pulse until the dough resembles coarse meal. Add the egg and extract and continue to pulse until the dough forms clumps and large curds, about 10 seconds. Turn the dough out into the tart pan and wipe out the processor. (You'll use it for the filling.)
Press the dough evenly over the bottom and up the sides of the tart pan. Freeze for 30 minutes. (if you'd like once the dough is frozen, you can wrap the tart pan and keep it in the freezer for up to 2 months.)
Baking: Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Butter a piece of aluminum foil and press it, buttered side down, snugly into the tart pan; put the tart pan on the baking sheet. Bake the shell for 20 minute, then remove the foil. If the crust has puffed, press it down with the back of a fork. Bake the crust for another 8 minutes or so, until it is firm and golden. Transfer to a cooling rack.
Friday, July 17, 2009
I've got a post on Shelterrific today about my solution: herb syrups. I love making different flavors to use in homemade sodas and cocktails. A few weeks ago in Florida, I turned basil syrup into my favorite basil lemonade, inspired by the abundance of basil in my parents' backyard. We almost went through a gallon of it at a family dinner.
Nothing more than herbs steeped in sugar and water, infused simple syrups are truly simple to whip up but make you feel ridiculously fancy. I dream of having a whole rack of different flavors labeled in pretty glass bottles at my disposal. The trouble is, they never last that long. Read more about it over on Shelterrific.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Three make-ahead summer party menus from New York chefs. On first glance, the dishes look deceptively complicated--due to some very gorgeous photos--but after a closer look, these menus really do look pretty easy. Also, the Vampiro Cocktail, a tequila-based bloody Mary, is my new favorite drink name. (Ideal for True Blood viewing parties, perhaps?) [via NY Mag]
If you want to go beyond burgers and hot dogs, Food & Wine has some sophisticated and healthy grilling recipes (beef tenderloin "dogs", trout with smoky tomatillo sauce) [via F&W]
Picnic tips and recipes, whether you're in a park, on the beach, or on a camping trip. [via BA]
If you can still find Meyer lemons in your part of the world, Gourmet recommends squeezing them over a mix of lemonade and beer to make a Meyer lemon shandy. [via Gourmet]
Smitten Kitchen makes a lemony goat cheese-zucchini pizza. [via Smitten Kitchen]
And for a grand finale dessert, honey-bourbon-caramel peach pie. Woah. [via Sassy Radish]
Monday, July 13, 2009
Luckily, my worrying was pointless and the great lox vs. banana bread argument never happened. Getting along wasn't an issue for our parents and they even hang out without us. They have several key things in common: similar political views, a strong bond with their only children, and a love of dogs. (Pets are the best icebreaker. Especially ones this cute.)
They also like to barbecue, which makes for easy get-togethers when we visit. We've started a tradition of going to Dan's parents' house for the Fourth of July, because they live walking distance from the city's big fireworks display. While it's still light out, we fire up the grill and eat snacks around the pool until the mosquitoes make us crazy. This year, there was shrimp cocktail on ice and some charred onion dip that I made. Creamy, with bits of caramelized onion running through, it was like a grown-up version of the soup mix dip I grew up eating.
Thoroughly bug-bitten and sweaty, we went into the house to soak up the air conditioning and eat a big meal. Judy, my mother-in-law, grilled tiny lamb chops. We sat around the beautifully set table and gnawed on the dainty bones, discussing Sarah Palin and Michael Jackson, the big bombshells of the weekend. Baking is Judy's strong suit (although she can grill a mean lamb chop) so there is always, always dessert at these get-togethers. We devoured her coffee ice cream tart drizzled with chocolate and a few juicy grilled peaches, made by Dan.
After dinner, we walked to watch the fireworks over the nearby Intracoastal Waterway. Dan and his mom sat on the sea wall, and Dan's dad chatted with my parents and me. The breeze picked up, and it almost felt pleasant, a rare thing in July in South Florida. As the explosions started, we oohed and ahhed, picking out our favorite ones. I leaned on my dad's shoulder, feeling content. It was silly to worry so much in the beginning--people always come together over the simplest things: a cool breeze, some grilled meat, ice cream, and fireworks in the sky.
Fourth of July '09
Charred onion dip
2 cups sour cream
2 tsp. whole-grain mustard
6 dashes Tabasco sauce
2 Tbsp. thinly sliced chives (or green onions)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Two 1/2-inch-thick slices charred red onion, finely chopped (I used one medium-sized onion cut into three slices; you could use two onions for a chunkier dip.)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Thursday, July 9, 2009
On a walk with my dad last week, we noticed dozens of bright red lychees scattered across the sidewalk. They weren't someone's spilled snack. Looking up, we were surprised to find a tree heavy with fruit. I was stunned. Lychees—who knew? Although most of them were split open and roasting in the sun, the jaded New Yorker in me did a mental calculation of how much lychees cost per pound in the grocery store. In Florida, they are a tropical feast for the ants.
And it's the same with avocados, bananas, starfruit, citrus, herbs—everything is overgrown from the constant rain. Coupled with the stupefying heat, Florida summers are lush and heady.
I've written before about the neverending bounty of mangoes in my parents' house, and this summer is no exception. I came home to find dozens ripening on the kitchen windowsill and in baskets, my parents clearly losing their taste for them by the day. You can only puree and freeze so many batches. But it feels wrong to waste mangoes, even though in almost every South Florida backyard there are piles of rotten fruit left by people who are overwhelmed by their overproductive trees.
After adding some spices to mango puree and simmering the mixture until it cooked down, the sauce became sweet and fragrant, like a fruity barbecue sauce. Not quite a ketchup in my book, but a tasty condiment all the same. And because it was made in Florida, it was essentially free.
4 medium mangoes, pitted, peeled, and chopped
Puree the mangoes in a blender or food processor until smooth. Add all other ingredients and puree until combined. In a heavy saucepan over low heat, cook the mixture until reduced and thickened. Remove from the heat and cool. Strain the mixture through a sieve. Refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to meld.
Thursday, July 2, 2009
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
Horseradish potato salad (with fetching purple potatoes) [via Smitten Kitchen]
Maple-bourbon barbecue sauce for grilled meat or to swirl into baked beans [via Pithy & Cleaver]
Fun summer drinks (margaritas made with beer, rhubarb-basil cocktails, mango coladas) [via The Kitchn]
Three words to start your salivary glands: charred onion dip [via Lottie & Doof]
And here are a few of my favorite summer recipes from the newly-reorganized Dinner Party archives:
Watermelon aguas frescas
Salami-wrapped Mean Beans
Main dishes and sides:
Corn, radish, and tomato salad
Kitchen sink summer salad
Oven-fried picnic chicken
Pasta salad with chickpeas, tomato, and feta
Summer melon with cucumber, feta, and basil
Key lime pie
Oatmeal coconut raspberry bars
Peanut butter brownies
Three-layer ice cream cake