Monday, January 26, 2009

Winter Mini-Harvest

I picked these beauties today.

Doing a 3-5 day pickle for the beets. The tomato will ripen for a few more days before heading into a salad or something. But the meyer lemon is the one I'm most proud of - we transplanted our tree two years ago and it seemed like it was never going to fruit again. This little fella was the first one to ripen from the current crop (a whopping three lemons).

Any ideas on how best to treat it/eat it?

Two Dinners

Lest you think all we do is desserts, here are two awesome dinners Noah and I made recently. The first is the above dish, our take on a meal we had at Angeli Caffe recently - Penne with Ricotta, Cherry Tomatoes and Bacon. The second, in the pictures below, is Stuffed Pork Chops with Spinach, Goat Cheese and Green Tomato Chutney.

The penne dish was a Monday Night Special, which inevitably means quick and easy. And because the LA weather can't decide if it's going to be hot or freezing on any given day lately (whoo! global warming), it's a dish that's warm, but not heavy. Meaning it goes both ways. In a totally non-porno way. We had to make some substitutions on the original because I was totally lazy and forgot to roast any garlic for the pasta and also because we had some awesome bacon to use up and didn't feel like battling the crowds at TJs to get pancetta.
The stuffed pork chops were all Noah. I'm guessing that on Saturday, while I was writing in the bedroom he was watching the Food Network, because the dish is a riff on a recipe from Giada De Laurentiis (the lollipop head who loves to host kicky "impromptu" dinner parties). Okay, no more bagging on Giada, 'cause honestly she has good ideas for simple meals and is also one million times less annoying than RachRay and P.Dean.

Noah whipped it up for dinner last night and bless him, totally let me veg on the couch nursing a nasty, but diminishing hangover. Note to self: you cannot drink like you're 27 anymore, sugar. Again, there were substitutions (I think if you're a person who enjoys eating and cooking at all it's basically impossible not to tweak a recipe to fit your own needs/likes/timelines). The only one of real note is that the recipe calls for sun-dried tomatoes, of which I am not a big fan (though more of a fan than roasted red peppers which just kind of gross me out). Also, we didn't have any. So my genius ass chimed in from the couch with the brilliant idea of subbing in some of the Green Tomato Chutney Noah's Aunt Debra made us for Xmas. Okay, Deb, that stuff is AWESOME! And was perfect for the pork.

I added a salad to the meal, along with some sliced baguette and the crack-tastic Jean-Yves Bordier butter that we still have from Paris. If anyone knows where I can get this in the States, tell me now. I'm almost out and an $800 plane ticket seems like a slightly elevated price tag for butter. But for this butter, only slightly.

So there you go, not one but TWO non-dessert recipes for y'all to enjoy.
Whole Wheat Penne with Ricotta, Cherry Tomatoes and Bacon
inspired by Angeli Caffe

2 servings whole wheat penne (I'm too lazy to measure out how much exactly, but am guessing it's about 2 c. of dried pasta)
1/2 c. fresh ricotta (if you can get it, the cheese dudes who sell the Winchester Farms goudas at the H-wood Farmers Market have the best fresh ricotta in town)
3-4 strips of bacon, more meaty than fatty OR 1/4 c. pancetta
20 cherry tomatoes, halved
Garlic (half a dozen cloves if roasted or 2 chopped cloves if raw)
Basil (we didn't have any, so we left it out)
Salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, to taste

Cook up the penne. Reserve a few tablespoons of cooking liquid for sauce. Slice the bacon/pancetta into small strips. Sautee. Remove when they've reached your desired level of crispy. Discard all but 2 tsp. bacon/pancetta fat. Use this to cook raw garlic in on medium flame. Once garlic has browned (1-2 mins), add the cherry tomatoes. Cook 1 minute, then add in pasta, bacon/pancetta and a bit of the reserved cooking liquid. Cook another minute. Take off flame and pour into a large bowl. Add the ricotta and stir, adding more cooking liquid if you want a saucier sauce. Add salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to taste. Serve with a few shavings of parmesan if you're a cheese whore like myself.

Pork Chops Stuffed with Green Tomato Chutney, Spinach and Goat Cheese
adapted from a recipe by Giada de Laurentiis

2 tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 c. green tomato chutney OR 6 sun-dried tomatoes, diced
1-10 oz. bag of frozen spinach OR 2-3 cups fresh spinach, sauteed
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more for seasoning
1/2 tsp. black pepper, plus more for seasoning
1/4 tsp. thyme, fresh or dried
1/4 c. (2 oz.) goat cheese
1/3 c. reduced fat cream cheese or 1/4 c. non-fat greek yogurt
4-4oz. center cut pork chops
1 1/2 c. chicken broth (or, if you're Noah and I, the duck broth you've had in the freezer for while)
1/2 lemon, zested
2 tbsp. lemon juice
2 tsp. Dijon mustard

Warm 1 tbsp. olive oil in a medium saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the tomato chutney, spinach, salt, pepper and thyme. Cook until combined, about 2 more minutes. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. Add the goat cheese and the cream cheese or greek yogurt. Stir to combine and set aside.

Use a sharp knife to cut a pocket into the thickest portion of the pork chop. Stuff each pocket with 1/4 of the spinach and tomato mixture and close the pork around the stuffing. Season the outside of the pork with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl, combine the chicken broth, lemon zest, lemon juice and mustard.

Warm the remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot add the pork. Cook until golden and cooked through 4-7 minutes a side (ours took longer as the pork was quite thick). Transfer the pork to a side dish and tent with foil to keep warm. Add the chicken broth mixture to the skillet over medium high heat and deglaze the pan, scraping up the cooked pork bits as the broth simmers. Reduce by half to make a light sauce. Spoon some over the pork before serving, putting the rest in a gravy bowl (or, if you're Noah and I, a crappy, chipped ramekin) for spooning over as you eat.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Almond Cake for the Playoffs

Sunday was a tragic day in our house, as the Ravens fell for the third time this season to the Steelers. Well, more tragic for Noah, but since I'm still getting over the Colts early exit and the fact that the Niners only won half a dozen games this year, I can kind of sympathize. And it all had to happen in front of many of our friends (who themselves were mourning the loss by the Eagles earlier in the day). But, to paraphrase someone who possibly paraphrased Marie Antoinette, let them eat cake.
Oh, things made from almond paste and/or marzipan, how I love thee. Let me count the ways - candy, cookies, croissants and... cake. I've been letting the idea for this cake percolate for a while, ever since I found a lovely can of high quality almond paste at an Italian deli in the San Gabriel Valley (during the Great Bacon Party Errand Extravaganza). And when my sister and mom sent me some preserved apricots and apricot jam from Stacy's tree this summer, well, the idea started to get a little clearer. Then on Saturday, two days after oatmeal cookie making, I was just like - screw it. My waistline, I mean. I wanted some damned almond cake.

I scoped out a few recipes in my cookbooks, but like the oatmeal cookie recipe serach, everything proved too complicated or fattening or crazy ingredient procuring difficult. I searched for recipes online and found one at the Odense site (they make almond paste, but not the kind I was using). I was especially drawn to the "Butterless" part of the recipe, as most recipes I looked at had two sticks involved in the cake baking. And dude, almond paste has plenty of fat as it is, two additional sticks of butter seemed like seriously greasy overkill.

I made very few adjustments to the recipe - I added 2-3 tablespoons of Stacy & mom's apricot jam to the batter, and to compensate for that density I added another tablespoon or two of flour. That's it. I also didn't grate the almond paste as the brand I bought was incredibly soft and didn't seem to need grating to incorporate into the batter, but I'll leave that part in the instructions, in case yours proves unwieldly. Oh yes, and instead of dusting the cake with confectioners sugar, I used more of the apricot jam, thinned with almond liqueur and a touch of sugar, then microwaved for 30 seconds to create a glaze. It was delicious, especially because the homemade jam was nice and chunky with apricots. High five, mom and Stacy! And high five, me.

Note: I ended up freezing a few remaining slices of this cake for future enjoyment. I'll let you know how that works out.

Butterless Almond Cake
from the Odense website

7 oz. almond paste, grated if hard
1/4 c. sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature (mine were still cold)
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
2-3 tbsp. apricot jam* (My addition, you could probably happily substitute raspberry jam if that's what does it for you)
Optional: confectioners sugar or Apricot Glaze (above) for dusting/glazing

Pre-heat the oven to 350˚F. Grease 9" round pan. Line bottom of pan with wax paper (I used parchment paper). Grease paper.

Add almond paste, sugar and eggs (and jam, if using) to a mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed until well combined, then turn to high and mix for 3 minutes. Add flour and salt to almond mixture and mix on low speed until just combined. Pour batter into greased, parchmented pan and bake for 20-22 minutes (my cold oven took about 28 mins) or until a toothpick comes out of the middle cleanly.

Cool cake in pan on wire rack for 15 mins. Invert on plate or wire rack, peel off wax paper. Invert cake back onto wire rack, so top doesn't get lined, to finish cooling. Dust with confectioners sugar (or glaze with Apricot Glaze) if desired. You could also pair it with fresh summer berries and whipped cream.

And Now I'm Obsessed with Urban Chickens

So through a very convoluted chain that started with voting in the Well Fed Network Food Blog awards (one of my favorite bloggers is nominated), I suddenly found myself falling into the world of Urban Chicken Farming. Falling in love that is.

Okay, I think I may have mentioned this before, but I've always wanted to be a farmer. Like, you know that test they make you take in high school that's supposed to tell you what you should be when you grow up? Mine gave me two options - writer or farmer. Currently fulfilling the former, dreaming of fulfilling the latter. Noah and I often talk about retiring to some kind of goat/sheep farm and making cheese once we get bored with the entertainment industry (or, you know, filthy rich). But today I was reading about a bunch of Angelenos who are already doing the farm thing, in their urban backyards. And it made me really, really jealous.

I want a chicken coop! I want farm fresh eggs in my own back yard. I want adorable little chicks (which I learned here, don't stay chicks for long). How long until Noah and I can afford our own house? Because you know our animal-phobic landlords will not even let us think about chicken coop-ing it up here (they always deny our yearly request for a dog, so chickens would probably make them lose their shit).

I'm not one to root for the current economic downturn to continue, but if it means we can buy a house, and a chicken coop, sooner rather than later. Well...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Great Frakkin' Cookies

Friday's premiere of the final season of Battlestar Galactica was a great excuse to make some oatmeal raisin cookies. We'd be watching the premiere at our friend Jeremy's house with a bunch of friends, so the cookies wouldn't be tempting Noah and I for weeks (okay, days). But I had yet to find the ultimate oatmeal raisin cookie recipe, so flipped through my plethora of cookbooks. None of the recipes sounded totally awesome to me, so I went to my go-to recipe site online - Epicurious.
I like Epicurious because it collects recipes from Gourmet and Bon App├ętit, as well as publishing some site-specific recipes. But its main draw for me is the in-depth user reviews people post. It did not take me long to find a well reviewed, adaptable recipe for Oatmeal Raisin Cookies. I switched up some stuff right off the bat - I was out of purple raisins (actually, I'm just hoarding them for my week-day morning Steel Cut Oats breakfast) so I subbed in golden ones. I also swapped out and reduced the white sugar in the recipe for turbandino, which added a nice crunch. I used half whole wheat flour, half all-purpose and I killed the dates in the recipe, which were frequently sighted by reviewers as being too sweet and/or overpowering in the recipe. I also did half with walnuts and half without due to nut-allergic friends.

The results - A Big Fat Hit! Craig claimed to have eaten five, Sharra ate at least two and took home a baggie full. The kids who hang out on our front porch got first crack at them and all asked for the recipe for their parents to make later. I'd call that a resounding recipe success.
Oatmeal Cookies with Raisins, Dates and Walnuts
submitted to Bon Appetit by Charmaine Haravey of Niwot, CO - July 2003
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (I used 1 c. whole wheat flour, 1 c. all purpose)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves * (My addition)
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg* (My addition)
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature (I used 2 sticks butter and omitted the vegetable shortening below)
  • 1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar (I subbed in 1/2 c. turbandino raw sugar)
  • 1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup honey (I upped to 1/3 c. but would probably reduce back to original measurement)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 3 cups old-fashioned oats
  • 1 cup raisins (I used golden raisins, which taste a touch citrusy. In a good way.)
  • 1 cup chopped pitted dates (I omitted)
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts (I halved, as I used them in only half the cookies)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 2 baking sheets with foil; butter foil. Blend first 5 ingredients in medium bowl.

Using electric mixer, beat butter, vegetable shortening, and both sugars in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in honey, eggs, and vanilla. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats, raisins, dates, and walnuts. Drop batter by tablespoonfuls onto prepared sheets, spacing mounds 2 inches apart. Flatten cookies slightly.

Bake cookies until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Cool completely on sheets. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.)

* I think you could easily make some tasty substitutions in the recipe. Maybe 1 c. dried cherries and 1 c. dark chocolate chips (you'll probably want to reduce brown sugar to 3/4 c. to compensate for the sweetnesss). You could also do dried cranberries and add some orange zest. Or maybe a combo of chocolate and peanut butter chips (again, decrease the brown sugar and probably omit the turbandino entirely). The possibilities are endless. And the recipe is good enough to try them all.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Going, Going...

It's our last night in Paris and we sit here waiting for our landlord to show up (do you call someone you're renting from for only two weeks a landlord?) and give us back our deposit after being assured we didn't pull a rock-star-on-a-bender on his place before heading off to our final dinner at Chez Michel in the 10th.

Oh crap, is it really almost over?!?! There's so much we didn't do - the Louvre (Noah's still never been), walk through the Jardin des Plantes, drink a cafe express at either Deux Magots or Cafe Flore, visit the Monde Arabe and the Quai Branly, eat sweetbreads (where, I ask, were the damn sweetbreads???). And WE MISSED OUT ON SO MANY PLACES TO EAT (Bistrot Paul Bert, the closed for the holidays but much loved by us L'Ami Jean, Riboldingue, etc...). Not that we starved - we've practically eaten ourselves to death - but in Paris, as in any good food city, there just isn't enough time to hit up every place that sounds like a can't miss restaurant.
There are other things, too, that we forgot to do in time - grab some caramels with fleur de sel for Abby, who would truly appreciate their awesomeness; see if I could get the girl at the fromagerie to vacuum pack (aka sous vide) a huge hunk of their to-die-for buerre sale (Breton butter with sea salt that is better than sex); find a mini crepe/egg pan for Noah at Dehillerin; get cooler gifts for my dad; find the perfect black purse that no one in America will have and all my friends will envy.

But there's one thing I did remember - one last baguette from Eric Keyser. I'm taking that baby on the plane with me and it will get me through the 13 hours of crap plane food and crying babies and chatty seatmates. Seriously, I want to eat it right now. Aw, dammit...

Well, there's always next time.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Chocolate Tiramisu

This recipe comes from Giada deLaurentis. We made it for Christmas dinner and it turned out really well and was very delicious. The key is to have really stiff lady fingers that won't get too soggy and to have the right size pan to make it in. But it's really easy and very yummy. Debra asked for the recipe, so here it is...

Ingredients

  • 6 ounces container mascarpone cheese
  • 2/3 cup whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Chocolate Zabaglione, recipe follows
  • 2 1/2 cups espresso coffee, warmed
  • 24 crisp ladyfinger cookies (recommended: Savoiardi)
  • Unsweetened cocoa powder, for garnish
  • Dark chocolate shavings, for garnish

Directions

Place the mascarpone cheese in a large bowl and set aside. With an electric mixer, beat the cream and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Then fold in the chilled Chocolate Zabaglione. Cover and refrigerate.

Whisk the warmed espresso and the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar in another medium bowl until blended. Line a 9 1/4 by 5 by 2 3/4-inch metal loaf pan with plastic wrap, allowing the plastic to extend over the sides. Working with 1 cookie at a time, dip 8 cookies into the espresso, and arrange in a single layer side by side over the bottom of the prepared pan.

Spoon 1/3 of the mascarpone mixture over the cookies to cover. Repeat dipping 8 of the cookies in the espresso and layering the cookies and remaining mascarpone mixture 2 more times. Dip the remaining 8 cookies in the espresso and arrange side by side atop the tiramisu. Press lightly to compact slightly (the last layer will extend above the pan sides). Cover the tiramisu with plastic and refrigerate at least 6 hours.

Unwrap the plastic from atop the tiramisu. Invert the tiramisu onto a platter. Remove the plastic. Sift the cocoa over the tiramisu, and with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife, make dark chocolate shavings and sprinkle over top.

Chocolate Zabaglione:

2 tablespoons whipping cream, or heavy cream

1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

4 large egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 cup dry Marsala

Pinch salt

Add cream and chocolate to a heavy small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the chocolate chips are melted and smooth. Set aside and keep warm.

Whisk the egg yolks, sugar, Marsala, and salt in a large glass bowl until blended. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, but do not allow the bottom of the bowl to touch the water. Whisk the egg mixture over the simmering water until it is thick and creamy, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Using a large rubber spatula, fold the melted chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Cover and refrigerate to chill completely.