Saturday, January 31, 2009

never craved cauliflower? you will now.

a few years ago, we discovered roasted cauliflower.
before then, cauliflower had always been that white vegetable
served raw
and often overlooked 
on supermarket crudites platters, 
beside a container of ranch or blue cheese dips.

but then, a friend mentioned to me 
how amazing most vegetables can become once roasted
and for some reason
boring cauliflower was the first thing that i thought of.

in the oven it morphs from a crunchy and somewhat bland veggie
into its sophisticated cousin: incredibly sweet, beautifully caramelized 
and so tender, it can only be thought of as a gourmet vegetable. 
and so, roasted cauliflower became a favorite.

 a while back, i watched tyler florence
demo a delicious looking spaghetti that boasted
golden cauliflower,
pine nuts.
but for some reason (some silly, silly reason)
i forgot about it and continued roasting away.

and then, spurred by a ridiculous sale,
(i bought the biggest head of cauliflower 
i've ever seen in my life for $1.49),
and a cabinet clean out that made me realize 
we were the proud owners of three (three!) boxes of golden raisins,
i remembered.

this was three-quarters of that giant head of cauliflower. when i started running out of room to cut, i realized it was time to put down the knife, back away and learn to love snacking on leftover white,  bland, crunchy veggies.

the method is slightly different than plopping them on
a baking sheet 
and sticking
them in the oven.
all this takes is a pan and a burner,
to first steam
and then caramelize,
but the results are just as good,
if not, maybe even a little better.

it looked delicious, as is, but we made some changes:
first, spaghetti is all well and good
for those of you with
the ability to
use a fork without
leaving a trail of your
meal all over the table,
but for me, 
spazzy person that i am,
i like nab-them-on-the-first-try pastas,
like rigatoni,
and my new favorite, used here,

i also, and i know that this is
have a very strong aversion 
to parsley.
so i left the recommended
1/2 cup of the chopped leaves out,
but feel free
to stir those in at the end.

to add a little extra sweetness and to capitalize on our new found wealth, i upped the raisins to closer to a half a cup. i also ended up squeezing in extra lemon juice because it really does wonders to brighten the dish. 

because we really love the dark parts of the cooked cauliflower best, i cut my florets extra small. this increases the surface area that touches the hot pan and decreases the center, which will not be directly exposed to the heat. if you like larger pieces, go for it. when you cook the florets, let them get decently dark. it's hard to appreciate their deliciousness when they're not boasting an abundance of spots. 

at this point, the florets were softened and tender, but not really sweet. when it looks like this, you probably have at least 10 minutes left in the caramelizing process.

another piece of advice, to reduce the amount of olive oil used (the original recipe calls for 1/2 cup), i opted to coat the panko with olive oil spray. a good idea - it totally works, they still come out golden and add unbeatable texture to the finished dish. however, a word of advice if you're like me and don't necessarily think these things through: light as can be breadcrumbs + powerized air = major cleanup. make sure to insulate the panko before spraying, otherwise, you're sure to find the tiny breadcrumbs for weeks to come. um, sorry, larry.

this is the color you're looking for from the baked panko

Sauteed Pasta with Cauliflower, Raisins and Panko
oh, i just realized i didn't mention the anchovies. please don't let them stop you from making this dish. i used anchovy paste instead of chopped fillets. the paste makes it even easier for the flavor enhancer to meld with the olive oil, providing a unique saltiness that is hard to match. most people will not even know you used it. promise.

1 pound pasta
1/4 cup pine nuts
3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. anchovy paste
1 head cauliflower, cored and cut into small florets
1 tsp. anchovy paste (or more to taste)
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
1/2 lemon, juiced (or more to taste)
Freshly grated Parm

Heat oven to 350˚F. Bring a large saucepot of water to a boil; cook and drain pasta according to package directions. In small skillet, over medium-low heat, toast pine nuts; shaking occasionally and keeping a close eye to prevent burning. Hint: if you start to smell them, take the skillet off the heat immediately. Set aside. Cook and drain pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile, in the largest skillet you have (I used 14"), warm olive oil over medium heat. Add anchovy paste and cauliflower and cook 2 minutes, or until the mixture starts to sizzle. Add 1/4 cup of water, sprinkle with kosher salt and toss the mixture. Cover and steam for 5 minutes, or until the cauliflower is somewhat tender. Remove the lid, crank up the heat to medium-high and let cook about 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower has deeply caramelized. 

Meanwhile, in bowl, toss the panko with olive oil cooking spray (or drizzle with olive oil, if desired) and a sprinkling of kosher salt; spread out on a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown, shaking pan occassionally.

Add cooked pasta, toasted pine nuts and raisins to cauliflower mixture in skillet; let cook 30 seconds. Stir in lemon juice. Transfer pasta to serving bowls; sprinkle with toasted Panko and grated Parm.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

pound cake for the pound cake cynic

i really love cookbooks.
so much so, that i sometimes have nightmares
(and I mean real, honest to goodness, wake-up-
in-the-morning-and-think, what just happened?
nightmares) that our very large, very full bookshelf
has collapsed under the weight of all of them, that
the ridiculously tall stacks in the closet have teetered over
or that i've lost the very one i was determined to peruse,
after misplacing it in the kitchen, or bedroom or my car.

luckily, that hasn't happened yet.
well, the first two scenarios, anyway.

my love, you see, is similar to what most people have for
scared-to-fall asleep mysteries
dirty romance page turners
1,000 page sci-fi series.
i read them like novels, cover to cover.

and then i go back and reread my favorite pages,
the ones that jumped out,
that immediately made me think,
this is something special.

and that is how i felt the first time i read,
it's a lovely page turner and one that, frankly,
makes even the most simple of recipes sound

i first came across the book, when i was writing
cookbook reviews for my culinary school
externship at the The Nibble, a food lover's dream.

and there, the recipe for
Olive Oil and Sherry Pound Cake,
jumped out at me:
the simplicity and
the unexplainable appeal
of the no butter loaf seemed to
stand in the way of any realistic doubts:

1) i don't like pound cake (just the name conjures up
images of manufactured boxed confections)
2) it contained orange zest (i like oranges just fine,
but use them as a flavoring and for me, it's a no-go)
3) i'd have to use a cup of my good olive oil (i'm
sometimes a bit stingy).

when adding the zest to the batter, gently rub it between your fingers to release and separate. i learned the hard way, that otherwise, they clump together on the whisk attachment and never find their way into the cake.

but, nevertheless, i carried on, trudging out in
less than friendly weather to buy
my first bottle of sherry.
less than 20 minutes after i returned home,
two creamy loaves were
busy browning in the oven.

gorgeously golden,
we waited patiently for them to cool
to slice
and eat
just as they were - no butter, no jam necessary.
the first day, the flavors were subtle,
but the top layer was crunchy,
almost as if the sugars had risen
while baking, joining together and resulting in
a surprisingly caramelized crust.

after a day or two,
the top had softened -
an obvious caveat of wrapping -
but the olive oil and sherry
were ready to shine.
the flavors melded beautifully
and even i have to say
the orange zest added a certain
that may have otherwise been lost amongst
the fine-crumbed cake.

i wrapped the second loaf extra securely and kept it
in the freezer for well past the three month mark.
it was still from-the-oven-fresh even then,
so feel free to wrap and freeze, to give as gifts
or to enjoy with a cup of tea when you're
craving comfort.

and, i must admit, that i sometimes doubt a recipe
unless it's been made multiple times. luckily
this no-butter cake has been given many chances
and has always passed.

when a recipe calls for adding eggs one at a time, spare yourself the headache of cracking separately. instead, put them all into a measuring cup and pour them in as needed. so. much. easier.

Alice Medrich's Olive Oil and Sherry Pound Cake
from Pure Dessert
i caution you to use medium sherry, as indicated in the recipe. i've used lighter and it just doesn't pop. also, if you have a couple olive oils in your cabinet to choose from, pick the boldest.

3 cups (13.5 oz.) all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup flavorful extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. grated orange zest (from 1 medium orange)
5 large cold eggs
1 cup medium (amontillado) sherry

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two loaf pans. Mix the flour, baking powder and salt thoroughly in a large bowl and whisk together. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (with the whisk attachment), beat the sugar, olive oil and orange zest on high speed until well blended. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition; continue to beat until the mixture is thick and pale, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and add 0ne-third flour mixture; beat just until combined. Add half of the sherry. Beat just until blended. Repeat with another third of the flour, followed by the remaining sherry, and then the remaining flour.

Scrape the batter into the pans. Bake until the cake tester comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Cool the cakes in the pans on a rack for about 15 minutes before unmolding.

Slide a thin knife or spatula around the sides to release the cake. Invert the cake onto a rack. Turn the preferred side up before cooling the cake completely. Wrapped airtight, the cake keeps well at room temperature for up to 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

i have an affinity for side dishes

i went to a great restaurant with friends last year,
and there, on the hand-written blackboard, i saw my dream meal.
20 vegetable side dishes. pick four. there's your dinner:
artichokes hearts with parmesan
roasted grape tomatoes with garlic
beets with goat cheese
mixed mushrooms with leeks and herbs

i was in heaven.
and i've thought about recreating this dish
or one like it
for many meals since.

there's just one problem.
a very agreeable, thankfully adventurous, rarely complaining problem:
i have a husband.
one who, puts up with tofu, my love for lime juice and avocado and a recent obsession with
seaweed. who brings me to restaurants that specialize in vegetables and who actually finds it
amusing when i spend an afternoon experimenting with different sweet potato sandwich recipes.
but, one, who really, really, really just wants
a steak.

so every time i feel myself sliding toward a side dish supper,
i stop somewhere short of making a plate that looks like
i just ransacked the farmer's market. and instead, try to make
it look like a meal. sort of.

which brings me to last week.
i had my heart set on roasted parsnips
but then i remembered the purple potatoes and the onion
sitting not-so-patiently on the counter.
in the grocery store
i stared at the seafood counter,
the chicken and the turkey
before remembering
i had a carton of eggs in the fridge.

i like to separate the vegetables, just in case one cooks faster than the other. it's an easy way to avoid burning your onion and serving crunchy potatoes. once cooked, you can mix together, or keep the cobb effect.

i'm telling you, when faced with a lot of veggies and no plan,
roast 'em,
poach an egg,
toss it on top
and call it dinner.

this time i used parsnips (they are so sweet and delicious, when you let them brown for a while), a sweet onion, purple potatoes and cremini mushrooms. but, the options are endless: a bowl of garlicky swiss chard, grilled asparagus, sauteed tomatoes, just to name a few. it couldn't be simpler, you just cut them all up into somewhat similar-sized pieces (obviously, i don't care if they look identical, but it is important for them to be the same size so that they cook evenly), put them on a roasting pan with a drizzle of olive oil, some kosher salt and pepper. and then wait for them to shrink, brown and sweeten. use the last ten minutes of the roasting time to poach the eggs. i sprinkled the finished plate with chopped chives and a few drops of admittedly-decadent truffle oil -- both completely up to you.

ok, i'll admit it. i forgot about these at first. but it worked out well - they cook much faster than the others. while, i think the other vegetables are fine with cooking spray, mushrooms need a little flavor coaxing from olive oil.

and please, don't be scared to poach an egg.
believe me, i understand. there's boiling water,
in a shallow saucepan,
and timing
and the whole thing seems so freaking delicate. but it's easy.
and it's by far, my favorite way to prepare and enjoy an egg.

Roasted Root Vegetables
4-6 parsnips, peeled, quartered lengthwise and cut into thirds
1 sweet onion, peeled, halved and sliced
1 pkg. (8 oz.) purple peruvian fingerling potatoes, brushed and quartered
1 pkg. (8 oz.) cremini mushrooms, rubbed clean with a paper towel and sliced
6-8 cloves of garlic, peeled
olive oil
kosher salt
cracked black pepper

Heat oven to 400˚F. Coat foil-lined baking sheet with cooking spray or a thin coating of olive oil. Place parsnips on left side (or whatever placement makes sense to you). Drizzle with oil or spray; sprinkle with salt and a few cracks of black pepper; toss with your (clean) hands. Repeat with onions and potatoes. Sprinkle garlic cloves on baking sheet. Repeat with mushrooms on a separate foil-lined baking sheet. Roast 20-30 min., or until vegetables are golden brown and tender, turning once or twice. Toss together; divide mixture among two plates. Gently place poached egg over vegetables. Sprinkle egg with chopped fresh chives and add a few drops of white truffle oil, if desired.

Poached Eggs
2 large eggs
1 Tbs. vinegar
1 tsp. kosher salt

Crack each egg into separate extra-small bowls. In medium saucepan, heat 2" water over high heat until just starting to bubble. Stir in vinegar and salt -- they both help the egg set faster and prohibit the white from fraying and spreading. Wait until the water bubbles again, then gently dip the rims of the bowls into the water and let the egg slip out; lower the heat to about medium. As soon as the egg starts to set, slip a spatula underneath to loosen from the bottom of the saucepan. Next, very gently flip the egg. Let cook about 2 min., more, or until the white is reasonably firm and the yolk is still runny (it will appear slightly wobbly if you give the egg a small shake). Using spatula or slotted spoon, remove the egg from pan and let the water drip off; blot with paper towel, if desired. Using scissors, cut frayed edges.*

*I never do this, but if you want a prettier presentation, this is how they make it happen in restaurants.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

i'm kind of messy

i thought i was going to fail out of culinary school because i could not...
dice potatoes into perfect 1/2" cubes
julienne flawless strips of zucchini
drizzle non-runny drops of basil oil onto the rim of a dish
conceptualize and execute a gorgeously composed dessert.

i shouldn't have worried. don't get me wrong --
i never became especially good at any of that.
but i didn't fail out.

when we wove lattice crusts onto pies,
trimmed black bass into rectangles
and used our pastry bag to pipe perfect rosettes onto cakes
i tried (hard) not to cry when my pastry strips were uneven,
my fish was triangular
and my frosting was rather spastic.

until one day, out of nowhere, i realized a quick cure:
while others were calling themselves
in style, I chose rustic.

i was so excited about my composed trifle, until i saw that the top layer looked like this.
so, i whipped some cream and smeared it over the whole mess. no one ever knew.

it fit me better anyway.
i'd rather make big bowls of pasta brimming with
the most seasonal of ingredients,
fresh fruits crostadas that
look like they belong on a long wooden farm table,
hearty soups that serve as meals
and are even better with bread for dunking.

and so out of necessity, my idea, my lifestyle - and my sanity - was born.

i'm not lazy.
i'm rustic.