Thursday, February 26, 2009

snapshot: garlicky whole wheat egg noodles with an olive oil fried egg

sometimes you just want something 
quick and satisfying, a dinner that 
yields a greater gift
than you feel you deserve for the work
you put into it. this bowl of pasta is it.

simply saute a ton of 
finely chopped garlic (i used about 6 cloves), 
a generous squeeze of anchovy paste
and a healthy sprinkling of red pepper flakes
in olive oil on low for at least 10 minutes,
stirring often to prevent burning. 
squeeze in the juice of a large lemon.

add about 1/2 pound 
al dente whole wheat egg noodles
a few splashes of the pasta's cooking water 
and a handful of grated parm
to the garlic mixture.
stir until pasta is well coated.
transfer pasta to bowls.

meanwhile, fry a couple eggs 
in a small amount of 
olive oil that has been heated
with a clove or two of quartered garlic,
until whites are just set and 
yolks are still quite runny.
top each bowl with one egg, 
let each person mix their own
and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

bbe: a sandwich place

i'm not the kind of girl
who likes roast beef or ham, or really, 
even turkey.
i think roasted red peppers are
just ok and i'm so-so on 
grilled chicken. 
mayonnaise, in excess,
or simply spread on the bread,
freaks me out.
i am, as you can imagine,
a ton of fun in a deli.

i do, however, love the idea 
of lunch and the concept of a really
good sandwich, like ones that involve
large grilled shrimp,
perfectly ripe slices of avocado
or crumbled creamy salty feta.

in high school, i imagined myself
opening a coffee shop. 
one that was 
eclectic and homey with 
large overstuffed armchairs, 
scattered amongst 
scuffed wooden straight backs 
and wicker seats that boasted 
layers of chipped paint.
there would be really huge non-matching mugs 
for coffee and tea - 
perfect for the customers who came 
in the morning
and never left,
too busy reading a book 
or chatting with a friend.

then, a couple weeks into college,
my roommate and i walked into deja brew
it was exactly what i imagined for my shop,
and quirky 
and safe,
quiet, with an easy-going atmosphere.
it was...
for four years, i loved this place, with 
its striped and polka dot mugs,
that i sipped from while
eating lunch with friends,
during creative writing classes (the professor's choice!),
project meetings and 
for those times that i just needed
to be alone.

now, i still imagine that store-front:
the lines a little cleaner,
the furniture with slight connection,
but the quiet quirkiness, the same.
oh, and for years, i've pictured it,
no longer a coffee shop, but instead 
a sandwich place.

because i have to believe that there
are others 
who are not crazy about
ham or roast beef, 
and who really crave sandwiches
that are not easy to find,
that are culinary achievements
in their own right 
(ok, maybe that last part is a bit
of a reach).
but, you get the point.
fancy, yet unpretentious,
amazingly delectable
and creative sandwiches.
that's what bbe -
named for brooke, blair and erin, 
me and my sisters -
would be about.

so, when faced with a fresh jar
unexplainable lack of interest in tagines,
(at least for now, anyway),
i knew that a sandwich was 
in the works.

in my preserved lemon research,
i found a few items 
involving tuna
and since i haven't had 
a tuna sandwich
in a very long time, 
it sounded perfect.
i remembered a recipe that i once saw involving
tuna and an olive spread 
and instantly craved the combination.
sharp finely chopped red onions,
briny capers and a 
country loaf of whole wheat sourdough 
rounded out the deal.

i was a little nervous - would the lemons
pack such a flavorful punch
that everything else would be overshadowed?
would they blend in, 
never to be heard from again?
would the whole thing be boring? 
too salty?
no, no, no and no.

rustic at its best, 
slightly imperfect, 
not so gorgeous
and bursting with 
interesting ingredients,
this is definitely one of those
recipes in which the 
sum is greater than its parts.
sure the kalamata-based spread is good,
really good, actually,
and the tuna mixture serves its purpose -
it's blended with juice from a non-preserved
lemon to ensure that 
the flavor is bright
and then drizzled with 
red wine vinegar for 
extra acidity, 
a trick i learned when working
at a pizzeria many years ago.
and the toasted slices 
of thick-cut bread,
are ok.
at best, someone might call them common -
it's fine, i can take it.
but when layered together,
and the lemony tuna 
meets garlicky roughly pureed olives
on slightly crunchy bread,
the results, i think, are bbe-worthy.

tuna with preserved lemons and olive spread on sourdough 
tapenade or olive spread is readily available in local stores. i have a great recipe that i will share soon, but if you are unable to find a container and you're in the market for something to spread on your bread, toss a large handful of pitted kalamata olives in a mini food processor with a spoonful of mustard, a clove or two of garlic, a few dashes of cayenne pepper and a small drizzle of olive oil. as for the mayonnaise - i've mentioned, it's not my favorite. so i've only used enough to make sure that the ingredients are bound together and creamy - feel free to go up and down depending on your level of love for the condiment. and, if this sandwich is missing something, i think it's greens - watercress, i believe would be unforgettable - in between the tuna and the top layer of bread. if you have any laying around, toss them on, too.

this recipe makes about two large sandwiches, with some tuna left over to add to a green salad the next day. or, you can build them on regular toasted sandwich bread - you'll get at least enough for four this way. 

4 slices bread cut from center of whole wheat sourdough loaf OR 8 slices bread from regular loaf
2 Tbs. finely chopped red onion
3 wedges preserved meyer lemon, pulp scraped from rind, both chopped
1 Tbs. salt-packed capers, rinsed, drained and dried
1/4 cup low-fat mayo
1/2 large non-preserved lemon, juiced
2 cans (6 oz. each) albacore tuna in spring water, drained well
1/3 cup olive spread
red wine vinegar

lightly toast bread. meanwhile, in bowl, combine red onion, meyer lemon rind, capers and mayo; stir in chopped pulp and lemon juice. add tuna; stir just until combined. season with freshly cracked black pepper.

place bread on work surface; divide olive spread among bread slices. divide tuna mixture. drizzle with red wine vinegar to taste (you can be liberal with the vinegar, within reason, here). top with remaining slices of bread; halve sandwiches.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

worth the wait

the end of the 2008
and the beginning
of 2009
have made for
a rather gloomy
new jersey 

right now it's grey,
looming somewhere between
light snow and
heavy rain.
this follows the tease of
a couple pretty days,
but mostly
mornings and 
battling snow:
brushing off the car
and shoveling out spots
every morning on 
the way to work
every evening on the way
home, both of which 
are only meant to
prepare you for
risky, scary, wintry

once home,
all you want to do is 
change into 
dive under the covers
with a mug of
hot chocolate
and cross your fingers 
that someone broke
into your house while
you were gone
to make a hot pot
of stew.

or maybe that's just me.

on one of these days,
cranky from
frozen fingers and toes,
and the snow plow that
had gotten dangerously
close to me
(not my car, me)
in the parking lot,
i walked into the 
supermarket and 
saw a sea of 
bright yellow

there were so many
and they were so pretty
and cheerful
and even though i was
without a plan,
i bought four. they were
my only purchase and
when i ran through 
the parking lot,
i clutched them against
my chest
until i got into the car
and promised myself
to make something uplifting.

when i got home,
i kicked off my slush-covered
and ran for the computer, 
looking for the recipe 
that called out to me.

meyer lemons, unlike their common
extremely tart and bitter relatives -
lemons, as we know them -
are bursting with floral notes
and have balanced their acidity
with sweetness, which
in some circles
makes them 
reminiscent of
oranges, and perfect
for desserts. 

they don't stick around for
long. their season is fleeting,
so when i saw them,
i knew i should make something
special. i tossed around
the idea of 
or a mousse
or curd,
before realizing that i had
nothing going on
in my life
that required sweets
to be made.

and, then, 
i saw a recipe,
that before i even clicked 
on, i knew would be the 
i loved that by saving them
in a jar,
i could enjoy the slivers
that they could be
used for savory dishes
and, that
i could always 
look at
bright yellow
when things got
too grey

the only problem?
i only had four.
the recipe called for 10-12.
i waited patiently and crossed
my fingers for 3 days that they 
would still be there when
i returned to the store. they were.
then, i realized that i didn't actually
have a jar with a tight fitting lid.
jars, when you can't
get to a craft store
right away,
are surprisingly hard to find.

so, i stared at them on my counter,
talked to them,
pleaded with them to not go 
bad before i had the
to toss them into a pot of
boiling water
and bury
them in mountains
of coarse salt.

a week later,
i set to work early
in the morning with
coffee in hand, expecting 
a tedious task.
it was surprisingly easy.
i boiled six of the lemons
while juicing the other ones.

when they were cool,
i cut the fruits into 8ths, 
removed the seeds
tossed them with salt,
packed the wedges into 
a jar, covered them 
with juice
and then reality set

i had to wait even longer
to enjoy them. only
five days, if i'm being 
honest, but i've never been
especially good
at waiting it out.
when i was younger,
i always opted for the 
one-hour photo 
after a big event 
and refused 
to leave the store 
until the pictures
were in my hand, 
and even then,
i inspected each one in 
the checkout line. 
my senior year
was torture, a daily parade 
of mailbox checking, in
search of college
and every week,
i become legitimately
upset when i realize
that i have to wait
7 more days 
before finding out
the next quickfire on
or what's really
happening to izzy

so five days felt like 
a lot. because, in spite
of lacking a certain
amount of patience,
i'm not a cheater.
in spite of the temptation
to open the jar each
day, and taste one,
i worried more that 
it was wrong and that 
one slip of oxygen
would ruin the whole
batch. and in spite
of wanting to 
taste one
every day,
i worried that they would
ultimately be delicious, and i would
regret the five 
progress-taste tests
because it would mean
five less wedges to use
throughout the year
if i loved them.

when the time was up,
i did nibble on a wedge.
the thin rind, was tender,
the flavor of the whole thing
sweet and salty
and slightly, just slightly,
the result, was 
undoubtedly lemon-like,
but so much more.
with one bite, i could 
adding them to 
after dish
as my secret ingredient.
i resisted the
urge to "try" another,
and instead,
poured in a splash of
olive oil 
tightened the lid.
i couldn't wait to play. 

preserved meyer lemons
if you cannot find meyer lemons, you can still preserve the traditional ones. also, make sure that you have extra lemons ready if need be. in spite of using a jar that was one cup smaller than should be, i still didn't have quite enough to pack tightly (as is best) or enough juice to cover. i did have traditonal lemons, so i used some of their juice to make up the difference. also, don't worry if the salt seems to settle for the first day or two. thanks to the soaking and the once-a-day-shake, it all absorbs and evens out.

3 lbs. meyer lemons (about 12), divided
2/3 cup coarse salt
1/4 cup olive oil
5 cup jar with a tight fitting lid

bring pot of water to a boil; add 6 lemons. when cool enough to handle, cut each lemon into 8 wedges; using sharp knife, remove seeds. place salt in bowl; add lemon wedges and toss to coat. pack lemons into jar.

meanwhile, squeeze enough juice from remaining lemons to measure 1 cup. add enough juice to jar to cover lemons. cover jar with lid, making sure it is on tightly. shake jar once a day for five days. pour olive oil into jar. cover tightly with lid. store in fridge for up to one year.

Friday, February 20, 2009

why i cool my cakes like this (and other ways to make cheesecake-baking less stressful)

yes, in the end, 
my first go 
at the 
was a success. 
but in the years that followed, i
worked hard 
to make sure that
i wouldn't collapse 
of anxiety, 
at the mere sight of
my springform pan.
here are my

1) husking the hazelnuts
if you've ever tried to get the skin off of the hazelnuts, chances are, you never wanted to do it again. i did. but, then i learned to jump start the process by spritzing the whole nuts with a very small amount of water, before toasting them. once they come out of the oven, cover immediately with a small clean kitchen towel and let sit until cool enough to handle. then, wrap a bunch in the kitchen towel and rub back and forth between the palms of your hands. next, just pluck the cleaned nuts from the towel, dump the skins and start over. the water and towel both help to slightly steam and loosen the skins, making them much easier to remove.

2) knowing when to say when
the above method makes husking hazelnuts a million times easier. that being said, sometimes, some of the skin is never going to budge. don't spend all night fighting it - especially when used for things like crusts and crumbles - it will be fine. just move onto the next nut. you can't save them all.

3) chopping nuts in the food processor
a lot of recipes instruct to chop nuts by hand rather than tossing them into a food processor for one simple reason: under the blade, they can go from chopped to butter in the blink of an eye. the best way to prevent this is to toss some granulated sugar in with the nuts before pulsing. the sugar creates friction that makes it just that much harder for the oily little devils to completely break down. luckily, the crust in this birthday recipe called for 2 Tbs. sugar; i saved a step by combining them, above.

4) preventing the cracks ahead of time
cheesecakes are notorious for cracking. stop cracks in their tracks, by providing a mock water bath for the cake. instead of fussing with tightly wrapping the pan with foil and crossing your fingers that the water you've set your confection in, doesn't seep into the crust, simply fill a 9 x 13 pan with hot water. just before baking, set it on the lower rack in the oven; place the cheesecake on the center rack above it. the moisture from the water will still waft up and help prevent rifts in the cream cheese-based filling, even without direct submersion.

5) preventing and fixing the cracks after baking
once the cheesecake is finished baking (it will appear set around the edges, but still be slightly jiggly in the center), immediately pull it from the oven. run a very sharp knife around the edge to separate the cake and the edge of the pan. this prevents after-the-fact-cracking that can occur as the cheesecake cools. often this happens because, the cake shrinks slightly toward the center, but the edges are stuck to the pan and unable to contract with it. enter: round cracks. twice, my cheesecake has cracked in a circle, i've separated it anyway and come back an hour later to a completely closed up cake. it really works. 

6) easy cool-down
dramatic temperature changes - going from a smoking hot oven to a cool kitchen can be rather traumatic for a delicate (yet hardy) baked good. help the cheesecake make an easier adjustment by placing the pan (after completing number 4), back in the now off oven. use a wooden spoon to prop the door open and let it rest for 1 hour. then, transfer the pan to a cooling rack and let it cool completely.

7) final cooling
a lot of people have great, sturdy and well-elevated cooling racks. i don't. it's a shame, those racks, help the cakes cool faster and because air can circulate around them better, they cool upward as well,  preventing crusts and bottoms from becoming soggy. but, i refuse to let a so-so rack sabotage all the above work. so, i recreate the scenario by propping it up on overturned glasses (top picture). works like a charm.

8) adding liquid to melted chocolate
chocolate, even in its simplest-don't-have-to-temper-form, is finicky. a drop of water is enough to harden a melted batch. so, can you imagine trying to add a tablespoon of liqueur for the topping? not fun. instead, melt the chocolate (either in small increments in the microwave or the double boiler) with the liqueur, making sure to stir often. much easier. also, when it's time to add the sour cream, stir in a tablespoon first (instead of the whole quarter cup) and make sure to incorporate thoroughly before adding the rest. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

a birthday cake for larry

not very pretty. but don't let that stop you. it's really good. and - and this is a good time to pull this one out - it's rustic.

less than six months into dating, 
larry and i stumbled into one of our first
relationship roadblocks: a birthday.
larry's to be precise.
i'm obsessive and i want everything to
be perfect and memorable and,
in sad reality,
i want it to be the best
birthday that anyone has ever had.

but for larry's birthday,
it was different.
the world
the media,
the restaurants
and the
card stores will not
let go of the fact that
cupid claimed rights
to the day

that first year, he insisted
on treating the day
as a normal valentine's day.
it was decided that we would
his birthday
the following weekend, but
that he would be planning the 14th
for me.
we went for crab cakes
and he gave me
a card
and it was nice
and delicious.

but it seemed so

here it was,
his birthday and
we were surrounded
by kissing couples,
red and pink for miles
and hearts
dangling around us.

so the following year,
a decision was made
that conventional
valentine's day -
sap and all -
was a thing of the past
and instead,
future february 14ths
would be spent at home,
with special meals
and a promise
that behind our door,
it was just a birthday.

but, then, i had to pick
a menu.
it was intricate and i remember
something about taking
a vacation day on the 13th
to prepare
for the meal
and for the cake.

the cake. i had asked him
a month before about his
favorite cake.
a cheesecake, he said.
nothing more specific.

i set to work, scouring
the internet,
books, in which,
the main subject,
was cheesecake.
turning pages away from
the ones that were ordinary,
topped with
apple pie filling,
sliced strawberries,
chocolate shards or
caramel drizzles.
i clicked away from
endless recipes
that had plain
chocolate cookie crumb bottoms
or nothing in the middle
or those made with ricotta.
i transferred my
to finding the perfect cake,
with no idea what i was looking for.

then, three weeks in
(and only a week from his birthday),
i found this recipe
and i knew i would be OK.
i loved that the crust was not
just vanilla wafers
or just chocolate,
that it was both,
with toasted hazelnuts
tossed into the mix.
i loved that it
reached up the sides,
and at the top,
the crumbs were
met with a tangy chocolate
glaze. and i loved that the
sweet filling
was simple,
but given a boost with
hazelnut liqueur
and chopped

on the 12th, it snowed.
on the 13th,
i had to dig my
car out
to go shopping.
it was after 2 by the time
i was able to start the
the cake and by 3:30,
i was tired.

and i only had one step done.
it sounds good to have
three main crust components,
but they required:
figuring out how many
vanilla wafers it takes
to get to 1 1/2 cups
of vanilla wafer crumbs,
chopping a bunch of chocolate chips,
toasting, husking, cooling
and chopping hazelnuts,
making and baking
a crust
and cooling the
whole thing completely
before adding the filling.

i had chocolate smeared
on my face,
runaway hazelnuts
on the floor,
and crumbs everywhere.
when it was time to make
the filling, i realized,
i again had to chop
(by hand!) a cup of chocolate
chips. an hour later, when i
opened the oven and saw
a large jagged crack
down the center
of the cheesecake,
i cried.
later, when i tried to make
the glaze to smear on top
(and patch up the hole),
it seized in the bowl.
i melted and melted
until i had chocolate
that moved
and would

that night,
i crashed
the moment
i hit the bed.

on the 14th, i thought,
new day. birthday.
the cheesecake
was done. it was
patiently for its
turn after the
artichoke appetizer,
seared scallops,
roasted asparagus
baked goat cheese mashed potatoes,
which we ate by the fire (three brown tea lights),
on a blanket,
on the floor,
of my tiny studio
that was not big enough for a

and when the food was away,
i closed the door to
my teeny studio kitchen,
whipped some cream with a
splash of sweet vanilla extract
and a sprinkle of confectioners' sugar,
to dollop on top.
i placed a candle in the
not-so-pretty cake,
lit the end,
and proudly, carefully,
sheepishly, walked into the next
room and sang,
a very off-key happy birthday
to larry.

we sat with our slices,
he, just happy,
me, marveling that in spite
of everything, the crust was
crisp and special, the filling,
the topping a sweet,
but welcome contrast.
and, then, just when i started to
feel like, i did OK,
he had a nice valentine's day-free,
birthday to remember and
i could sleep well,
larry turned to me,
and said,
i can't believe you know
how to make
whipped cream.

larry's birthday cheesecake
soon, after larry got over his shock that i can make whipped cream, he told me it was the best cheesecake ever and asked if it could become his annual birthday cake. i knew that i would not survive even a second birthday following the instructions as written and played around with them slightly, trying to think it through from beginning to end, in a more logical fashion. if you have a food processor (or a mini one) the crust is a breeze. i also was fortunate enough to work at a magazine where i spent much of my time, writing and researching food tips, several of them pertaining to cheesecake and nuts. i think, after several years and several birthdays (sorry, lar), i finally have it down, using bittersweet chocolate now instead of semi-sweet and extra hazelnut liqueur. this past weekend, the process - with the exception of the fact that i couldn't find the bottom to my springform pan at first - was stress-free. you can certainly make this cake in one day...and broken down this way, it would be much easier than my first time, but i separated it into days. it seems more manageable this way. oh, and i plan to post soon with a lot of the tips.

3/4 cup hazelnuts
1 pkg. (11.5 oz.) bittersweet chocolate morsels, divided
45 vanilla wafers (approximately)
2 Tbs. plus 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
3 pkgs. (8 oz.) cream cheese, at room temperature
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 1 heaping tablespoon hazelnut liqueur, divided
1/4 cup sour cream

three days before
heat oven to 300˚F. place hazelnuts on rimmed baking sheet. toast, cool and remove husks from nuts.
store in airtight container.

two days before
heat oven to 300˚F. place 1 1/3 cups chocolate morsels in bowl of mini food processor. pulse several times or until small chunks form (see picture above). remove one-quarter chocolate and place in medium size bowl. place remaining three-quarters chocolate in airtight container. place vanilla wafers in bowl of mini food processor; process until finely ground. add to bowl with chocolate. place toasted and husked hazelnuts in bowl of food processor; add 2 Tbs. sugar. pulse 10 times, or just until chopped, making sure not to grind too finely (otherwise the hazelnuts can turn into nut butter). add hazelnut-sugar mixture to bowl. in separate small bowl, melt butter. stir melted butter into crumb-chocolate mixture until coated. place springform pan with a removable bottom on baking sheet. press crumb mixture into bottom and up sides of pan, using bottom of cup to even out crust. bake 15 minutes. place on cooling rack and cool completely. cover tightly with foil.

one day before
heat oven to 350˚F. in bowl of electric mixer, beat cream cheese on medium speed until fluffy; gradually add remaining 1 cup granulated sugar. add eggs, one at a time. add hazelnut liqueur; mix just until combined. stir in reserved chopped chocolate chips. pour into crust. place springform pan on baking sheet. bake 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until set on the edges and slightly jiggly in the middle. turn off oven. using sharp knife, run knife around edge, between crust and pan. place cake (still in pan) back in oven. using wooden spoon, prop open door and let cool 1 hour. remove pan from oven and place on cooling rack. let cool completely. wrap tightly and store in fridge.

two hours before
in bowl, combine remaining hazelnut liqueur and remaining chocolate chips. heat 45 seconds, stirring once, or until melted. stir 1 tbs. sour cream into chocolate mixture until completely combined. stir in remaining sour cream. using an offset spatula, spread chocolate over top of cooled cheesecake. cover and chill until ready to serve.