Tartine-Style Asparagus & Spring Onion Croque Monsieur

asparagus and spring onion croque monsieur

Yesterday morning, a little self-intervention led to a most-delicious discovery.

This is what happened. After finding myself once again scouring the internet for Tartine’s croque monsieur recipe, clicking on fruitless links I had clicked on before, and seeing myself heading down an equally defeating path — toward my bookshelf ready to thumb through my Tartine cookbooks to ensure once again I hadn’t made a glaring oversight — I paused. What’s wrong with you? I asked myself. This isn’t rocket science. This is croque monsieur.

And right then and there I stopped wasting time and marched straight into the kitchen, making bechamel the order of the hour. And then I preheated the oven to roast some asparagus and spring onions. And then I cut two thick slices of olive bread, grated some Comté cheese and picked a few thyme leaves. And before I knew it, a bubbling, bechamel-and-roasted vegetable-tartine had emerged from my broiler. And in an instant Tartine didn’t feel 2,847 miles away, and Tartine-style croque monsieur at home, such an impossibility.

While I didn’t even miss the meat on my spring vegetable croque monsieur, I suspect that a few slices of ham would bring my favorite breakfast sandwich even closer to home. Just know that if you can make a bechamel, and if you can get your hands on some good bread, some sort of Gruyère-like cheese, and some fresh thyme, you have the foundation for a daydream-worthy croque monsieur.

Of course, the only possible way this sandwich could be made any more delicious is if it were topped with a poached egg. Yum.

asparagus and spring onion croque monsieur
Asparagus and spring onions from our Olin-Fox Farms CSA:
asparagus & spring onions

asparagus & spring onions, ready to be baked

roasted asparagus & spring onions

Nancy Silverton's bechamel

olive bread, thyme, comte

asparagus & spring onion croque monsieur, ready for the broiler

Asparagus & Spring Onion Croque Monsieur
Serves: However many you like

Note: I’ve included a recipe for a bechamel sauce that I really like (it’s from Nancy Silverton’s sandwich book), but by all means, if you have a go-to bechamel recipe, use it. After the bechamel is made, there really isn’t a need for a recipe here. Just pick your favorite spring vegetables and cook them however you like, or if you have access to some good ham or bacon, go the more traditional route and substitute the vegetables with the meat. If you use a bakery-style loaf of bread and come Gruyère or Comté cheese, you’re good to go.

asparagus and/or spring onions, ends trimmed
olive oil
kosher salt

good bread, cut into thick slices
bechamel sauce (recipe below)
grated gruyère, Comté or Swiss cheese
fresh thyme

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Toss the asparagus and spring onions with olive oil and kosher salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the vegetables until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Test with a knife for doneness.

2. Preheat the broiler. Place the slices of bread on a sheet pan and broil them about a minute on each side. Remove pan from the oven. Spread about a tablespoon of bechamel over each slice of bread. Top with the roasted vegetables. Top with grated cheese to taste.

3. Broil until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown. Sprinkle with the fresh thyme and serve immediately.

Bechamel:
Source: Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book: The Best Sandwiches Ever–from Thursday Nights at Campanile

Note: This recipe is adapted from Silverton’s recipe for Mornay sauce in her croque monsieur recipe in her Sandwich Book. To make it a Mornay sauce, as far as I can tell, stir in 1/2 cup finely grated Gruyère and 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the very end.

Also Note: This makes enough bechamel for about 30 croque monsieurs. I haven’t tried having the recipe, but it likely would work just fine. I don’t use bechamel that often, so I’m short on ideas for using up the remaining bechamel. Thoughts? I just plan on eating croque monsieur every day until I’m out of bechamel.

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium white or yellow onion (about 4 tablespoons finely chopped)
kosher salt
4 black peppercorns, crushed (I didn’t do this)
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 bayleaf

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, salt, and cracked peppercorns (if using), and cook about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft but has not begun to color. Remove from the heat and add the flour in two batches, whisking to combine it with the onion and butter. Return the pan to the stove and over low heat, cook a few minutes, until the flour is absorbed, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t brown. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk. Drop in the bay leaf.

2. Return the pan to the stove, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the taste of raw flour is gone and the mixture is thick, smooth and silky. If it’s too thick and becoming difficult to stir, you’ll need to whisk in a little more milk.

3. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the sauce. (I didn’t strain the sauce — I don’t mind those onion bits, and the bay leaf was easy enough to pull out. Now, if you did the peppercorn thing, you probably want to strain the sauce.)

Tiropitas

tiropitas, just baked

The trouble with working with fillo dough, for me at least, is that right when I’ve found my rhythm — right when the brushing-spooning-folding-sealing process becomes one fluid motion — the filling runs out. And because making dozens of tiropitas, though simple enough to prepare, calls for a special occasion, the newfound dexterity in my fingertips is almost always lost until I’m wrapping up the next batch of tiropitas called for by the next special occasion.

Alas, the process is always worth undertaking, if for nothing else the security of knowing that at least one dish will make it out as scheduled on Easter Sunday. With my freezer stocked with these cheese-and-egg filled triangles, always a party favorite, I can rest easy knowing my friends will not starve if I’m still wrapping strudels, rolling meatballs and dying eggs. At least for a short while. Yikes. I’m getting a little nervous about hosting, but it will all come together, right? I hope so. Happy Easter everyone.

tiropitas, just baked

Red eggs for Greek Easter.
red eggs

tiropitas ingredients

mixture

making tiropitas

tiropitas, ready for the oven

Ella helps make biscotti, while I assemble tiropitas:

Graham bounces nearby:
Graham
Tiropitas
Yield = 3 dozen

1/2 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 lb. cottage cheese, small curd
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. fillo dough*, thawed
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, melted

*Fillo comes in all shapes and sizes these days. The variety I can find, Athens brand, weighs 1 pound and contains two 8-oz bags of 20 sheets each measuring 9 x 14-inches. If your fillo comes in the larger sheets, cut it in half so that it’s roughly 9 x 14-inches. After you cut it, gently roll it up and place it in a ziploc bag.

1. Combine cheeses, eggs and salt in a bowl. Stir until blended.

2. Set up your station: you need a large cutting board, a teaspoon (a measuring teaspoon), a brush, the melted butter, a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and the fillo dough. If you haven’t already, unwrap the fillo dough and place it in a ziploc back.

3. Lay one sheet of fillo horizontally oriented in front of you on your cutting board. Brush it with butter. Run a knife down the piece of dough every two inches or so — this should yield six to seven strips. (See photo above.)

4. Place one teaspoon of cheese mixture at the end of each strip. Fold over corner to make a triangle. Continue folding from side to side till you get to the end of the strip. (See photos above.) Place on prepared pan. Brush tops with butter. Repeat process until you’ve used up all of your filling.

5. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool briefly before serving.

Note: If you’d like to make these ahead, place assembled (unbaked) tiropitas in the freezer. Either freeze the tiropitas in a single layer and then transfer them to a ziploc bag once they are completely frozen, or be sure to place a piece of parchment paper in between each layer of the tiropitas if you freeze them in a storage container. Bake frozen for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden. I find mine take even longer than 20 minutes before they are golden, but my oven is very old.

tiropitas

Mrs. Myers’ Banana Bread

Mrs. Myers' Banana Bread

It likely comes as no surprise that many fond memories of childhood sports center around food. From the orange slices at half time, to the post game treats, to the end-of-season celebrations, food visions rival the victories, the losses, the nail biters.

When I think of soccer season, I especially remember one thing: Valentina’s brownies and rice crispy treats. Valentina, a tall, striking Venezuelan, never missed a game and always arrived with big smiles, huge hugs and loads of treats, the perfect antidote for a colossal whopping. I would share the recipes with you all — I tried to get them about a year ago — but Valentina swears she always just “followed the recipe on the box.” Likely story, Valentina. Her brownies and rice crispy treats were legendary.

When I think of lacrosse season, again, I especially remember another surrogate mother, Mrs. Myers, and again, her treats. Mrs. Myers’ banana bread was moist, perfectly sweet, and always first to disappear from the dessert buffet — I looked forward to it before the games even started. Midseason I remember even devising a post-game-buffet plan of attack, hitting up the dessert table first, tucking slices of banana bread under a napkin, sometimes stashing them in my bag for later. What can I say? This stuff was gold.

I was lucky enough to obtain Mrs. Myers’ recipe from her daughter, a dear friend with whom I spent many hours in the kitchen, mostly baking, always some sort of biscotti, often cinnamon flavored with chocolate chips. I’ve been making this banana bread for about 10 years now, and it never fails to please, kids and adults alike.

I can’t wait to assume the role as soccer mom. With this recipe on hand, I’m destined to become a legend, too.

Mrs. Myers' Banana Bread

Mrs. Myers' Banana Bread

Mrs. Myers' Banana Bread

Mrs. Myers' Banana Bread

frozen bananas

Mrs. Myers’ Banana Bread

Yield=2 large loaves

2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
3 cups sifted flour (I never sift)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. table salt
5 eggs (I use 4)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup nuts (I never add nuts)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 quart mashed bananas*, about 8 (ripe to overripe)

Note: I’m probably stating the obvious, but in case you don’t know, overripe bananas freeze beautifully — just peel them and place them in a ziplock back in the freezer. When you’re ready to use them, place them in a colander in the sink to drain — they’ll give up a lot of liquid and look totally repulsive, but they work beautifully.

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter two loaf pans. (I butter generously.)

2. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.

4. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla, buttermilk and bananas.

5. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Divide batter between the two prepared pans. Bake for approximately 1 hour.

6. Remove from oven and turn loaves out onto cooling rack immediately. Let cool.

Mrs. Myers Banana Bread

Turnip & Apple Purée, Venison Backstrap, A Jean-Georges Chocolate Tart & A Valentine’s Day Recap

Venison Backstrap with Apple & Turnip Purée and wilted Watercress

Am I becoming too predictable? Are you sick of seeing vegetables puréed with apples? Do you think I should perhaps explore a cookbook other than this one and this one?

I hope not, because I’m really loving this latest variation on the vegetable-and-apple-cooked-in-milk-with-a-small-amount-of-starch technique. Similar to the cauliflower purée, the inclusion of an apple in this purée enhances the sweetness of the main vegetable — here turnips — and a small amount of starch — this time white rice — ensures a silky smooth purée, tasting as if it has lots of cream and butter, when it in fact has neither. Sally Schneider credits the technique to chef Michel Guerard and notes that celery root, carrots, rutabaga or beets — any watery or fibrous root vegetable really — could replace the turnips. I love the idea of a beet purée.

While it’s delicious on its own — I ate nearly all of it at lunch — this purée becomes exceptionally tasty aside any sort of meat, where it can sop up all of the juices pooling around its base. A drizzling of port wine reduction doesn’t hurt either, and together, the meat drippings, mash and sauce just beg to be mopped up by a slice of warm, crusty bread.

So, a Valentine’s Day dinner did in fact materialize at our house on Tuesday evening. Dessert happened, too, after a craving for something chocolaty and Valentinesy, something like the beautiful cocoa-powdered topped tart I watched Jean-Georges Vongerichten bake on tv that morning, sent me straight into the kitchen. In this tart, whipped egg whites lighten a fudgy base of dark chocolate, melted butter and egg yolks. Almond flour provides nearly all of the structure as well as a wonderful flavor, and confectioners’ sugar sweetens it ever so slightly. It’s simple to whip up, bakes for 17 minutes, and tastes just as lovely as it looks. Light and rich at the same time, it demands a dollop of homemade whipped cream. It’s not Valentine’s Day without some sort of chocolate indulgence, and this tart couldn’t be more perfect for the occasion… something to keep in mind for next year I suppose.

Beautiful turnips from our Olin-Fox Farms CSA:

On Black Friday, Ben and I bought a free-standing freezer. Shortly thereafter, Ben started hunting. And before too long, our freezer was filled to the gills with duck and deer. He cleaned one deer himself, but for the rest of the season, let a butcher in Fredericksburg handle the cleaning and portioning. I never imagined eating deer burger on a regular basis, but oh my it is delicious.
Ben, carving up a deer

free standing freezer

This is a deer backstrap (an enormous one) marinating in olive oil, garlic, thyme and sliced onions. Backstrap is a very tender cut — perhaps the most tender after the tenderloin — and extremely flavorful. It tastes best (to us at least) on the rare side. We’ve been cutting the backstrap into medallions and searing them for just one to two minutes a side. When we haven’t made our favorite sauce, we simply deglaze the pan with a little tawny port and let it reduce till it’s slightly thickened.
venison backstrap, marinating

On Tuesday morning’s Martha Stewart Show, Jean-Georges Vongerichten whipped up a beautiful, nearly flourless, chocolate cake, a recipe from his latest book Home Cooking with Jean-Georges. Watch the video here.

Jean-Georges chocolate cake

Jean-Georges chocolate cake

Jean-Georges chocolate cake

Turnip and Apple Purée
Source: Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook
Serves 4

1 pound turnips, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 cups low-fat (1 or 2%) milk* (2 cups will be left over for another use)
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 1/2 tablespoons white rice
1 apple, peeled, cored, and quartered
2 teaspoons unsalted butter (optional — I tasted it at the end and thought adding butter seemed unnecessary, so I didn’t.)

* I used only 2 cups of milk because I was feeling guilty about using 3. It worked just fine.

1. Place the turnips in a medium saucepan, add the milk, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and a grinding or two of pepper, and bring to a boil over moderate heat. Stir in the rice, lower the heat, partially cover, and simmer for 10 minutes. Add the apples and simmer for 10 minutes longer, or until the turnips are very tender. (The milk will curdle, but the curds will be incorporated when the turnips are pureed.) Drain the mixture in a colander set over a bowl; save the cooking liquid.

2. In a food processor, puree the turnip mixture for 1 to 2 minutes, until perfectly smooth, adding a tablespoon or two of cooking liquid if necessary. (Save the remaining flavorful liquid for soup; it can be frozen.) Process for several minutes more, scraping down the sides several times, until you have a fine puree. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Taste and add the butter if you wish — I didn’t think it needed any.

3. You can make the puree several hours ahead and reheat it (or keep it warm), stirring frequently, in a covered double boiler.

Chocolate Tart
Source: Jean-Georges Vongerichten via Martha Stewart
Serves 6

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, preferably cultured, plus more for pan
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
3 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate (66% cacao), chopped
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup almond flour
Dutch-process cocoa powder, for dusting (optional)

homemade whipped cream for topping (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an 8-inch round fluted tart pan with a removable bottom or a springform pan, tapping out excess.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together egg whites and sugar until medium-stiff peaks form.

3. Meanwhile, melt chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl set over (but not touching) simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Remove from heat.

4. Add 1 yolk to chocolate mixture and beat to combine. Add remaining yolks and mix to combine. Add confectioners’ sugar, almond flour, and all-purpose flour; mix until combined. Add 1/3 of the egg white mixture and mix to loosen chocolate mixture. Gently fold in remaining egg white mixture.

5. Transfer to prepared cake pan and evenly spread. Transfer cake pan to oven and bake until puffed and knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 17 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack. Carefully re-invert and let cool completely. Dust with cocoa powder, if desired.

WARNING: Ridiculously cheesy Valentine’s Day snapshots lie ahead.
card front

I used this template for the birds. I know, I know. Totally ridiculous.
card inside

Some snapshots from the evening:
Valentine's Day

Rosemary Semolina Bread with Sea Salt from Seattle’s Macrina Bakery

Macrina's Bakery Rosemary-Olive Oil-Semolina Bread

Last Saturday I spotted a sample table in the wine section of Wegmans and made a beeline for it. When I arrived, a nice man asked me if I’d like to try a couple of wines with a slice of chocolate bread. I couldn’t think of a more fantastic idea at 10 in the morning. Yes please, I said. One of the wines, a grenache, was quite nice, and while the bread, a cake-like quick bread, was a little bland, I liked the idea of pairing wine with chocolate bread.

The folks at Wegmans were on to something. If the bread had been less sweet and textured more like a yeast-risen bread, could it possibly be topped with a cheese — maybe a soft, honey-infused chévre — and served with wine as a festive Valentine’s Day hors d’oeuvre?

Immediately reminded of Metropolitan Bakery’s chocolate and cherry bread, I set to work scouring the internet to see if anybody had taken a stab at recreating that loaf at home, an exercise I undertake every six months or so. That recipe, I’m afraid, is still under tight lock and key. It’s conspicuously absent from the cookbook, as well. For good reason, I imagine.

Without delving into too much detail, I combined a few recipes, slapped together a nice-looking dough, threw it in a hot oven, and waited anxiously while promising smells wafted from the oven. Unfortunately, the resulting loaf, although edible, was nothing worth sharing. It was good. I found myself eating slice after slice in fact, perhaps hoping each next slice might taste better, but each did not. Chocolate bread, I’m afraid, would not make it to this year’s Valentine’s Day table.

Alas, maybe forcing chocolate into a savory bread was weird anyway. It was time to get back to basics. Time to try a more natural combination of flavors. Time to break out the rosemary and sea salt and olive oil and share with you all a most delectable bread recipe, one I can say with the utmost confidence will not disappoint. I eat slice after slice of this bread not because I doubt its deliciousness but because I can’t hold myself back. Olive oil makes this bread super moist, but it’s the presence of semolina flour, an ingredient I am only just discovering, that gives this bread such a unique texture and flavor. The owner of Macrina Bakery, Leslie Mackie, to whom we can thank for this creation, says it best: “Semolina flour gives the bread a hearty texture but also a kind of creamy, almost corn-like flavor.” A salty, crusty exterior moreover makes the bread irresistible.

It’s perhaps not as dreamy as chocolate bread, but it’s far more delicious, and in the event that a romantic dinner for two materializes in my kitchen next Tuesday, it will make an appearance. Happy Almost Valentine’s Day Everyone.

Semolina flour is sometimes labeled as “pasta flour.”
Semolina Flour

Macrina's Bakery Rosemary-Olive Oil-Semolina Bread

Failed chocolate bread, rising:
chocolate bread, rising

Failed chocolate bread, baked:
chocolate bread, baked

Rosemary semolina bread mixed (left) and risen (right):
dough, just mixed (left) and risen (right)

shaping the loaf

loaf, ready for the oven

Macrina's Bakery Rosemary-Olive Oil-Semolina Bread

Rosemary Semolina Bread
Source: Bon Appetit via Seattle’s Macrina Bakery & Cafe
Yield = 1 very large round

1 3/4 cups warm water (105°F to 115°F), divided
1 tablespoon active dry yeast (measured from 2 envelopes)
2 1/4 cups (about) unbleached all purpose flour, divided
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
2 1/2 cups semolina flour (pasta flour)*
2 teaspoons fine-grained sea salt
Additional semolina flour
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, divided

1 teaspoon coarse-grained sea salt

1. Place 1 1/4 cups warm water in medium bowl; sprinkle yeast over and stir to blend. Let stand 5 minutes to soften. Whisk to dissolve yeast. Add 1 1/4 cups all purpose flour; whisk until smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature (about 75°F) until bubbles form and yeast mixture has more than doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

2. Whisk remaining 1/2 cup warm water, olive oil, and rosemary in large bowl to blend. Using rubber spatula, mix in semolina flour and 2 teaspoons fine-grained sea salt (dough will be very dry). Stir in yeast mixture. Work in 3/4 cup all purpose flour. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Knead until smooth, adding more all purpose flour by tablespoonfuls if sticky. Let rest 5 minutes. Knead until dough springs back when pressed with thumb, about 8 minutes.

3. Lightly oil large bowl. Transfer dough to bowl; turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 1 hour. Transfer dough to lightly floured surface. Flatten dough into 18×12-inch rectangle. Starting from 1 long side, roll tightly to form 2 1/2-inch-diameter, 20-inch-long log. With seam side down, shape log into ring, inserting 1 end into second end; smooth seam. (Note: As you can see from the photos, I did not make this shape. If I had, my ring would have been massive. I opted to just coil into one mass. Next time, however, I might even divide the dough in half and bake two simple boule-shaped loaves.)

4. Line baking sheet with parchment paper. Sprinkle sheet with additional semolina flour. Transfer dough ring to prepared sheet, reshaping as necessary to form smooth circle. Sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds, pressing lightly to adhere. Cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let bread rise at room temperature until almost doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 400°F. Remove plastic wrap from bread. Using sharp knife, cut 1/4-inch-deep slit all the way around top of loaf. Spray bread lightly with water. (I did not do this — I don’t own a spray bottle.) Sprinkle with 1 1/2 teaspoons sesame seeds and 1 teaspoon coarse-grained salt. Transfer to oven. Bake bread 15 minutes, spraying lightly with water every 5 minutes. (I did not do this either, again because I do not own a spray bottle.) Continue to bake without spraying until bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 30 minutes longer. Transfer bread to rack and cool completely.

*Semolina flour is available at specialty foods stores, Italian markets, and some supermarkets.

Macrina's Bakery Rosemary-Olive Oil-Semolina Bread

rosemary semolina loaf

Cheddar Biscuits + Food52’s Holiday Survival Guide iPad App Giveway

leftover ham & arugula sandwich on cheddar biscuit with mustard sauce

My family is arriving in 6 days, and I cannot wait. It has been too long since we have all been together — too long since I’ve heard my mother declare her beautiful dinner both over and undercooked and in any case ruined; too long since I’ve watched my sister excuse herself from dinner early, singing The Messiah as she curls up on the couch, signaling she is too, too tired to clean up; and too long since I have found myself in the kitchen, dish towel in hand, surrounded by the usual dutiful crew. Family, I love you so much and cannot wait to have you here.

What I’m most looking forward to, however, is not our big Christmas Day feast, but the days following, when the fridge will be stocked with the most scrumptious leftovers, and when out of the freezer and into the oven will go these buttermilk biscuits, the perfect vessel for housing slices of ham or turkey or roast beef, handfuls of arugula, and a slathering of mustard sauce (so delicious, a must-know sauce if you’re serving ham, see recipe below).

The biscuit recipe comes from Food52’s Holiday Recipe and Survival Guide iPad app, which is awesome and which, if you are interested, can be yours, too — just share your own holiday entertaining tips in the comment section below for a chance to win (Food52 is awarding five promo codes to the best entertaining tips, culled from everyone’s blog post comments).

Are you curious about the app? I was, too. Before I downloaded it, I wondered how it would differ from visiting the Food52 website — if many of the recipes in the app are available on the website, why would downloading the app be necessary? I’m probably stating the obvious for many of you, but for any of you app newbies, the difference is all about the experience. After just 15 minutes with the app, navigating from section to section became as natural as turning to my go-to recipe in a favorite cookbook, an experience you often don’t get with a website. Moreover, because the app is designed for the iPad, it’s lightning fast, so navigating from one chapter to another is instant. Truthfully — and I hate to admit it because I love my cookbooks — finding a recipe in the app is easier than finding one in a cookbook. And finally, because the app is a holiday survival guide, all of the content — recipes, videos, event checklists — is holiday specific. In other words, (and again, I’m stating the obvious) you’ve got it all in one place — how to carve a turkey, how to stock your bar, how to plan ahead — so you’re not wasting time jumping from one website to another, bookmarking various pages, printing recipes from this site and that.

I don’t need to tell you all how much I love Food52 — I’ve done it many times in the past (like here and here). I find their video clips to be very helpful. The first one I watched on peeling tomatoes led me to discover Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce (also known as the world’s greatest tomato sauce). The one included below — How to Make Three Minute Gravy — is another goodie.

So, do you have any great entertaining tips? I’ve got one: use the freezer. These biscuits bake beautifully straight from the freezer. No thawing is necessary, just a few minutes more in the oven and you’ve got the makings of the best breakfast sandwich, an irresistible lunch, or a perfect dipper for any wintry soup or stew. Yum.

biscuits, cut, with eggwash

cheddar biscuits, just out of the oven

dough, just out of the mixer

dough and biscuit cutters

Bake these biscuits straight from the freezer — no thawing is necessary, just increase the cooking time by 2 to 3 minutes:

cheddar biscuit, baked straight from the freezer

Are you making a ham this holiday? If so, make this mustard sauce, too. It is so delicious and so simple to prepare — it’s a matter of bringing a few ingredients to a boil and then passing the mixture through a strainer. It’s fantastic for leftover ham sandwiches.

straining mustard sauce

totally delicious mustard sauce

sandwich ingredients

Cheddar Biscuits

Source: Food52

Below is the recipe from the Food52 website, but I encourage you all to read through the comments and questions about this recipe on the Food52 website — I found the comment section very helpful.

Makes 10 to 12 large biscuits

3 1/2 cups minus 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
2 tablespoons baking powder
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt*
9 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon cold unsalted butter (use a good brand, like Plugra, with a high butterfat content)
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1 3/4 cup buttermilk
1 large egg

*Some people who commented on the food52 website found the biscuits to be too salty. We definitely did not, but if you are sensitive to salt, perhaps reduce the salt to 2 tsp or less.

1. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and put it in the fridge for 20 to 30 minutes. In the meantime, cut the butter into chunks and leave out at room temperature (you want it malleable, but not soft).

2. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat it to 400 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the chilled dry ingredients, the cheese and the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for a few minutes, until the chunks of butter are no bigger than a large pea – or a small bean. (In the oven, the water in the chunks of butter creates steam, which in turn will creates lovely pockets of air within the biscuits.)

3. Add the buttermilk to the bowl and mix on low just until the dough comes together. Turn the dough out onto a floured board, dust your fingers with flour and gently knead it a few times. Quickly and carefully pat the dough into a large rectangle about 1/2 an inch thick.

4. Dip a 3-inch round cutter with sharp edges in flour and then cut the biscuits using an even downward motion, without twisting the cutter. Transfer the rounds of dough to the baking sheets, leaving an inch or two of space between them. When you’ve cut the first batch of biscuits, gently pat the dough into another rectangle and cut a few more — discard the dough or add the funky leftover shapes to the baking sheets after the second batch is cut (if you shape the dough a third time, the biscuits will be tough).

5. Beat the egg with a splash of water (if you’re feeling fancy, you can then pass it through a fine mesh sieve to get rid of any clumps of egg white that might burn). Brush the tops of the biscuits lightly with egg wash* and bake for about 20 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the biscuits are a deep golden brown. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheets but serve them while still warm!

*At this point you can stick your prepared pan in the freezer. Once the biscuits are frozen, transfer them to a freezer bag to store. When you are ready to bake, there is no need to thaw the biscuits. Just bake them straight from the freezer. I had to cook mine about 3 minutes longer when baking them from the freezer. And I did apply the egg wash before freezing them — worked beautifully.

Mustard Sauce

In my family, this mustard sauce is as essential as the ham on the holiday table. It’s another one of those sauces your guests will want to bathe in.

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons dry mustard
4 egg yolks
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup heavy cream

1. Place a strainer over a medium-sized bowl (able to hold about 2 cups of liquid). Combine all ingredients in a saucepan. Bring to a boil while monitoring closely and stirring often. As soon as the mixture comes to boil, pour it through the strainer into the bowl. Let cool, then cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge.

leftover ham and arugula sandwich on cheddar biscuit with mustard sauce

Pumpkin Bread

cut loaf of pumpkin bread

Everyone and their mother has a recipe for pumpkin bread. This happens to be my mother’s recipe — not sure where it originates beyond her — and it is incredibly delicious. Made with oil not butter, the batter comes together in minutes. I mixed mine the night before baking, and used mini loaf pans because, well because, I think they’re cute, and I suppose because I’m getting excited for the impending homemade-gift-giving holiday season.

What else can I say here? Like many of you I suspect, I am consumed by all things pumpkin at the moment…can’t stop dreaming about pumpkin muffins, cheesecake, soup, lattes, fritters, gnocchi, gnudi, yadi yadi yadi. Tis the season! If you don’t have a recipe for pumpkin quick bread up your sleeve, this one is a winner. Happy fall!

pumpkin bread

pumpkin bread batter

pumpkin bread

Pumpkin Bread
Yield = 2 standard loaf pans or 5 mini loaf pans

Mini loaf pans can be purchased here.
Disposable loaf pans can be purchased here, too.

2 c. sugar
1 c. canola oil
4 eggs
16 oz. canned pumpkin (not pie filling)
3/4 cup water
3 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. table salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. cloves (optional — I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg (or less — I used about 1/4 tsp.)
1/2 tsp. allspice (optional — I didn’t have any so didn’t use any)

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease loaf pans with butter or non-stick spray.

2. Using a stand mixer or hand mixer, beat sugar and oil together until blended. Add eggs one at a time mixing after each addition. Add pumpkin purée and water and mix until blended.

3. Whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, and allspice. Add to the mixer and mix only until just incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pans.

4. Bake for about an hour (if using standard loaf pans) but start checking for doneness after 45 minutes — the loaves are done when center springs back when touched. Note: When using the small pans, the loaves should be done in under 45 minutes. I started checking after 30 minutes, and the loaves were done after about 35 minutes (or maybe a minute or two longer…lost track of time.)

I love these disposable mini loaf pans, too. They are so pretty! Wonderful for gift giving. I actually baked the loaves in my mini pans before transferring them to the disposable pans — I was thinking this would be less messy —but…oopsidasies, the disposable pans are a wee bit smaller than my non-disposable pans. I kind of had to squeeze the baked loaf to get it to fit. It worked out fine, but next time I’d just as soon bake the loaf in the disposable pan. That’s what it’s for after all, right?

pumpkin bread as gift

pumpkin bread

Cinnamon Rolls — Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day Style

cinnamon rolls

I had no expectations for these cinnamon rolls. I’m still in disbelief in fact about how incredibly delicious they tasted. I mean, I knew the brown sugar and butter and pecans slathered in the pan and rolled into the dough would create a cinnamon roll affect, but I didn’t expect the dough itself — just a standard bread dough (water, flour, yeast, salt) — to have that enriched brioche-like flavor. How could a no-butter, no-sugar, no-egg, no-milk dough yield a nearly perfect if not perfect cinnamon roll? That’s a question perhaps better answered by all of you experienced bakers out there. I’m stumped. Replete, content and stumped.

I made this recipe on a whim. I had already baked off 3 smallish loaves of bread from my batch of Artisan Bread in Five dough — the master recipe yields 4 loaves — and I wanted to try something new. In the preface to the book’s Sticky Pecan Caramel Roll recipe, the authors note that the recipe works — and works well — with their standard boule dough, and so I went for it. And I’m so glad I did. Oh man were these good. I don’t know how an enriched-dough could improve the flavor, but I’m curious. As soon as I recover from my sticky bun binge, which might take a few more weeks, I’m going to give the ABin5 brioche dough a go. I’m already looking forward to that happy morning.

If you like this recipe, check out the ABin5 blog. Oh my, this monkey bread looks fabulous. And here are some other ABin5 loaves I have tried:

Traditional Boule
Cinnamon Swirl Bread — an absolute favorite
Partially Whole Wheat Boule
Broa — Portuguese Corn Bread – not sweet corn bread but bread with cornmeal

cinnamon rolls

cinnamon rolls

The Master Recipe: Boule
Adapted From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François
Yield = Four 1-pound loaves. Recipe can be doubled or halved

3 cups lukewarm water
1½ T. granulated yeasts (1½ packets)
1½ T. kosher or other coarse salt
6½ cups (29.25 oz.) unsifted, unbleached, all-purpose white flour, measured with the scoop-and-sweep method

Mixing and Storing the Dough
1. Warm the water slightly: It should feel just a little warmer than body temperature, about 100ºF.

2. Add yeast and salt to the water in a five-quart bowl, or preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Don’t worry about getting it all to dissolve. (I added the yeast, then the flour and then the salt on top of the flour to avoid killing any of the yeast, but apparently this is unnecessary.)

3. Mix in the flour: Add all of the flour at once, measuring it with dry-ingredient measuring cups, by gently scooping the flour, then sweeping the top level with a knife or spatula; don’t press down into the flour as you scoop or you’ll throw off the measurement by compressing. Mix with a wooden spoon. If necessary, reach into your mixing vessel with very wet hands and press the mixture together. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary. You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. Dough should be wet and loose enough to conform to the shape of the container.

4. Allow to rise: Cover with a lid (not airtight) that fits well to the container you’re using. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flattens on the top), approximately two hours. You can use a portion of the dough any time after this period, but fully refrigerated dough is less sticky and is easier to work with. So, the first time you try this method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight before shaping a loaf.

If you want to make standard boules, continue with step 5 here.

Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls

1 1/2 lbs. of pre-mixed dough (recipe above)
Note: My portion of dough weighed 1 lb 12 oz., so the recipe is relatively flexible in this sense. I did have to whip up a little bit more butter-cinnamon-and-sugar filling, however, to compensate for the larger surface area.

The Caramel Topping
6 T. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
30 pecan halves (I crushed up my pecan halves, but feel free to leave them whole if you wish)

The Filling
4 T. salted butter, softened (I used unsoftened)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (I did not use)
1/2 cup chopped and toasted pecans (I did not toast)
Pinch of ground black pepper (I did not use.)

1. On baking day, cream together the butter, salt and brown sugar. Spread evenly over the bottom of a 9-inch cake pan. Scatter the pecans over the butter-sugar mixture and set aside. (Note: I experienced terrible spillage, which resulted in a burnt oven floor. Soooo, if you have a pan with high sides, that might work best. Otherwise, place a pan (disposable or not) on the rack below your pan to catch the spillage.

2. Dust the surface of the refrigerated dough with flour and cut off a 1.5 lb piece. Dust the piece with more flour and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. (Note: I didn’t really do this. I simply placed my piece of dough (Which was a little bit larger than 1.5 lbs.) on my work surface and stretched it out into a rectangle.)

3. With a rolling pin, roll out the dough to a 1/8-inch thick rectangle. As you roll out the dough, use enough flour to prevent it from sticking to the work surface but not so much as to make the dough dry. If the dough is being stubborn, let it sit for 20 minutes, then come back to it with the rolling pin.

4. Cream together the butter, sugar and spices. Spread evenly over the rolled-out dough and sprinkle with the chopped nuts. (I had to make a little bit more of this mixture to cover the surface area of my dough.) Starting with the long side, roll the dough into a log. If the dough is too soft to cut, let it chill for 20 minutes. (Note: My dough was very soft, but I was too impatient to chill it.)

5. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. With a serrated knife, cut the log into 8 equal pieces and arrange over the pecans in the prepared, with the “swirled” edge facing upward. (Not sure what the “swirled” edge means — they were both swirled as far as I could tell?) Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rest and rise 1 hour. Note: I basically just let my rolls rise for 20 minutes. As soon as the buns started filling up the pan, I popped the pan in the oven.

6. Bake buns about 40 minutes or until golden brown and well set in center. While still hot, run a knife around the inside of the pan to release the caramel rolls, and invert immediately onto a serving dish. If you let them sit too long, they will stick to the pan and be difficult to turn out.

cinnamon rolls

Pizza Margherita, Homemade Tomato Sauce, Homemade Ricotta

classic pizza margherita

Oh my gosh, I have so much deliciousness to report to you all, I don’t know where to begin. I suppose it all started last week after Food 52 reminded me of Marcella Hazan’s widely adored tomato sauce recipe and the NY Times reminded me of the pleasure of eating fresh ricotta cheese, a delicacy (a nonentity, really) in my neck of the woods. And then I remembered seeing a Barefoot Contessa recipe for homemade ricotta cheese on Gwyenth Paltrow’s blog, which reminded me of a different GP entry about homemade pizza, all of which has led me to so many wonderful discoveries this week. Is your head spinning?

Let me summarize:

1. Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce is every bit as delicious as everyone has claimed. I’ve never had success making tomato sauce. Never. I had accepted that jarred sauce tasted better than anything I could produce at home. That is until this past Tuesday, when I dipped my wooden spoon into my pot of gently simmering tomatoes, lifted it to my mouth, and tasted the freshest, lightest, most delectable flavors. And I have been smiling ever since. For all of you food bloggers, I know this is nothing revelatory. But friends, family, and any of you out there who have tomato sauce making fears, rest assured that you, too, can cook like an Italian grandmother. This sauce is gold.

2. Thanks to discovery #1, I’ve finally made a classic pizza margherita at home. One of my all-time favorite spots for thin-crust pizza is 2Amys in Washington D.C., which serves an incredible pizza margherita topped with a most memorable fresh tomato sauce. 2Amys Pizza was my first thought after tasting Hazan’s sauce. Now, I’ve accepted that until I build my wood burning oven, I’m not going to achieve a restaurant quality crust at home. But I no longer have an excuse for not making pizza margherita. This sauce is so damn good. I credit nothing other than the sauce for producing the pizza that emerged from my oven today. It was one of the best. Less is more is the key here: a thin layer of this sauce topped sparingly with fresh mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of fresh basil out of the oven does the job. Yum yum yum.

3. Making fresh ricotta cheese at home is as easy as the Barefoot Contessa’s latest book promises. And it is SO delicious. I made myself nectarine and fresh ricotta bruschetta for lunch today. It was heaven. And then I remembered one of my all-time favorite pizza combinations — nectarine with basil and reduced balsamic — and made a variation of that for dinner. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to spread what’s left of my fresh ricotta on a toasted bagel and top it with one of my CSA tomatoes. I’m really living it up here.

The most fragrant purple basil freshly picked from my garden, a treat I have my brother-in-law to thank. Thanks Mr. T!
tomatoes and basil

Making tomato sauce:
making homemade tomato sauce

Straining homemade ricotta through cheesecloth:
homemade ricotta

Homemade tomato sauce and fresh ricotta cheese:
homemade ricotta and tomato sauce

Sauce approved by a silent and contemplative kitchen assistant:
Ella eats pasta

unbaked margherita pizza

Classic pizza margherita:
classic pizza margherita

classic pizza margherita

Nectarine and ricotta pizza with fresh basil:
nectarine and ricotta pizza

nectarine and ricotta pizza

Recipes
Marcella Hazen’s Tomato Sauce
Note: I watched the video on Food52 on blanching tomatoes, which I found to be helpful.

For the Sauce:

2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled (see video on Food52 for guidance)
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt to taste

1. Place the prepared fresh tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter, onion, and salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato.

2. Stir from time to time, mashing up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (or don’t) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Save the whey — you can make bread with it. Use the ricotta immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

Classic Pizza Margherita
Dough yields 4 pizzas serving 3 to 4 people total

1 recipe pizza dough (follow instructions here)
1 recipe tomato sauce
fresh mozzarella cheese
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Nectarine and Fresh Ricotta Pizza
Dough yields 4 pizzas serving 3 to 4 people total

1 recipe pizza dough (follow instructions here)
1 recipe Homemade Ricotta Cheese (recipe below)
1-2 nectarines
olive oil
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Homemade Ricotta
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (I don’t dampen — I just line my sieve with cheesecloth) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Note: You can use the whey to make bread and other things — don’t chuck it.

nectarine and ricotta pizza

Whole Roasted Garlic

Whole Roasted Garlic

Whole Roasted Garlic

Have you ever roasted a whole head of garlic? And then squeezed the sweet, soft cloves over warm French bread? And then sprinkled the spread with a bit of sea salt? It is so delectable.

Never did I imagine eating a head of garlic in one sitting. Nor did I imagine serving a head of garlic to each guest at a dinner party. It sounds ferocious. But roasting garlic whole in foil pouches with a few fresh herbs tames its bite, mellowing and sweetening its flavor, transforming it into a butter-like purée almost as tasty as salted bone barrow… yum yum yum.

Before I go any further, I have to share with you a beautiful blog, The Garden of Eden, recently launched by my friend Darcy Eden. It’s fresh and fun and filled with yummy recipes, fashionable finds and overall fantastic style. One of her posts was already picked up by Bon Appetit. Take a look — I know you’ll have fun with it!

Whole Roasted Garlic Spread on Warm Bread

Garlic & Oregano

Whole roasted garlic is a wonderful topping for warm bread but there are other uses as well: puréed and stirred into mashed potatoes; spread onto pizza; whisked into salad dressing.

Foil Pouches

Whole Roasted Garlic

Yield = How ever many heads you would like
Note: I make one foil pouch per head of garlic, but you probably could throw a couple of heads together in one pouch and have fine results.

1 head garlic
few sprigs of thyme (I used oregano here because I had no thyme on hand, but thyme is preferable)
olive oil
kosher salt

For serving:
French bread
nice salt

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut off the very top portion of the head of garlic to reveal a few cloves. Place garlic on a sheet of aluminum foil (large enough to wrap around the garlic in a little pouch). Nestle the herbs around the garlic. Drizzle garlic with a touch of olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Pour 2 T. of water around the head of garlic — you might want to curl up the sides of foil before doing so. Wrap the foil up into a beggar’s purse or pouch making sure the foil is sealed.

2. Place in the oven (directly on the rack or on a baking sheet) and roast for 1 hour. Remove pouches from oven and let cool briefly or tuck right in, taking care while opening the packages as steam might come pouring out.

3. Spread the garlic on warm bread; top with a pinch of salt.

Whole Roasted Garlic Spread