Chez Panisse Almond Torte

Chez Panisse Almond Torte

Some of you know my sister Lindsey. Some of you have only read about her here and thus only know about her penchant for crust-based dishes — pies and quiches in particular — and her love for Peeps and leftovers.

Let me tell you a little bit more. Lindsey, while a wonderful cook, doesn’t quite share the enthusiasm for cooking that many of the women in my family do. She doesn’t go to bed with a full belly dreaming about what she might cook up tomorrow morning nor does she subscribe to a single cooking magazine; to her, nothing could be more boring than a tv program on cooking and a discussion about recipes might send her straight into another room; and she has been known on more than one occasion to exclaim, “Why does everything have to be such a production?!” [Read more…]

Salsa di Parmigiano; Homemade Advent Calendar, for next year perhaps

salsa di Parmigiano and grilled bread

Yesterday I spent the afternoon with two of my aunts in northern Virginia. Over the course of seven hours, we found a reason to use this sauce — salsa di Parmigiano — three times. For our lunch, we spread it onto French bread and made paninis filled with artichoke hearts, golden cherry tomatoes, and fontina cheese; for the children’s dinner, we tossed it with pasta; for our meze-style dinner, we spooned it onto grilled bread, which we ate all evening along with some olives, feta, and various other treats. It was a delicious spread, but this dipping sauce received the most attention by everyone who joined the party.

This is a nice little sauce to know. Made mostly in the food processor, it comes together in less than ten minutes and makes enough to last you for weeks. Apparently, at Michael Chiarello’s Bottega, every table receives a bowl of the sauce along with crispy bread before the main courses arrive. Sounds heavenly. [Read more…]

Orange-and-Ricotta Pound Cake & A Few Gift Ideas

orange-ricotta loaf

As five of us celebrated a quiet Thanksgiving down here in Virginia, the rest of my family journeyed north to Vermont to the shores of Lake Champlain for a wild gathering with my aunt and uncle. Upon returning, my mother gave me the full report: Of course, the turkey, which she had prepared, was over-cooked, gross and inedible but roasted Jerusalem artichokes saved the occasion as well as an orange-and-ricotta pound cake that her sister prepared twice during their five-day visit. [Read more…]

Maple Cream Tart

maple cream tart, just baked

Sometimes things just work out for the best. Just as I was about to declare Thanksgiving ruined — my third corn syrup-less pecan pie tasted just as curdled and watery and messy as my first — I took a stab at yet another recipe, making a most-delectable discovery in the process: maple cream tart, a recipe Food52 adapted from NYC’s Left Bank.

I am in awe of this tart’s texture. The absence of eggs makes it exceptionally light yet somehow it tastes as smooth and creamy as an untorched crème brûlée. For maple syrup lovers, nothing could be more delicious, and best of all, it’s a cinch to assemble. The custard, as promised, comes together in two minutes and while the tart shell requires a blind baking, the assembled tart bakes in just twenty-five minutes.

I know it’s very late in the game to start switching up dessert menus, but if you’re still looking for something to serve or perhaps to bring to a Thanksgiving feast, this one is just as festive as any of the classics. For me, it’s even better and will always be considered the tart that saved Thanksgiving 2012. Gobble Gobble. [Read more…]

Suzanne Goin’s Slow-Cooked Kale & Stuffing, Maybe

slow cooked Tuscan kale

I’ve been trying to do a test run of Suzanne Goin’s stuffing with slow-cooked kale, but I can’t get beyond the cooking of the slow-cooked kale step. I’ve tried twice, but the kale keeps disappearing, and as a result, my loaves of country bread and bulbs of fennel continue to be neglected.

Cooking kale in this manner is new for me. For one, like many people, I have taken to eating it raw not only because it tastes good but also because one raw bunch can be stretched over more meals than one cooked bunch. Second, if I do sauté it, I do it very quickly over high heat with a little olive oil, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. I’m not sure I’ll ever do that again.

In Goin’s method, the kale is blanched first, [Read more…]

Big Apple Pancake

dusted with powdered sugar

I posted this recipe to Facebook over the weekend, so I’ll keep this brief. I have made this big apple pancake two weekends in a row now, and I have a feeling the run will continue for the remainder of the fall. It is one of the most fun recipes to prepare as it comes together in just minutes, puffs dramatically in the oven, and feeds four comfortably (so long as you provide some bacon or sausage on the side.)

This past weekend’s pancake came out better than the first, namely because I followed the instructions and made the effort to pulse the flour-egg-milk mixture in the food processor rather than just whisk by hand, which left the batter extremely lumpy. I also doubled the amount of apple this time around, ensuring that loads of tender apple slices filled every bite.

I love this recipe, but I find the name to be a bit of a misnomer — it tastes nothing like a pancake to me, leaving my pancake-making woes to persist. Alas, with a new delicious addition to the morning repertoire, I have no complaints. Hope you all had a nice weekend. [Read more…]

The Best Grilled Cheese

grilled cheese with comte, thyme & shallots

Grilled cheese, like pancakes, has always troubled me in the kitchen. Without fail, the bread burns before the cheese melts. Various techniques employed over the years have improved the final product slightly, but not so much as to leave me satisfied. So when I read the r.s.v.p. section of the September Bon Appetit, which supplied a recipe for a gruyère grilled cheese from L.A.’s Lucques, I couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen.

The recipe calls for crisping country white bread slices in a skillet on one side before topping them with cheese and sautéed shallots. The open-faced halves finish cooking in the oven before being pressed together into a traditional sandwich.

It almost pains me that such a simple technique produces such a brilliant result: perfectly golden bread flanking perfectly melty cheese. Why could I have not figured this technique out on my own? Like 10 years ago? Such a find would have prevented years of shame and embarrassment and the inevitable self-questioning after every failed grilled cheese attempt: Who doesn’t know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich? [Read more…]

Red Wine Cranberry Sauce

red wine cranberry sauce

My sister LOVES cranberry sauce. And by LOVES I mean she enjoys a little turkey and stuffing with her cranberry sauce. When I think of Thanksgiving, I think of Lindsey mounding cranberry sauce onto every food group on her plate. And then I think of her finishing up her meal, dragging mom’s homemade bread across her plate, mopping up every last morsel of sauce. And then I think of the days following Thanksgiving, when she would assemble cranberry sauce sandwiches — yep, just two slices of bread flanking as much sauce as their structure will allow. And then I picture her sitting at the kitchen table, elbows bent as she holds her creation in front of her face, laughing as she bites into her favorite sandwich, giddy that this time of year has once again arrived.

My sister would not approve of the above-pictured sauce. If Peeps, Lindsey’s favorite candy (food?), are any indication of her sugar preferences, you understand why. She likes the traditional ratio of sugar to liquid to cranberries prescribed in most recipes.

I on the other hand feel otherwise. I do not love the sweetness of cranberry sauce, and I suppose I sort of feel indifferent to the sauce in general. But I like this recipe. It’s nothing mind blowing, but it takes no more time to prepare than traditional recipes — I certainly would not fuss over making cranberry sauce — and the flavors of orange zest, cinnamon stick and red wine are nice. It’s also a touch less sweet than traditional recipes.

If you’re a cranberry-sauce purist, this recipe is not for you. If, like me, you don’t really care one way or the other and want to spruce up your cranberry sauce a bit, give this recipe a go. Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

cranberries

Sally Schneider’s Red Wine Cranberry Sauce
Yield = 1 3/4 cups

2/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup dry red wine
1/2 cinnamon stick (1 1/2 inches)
1 package fresh or frozen cranberries (about 12 oz.)
1 tablespoon slivered tangerine, clementine or orange zest, or more to taste

In a saucepan over moderate heat, combine the sugar, red wine and cinnamon stick; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the wine is reduced slightly. Add the cranberries and zest. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until the cranberries are soft and the sauce has thickened. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Cooking With My Mama — Teddie’s Apple Cake

Teddie's Apple Cake

Is it sick that shortly after dinner, often when I’m still full, I start looking forward to breakfast? It is a little, isn’t it? Well, what can I say, it’s the truth. But it isn’t any old breakfast I go to bed dreaming about. It’s a little something called Teddie’s Apple Cake, a treat my mother introduced me to, and I think it’s something you’ll all enjoy.

The recipe for Teddie’s Apple Cake first appeared in The New York Times in 1973, and Amanda Hesser republished the recipe in 2007. Who Teddie is remains a mystery, but that’s beside the point. Teddie made a damn good cake, and for that we should be thankful.

Made with oil not butter, this cake is super moist and seems to get better by the day (not unlike another favorite cake of mine). But what I love most about this cake is the crispy top crust, similar to that of a really good brownie. I prefer this apple cake for breakfast — it’s such a treat with my coffee — but the recipe suggests serving it with vanilla ice cream, so it certainly could be served for dessert. Just know that whenever you serve it, it will be a hit, and don’t hesitate to make it a few days in advance if you’re planning on serving it for company — it stays moist and delectable days after it is baked.

I should note that the title of this post is a little misleading. I took no part in the preparation of this cake, only the eating. My mom came to town to meet Graham, her newest grandson, and to keep me well fed in the process. I could get used to this sort of thing. No cooking, no cleaning, just eating. Hmmmmmm.

Finally, if you’re looking for a yummy apple dessert, this is my favorite.

my mama

Teddie's Apple Cake

Teddie's Apple Cake

Mom in town to meet Graham, my newest bun out of the oven.
mom and graham

Note: This cake gets better by the day. If you’re preparing it for a weekend brunch, don’t be afraid to make it a day or two in advance. It will be delectable and moist days after baking.

Teddie’s Apple Cake

Source: Amanda Hesser and The New York Times
Yield = 1 bundt pan, serves 8 to 10

Butter for greasing pan
3 cups flour, plus more for dusting pan
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups peeled, cored and thickly sliced tart apples, like Honeycrisp or Granny Smith*
1 cup chopped walnuts (I omitted — I prefer baked goods without nuts)
1 cup raisins (Also omitted — I prefer baked goods without raisins)
Vanilla ice cream (optional, definitely optional — I prefer this cake for breakfast)

*I used a mix of Fuji, York and Cameo — use whatever you have on hand or whatever variety you prefer to bake with

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch tube pan. Beat the oil and sugar together in a mixer (fitted with a paddle attachment) while assembling the remaining ingredients. After about 5 minutes, add the eggs and beat until the mixture is creamy.

2. Sift together 3 cups of flour, the salt, cinnamon and baking soda. Stir into the batter. Add the vanilla, apples, walnuts (if using) and raisins (if using) and stir until combined.

3. Transfer the mixture to the prepared pan. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan before turning out. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream, if desired.

Teddie's apple cake

Teddie's Apple Cake

Roast Chicken + Bread Salad, Zuni Cafe Style

Zuni Cafe's Roast Chicken with Bread Salad

Roasting a whole chicken used to feel like an ordeal to meal. It certainly was a process, one never attempted mid-week. After poking a lemon with a skewer 25 times, smashing garlic cloves, chopping up carrots and shallots, stuffing the cavity and pinning the neck closed, I would swaddle the dear bird with twine, a poor attempt at trussing. Geez Louise — just thinking about all of the steps makes me question why I ever attempted whole roasted chicken at all.

If you, too, reserve roasting a whole chicken for special occasions only, please know that a super moist, most delicious chicken can be achieved in 45 minutes. It’s true. Best of all, it requires no trussing.

Many of you already know about the much adored Zuni Cafe roast chicken and bread salad recipe. Some of you may have even had the luxury of enjoying it at the beloved San Francisco cafe. From oysters to wood-fired baked bread to ricotta gnocchi to chocolate gâteau and biscotti, the Zuni dinner my husband and I enjoyed there with two dear friends rates as one of the best ever.

And the roast chicken and bread salad for us (and many others) remains the most memorable course. The dish is a sort of roast chicken panzanella, a combination of spicy mustard greens, sweet currants, toasted pine nuts, and chewy peasant-style bread. And the bread. Oh the bread! Saturated with pan drippings and a light vinaigrette, these irresistible cubes are the star of the dish. Seriously, I could eat the whole batch of bread salad alone. The Zuni cookbook, one of my favorites for its stories and thoughtfully written recipes, offers detailed instructions on choosing a chicken, on salting the chicken (what they refer to as the “practice of salting early”), and on assembling this whole dish. (If you’re looking for a food-related gift, this book is prefect for any foodie — it’s filled with goodies.)

Anyway, while I rarely make the bread salad recipe — it indeed is a bit of a process — I make the roast chicken at least once a week. I can never find birds under 4 lbs. (Zuni recommends using a 2 3/4 to 3 1/2 lb bird) but even so, with a hot cast iron skillet and the oven at 475ºF, my chickens finish cooking in 45 minutes consistently. And they are the juiciest, most flavorful chickens ever to emerge from my oven — the dark meat, my favorite, nearly falls off the bone, and the white white, infused with the flavors of sage and thyme (or whatever herb you’ve tucked under the skin) remains tender and juicy. It’s hard to refrain from gnawing on the bones while carving.

This time of year, nothing tastes better to me than a whole roasted chicken. A whole roasted chicken smothering a bread salad that is. While there’s nothing tricky about the bread salad recipe, somehow it always becomes more of a process than I anticipate. Perhaps it’s the way the recipe has been written — I always find my eyes glued to the book, rereading every paragraph to make sure I’m not missing a step. The recipe does not lack details that’s for sure, but it pays. When you’re feeling up for it, take a stab at this recipe. You won’t be disappointed.

roast chicken in cast iron skillet

mise en place

Mustard greens from our Olin-Fox Farms CSA:
mustard greens from Olin-Fox Farms CSA

bread for bread salad

scallions and garlic

bread with pine nuts, currants, scallions and garlic

Note: If you are making the bread salad recipe as well, read that recipe before starting the chicken. If you only have one oven, you might want to start on the bread salad recipe first — the bread needs to be briefly broiled.

Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken
Adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook
Serves 2 to 4

One small chicken, 2 3/4 to 3 1/2-pounds (I can only find chickens over 4 lbs., but I always dig for the smallest bird on the shelf)
4 tender sprigs fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage, about 1/2 inch long
kosher salt
freshly cracked black pepper
A little water

The Zuni recipe calls for seasoning the chicken one to three days before serving. I never am this organized and find the cooking method to work just as well when the chicken is seasoned just before cooking. If, however, you want to stick to the Zuni method, use about 3/4 teaspoon of sea salt per pound of chicken. Season the chicken liberally all over with salt and pepper. Season the thick sections a little more heavily than the skinny ankles and wings. Sprinkle a little of the salt just inside the cavity, on the backbone, but don’t otherwise worry about seasoning the inside. Twist and tuck the wing tips behind the shoulders. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

If you choose to season the chicken just before roasting, start here:

1. Remove and discard the lump of fat inside the chicken. Rinse the chicken and pat very dry inside and out. Be thorough — a wet chicken will spend too much time steaming before it begins to turn golden brown. Approaching from the edge of the cavity, slide a finger under the skin of each of the breasts, making 2 little pockets. Now use the tip of your finger to gently loosen a pocket of skin on the outside of the thickest section of each thigh. Using your finger, shove an herb sprig into each of the 4 pockets.

2. Preheat the oven to 475°F. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan or dish barely larger than the chicken, or use a 10-inch skillet with an all-metal handle (I use a cast iron skillet). Preheat the pan over medium heat. Wipe the chicken dry and set it breast side up in the pan. It should sizzle.

3. Place the chicken in the pan in the center of the oven and listen and watch for it to start browning within 20 minutes. If it doesn’t, raise the temperature progressively until it does. The skin should blister, but if the chicken begins to char, or the fat is smoking, reduce temperature by 25 degrees. After about 30 minutes, turn the bird over — drying the bird and preheating the pan should keep the skin from sticking. Roast for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size, then flip back over to recrisp the breast skin, another 5 to 10 minutes.

Note: Every oven is different, but I have found consistent results with cooking the chicken breast side up for 30 minutes and breast side down for 15 minutes. My chickens (all about 4 lbs.) are almost always finished cooking after 45 minutes total — in other words, I skip the final 5 to 10 minute recrisping of the chicken breast side up.

If you are making the bread salad, continue to recipe below.

If you’re not making the bread salad:

4. Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it. Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. Set the chicken in a warm spot (which may be your stovetop) and leave to rest while you finish preparing your dinner (or the bread salad (recipe below)). The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

Set a platter in the oven to warm for a minute or two. Cut the chicken into pieces; arrange on the warm platter. Tilt the roasting pan and skim the last of the fat. Place over medium-low heat, add any juice that has collected under the chicken, and bring to a simmer. Stir and scrape to soften any hard golden drippings. Taste — the juices will be extremely flavorful.

At this point, drizzle the chicken with some pan drippings if you wish (taste the drippings first — they tend to be very salty, which is perfect for the bread salad, but maybe too much for the chicken alone) or add to bread salad (see recipe below).

Zuni Cafe Bread Salad
Adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Generous 8 ounces slightly stale open-crumbed, chewy, peasant-style bread (not sourdough)
6 to 8 tablespoons mild-tasting olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar (I use white balsamic — love it)
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon dried currants
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or any vinegar, I used white balsamic again)
1 tablespoon warm water
2 tablespoons pine nuts (or more)
2 to 3 garlic cloves, slivered
1/4 cup slivered scallions (about 4 scallions), including a little of the green part
2 tablespoons lightly salted chicken stock or lightly salted water
A few handfuls of arugula, frisée, or red mustard greens, carefully washed and dried

1. Preheat the broiler. Carve off all of the crusts from your bread. Cut into a couple of large chunks. Arrange on a sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Broil very briefly, to crisp and lightly color the surface. Turn the bread chunks over and crisp the other side. Tear the chunks into a combination of irregular 2- to 3-inch wads, bite-sized bits, and fat crumbs. You should get about 4 cups.

2. Combine about 1/4 cup of the olive oil with the vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss about 1/4 cup of this tart vinaigrette with the torn bread in a wide salad bowl; the bread will be unevenly dressed. Taste one of the more saturated pieces. If it is bland, add a little salt and pepper and toss again.

3. Place the currants in a small bowl and moisten with the red wine vinegar and water. Set aside. Toast the pine nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, checking frequently and stirring every so often to make sure the nuts do not burn. Remove skillet from heat when nuts are golden.

4. Heat a spoonful of the olive oil in a small skillet, add the garlic and scallions, and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until softened. Don’t let them color. Scrape into the bread and fold to combine. Drain the plumped currants and fold them in, along with the pine nuts. Dribble the chicken stock or lightly salted water over the salad and fold again.

Taste a few pieces of bread — a fairly saturated one and a dryish one. If it is bland, add salt, pepper, and/or a few drops of vinegar, then toss well.

Pile the bread salad in a 1-quart shallow baking dish and tent with foil. Set the salad bowl aside to be used again later. Place the bread salad in the oven after you flip the chicken the final time, for about 5 to 10 minutes. (Note: I skip this step. I prefer the texture of the bread at room temperature. When I heat it, I find it loses some of its crisp texture.)

5. Remove the chicken from the oven and turn off the heat. Lift the chicken from the roasting pan and set on a plate. Carefully pour the fat from the roasting pan, leaving the lean drippings behind. Add about a tablespoon of water to the hot pan and swirl it. Slash the stretched skin between the thighs and breasts of the chicken, then tilt the bird and plate over the roasting pan to drain the juice into the drippings. Set the chicken in a warm spot (which may be your stovetop) and leave to rest while you finish preparing the bread salad. The meat will become more tender and uniformly succulent as it cools.

6. Tip the bread salad back into the salad bowl. It will be steamy-hot, a mixture of soft, moist wads, crispy-on-the-outside-but-moist-in-the-middle-wads, and a few downright crispy ones. Drizzle and toss with a spoonful of the pan juices. Add the greens, a drizzle of vinaigrette, and fold well. Taste again. Arrange bread salad on a platter. Top with carved chicken.

prepped chicken

carved chicken