Homemade Angel Food Cake

Graham

On Monday, Graham turned one, and the four of us celebrated the only way I know how, with an angel food cake, the cake my mother made for me and each of my siblings for nearly the first two decades of our lives. Angel food cake played such a role in celebrations growing up that for many years I assumed it was a Greek tradition — seriously, every aunt and great aunt and cousin seemed to celebrate with it, too.

While the absence of fillo and syrup should have perhaps been a giveaway, I was shocked to learn that the tradition in my family started with my mother’s mother who liked everything light light and served her angel cake with a simple chocolate glaze that poured down the cake’s sides freezing halfway down in a beautiful scalloped edge. But even more shocking than learning that angel food cake was not invented by the Greeks was discovering that for many years my mother didn’t make our birthday cakes from scratch. Yes, the woman who would never consider making soup without homemade broth, the woman who turns her nose at jarred roasted peppers, the woman who thinks nothing is more revolting than bottled salad dressing relied on Duncan Hines to make 90% of our childhood birthday cakes.

But I don’t blame her. Boxed cake mixes, particularly angel food cake mixes, are pretty good. And if the ingredients in these mixes were even remotely recognizable, she, and I in turn, would likely be keeping our pantries stocked with them. Continue Reading →

10. October 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Desserts | 28 comments

Dinner in 30 minutes: Whole Grilled Trout, Steamed Green Beans, Brown Butter Orzo “Risotto”

trout meat

All I want when I’m old and gray is to live steps from a bakery like Tartine, a short drive from some good ethnic food, and a bike ride, perhaps, from a good fish market. Presently, I’m striking out on all three fronts.

A nice fish market, in particular, would be a most welcome addition to my current neighborhood. Discovering this past summer that places like Dockside actually exist, made me want to pack up and skip town permanently. It’s just that when fish is that fresh — literally caught off the dock — it needs so little attention to get from the fridge to the dinner table. And when fish that fresh is grilled whole, and the skin crisps, and the meat flakes off the tiny delicate skeleton, tasting not a bit dry or fishy just fresh and delicious, never am I happier.

A recent discovery — that Wegman’s sells whole rainbow trout — will likely keep me put for the time being. Farmed rainbow trout, because it is raised in an ecologically responsible way, makes it a Seafood Watch “best choice”. What’s more, whole rainbow trout is affordable. At $6.49/lb, two whole trout, which will feed three comfortably, cost $11.49. Fresh, sustainable, affordable, delectable? I know, incredible.

Grilling fish whole is a new thing for me, and if you’ve never tried it, I highly recommend it, especially if who have anxiety about cooking fish — I certainly do. You’ll have to, of course, get over the presence of beady eyes and a mouth lined with mini razor sharp teeth, and you should try hard to do so because grilling fish whole is incredibly forgiving — the skin protects it from drying out even in the thinnest spots.

This meal has become a recent favorite. Continue Reading →

03. October 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: CSA, Entrees | 13 comments

Molly Wizenberg’s Cinnamon Rolls with Cream Cheese Icing

iced cinnamon rolls

A couple of Sundays ago over a plate of freshly baked French toast, Ben confessed that what he had really wanted to make me for my birthday breakfast was a batch of cinnamon rolls but couldn’t find a straightforward recipe on my blog. Before I bit his head off, I took a sip of coffee and a deep breath, allowing myself time to digest the comment. I didn’t have much of a defense I realized. The single cinnamon roll recipe I have posted about does require making a four-pound batch of dough first.

I assured Ben I would do something about that. The Essentials page definitely deserved a straightforward cinnamon roll recipe and better still one that could be prepared in advance and baked off in the morning.

Instead of flipping through my cinnamon roll file — an exercise that always makes me sleepy — I turned to google, which led me to epicurious and 159 rave reviews of Molly Wizenberg’s cinnamon rolls with cream cheese icing. It seemed like a safe bet. I printed the recipe — I still print, do you? — took out some butter to soften and went to bed.

The next morning I set to work kneading dough in the stand mixer, mixing brown sugar and cinnamon, whipping up cream cheese icing. By noon, nine incredibly delicious cinnamon rolls graced our kitchen table and nine more rested in the fridge, an experiment I hoped would yield freshly baked buns the following morning, too. Continue Reading →

26. September 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Breakfast | 33 comments

Getting the Most From Your CSA + Two Favorite Potato Recipes

CSA, 9-20-2012

There was a time in my life when subscribing to a CSA had little appeal. I wanted to buy what I wanted to buy when I wanted to buy it. Today, I am happy to have somebody else make the decision for me.

In the past six years, subscriptions to CSAs in eastern Pennsylvania, southern California and northern Virginia have forever transformed how I eat and cook. I have learned to plan meals based on the vegetables I have at hand not the protein. I have learned to appreciate vegetables in their freshest state seasoned with little more than olive oil, salt and pepper. I have eaten more dark leafy greens than I ever imagined.

During this time, too, I have allowed more than one bunch of radishes to shrivel up and rot, a kohlrabi bulb or two to desiccate, and a few bags of okra to mold over. It is painful — shameful — to see these foods spoil. Today, not a morsel of my CSA goes to waste.

Below, I have compiled some things I have learned these past six years that help me utilize my CSA to its fullest potential. Continue Reading →

24. September 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: CSA, Eating Locally, Side dishes, Vegetarian | 38 comments

French Apple Tart & Cinnamon Snails

French apple tart, just baked

If you struggle with anger management, this post might be a good one to skip. Just send it straight to your trash can if you’re reading via email; just skip back to the grilled cheese or the French toast, if you’ve happened upon here via google. At apple-rosette attempt three, I envisioned flinging this tart frisbie style straight into my tv; at apple-rosette attempt five, I imagined raising it above my head, slamming it straight down, and splattering it all over my kitchen floor.

Fortunately — and I never imagined saying this — I have a child that drives me to read self-help books. I put myself in a timeout for two minutes (grossly ignoring the minute-per-year-of-age rule, which would have had me sitting for half an hour), during which I took a few deep breaths and told myself to let the apple rosettes go.

When I came out of my quiet time, ready to be a nice girl again, I set to work. Within minutes the tart shell brimmed with fanned apple slices, not quite so pretty as Saveur’s, but pretty nonetheless. And best of all, not too pretty to eat. Continue Reading →

19. September 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Desserts | 38 comments

Pickled Okra & Baker’s Foie

pickled okra

When you don’t get out to eat very often, there is nothing worse than experiencing buyers’ remorse at the dinner table. Ordering becomes a big deal. A few Saturday nights ago, Ben and I found ourselves seated at the bar at Bistro Bethem, drinks ordered, food yet to be determined. It was our first meal out in a long time — with the exception, of course, of the many lunches at 2Amy’s, our favorite post-zoo spot for wolfing down as much delicious food as possible before the two children bobbing on our laps explode — and we thought it wise to take our time. A few bad choices might ruin the evening. The pressure was on.

After placing our order for the pâté, a tomato salad, and a few wood-oven pizzas, our server delivered a basket of warm focaccia sprinkled with sea salt and a shallow dish filled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. In an instant, all worries about the food — the evening — dissolved. It’s amazing how far a little fresh bread goes to win my belly and heart over.

But the rest of the food proved to be as wonderful as that bread basket, and one dish in particular had us taken: pickled okra. Continue Reading →

16. September 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, Hors d'oeuvres | 9 comments

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? Continue Reading →

11. September 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Entrees, Fall, Lunch, Vegetarian | 31 comments

Baked French Toast

Tartine Bread's baked French toast

Hi there. With it being the weekend and all, I won’t keep you. I just thought, in case you hadn’t decided on breakfast yet, that you might be interested in this baked French toast, a dish I find nearly impossible not to make at least once a weekend. The recipe comes from Tartine Bread, the book that introduced me to eggplant involtini and kale caesar salad, and like those two, this one’s a good one.

While I love this French toast above all for its texture — caramelized on the outside, not soggy on the inside — what distinguishes it from any other French toast I’ve had, baked or otherwise, is the presence of lemon zest, a most-unexpected and delicious flavor in a traditionally cinnamon-spiked dish.

There are a few keys to finding success with this French toast: Continue Reading →

07. September 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Bread, Breakfast | 21 comments

Eggplant Caviar on Grilled Bread

eggplant caviar

Last summer the eggplant chapter of Chez Panisse Vegetables treated me kindly, introducing me to a favorite pasta recipe as well as a most-delicious gratin with tomatoes and onions. And with this eggplant “caviar,” a mash-up of roasted eggplant, fresh parsley, and macerated shallots and garlic, the chapter just seems to keep on giving.

In each of these recipes, eggplant is roasted (as opposed to fried), which requires minimal oil, allowing the eggplant’s sweet flavor to really shine. And after a gentle mashing with a fork, the eggplant’s flesh becomes creamy, a perfect consistency to whip into a spread to spoon over grilled bread. Here, shallots and garlic that have soaked in vinegar add both sweetness and bite without taking over, but I imagine eggplant can hold its own in the presence of even stronger flavors — anchovies, olives, and roasted peppers come to mind.

With eggplant season peaking, now is the time to experiment. And for you eggplant lovers in particular — I know eggplant can be polarizing — get roasting. Continue Reading →

05. September 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, CSA, Sauces, dressings, jams & spreads, Vegetarian | 19 comments

A Sprouted Kitchen Feast

The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook

I couldn’t make a decision. And my attempts to organize my thoughts — adhering cute page flags to particularly tempting recipes — proved futile. In the midst of this frenzied state of drooling and tabbing, drooling and tabbing, my mother arrived at my doorstep with a bucket of feta (that’s normal, right?), a branch of oregano, and a dozen figs. And at once, my vision for our dinner became clear.

As my mother unloaded her basket of goodies into my pantry and fridge, I waved pages of The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook in front of her. Over every image we ooheh and ahhed; over every title we yummed and mmmmed. My mother soon understood my predicament: everything — from the roasted wild cod with meyer lemon and caper relish to the roasted tomato soup with cheesy toasts to the mushroom and brown rice veggie burgers — looked and sounded incredibly enticing.

But thanks to the ingredients my mother had just delivered, the decision was easy: dinner would be mediterranean baked feta with olives and roasted plum tartines with ricotta, substituting figs for the plums and my mother’s peasant bread for the wheat baguette — I never pass on my mother’s peasant bread. And having just read that Sara, the book’s author, encourages readers to “use the recipes as a starting point and to omit or add ingredients according to preferences,” I felt OK making a few changes. Figs seemed a suitable stand-in for plums, and Sara in fact recommends pears or persimmons in the fall. Yum.

We soon set to work mixing dough, slicing onions, halving tomatoes, making ricotta, mincing garlic and chopping parsley. And before we knew it, we had the makings of a beautiful spread, as colorful as Hugh’s (Sara’s husband) photos, as promising as Sara’s recipes.

The book, while not a small-plate cookbook, offers lots of wonderful ideas in this category. As I flipped through the pages, the recurring thought was: This would be fun for a party. And it makes sense as one of Sara’s goals for the book is to “share recipes that are simple enough to make after work but interesting enough to serve at a dinner party.” She certainly has achieved this. We have now eaten the baked feta with a hunk of bread twice this week for dinner — it is so good — and I have never been so eager to invite some friends over for dinner to show them my new tricks. The fig tartines, which disappeared in record time, lit up the table.

Beautifully photographed, thoughtfully written, the book is sure to inspire whoever comes across it. The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook is now available for purchase.

Preparing the baked feta:
olive topping, oregano, feta

feta, ready for the oven

baked feta with olives and tomatoes

Preparing the roasted fig tartines:
honey roasted figs

roasted fig bruschetta with ricotta and basil

Bucket of feta:
bucket of feta

Mom’s bread:
making my mom's bread

mom's bread

Recipes:

Roasted Plum (or fig) Tartines
Source: The Sprouted Kitchen

Note: I’ve supplied the recipe here just as it is written in the book so that you can take a look and make your own adjustments accordingly. As I noted above, I used figs in place of the plums, but roasted them exactly the same — with honey and salt for about 20 minutes. Also, I made homemade ricotta, which is so easy and delicious, and omitted the parmesan and chopped chives (was feeling a little lazy). Finally, I used fresh basil in place of the microgreens.

6 ripe plums
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons honey, warmed
1 1/3 cups ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped chives
1 whole grain baguette
1 cup microgreens for garnish

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Cut the plums into quarters (if using figs, cut them in half) and remove the pits. Gently toss the plum pieces with a pinch of salt and the warm honey. Spread them on the prepared baking sheet, cut side up. Bake until the edges are crisped and caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.

3. While the plums are baking, in a bowl, stir together the ricotta, Parmesan, chives, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

4. Turn the oven up to 500ºF. Slice the baguette in half lengthwise. Place the halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet and bake the bread just until toasty, 4 to 5 minutes. Spread the ricotta mixture evenly on both halves and return to the oven just until warmed through, another 1 to 2 minutes. Evenly distribute the roasted plums on top of the cheese. Finish with a few grinds of pepper and garnish with the greens. Cut each baguette half into slices on the diagonal. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Mediterranean Baked Feta
Source: The Sprouted Kitchen

Note: Once you make this once, you’ll never need a recipe again. The quantity of the olive salad is dependent on how much feta you choose to warm up. I baked my block (as opposed to grilled) and served it with warm bread. Heaven.

1 (8- to 10-ounce) block of feta
1 cup assorted baby tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup Kalmata olives, pitted (I didn’t…lazy) and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Crackers, pita chips, or crostini, for dipping

1. Heat your grill to medium-high or preheat the oven to 400ºF. Set the block of feta in the middle of a piece of foil for grilling or in a small ovenproof baking dish twice the size of your block of cheese for baking.

2. In a bowl, mix the tomatoes, olives, onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, olive oil and a few grinds of pepper.

3. Pile the tomato mixture on top of the feta. For grilling, fold up the edges of the foil so that it will hold in any liquid as it cooks; put it straight on a grill; heat for 15 minutes to warm it through. For baking, put the baking dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. It will not melt, just get warm and soften.

4. Remove from the grill or oven and serve the dip hot with the crackers, pita chips, or crostini.

Honey Almond Butter
Source: The Sprouted Kitchen

Note: This almond butter is SO good. If I wasn’t afraid that I might burn out my Cuisinart’s motor, I would start making this for gifts immediately. I used maple syrup in place of the honey because I am obsessed with this particular Justin’s Nut Butter, but now that I know how to make it, there’s no going back.

2 cups raw almonds
1 teaspoon oil, such as almond, unrefined peanut or extra-virgin coconut (I used coconut and more than a teaspoon)
sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon (I omitted)
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup

1. Place the almonds in a food processor or Vitamix and process for about 1 minute. Add the oil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the cinnamon. Continue to process for another 8 to 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the food processor or Vitamix as needed. You will see a change in consistency from crumbs, to big clumps, to a large ball. Finally, as the oil is released from the almonds, the mixture will smooth itself out. If you want it even smoother, add a bit more oil.

2. When it is as smooth as you’d like it, stir in the honey or maple syrup. Add more salt to taste and transfer to a glass jar. It will keep covered in the fridge for up to 6 weeks. (I kept mine at room temperature. It disappeared in three days.)

maple almond butter

Maple almond butter spread on no-knead oatmeal toasting bread:
no-knead oatmeal bread with maple almond butter

29. August 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, Baking, Bread, Vegetarian | 34 comments

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