Two Ways to Cut an Onion

onions, diced & sliced

OK, I know most of you know how to cut onions. If you’re one of them, please stop reading. I don’t mean to bore you.

This post is intended for those of you who might just like a little extra guidance at the chopping block. The way I cut onions is the way I learned many years ago while working at a restaurant. When I was there, the chef at the time made the most beautiful salads, relishes, ceviches, and most notably, salsas. Depending on the season and on the celebration (and on his mood), the star ingredient of the salsa always changed — from tomato (of course) to roasted poblano pepper to grilled pineapple to jicama to mango to corn to pickled red onion to tomatillo. The supporting cast, however, remained constant or nearly constant: there was always some sort of herb (cilantro, mint, Thai basil), some sort of acid (lime juice, lemon juice, vinegar), some sort of heat source (jalapeno, Thai bird chili, Tabasco) and always red onion.

The red onion — diced into perfect little arched diamonds — was always the prettiest of all of the shapes comprising the salsas. Sometimes it was super thin (when used in a delicate mixture topping a fresh oyster, for example) and sometimes it was super thick (when used in tomato bruschetta, for example). But the cutting method was always the same. I’ve included a video below. The key, which might be hard to pick up in the video, is in the final slicing step: when the half moon slices of onion are stacked, and you are ready to start creating your dice, you always want to keep your knife 90º to the curve. Does this make sense? I know this is nothing earth shattering, but once you learn out how to do this, you’ll be so happy (I was at least) to see those little red diamonds amassing on your board — they make the prettiest additions to salsa, of course, but also to potato salads or whole grain salads or bean salads etc.

finely diced onions

Note: This is not a technique to improve speed — the goal is to create beautiful delicate red diamonds.

sliced onions

There’s no story to go along with the second method, slicing, but I also learned this method at the restaurant. A video is probably unnecessary, but I’ve included one below anyway. When I need to sauté an onion or to caramelize it or to slice it for a Greek salad, for example, this is how I do it:

cutting board

27. May 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: techniques | 25 comments

Pesto & Pesto Pasta

pesto

You know pesto can be made with anything, right? No basil? No pine nuts? No parmesan? Pesto can still be done. All you really need is a bunch of herbs, a handful of nuts and some sort of hard salty cheese. While nothing perhaps marries quite as well as basil, pine nuts and parmesan, variations made with with other herbs, nuts and cheeses do the job quite nicely.

Earlier this week I pulled two tired bunches of cilantro and parsley from my fridge, and after refreshing them in some cold water (and extracting a few slimy strands), I buzzed them in the food processor with some raw almonds (all I had) and some grated Pecorino (all I had). With the exception of the herb quantity, I followed Darcy’s recipe to a T — it is fantastic. It didn’t need a pinch more salt nor a squeeze more lemon.

All week long I’ve been slathering the pesto on anything I can justify — eggs, roasted red pepper caprese salads, pasta. I’ve never felt more prepared for tomato season. It couldn’t arrive a day too soon.

cilantro pesto ingredients

cuisinart with pesto ingredients

cuisinart with pesto

pesto

dry Gragnano pasta

Pesto
Adapted from The Garden of Eden

Note: Darcy (from the Garden of Eden) made a basil pesto, so if you would like to follow her instructions, find the recipe here.

3 cups herbs* such as basil, cilantro, parlsey, chives, etc., rinsed
1/4 cup nuts such as almonds, walnuts or pine nuts**
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp. freshly-squeezed lemon juice (I juiced half a lemon)
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly-ground pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup grated dry salty cheese such as Pecorino or Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano

* I probably added double the amount of herbs? I didn’t measure. My goal was to clean out the refrigerator. Also, I always add stems and everything — no need to pluck leaves for pesto.

** Darcy used toasted pine nuts.

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and purée until nicely blended. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

Note: Darcy first processed the basil, nuts, garlic, lemon juice, salt and pepper until almost smooth, then slowly streamed in the olive oil with the food processor on. Finally, she stirred in the parmesan cheese.

Final note from Darcy: To prevent discoloration when storing pesto, it is best to put a thin layer of olive oil over the pesto and then cover it.

Pesto Pasta
Serves 2

1/2 lb pasta, something like gemelli or orecchiette
1/4 to 1/2 cup pesto
1/2 cup pasta cooking water
Parmigiano Reggiano for serving (optional — I did not find additional cheese to be necessary)

1. Cook pasta al dente, reserving 1/2 cup pasta cooking water before draining.

2. Add 2 tablespoons of the pasta cooking liquid back into the pan. Place the pan over medium-high heat. Bring to a little simmer and add 1/4 cup of the pesto. Stir with the water until blended. Add the pasta to the pan and stir/toss until the pasta is nicely coated. At this point, keeping adding pesto to the pasta one tablespoon at a time. You might not need the full 1/2 cup — I did in fact use a 1/2 cup of pesto for the 1/2 pound of pasta, and it was delicious, but perhaps may have been just as delicious with a tablespoon or two less pesto.

3. Serve pasta passing grated Parmigiano Reggiano on the side if desired.

pesto pasta

pesto pasta

24. May 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Sauces, dressings, jams & spreads | 22 comments

Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA, Light Brioche Burger Buns, and Preparing for Memorial Day

Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA

A couple of friends of ours take beer drinking very seriously. Never is their freezer not stocked with frosted pint glasses, nor their fridge with craft beers. If you drink beer at their house, they insist it be in a glass, not a bottle, and if they drink beer at your house, you best have chilled glasses on hand. Beer needs to breathe, they insist, and they pour hard, ensuring a nice foam head develops.

They’ve converted us. Pint glasses now dominate our freezer door, and various six-packs, almost an entire level of our refrigerator. One variety in particular, Dogfish Head’s 60 Minute IPA, we can’t seem to live without. It is so good. Seriously, at every first sip, “perfection” is the only thought that comes to mind.

There are a few certainties for the upcoming holiday. We will be drinking Dogfish Head. We will be eating grilled burgers with roasted green peppers on light brioche buns (recipe below). There will be a kale caesar salad, and some sort of bubbling-fruit crumb-topped concoction, a cobbler or crostata or maybe something new.

Final note: With salad season upon us, I’ve compiled all of my favorite dressings and vinaigrettes onto one page. For future reference, it can always be found on The Essentials page.

burgerkale caesar salad with brioche croutons

We’re keeping things simple this Memorial Day: burgers, salad, beer. I love the above-pictured kale caesar, but a Greek salad or a simple romaine salad with blue cheese dressing would accompany the burgers just as well.

And while I’d love to try out something new for dessert, I might just have to turn to some old favorites. Memorial Day has to be celebrated with pie or crisp or cobbler, right? Any thoughts would be welcomed.

peach-blueberry cobblernectarine-blackberry crostatas

A few months ago, a NYTimes recipe that has been circulating the blogosphere for some time now usurped my favorite burger bun recipe. Try it! You’re burgers will never taste so good.

light brioche buns, baked

Before reading this article, I had tried countless recipes for brioche, none of which produced the texture I had hoped for, all of which made me cringe at every step of the process — the amount of eggs and butter I wasted on unimpressive loaves is sinful. This recipe is it. Search no further. Yum.

Light Brioche
Source: The New York Times via Megabite and Smitten Kitchen
Yield: 8 to 10 buns

3 tablespoons warm milk
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
3 cups bread flour
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened.

1. In a glass measuring cup, combine 1 cup warm water, the milk, yeast and sugar. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat 1 egg.

2. In a large bowl, whisk flours with salt. Add butter and rub into flour between your fingers, making crumbs. Using a dough scraper, stir in yeast mixture and beaten egg until a dough forms. Scrape dough onto clean, unfloured counter and knead, scooping dough up, slapping it on counter and turning it, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.

3. Shape dough into a ball and return it to bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, 1 to 2 hours.

4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using dough scraper, divide dough into 8 equal parts. (Note: I think dividing the dough into 10 pieces rather than 8 yields better sized buns — when divided into 8 pieces, the buns are rather large.) Gently roll each into a ball and arrange 2 to 3 inches apart on baking sheet. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel and let buns rise in a warm place for 1 to 2 hours.

5. Set a large shallow pan of water on oven floor. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with rack in center. Beat remaining egg with 1 tablespoon water and brush some on top of buns. Bake, turning sheet halfway through baking, until tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.

light brioche, unbaked

light brioche, baked

Dogfish Head 60 minute IPA

22. May 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Bread, Drinks | 24 comments

Dead Easy Steak Marinade

grilled grass-fed t-bone steak

It’s always nice when dead easy produces damn delicious. This little marinade — equal parts Worcestershire sauce and olive oil combined with a healthy sprinkling of lemon pepper — is a good one to have on hand this time of year. While you’re busy scraping off your grill grates, refueling your propane tank, perusing your various grill-time-cooking guides, worry not about how you’re going to add flavor to those steaks. This marinade is it. What’s more, it produces just about the best tasting leftovers, though I can’t promise there will be any.

steaks from our "cowpool" cow

Above: T-Bone steaks from our “cowpool” cow (steer, actually). If you’re interested in joining a cowpool check out this site: Eat Well Guide. Type “cowpool” into the keyword search box. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, try Eat Wild.

marinade ingredients

steak covered in lemon pepper

marinating t-bone

Dead Easy Steak Marinade

Note: Adjust the quantities based on how many steaks you are cooking. The below quantities yield enough marinade roughly for 2 t-bones, ribeyes, New York strips, etc. or for a large flank steak or for a couple of skirt steaks.

for the marinade:
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt-free lemon pepper*

just before grilling:
kosher salt

* Salt-free lemon pepper can be hard to find. If you only can find the lemon-pepper containing salt, don’t add it to the steaks until just before grilling. And omit the kosher salt (see steps below).
* You can always make your own lemon pepper, too: For 1 teaspoon lemon pepper substitute 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest + 1/8 teaspoon fine ground pepper

1. Whisk together Worcestershire sauce and olive oil in a bowl or in a vessel in which you plan on using to marinate the steaks. (Alternatively, pour ingredients into a ziplock bag.) Liberally sprinkle steaks on both sides with salt-free lemon pepper. (Note: If you are using lemon-pepper containing salt, do not add any during the marinating process.) Place steaks into bowl with marinade or into ziplock bag and submerge with marinade. Let sit for 20 minutes and up to 24 hours.

2. Just before grilling, remove steaks from marinade and place on a plate. Discard marinade. Season steaks on both sides lightly with kosher salt — Worcestershire sauce is salty, so you just need a light sprinkling here. (Note: If you are using the lemon-pepper containing salt, season steaks with it on both sides in this step and don’t add any kosher salt.)

3. That’s it. Fire up that grill.

16. May 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Bread, Entrees, Grass-fed Meat, Meat | 24 comments

Falafel with Lima Bean Salad

falafel, just fried

When you live in a land where your best options for ethnic food reside in the hot-food buffet line at Wegmans, you have to take matters into your own hands. Several days ago, after finding myself pedalling to Christos’ falafel cart in a daydream, I hopped off my bike, pulled out my “bean” file, and thumbed to a Bittman recipe I’ve been meaning to make for five years now:
For the Best Falafel, Do it All Yourself.

And so I did. And now I’m kicking myself for having waited so long. Especially when, as it turns out, there is nothing tricky about making falafel.

A few notes: 1. Plan ahead — dried chickpeas or fava beans have to soak for 24 hours. 2. A food processor (or a good blender) is essential. 3. Deep frying is required, but don’t be scared — falafel, as Bittman says, “is perfect for novice deep-fryers.” If you’re at all wary, watch Bittman’s falafel-making video — it gave me just the boost of confidence I needed before game-time.

Falafel is delicious. Also, filling. You won’t miss the meat. With some pita or naan (store-bought naan is quite delicious these days), a few chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, and some sort of spicy sauce (recipe below), you have a meal. I made a lima bean salad but any green or chopped vegetable salad would complement the falafel nicely.

A note on this lima bean salad: Last fall, I received an incredible package in the mail. It was filled with Rancho Gordo beans. I ate those beans for months and then ordered some more, including some large white limas, the foundation for one of my favorite dishes at Amada, a fava and lima bean salad, served warm swimming in olive oil aside toasted bread. It is delicious. Elements from the Amada salad — roasted red peppers, sliced red onion, fresh fava beans (or frozen edamame in a pinch) — have inspired the lima bean salad featured here.

A note on Rancho Gordo beans: I’ve made this salad several times now and must say that while Rancho Gordo beans (or any heirloom beans) are not essential, they do make a mighty tasty salad. My dear friend’s mother, Ruth, a bean connoisseur, said it best: “I like beans when they’ve cooked enough to start creating their own sauce rather than clinking around together in the water.” We had been discussing beans over email and analyzing the differences between heirloom beans and standard super market beans. For Ruth, the biggest difference comes down to texture: the RG beans are able to maintain their integrity — their skin provides just a bit of resistance before giving into the tooth — while still creating a creamy sauce. I couldn’t agree more.

One final note: Sike. So many notes here! No more notes. I promise.

bite of falafel

lima bean and roasted red pepper salad

falafel mix

Apparently in Egypt, falafel is more often made with fava beans than with chickpeas.
fava beans

falafel ingredients

falafel ingredients in cuisinart

falafel ingredients in cuisinart

falafel, with lima bean salad

roasted red peppers, red onions, scallions

lima bean and roasted red pepper salad

lima bean and roasted red pepper salad

Homemade Falafel
Source: Mark Bittman and the New York Times
Watch Bittman prepare the recipe here.

1¾ cup dried chickpeas or fava beans (I used favas)
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 small onion, quartered
1 teaspoon ground coriander*
1 tablespoon ground cumin*
Scant teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used espelette, so crushed chili flakes will work, too)
1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro (I used a mix of both and probably triple the amount)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, for frying

*I was feeling ambitious and toasted the cumin and coriander seeds before grinding them. Just a thought if you feel like taking the extra step.

For serving:
pita bread or naan bread (I used Wegman’s brand naan — delicious)
chopped tomatoes, cucumbers or lettuce (optional, especially if you’re serving a salad on the side)
spicy dipping sauce (recipe below) or Sriracha

1. Put beans in a large bowl and cover with water by 3 or 4 inches; they will triple in volume. Soak for 24 hours, adding water if needed to keep the beans submerged.

2. Drain beans well (reserve soaking water) and transfer to a food processor. Add remaining ingredients except oil; pulse until minced but not puréed, scraping sides of bowl down; add soaking water if necessary to allow machine to do its work, but no more than 1 or 2 tablespoons. (Note: I did add the 2 tablespoons of soaking water, but I might not have needed to had I been more patient. Try to be patient and scrape down the sides of the machine several times before adding the liquid. You might not need it.) Keep pulsing until mixture comes together. Taste, adding salt, pepper, cayenne or lemon juice to taste. (Note: I didn’t adjust the seasoning at all.)

3. Put oil in a large, deep saucepan to a depth of at least 2 inches; more is better. The narrower the saucepan the less oil you need, but the more oil you use the more patties you can cook at a time. Turn heat to medium-high and heat oil to about 350ºF (a pinch of batter will sizzle immediately). Note: My deep-fry thermometer (mind you, probably the least reliable kitchen gadget I own) read 300ºF when the falafel sizzled immediately signaling the oil was ready for action.

4. Scoop heaping tablespoons of batter and shape into balls or small patties. Fry in batches, without crowding, until nicely browned, turning as necessary; total cooking time will be less than 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. (Note: As Bittman notes in the video, the whole process will take less than 10 minutes — that means frying all of the falafel takes less than 10 minutes. I found that each individual ball cooked in about 1 minute total, and I felt comfortable cooking no more than five at a time.)

Lima Bean Salad
Serves 4

1 cup dried lima beans or any dried bean you like — you need about 2 cups cooked beans
kosher salt
roasted red peppers, cut into strips (about a cup)
red onion, thinly sliced (about a 1/2 cup)
4 scallions, thinly sliced, white and light green parts
1 cup cooked shelled edamame or cooked fresh fava beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar

1. Cook lima beans: I did not soak my beans. I followed the “quick-soak” method on the bag, which called for boiling the beans for two minutes, then letting them sit for an hour. Then I simmered the beans until they were tender, about 40 minutes, and then let them cool completely in their cooking liquid. Once I turned the burner off, I added a big pinch of kosher salt.

2. When the beans are cooled, make the salad: Drain the beans and place in a large bowl. Season with a large pinch of kosher salt. Add the roasted red peppers, red onion, scallions and edamame to the bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar and toss. Taste, adjusting seasoning as necessary with more salt, oil, vinegar, or pepper if desired.

Roasted Red Pepper – Yogurt – Sriracha Sauce

This is just a super simple sauce you can whip up to your liking. Finely chop 2 (or more) roasted red peppers (to yield about 1/4 cup) and place in a bowl. Add in a few heaping spoonfuls of Greek yogurt (about 1/4 cup as well). Season with kosher salt. Splash with Sriracha or the hot sauce of your liking. Stir to combine. A food processor or blender will produce a smooth sauce, but then you have to clean them. Your call.

roasted red pepper, Sriracha & Greek yogurt sauce

09. May 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Entrees, Vegetarian | 23 comments

Lemon-Thyme Shortbread, C4C Gluten-Free Flour, Kerrygold Butter

Lemon Thyme Shortbread

Have you ever spotted Kerrygold butter at your super market? Inexplicably in the cheese section? And wondered if it were any good?

Well, it is. My mother brought me some this weekend. She spoils me, still, at age 30. Along with the butter, she brought her favorites from the Greek market — a tin of olive oil, a branch of dried oregano, a block of manouri cheese; some pantry items she knows I hate spending money on — cheese cloth and parchment paper; and of course, some baked goods — Bakery Lane’s honey-whole wheat bread and toasted coconut-raspberry jam bars. Delicious. As my mother says, I felt like a bride.

But don’t be too jealous. No sooner had she unloaded the basket of goodies had she pulled out her travel file, spilling with newspaper clippings along with her latest neuroses.

“Just read the middle paragraph,” she insisted waving the clipping in my face, “about human skin cells and dander and dust mites and their feces. And about how much humans perspire every evening. And about…”

“Sure thing, mom.” I didn’t want to eat my breakfast anyway.

Yes, my friends, my mother is worried again. She’s worried about the ungrounded outlets in my bathroom; the dead, unfelled pine tree in our backyard; the dime-sized rash on my 6-month-old’s neck; and the copper can I store olive oil in — “What’s that lined with?” she asks every visit. These are worries I expect, however. Par for the course, really. But this latest concern — a personal hygiene affront veiled by a When to Clean the Sheets article — was a first. I’m starting to develop a complex.

I suppose some things never change. My mother worries about me, still, at age 30. Oh mama, you know I love you. And thank you for being such a good sport.

OK, on to some fun stuff:

1. As I mentioned, Kerrygold Butter, made from the milk of grass-fed cows in Ireland, is delicious. It’s definitely a splurge, best saved perhaps for spreading on good bread and topping with radish slices, if you’re in to that sort of thing.

2. C4C Flour. Several months ago, after watching Thomas Keller make polenta waffles and fried chicken on tv using his new C4C flour — a gluten-free mix that can be subbed one-for-one with all-purpose flour — I immediately ordered a bag. Beyond curiosity, I didn’t have a reason to buy this gluten-free flour, but I’m so happy I did. So far, and I’ve only made a couple of things (shortbread and waffles), I’m impressed. It’s pricey, certainly, but it’s a good product — worth it for the mere convenience of being able to use it in nearly any pastry, dessert or quick bread.

Follow-up (5/4): Apparently making your own gluten-free flour mix is easy. Recipe Girl pointed me to this post on making your own mix.

Side note: My mother recently tipped me off about a simple substitution when making our favorite brownie recipe gluten-free: She swaps the flour for almond flour. So simple. You’d never know the brownies were gluten free, and the almond adds a nice flavor, too. I suspect this works best when little flour is called for.

3. Lemon Shortbread. Melissa Clark’s shortbread continues to be one of my favorite foods on the planet. I find a reason, it seems, to make the rosemary variation at least once a month. Inspired by a visit to 2Amys, where a wedge of lemon shortbread stole the show (after the pizza of course), I had to make a batch. A few appropriate adjustments to Clark’s recipe produced a lemon shortbread to swoon over. This time, I also added lemon thyme from our CSA and used gluten-free flour. I can’t stop eating it.

Lemon Thyme Shortbread
Incidentally, the article my mother passed along, When to Clean the Sheets, is informative and entertaining, if you can get over the yuck factor. It’s perhaps best not read at mealtime.

newspaper clippings

lemon

kerrygold butter

When making shortbread, it’s important to not over pulse the dough. This is about what the mixture should look like:

cuisinart

c4c flour

c4c Flour

lemon zest & lemon thyme

Lemon-Thyme Shortbread, Gluten-Free or Not
Yield: One 8- or 9-inch shortbread, about 16 pieces
Source: Melissa Clark of the NY Times

A few notes:

The thyme or lemon-thyme is purely optional. It’s a very subtle flavor, one I really like, but if you’re not into herbed sweets, just leave it out.

If you’re not a lemon fan, try the rosemary variation or any of the other suggested variations.

2 cups all-purpose flour or C4C gluten-free flour or your favorite gluten-free substitution for flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh lemon thyme or thyme (optional — this flavor is very subtle)
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/2 tsp. honey
2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1. Heat oven to 325ºF. In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, thyme, zest and salt. Add butter, honey and lemon juice, and pulse to fine crumbs. Pulse a few more times until some crumbs start to come together, but don’t overprocess. Dough should not be smooth.

2. Press dough into an ungreased (or parchment paper-lined for easy removal) 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes for 9-inch pan, 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch. (Note: When I bake this in a 9-inch pan, it takes about 32 to 35 minutes minutes. And When I make it in my 8-inch pan, it takes about 35 to 37 minutes.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm. (Note: I have let the shortbread cool completely — cut it the next day in fact — and had no trouble cutting it up when cool.)

03. May 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Desserts, Gluten-free, Olallie Cafe recipes | 21 comments

Rhubarb Buckle, Revisited

rhubarb buckle

Ok, I think I’ve got this. An old recipe for blueberry buckle printed in the “Letters” section of the July 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine led me to just the crust I had longed for after making my first buckle last week. This dough, made with egg yolks and a little cream, yields the perfect bottom crust — not too cakey, not too crisp, a slightly sweet, perfectly sturdy layer that really allows the rhubarb to shine.

Anyway, I hate to bore you with the same dish two Fridays in a row, but rhubarb season is fleeting and so getting to the bottom (ha ha ha) of this buckle business was of utmost importance. Martha said it best: “This dessert belongs in everyone’s outdoor entertaining file.”

But if you blink and miss rhubarb season altogether, don’t despair. I suspect blueberries and peaches and every other wonderful stone fruit and berry will make dream-worthy buckles all summer long.

rhubarb buckle

rhubarb buckle

rhubarb & sugar

rhubarb buckle

Rhubarb Buckle
Adapted from Martha Stewart and Rosebank Farms Café via Gourmet Magazine, July 2004
Yield = 16 squares

A few notes: I thought the buckle I made last week could have used a little more streusel, so I doubled up this week and topped the buckle with a more generous layer of streusel. I did have a little bit leftover (about a heaping 1/2 cup), which I threw in the freezer. And, I did have some leftover dough as well — I used about 3/4 of the dough recipe for this buckle. I plan on making mini homemade pop tarts with the remaining dough? Thoughts? I’m sure you all have wonderful ideas as well, and if you care to share, I would love to hear. I’m too often guilty of letting dough scraps go to waste.

Also, if you prefer more of a cake-bottomed buckle, view this post.

13 ounces rhubarb, trimmed and cut 1/2 inch thick on the bias
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Dough:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1 stick cold, unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons heavy cream (I used whole milk and 1/2 and 1/2…all I had)

Crumb Topping:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup light-brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

1. Make the crust: Whisk together flour and sugar in a large bowl. Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-sized butter lumps. Beat together yolks and cream with a fork and stir into flour mixture until combined. Gently knead mixture in bowl with floured hands just until a dough forms. Flatten dough into a 6-inch disk and chill, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, at least 1 hour.

2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, with rack in center position. Line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper.

3. Stir together rhubarb, 1/2 cup sugar and lemon zest; set aside to macerate. Note: I did this step right before I started rolling out the dough. When I dumped the rhubarb into the pan, it hadn’t soaked up all of the sugar — in other words, the sugar was still very much visible, but it didn’t seem to make a difference that it hadn’t macerated for very long. I dumped rhubarb and all of the remaining sugar straight into the pan.

4. Crumb topping: Stir together flour, brown sugar, and salt. Add the butter and mix up with your fingers until clumps form. Set aside.

5. Unwrap dough. OK, because the dough recipe yields enough for a 9×13-inch pan, cut off about a quarter of the dough and set it aside. Roll out the bigger portion of the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper (or wax paper) into a 10×10-inch square, or as close to this shape as possible. Peel off top layer of parchment and invert dough into prepared baking pan. Trim up the dough where it creeps a little bit up the sides of the pan; patch the corner holes (if any exist) with trimmed dough.

6. Top this crust layer with rhubarb mixture, and sprinkle with as much crumb topping as you would like — as I noted above, I was left with about a heaping half cup of streusel topping. Bake for 30 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for about 35 minutes more or until golden on top and cooked through. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack, then lift cake from pan using parchment. Remove parchment. Before serving, cut buckle into 2-inch squares.

rhubarb buckle

27. April 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Desserts | 30 comments

Orecchiette Carbonara with Asparagus — 2nd Easiest Weeknight Dinner

orecchiette carbonara with asparagus

Hello there. Just a quick midweek post here. Thought I’d share with you all how I’ve made my favorite easy weeknight dinner both more and less involved.

Let me explain. Adding asparagus to pasta carbonara adds about a minute more to your prep time but precludes the need to make any other sort of vegetable side dish — 3/4 of a pound of asparagus, for me at least, is enough roughage for one evening.

So there you have it. Fry some bacon. Sauté some onions. Cook some pasta. Blanch some asparagus. Whisk some eggs. Zest a lemon. Toss it all together, and watch how a no-cream light-on-the-cheese sauce transforms a simple pasta into a creamy-tasting, vegetable-loaded, one-dish dinner. Yum.

orecchiette and eggs

drained asparagus and orecchiette

carbonara in bowl

carbonara in pan

Pasta Carbonara
Source: Everyday Food

Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
4 leeks* (white and light-green parts only) or spring onions*, halved lengthwise, rinsed well, and thinly sliced
3/4 pound short pasta, such as campanelle or orecchiette
3/4 pound of asparagus, ends trimmed
2 large eggs
1/2 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup), plus more for serving (optional)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped (optional — I didn’t use them this time around)

*If you don’t have leeks or onions, any onion will do — finely chop about a half cup or more of whatever onion you have on hand.

1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet. (I did not pour off any fat… it looked too good to discard.) Add leeks, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until leeks are golden brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Add pasta to pot and cook according to package instructions. Meanwhile, cut asparagus into 1.5- to 2-inch long pieces. In the last three minutes of the pasta cooking time, drop the asparagus into the pot of water. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, Parmesan, and lemon zest and juice. Whisk 1/4 cup pasta water into egg mixture.

4. Drain pasta and asparagus and immediately add to egg mixture, along with bacon, leeks, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Sprinkle with more cheese if desired and serve immediately. Note: If you’re nervous about the egg not cooking, just throw the whole mixture back into a large skillet over medium heat for a minute or two.

orecchiette carbonara with asparagus

24. April 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: CSA, Eating Locally, Entrees, Pasta | 21 comments

Rhubarb Buckle

rhubarb buckle

In the wonderful world of bottom-crusted crumb-topped baked-fruit desserts, buckles are new to me. And I’m a fan. I love how the crispy top melts into the stewed fruit, which all sinks into the base. And I like that I can eat it as I would a brownie, out of hand, making for easy snacking morning, noon and night.

But I think I would like a buckle even more if it were different. I know, I hate to be picky, but I’m not looking to change much. The layer of rhubarb in this buckle is perfect — not too sweet, not too tart, which in my experience is a delicate balance to achieve with rhubarb. And the crumb top, while just a touch sandy, needs nothing more than a dab of butter to give it that crumbly, pebbly texture. The addition of lemon zest, adding a wonderful fresh, bright flavor, is essential.

It’s the base of the buckle that leaves me wanting. I want something less cakey, more sturdy, not quite a pie crust but something a little more buttery and shortbread like. Thoughts? Would a shortbread crust turn this dessert into a fresh-fruit crumb bar? Removing it from the buckle category altogether? I’m not sure I want that. Or do I?

rhubarb buckle

rhubarb buckle

rhubarb

rhubarb & lemon

rhubarb & sugar

assembling the buckle

rhubarb buckle

Update 4/27: I found the perfect crust. View this post: Rhubarb Buckle, Revisited

Rhubarb Buckle
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Yield = 16 squares

Note: I made a half recipe, but if you want to make the whole recipe, find it here.

Other notes: As I noted above, I am not totally satisfied with the base of this buckle, but just know that that didn’t keep me from eating five pieces within an hour of cutting it up. I’d like to try this recipe with more of a shortbread crust, but as of now, I don’t have a recipe for one. This is a work in progress. I’ll report back when I find a base layer that I prefer. Or if you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them.

Cake Ingredients:

13 ounces rhubarb, trimmed and cut 1/2 inch thick on the bias
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used table salt)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1.5 large eggs*
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream

*The doubled recipe calls for 3 eggs, so I whisked up 3, weighed them, and used half, which was about 1/3 cup or 2 7/8 ounces.

Crumb Topping:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened*

*I’ve upped the amount of butter here and changed it to softened rather than melted. I think the crumb topping needed more butter, and I like using softened butter in a crumb topping.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in center position. Line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper. Stir together rhubarb and 1/2 cup sugar; set aside to macerate.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together butter, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and the lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, a little at a time, then beat in vanilla. Beat in flour mixture in 2 additions, alternating with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

3. Crumb topping: Stir together flour, brown sugar, and salt. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and mix up with your fingers until clumps form. If it’s looking dry, add another tablespoon of butter and mix again until clumps form. Add remaining tablespoon of butter if necessary.

4. Spread batter into pan. Top with rhubarb mixture, and sprinkle with crumb topping. Bake until golden on top and cooked through, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack, then lift cake from pan using parchment. Remove parchment. Before serving, cut buckle into 2-inch squares.

rhubarb buckle

20. April 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Desserts | 19 comments

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.)

13. April 2012 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, Baking, Bread, Cheese, CSA, Eating Locally, Lunch, Vegetarian | 37 comments

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