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
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.
I was so lazy this week. Looking to add a little more roughage to my diet, I piled a whole head of barely chopped kale into a pie dish, submerged it with custard, and threw it in the oven.
I suspected it would be good. I make crustless quiche nearly once a week, always with uncooked greens, always with fresh thyme, always with crème fraîche, always following the Tartine recipe. But I worried a bit about the quantity of greens this time. It was a little absurd.
The result, however, couldn’t have made me happier. My crustless quiche had in fact become crusty, thanks to the upper most layer of leaves poking though the custard surface, which, having cooked for 40 minutes unprotected by the custard, had essentially crisped into a layer of kale chips. Yum.
That said, I felt fortunate to have been cooking for one that evening. The quiche was impossible to cut — the knife snagged greens from right and left at every stroke — and it looked like total slop on the plate. Perfect for me — I love slop — not so perfect for company, not so perfect for sharing with all of you.
Aesthetics asides, I love the flavor of loads of raw greens in quiche. And so I made another one, this time with just a few fewer greens, which I chopped just ever so coarsely. The result? A delectable balance of roughage and custard, suitable even for company.
Without a crust in the equation (a traditional crust that is), this sort of quiche is effortless to whip up for a weeknight dinner. It still takes time, however — 40 minutes in the oven and an essential 20 minutes of resting, which allows its light and creamy texture to set. But if you’re looking to make the whole shebang, here’s Tartine’s quiche recipe in its entirety.
Crustless Quiche, Loaded (or not) with Kale
5 large eggs
3 T. all-purpose flour
1 cup crème fraîche (see recipe below)
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 T. fresh thyme*, finely chopped
1 to 3 cups** uncooked coarsely chopped kale or chard or mustard greens, etc
* Thyme is amazing (seriously, so good), but tarragon, chives, basil, really whatever herb you like will work.
** Aesthetically, 1 cup is perhaps the ideal amount, but if you’re looking to add some more roughage to your diet, 2.5 to 3 cups will do the trick. Definitely give it at least a rough chop.
1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.
2. Place 1 egg and the flour in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining 4 eggs until blended.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk the crème fraîche until smooth. Whisk in the milk. Pour the egg mixture through a fine mesh sieve held over the milk mixture. Whisk in the salt, pepper and thyme (or other herb).
4. Pile your greens into a pie plate. Pour the egg mixture over the greens, then press the greens down with a spatula so they are submerged in the custard. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325ºF and bake until the filling is just set, about 30 minutes longer. The center of the quiche should still feel slightly firm, rather than liquidy, when touched. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes to allow the custard to set up, so that it will slice neatly. It can be served warm or at room temperature. To serve a fully cooled quiche warm, cover it with aluminum foil and reheat it in a 325ºF for about 15 minutes.
* To make crème fraîche, place 2 cups heavy cream in bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt or 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Stir to combine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Stir. Mixture will be nice and thick. Store in the fridge until ready to use.
This is how I chopped the greens second time around — the smaller pieces make for a slightly nicer eating experience.
When it comes to hors d’ouevres, I never know what to make. Fortunately, I have friends that do. Oscar night is fixin’ to be a good one thanks to these cheese sticks brought to my attention by my friend Darcy. Oh my. Spicy, salty, crispy — these cheesy cocktail straws are addictive and will never not appear at a party I host from here on out. They take just minutes to whip up. They look beautiful. And they couldn’t be more party friendly — who doesn’t like butter, cheese, salt and a little spice?
I’m looking forward to Oscar night already. Well, that’s only partially true. I actually haven’t seen a single movie being nominated. I don’t know what happened this year. Part of the trouble is, in recent months at least, that I’ve been totally distracted by Foyle’s War — haven’t been able to watch a single other show since beginning the series. Disc one of the final season is sitting on my kitchen table, too. Hmmm. It seems the only certainty for Sunday evening is cheese straws. I can live with that.
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (I love the Cabot Extra Sharp)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon half and half or milk or heavy cream
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt and red pepper flakes. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the half and half and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.
3. On a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an 8- by 10-inch rectangle that is 1/8-inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into thin 8-inch strips, each 1/4- to 1/3-inch wide. (Note: It might be helpful to dip your knife in flour after every few cuts to ensure a clean cut — I did not have to, but Deb of Smitten Kitchen recommends doing so.). Gently transfer the strips to a parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/4-inch between them.
4. Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.
5. Serve at room temperature. Cheese straws will keep in the refrigerator, in a sealed container, for two days, but they taste best when freshly baked and served shortly thereafter.
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.
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.
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.
Turnip and Apple Purée
Source: Sally Schneider’s A New Way to Cook
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.
Source: Jean-Georges Vongerichten via Martha Stewart
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.
I used this template for the birds. I know, I know. Totally ridiculous.
Some snapshots from the evening:
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.”
Failed chocolate bread, rising:
Failed chocolate bread, baked:
Rosemary semolina bread mixed (left) and risen (right):
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.
It’s only February 2nd, and already I’m dreaming about Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce — you know, the one and only most delicious tomato sauce in the world. I won’t belabor my love for that sauce a sentence more, but I’d like to share with you a second Hazan tomato sauce I recently discovered.
You see, while the famed Hazan tomato sauce can indeed be made with canned San Marzano tomatoes — I’ve made it several times, and it’s very good — I find it leaves me wanting. In this other Hazan sauce recipe, from Marcella Cucina, canned tomatoes are brightened by olive oil and sautéed onions, a few cloves of crushed garlic, a little white wine, some chopped fresh parsley, and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. After about 20 minutes of simmering, it’s done. And it’s delicious.
While making this sauce, I learned something, too, from a note in the book:
As tomatoes cook down and their watery part evaporates, the fat you have used begins to run clear. When you skim the surface of the sauce with the side of a wooden spoon, or wipe away the sauce with the spoon from the bottom of the skillet, you see clear fat following the spoon’s trail, an indication that the tomato sauce is done.
It’s hard to envision this occurrence — clear fat trailing the path of your wooden spoon — but it happens, and when it does, your sauce is done. Cool, right? That Marcella, she knows her stuff.
I admit, this sauce doesn’t compare to the Hazan tomato sauce — what sauce does? — but it doesn’t leave me wanting. And it just might help these months leading up to tomato season pass a wee more quickly.
This is by far the best pasta I have ever tasted. I have a dear friend in NYC to thank for introducing it to me. It’s dry pasta from the Gragnano region of Italy, and my friend finds it at Eataly, a spot I have yet to explore, but which I hear I might like. The pasta hardly needs a sauce — it tastes delectable on its own with butter and Parmigiano Reggiano — but its shape is ideal for catching all of the goodies in any sauce, especially this one. It’s a real treat. Unfortunately,
I cannot find an online source for this pasta. If any of you out there know of one, please let me know. I will be forever grateful! Eataly and Po Valley Foods now sell this pasta online.
I found a link to this Saveur video — How to Peel a Head of Garlic in Less than 10 seconds — on Food52. Totally amazing. It really works!
Browned hot Italian venison sausage… the husband has been hunting again. Venison, by the way, is so delicious. More on that soon.
Pasta with Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce & Hot Italian Sausage
Adapted from Marcella Cucina
Yield = enough for about 1/2 lb. to 3/4 lb. pasta depending on how saucy you like your pasta
For the tomato sauce:
1/3 cup olive oil
2 cups finely chopped white or yellow onion
3 cloves garlic, minced, be sure to watch this video
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
1/2 cup white wine (I made this with Sherry once, too, and really liked it)
1 28-oz can of peeled whole San Marzano tomatoes,* crushed
crushed chili flakes
* I saw this trick on the Martha Stewart Show: Empty your can of tomatoes into a large bowl. Use scissors to cut the tomatoes into smallish pieces. Normally, I just get my hands in the bowl and squish the tomatoes to break them up, but this is really messy. If you are messy-averse, try the scissor method.
For the pasta dish:
1/2 lb. hot Italian sausage* (or more or less to taste)
1/2 to 3/4 lb. pasta**
freshly chopped parsley***
freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano to taste
* Optional — The sauce is flavorful enough without sausage, but if you’re looking to add a little protein to the dish, sausage is a good fit. I used hot Italian venison sausage, but any hot Italian sausage will be delicious. In Hazan’s book, the sauce is paired with lobster.
** New Yorkers — If you can get a hold of some Gragnana Vesuvio Pasta from Eataly, use it. It’s unbelievably delicious. I imagine it is available in other places as well, but I’m just not sure where —
I can’t find an online source for it in the states. Eataly and Po Valley Foods now sell this pasta online. When I run out of my stash of the good stuff, I’ll return to using my favorites from my local supermarket — Barilla or DeCecco gemelli or orecchiette.
*** Optional — this is merely to add some color to the finished dish. The sauce is flavorful enough without the additional parsley
1. Place the olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan with the onions and sauté on medium until pale gold — you’re not trying to brown the onions here; you just want to sweat the onions.
2. Add the garlic and cook just a few seconds until you smell its aroma.
3. Add the parsley, stir once or twice, and then add the wine. Let it simmer for a couple of minutes until the alcohol smell dissipates.
4. Add the tomatoes, the crushed chili flakes and a generous pinch of salt, and cook at a steady simmer, until the fat begins to separate from the sauce (see note below*), about 20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, brown the sausage in a large skillet until cooked through.
6. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook your pasta al dente. Drain, reserving some of the pasta cooking liquid only if you’ve made the sauce in advance and are reheating it to toss with pasta.
7. Place pasta in a large serving bowl. Toss with enough sauce to coat. Fold in sausage (if using). Sprinkle with some more parsley (optional). Pass cheese on the side.
*Hazan’s note: As tomatoes cook down and their watery part evaporates, the fat you have used begins to run clear. When you skim the surface of the sauce with the side of a wooden spoon, or wipe away the sauce from the spoon from the bottom of the skillet, you see clear fat following the spoon’s trail, an indication that the tomato sauce is done.
**My note: The sauce can be made ahead and heated as needed. It will definitely thicken up as it sits (especially in the fridge), so you might want to reserve some pasta cooking liquid to thin it out when you reheat it. It’s not necessary, but I’ve found this to be helpful.
Until about a month ago, I had altogether stopped purchasing vanilla beans. I couldn’t justify paying $12 for a single bean — a desiccated looking one at that — at the grocery store when I could substitute vanilla extract with little harm done.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered IndriVanilla, a source for Fair Trade, organically grown vanilla beans at beyond reasonable prices — I ordered 19 beans online for a grand total of $13.50 including shipping. The beans arrived just days after I placed the order, their beautiful fleshy bodies visible through the cryovacked pack.
I didn’t want to break the seal, but I couldn’t resist. I snipped the corner, releasing a waft of vanilla aroma, and pulled out the bundle of tightly nestled glistening beans. But holding the pods in my hands wasn’t enough, nor was inhaling their perfume as I ran them under my nose. I grabbed my knife and made an incision, prying open the seam with the blade to reveal the caviar. Vanilla caviar — it’s an incredible sight. How could these beans cost only 50 cents a piece?
I contacted the company to learn more. The owner of IndriVanilla buys the beans directly from a farmer in Indonesia at his asking price. Without a middleman involved in the exchange, prices stay low. What’s more, this family-run co-op practices sustainable growing methods, using sheep to fertilize the crops and to control insect populations, precluding the need for pesticides, insecticides or synthetic fertilizers. While this farm has been growing organically for over ten years, they are not yet certified, the high cost of certification prohibiting the process at the moment.
So many recipes — Balzano apple cake, vanilla ice cream, homemade vanilla extract — flashed in my mind as I stared at that split-open bean, but I decided on panna cotta, a recipe I’ve been meaning to revisit after recently discovering my go-to recipe to be too sweet. I found this Claudia Fleming recipe on Saveur.com and frankly can’t find a thing wrong with it. Creamy, beautiful and delicious, it’s a perfect medium for showcasing these beans.
I know it’s still January, and we really shouldn’t be thinking about creamy desserts just yet, but keep this one in mind for Valentine’s Day, which is right around the corner. Those of you who have already made panna cotta know that it doesn’t get much more simple than this in the dessert department. It can be made ahead — several days in advance in fact — and the only cooking involved is bringing a little cream to a boil.
And if you don’t have time to whip anything up for a special someone, I think these beans alone would make a lovely gift. A bundle of vanilla beans, perhaps tied with a red ribbon? It doesn’t get much more romantic than that.
This is how the vanilla beans arrive — in a nice cryovacked pack. After you break the seal and are ready to store the remaining beans you are not using, it’s important to get the beans back into an air-sealed environment. If you have a FoodSaver, that is ideal, but that could become a pain if you are planning on using the beans frequently. The owner of IndriVanilla advises coiling them up and storing them in a glass jar with a rubberized lid and coiled ring. I bundled mine up really tightly in plastic wrap and then stored them in a mason jar. They seem to be staying very fresh. Pictured below are the premium beans — I have yet to open these beauties.
Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Source: Claudia Fleming via Saveur
Notes from Saveur: This recipe is adapted from one in Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course (Random House, 2001). Panna cotta means cooked cream.
1 1/2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
1 1/4 cups heavy cream*
7 tbsp. sugar
1/2 vanilla pod, split lengthwise
1 3/4 cups buttermilk
*If you want to lighten it up a bit, you could substitute whole milk (probably even 1% or 2%) for the heavy cream. This might alter the texture a bit, but I imagine the flavor will still be nice.
1. Soften gelatin in 1 tbsp. cold water in a medium bowl for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, put cream and sugar into a small saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla pod into pan, then add pod. Heat cream over medium heat, stirring until sugar dissolves, 3–5 minutes, then stir into bowl with gelatin. Stir in buttermilk, then strain into another bowl.
2. Divide custard between six 8-oz. ramekins and refrigerate until set, about 3 hours. To unmold, dip ramekins into a dish of hot water, then invert custards onto plates. (Note: I don’t invert — I prefer serving the panna cotta in their ramekins with a spoon.) Garnish with raspberries or other fruit, if you like.
Cauliflower eluded my kitchen for far too long. I discovered it only about a year ago, in roasted form at high heat tossed with nothing but olive oil and kosher salt, a method which produces perfectly charred salty florets, addictive bites that lead me to eat heads of cauliflower in single sittings.
Today, while those crispy bits have lost none of their allure, I find myself most enjoying cauliflower in the form of a velvety smooth puréed soup. This recipe calls for simmering cauliflower in milk with an apple and a few strands of pasta, the milk and apple included to temper the cauliflower’s intensity, the pasta to provide just enough starch to ensure a creamy texture when the mixture is puréed. Interesting, right? Once again, I have Sally Schneider to thank for this recipe, which really is more of a method than anything, one that could be applied to a countless number of vegetables — turnips, carrots, rutabaga, celery root, to name a few.
This recipe begins as a purée — the cauliflower and apple are strained from the cooking liquid and blended until smooth — which is delicious on its own and would be a nice accompaniment to duck or roast chicken or any meat really. To make the soup, the reserved cooking liquid is simply whisked into the purée, heated, and garnished. Both the purée and the soup are silky smooth in texture, and for containing just a few teaspoons of butter, taste incredibly creamy.
While this recipe does call for milk, apparently, I am learning, the milk is optional. After reading Food52′s post about Paul Bertolli’s cauliflower soup, made with nothing but a head of cauliflower, an onion and water, I questioned the necessity of milk. My friend Darcy, too, confirmed that a creamy texture can indeed be achieved with no cream at all. But I couldn’t resist. I almost felt guilty pouring that quart of milk into the pot, PB’s recipe flashing into my mind, but I rationalized that a little 1% milk never hurt anybody and that I likely could use the calcium. That said, next up on my to-make list is PB’s soup, and for those of you looking for a vegan option for creamy cauliflower soup, know that it’s out there.
For fun, I topped the soup with some olive oil-fried bread cubes, one of Schneider’s many suggested garnishes. I took her up on another as well: a light drizzling of truffle oil. I know the economy is in the dumps, so please don’t feel this ingredient is a must, but if you happen to have a bottle on hand, perhaps on lockdown for a special occasion, maybe consider breaking it out. There’s never been a better time to open it.
Cauliflower and Apple Soup
Source: Sally Schneider’s The Improvisational Cook
Yield = 3 cups, 4 servings
For the Purée:
1 medium cauliflower (1.75 lbs – 2 lbs) (Mine actually was only 1.25 lbs and it worked just fine)
1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 quart 2% or whole milk (I used 1%)
1/2 oz. angel hair pasta (about 40 strands), broken into 2-inch pieces*
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon crème fraîche or heavy cream (optional — I forgot to add this)
freshly ground white pepper (I never have white pepper on hand, and black pepper works just fine, though I didn’t add any pepper at all)
* I used spaghetti, not angel hair. Schneider notes that any other dry eggless pasta, broken into pieces if necessary, will work.
Make the purée:
1. Cut the cauliflower into florets and roughly chop. You should have 7 to 8 cups. (I didn’t measure and I didn’t even chop up the florets.)
2. Transfer the cauliflower to a medium saucepan and add the apple and milk. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and stir in the pasta, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and the sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is purée-tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Strain the mixture reserving the cooking liquid. Transfer the solids to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth, at least one minute, adding a tablespoon or two of the reserved cooking liquid if necessary. (Alternatively, return the solids to the pan and purée them with an immersion blender.) Let the motor run for a minute or two, scraping down the sides several times until you have a fine purée. Add the butter and crème fraîche and season with a bit more salt if necessary, white pepper (optional) and another pinch of sugar (optional). Save the remaining cooking liquid for the soup (recipe below).
Note: You can prepare the purée several hours ahead of time and reheat it (or keep it warm for a shorter time), stirring occasionally, in a double boiler.
Cauliflower Soup with Many Garnishes
Schneider’s Notes: This soup lends itself to an endless number of garnishes such as crisp slivered or finely diced pancetta; diced olive oil-fried bread; a dusting of fennel pollen; crispy shallots; snipped fresh chives, chervil or flat-leafed parsley; a drizzle of roasted hazelnut oil. White truffle oil, used sparingly, adds an astonishing flavor note.
1. Place cauliflower and apple purée in a medium saucepan, whisk in an equal amount of the reserved cooking liquid or chicken broth (Note: I made the soup one day with chicken stock and another with the reserved cooking liquid. Both ways are good, but I prefer the reserved cooking liquid.), and stir in a little cream. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat and adjust the seasoning. Add any of the garnishes mentioned above to each serving.
I like these muffin liners. I like that they can stand on their own, that I can fill one or twelve with batter, bake off as many or as few muffins as I like. I like their shape — that they create straight-sided panettone-style loaves. I like peeling away the paper from the baked muffin, unveiling the straight sides, and I like scraping with my teeth every last morsel left clinging to the bottom round. And I like — I love — that they remind me of my first few years of being in Philadelphia, when I lived just steps from Metropolitan Bakery, where I first discovered these liners wrapping so many delicious breakfast treats, namely millet muffins, my favorite.
As much as I like these pretty paper wrappings, I can assure you they are optional, merely for creating that coffeehouse baked-goods effect. I can assure you that I like what these pretty paper wrappings hold even more, especially when it’s in the form of these coffeecake muffins, a Cook’s Illustrated recipe that never fails to please.
A dear friend’s husband, a private chef, in fact, tipped me off about this recipe several years ago, and I have made it countless times since. With or without a pretty paper wrapping, these muffins, made with a cinnamon-pecan-brown sugar streusel mixed into a sour cream batter, capture the spirit of breakfast treat. It’s the weekend everybody! Woo-hoo! Brew some coffee. Make some muffins. Pretend you’re at your favorite café. You won’t be sorry you did.
Don’t be tempted to fill these liners too high. The batter will overflow and burn on your oven floor. One scoop (standard-sized ice cream scoop) works just fine, and the batter will still climb above the tops of the liners.
Source: Cooks Illustrated
Yield = 12
Notes from the Magazine: Be careful not to overprocess the batter in step 4. If you don’t have a food processor, first chop the nuts with a knife. Proceed with the recipe, mixing the ingredients in a large bowl with a wooden spoon or spatula, but use a wire whisk to work the butter into the dry ingredients in step 3.
My Notes: I made the batter the night before and baked off the muffins in the morning using these pretty coffeehouse-style muffin liners.
1/2 cup pecans (2 ounces)
1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar (1 3/4 ounces) (I used light brown sugar)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (10 ounces)
1 cup granulated sugar (7 ounces)
1 teaspoon salt (I used table salt as opposed to kosher)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick) + 1 tablespoon (optional, see step 3), cut into 1/2-inch pieces and softened
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup sour cream
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 12-cup muffin tin and set aside.
2. Process nuts, brown sugar, and cinnamon in food processor until nuts are size of sesame seeds, about ten 1-second pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl.
3. Return bowl and metal blade to food processor, add flour, granulated sugar, and salt and process until combined, about five 1-second pulses. Sprinkle the 1 stick of butter evenly over flour mixture and process until butter is oat-sized, about eight 1-second pulses. Remove 1 cup of flour-butter mixture and stir with fork into reserved brown sugar mixture until combined to make streusel. Set aside 3/4 cup of streusel for muffin batter and remaining portion for topping muffins. (Note: At this point I added an additional tablespoon of butter to the streusel topping because in the past I have found the streusel topping to be too sandy — not buttery and crumby enough if you know what I mean? See picture below with two ramekins.)
4. Add baking powder and baking soda to remaining flour mixture in food processor bowl and process until combined, about five 1-second pulses. Whisk together sour cream, egg, and vanilla; add to flour mixture. Process until batter is just moistened, about five 1-second pulses. Add 3/4 cup reserved streusel to flour mixture and process until streusel is just distributed throughout batter, about five 1-second pulses.
5. Divide batter among 12 muffin cups and sprinkle with streusel, pressing lightly so that streusel sinks slightly into batter. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out with several crumbs clinging to it, about 18 minutes (mine took more like 25 minutes, but start checking after 18 min), rotating pan from front to back halfway through baking time. Cool muffin tin on wire rack for 2 minutes. Using tip of paring knife, loosen muffins and gently transfer from tin to wire rack; cool for 5 minutes and serve warm.
Top ramekin: Crumb topping as made with original recipe. Bottom ramekin: Crumb topping made with an additional tablespoon of butter — the additional tablespoon of butter helped create a better-textured crumb in my opinion, but this step is optional. The muffins are delicious no matter what.
I’ve blogged about this soup once before, but when I did, it was summer, and I doubt I inspired any of you to run off and buy lentils. But this is a soup I really want you all to make, and I’m hoping with the holidays in the past, a winter chill finally in the air, and the spirit of detox ever present, you’ll feel more inspired.
It’s a good one. I promise. For me, it’s the bite of the sherry vinegar that makes this soup, but the virtues of it are truly countless: It is completely vegetarian, vegan in fact. It cooks in one hour and takes only as long to prepare as it does to chop up some carrots, celery and onions. No vegetables are sautéed; no stock is simmered. It costs next to nothing to make and couldn’t be more healthy — lentils are high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, and one cup of cooked lentils contains just 230 calories. This soup is complete goodness.
Have I sold you? I hope so. Lentil soup, homemade bread, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the New Year.
Yield=3 quarts or 8 generous servings
1 1/4 cups French green lentils (If you can’t find French — I couldn’t — regular lentils work just as well)
1 8oz. can + 1/2 can of tomato sauce (12 oz total, about a scant 1 1/2 cups)*
2 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
½ cup red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar**
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and diced (about a heaping cup)
3 celery stalks, diced (about a cup)
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
*I like Pomi brand for tomato sauce, but if you can’t find Pomi, Hunt’s is also good. Don’t buy a tomato sauce that has any sort of flavorings — not even a basil leaf.
** Don’t use a fancy bottle of vinegar here — for one, it’s unnecessary, and two, it might create a vinegar taste that is overpowering. Also, you might want to start with 1/4 cup on vinegar or 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and then add more to taste. Some people have found the 1/2 cup of vinegar to be too overpowering.
1. Throw all ingredients together in a pot. Add 1½ qts. plus one cup of water (seven cups total) and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface. Simmer for one hour uncovered. Stir and serve with crusty bread.
Note: On day two, much of the liquid will have been absorbed buy the lentils and veggies. Just add a little more water to the pot as you reheat and adjust the seasoning as necessary — a pinch more salt usually does the trick.
I’m afraid I’m going to have to report back on this bread recipe. These mini loaves were delectable and sort of a happy accident, a combination of recipes that yielded a very wet dough, one that needed the support of ramekins during the baking process. I don’t have a precise recipe at the moment, but just know that any simple bread recipe — this one contained just water, yeast, flour, sugar and salt — will likely bake off nicely in ramekins.