Two Awesome Food Gifts: Rancho Gordo Beans & Tcho Chocolates

Rancho Gordo beans, cookbook and postcards

I just turned 30. I was having a hard time with it until several of my friends and family members showered me with some fantastic gifts. Gosh, I sound so shallow, but take a look above and below. Are these not fantastic gifts?

Many of you have heard of Rancho Gordo. Several years ago at the SF Ferry building, I purchased a few bags of RG alubia criollos, a small white bean which turned out to be heavenly in this salad. I had all but forgotten about these buttery, creamy, heirloom beans until a dear friend’s father and I started exchanging emails about — wait for it — beans! The next thing I knew I was staring into a care package spilling with all things RG — beans, postcards, a cookbook, and a brown paper bag stamped with the RG logo… adorable. I’ve never been so excited to see so many bean-related goods. I’ll report back soon on the yumminess RG has brought to my life.

On to the chocolates. Have you all heard of Gilt Taste? If you haven’t, prepare to spend a considerable amount of time ooing and ahhing over their offerings. Seriously, like don’t visit the site if you have anything pressing on your schedule. I want one of everything. And I want to send everyone I know one of everything. This could be dangerous come December.

I had not heard of Gilt Taste until I received this 30-day supply of Tcho chocolates. Not only is the Tcho packaging beautifully designed and fun to inspect — it is adorned with entertaining phrases such as, “Take as needed for inspiration, happy heart, coping, focus, optimism and even euphoria,” — but the chocolates are some of the best I’ve ever tasted. What more would anyone want on their 30th birthday? Besides an RG care package?

Nothing at all. Thank you dear friends for my gifts! And one last thing: I have started pinning my favorite food-related gifts on Pinterest, also a new phenomenon for me and one that I am really enjoying. See that red “P” icon in the upper right-hand corner of my blog? That’s where you will always be able to find this food-gift pinboard. It’s obviously not very complete at the moment, but I’m hoping to have a nice collection of ideas before the holidays.

Sources:

Rancho Gordo
Gilt Taste
Tcho Chocolates

Tcho Chocolates

Rancho Gordo beans, cookbook and postcards

Rancho Gordocookbook

20. September 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Gifts | 3 comments

Bacon, Cheddar and Pear Panini

bacon, cheddar and pear panini

I do not know how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s just one of those things, like pancakes and French toast, that burns on the outside for me before it’s done on the inside. A little over a year ago, I found a solution to my French toast woes, but I’m still searching for the equivalent recipe for pancakes: Can you bake pancakes? That would be amazing.

In any case, I do know how to make a panini, which is to say that I know how to take out my Krups panini machine, plug it in, and let it do its magic on whatever assembled sandwich I place between its irons.

I love my panini machine. Its genius. Within minutes of getting to work, it perfectly brands both slices of bread with nice grill marks, thoroughly heating everything else in between while allowing just a touch of cheese to ooze out its side (for presentation purposes obviously… such a thoughtful gadget.) If you can afford the kitchen real estate for a rather large uni-purpose tool, I highly recommend adding one of these presses to your arsenal of equipment. And while I’ve never tried one of these cast iron models, I imagine they might be quite good? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Anywho, I mentioned this sandwich last week while posting about thyme-roasted grapes — so delicious. Both recipes appeared in this month’s Real Simple magazine, and both are fantastic, though I must note there is nothing novel about the combination here. A double pairing of sweet and salty — jam and bacon, cheddar and pear — makes every bite worth savoring. I find the combination irresistible and even served these at a little dinner party. Casual is the new cool, right? It was fun, and at the very least, a lovely way to welcome fall.

bacon, cheddar and pear panini

panini ingredients

Mmmmmm… bacon. I don’t know how you cook bacon, but I like to place mine on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast it at 400ºF for about 20 minutes. It cooks evenly and isn’t as messy as stove-top cooking.
cooked bacon

bacon, cheddar and pear panini

Bacon, Cheddar and Pear Panini
Adapted from Real Simple September 2011
Serves 1, (obviously, this recipe can be multiplied as necessary)

Note: For the original recipe, follow this link.

1 tablespoon jam, such as currant or fig or Ikea’s lingonberry (what I used)
2 slices of nice, bakery-style bread, from a multigrain or Italian boule for example
2 slices Cheddar
2 slices cooked bacon
1/4 small pear, thinly sliced

1. Heat a panini machine. (Note: If you want to make a grilled cheese, follow the directions on the RS website — link is above.) Spread the jam on 1 slice of the bread. Layer the pear, bacon and cheddar on top.

2. Press the sandwich in the panini machine until the bread is toasted and the cheese is melted, 3 to 5 minutes total depending on your machine.

bacon, pear and cheddar panini

15. September 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Entrees, Lunch | 19 comments

Lunch: Roasted Grapes with Thyme, Fresh Ricotta & Grilled Bread

Roasted Grapes with Fresh Ricotta on Grilled Bread

Oh, hello there. Sorry to do this again while you’re all busy working, but I feel compelled to share another lunch with you: roasted grapes with thyme over grilled bread and fresh ricotta…yummmmmm. I promise to only do this when I really mean it. This recipe comes from this month’s Real Simple magazine, and fittingly, it couldn’t be more simple or delicious.

I first made this over the weekend as a side dish, omitting the bread, just spooning the warm, thyme-infused grapes over a dollop of homemade ricotta. It was delectable. Why omit the bread, you ask? Well, because the main dish was pear and bacon panini, and serving grilled bread aside panini seemed like overkill. BTW, the pear and bacon sandwiches (another September RS recipe) were fabulous — hoping to report back on those soon.

What I love about this recipe is its versatility. It’s delicious with or without bread. It could be served with any number of cheeses. It could be served at a casual lunch as an open-faced sandwich or at a fancy dinner party as a beautiful hors d’oeuvres.

And what I can’t stop dreaming about doing is this: making an all-white pizza (perhaps with homemade ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, and mozzarella) and, as soon as the pie emerges from the oven, topping it with these just-bursting, sweet-salty grapes. I’ll let you know when that day arrives.

Roasted Grapes with Thmye, Fresh Ricotta & Grilled Bread
Adapted from Real Simple Magazine September 2011 (Sorry, can’t find a direct link.)
Yield = However much you would like

Note: I actually don’t even have the recipe in front of me! My aunt ran off to Alexandria with it, and I am writing this from memory. The recipe is not complicated at all, but if you want the real deal, pick up the September 2011 Real Simple.

grapes
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh thyme sprigs

good rustic bread, sliced into 1/2-inch thick pieces
olive oil

fresh ricotta, preferably homemade (recipe below)

1. Preheat oven to 450ºF. Spread grapes onto a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Lay thyme leaves over top. Toss all together gently with your hands. Place pan in the oven for 7 to 9 minutes or until grapes just begin to burst. I prefer the shorter roasting time — it’s nice when some of the grapes remain in tact.

2. Meanwhile, heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high. Brush the bread with olive oil. Grill until nice and toasty.

3. Assemble the open-faced sandwiches: Spread fresh ricotta over bread. Top with roasted grapes. Discard thyme sprigs. (While the thyme sprigs look pretty, it’s a little impractical to serve the sandwiches with the sprigs…they don’t taste so yummy.)

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

Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.
Pour the milk and stream into a stainless steel or enameled pot such as Le Creuset. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

Roasted Grapes aside Fresh Ricotta and Grilled Bread

Grapes tossed with thyme, olive oil and salt:
Grapes tossed with Thyme, Salt and Olive Oil

Grapes just removed from the oven:
Roasted Grapes with Thyme, Salt and Olive Oil

07. September 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, appetizers2, Cheese, Lunch, Side dishes, Vegetarian | 55 comments

Cinnamon Rolls — Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day Style

cinnamon rolls

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

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

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

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

cinnamon rolls

cinnamon rolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cinnamon rolls

01. September 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Bread, Breakfast | 31 comments

Lunch: Tomatoes, Ricotta, Grilled Bread

Tomato Salad with Homemade Ricotta and Grilled Bread

Oh, hi there. Just a quick little post here. I couldn’t resist sharing my lunch with all of you. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty happy with it. And it took all of about 5 minutes to throw together. Of course, I did have some wonderful leftovers on hand: homemade ricotta (a little obsessed with this right now) and a loaf of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day… I had forgotten about this recipe. Yum.

Anyway, hope you’re all having a good week!

Tomato Salad with Fresh Ricotta and Grilled Bread
Serves 1

A couple of tomatoes
extra-virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
kosher salt
fresh basil
homemade ricotta (recipe below)
a loaf of bread suitable for grilling

1. Cut tomatoes into nice chunks and place in a bowl. Season with salt. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Toss with fresh basil. Place in a bowl with a nice dollop of fresh ricotta on the side.

2. Heat a grill or grill pan. Brush with olive oil. Grill bread until nice and toasted. Serve along side your salad and cheese.

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

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

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

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

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

29. August 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, Lunch, Salads, Side dishes, Vegetarian | 7 comments

Chez Panisse Eggplant, Caramelized Onion and Tomato Pasta

Gemelli with Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onions

I don’t know about you, but I’m up to my eyeballs in eggplants here. My CSA delivery last week could have fed a small village, and I’m still feeling a little overwhelmed. Overwhelmed in a good way though. I mean, I’ve been eating my way though a very delicious eggplant chapter in Chez Panisse Vegetables, so far delighting in eggplant gratin with tomato and onion, and roasted eggplant and tomato pizza. I know, it’s been rough.

But this pasta. Oooooh, this pasta. This pasta recipe unexpectedly has eclipsed its chapter companions, its deliciousness attributed to perfectly ripe eggplant, the freshest tomato sauce, sweet basil, caramelized onions, and above all to a most unsuspecting ingredient: sherry vinegar. I don’t know how just a splash of anything could so transform a dish, giving it a depth of flavor that subtly persists through layers of tomatoes and eggplant and onions, but somehow the sherry vinegar has.

There’s something, too, about the way the roasted eggplant melds with the caramelized onions and the tomato sauce that makes cheese totally unnecessary. No cheese on pasta, you ask? Hogwash, you shout!  I mean it. This roasted eggplant tomato sauce spiced with crushed red pepper flakes and freshened with basil was enough for me. I even had some homemade ricotta in the fridge. I even had a bowl of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano sitting inches from my plate throughout dinner. I had no trouble refraining.

While I know a bowl of hot pasta perhaps isn’t crossing your mind very often in late summer, eggplants are reaching their peak right about now, and they are oh so good. Give this recipe a go. It’s a keeper for sure.

Finally, if you like  summer pastas, you might like this dish, too.

Chez Panisse Vegetables Cookbook

Eggplant from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
eggplant from our CSA

eggplant, uncooked and cooked

Making the Sauce

Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onion Sauce

Gemelli with Eggpplant and Tomato

Adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables
Serves 4 to 6 (or 2 generously…see my notes for a smaller yield)

2 large globe eggplants (I used 1 eggplant, which yielded about 3 cups of diced eggplant weighing about 9.5oz)
olive oil
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 2 cups sliced)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 handful basil leaves
1 handful parsley leaves (I used only basil)
kosher salt
1 lb. penne (I used 1 cup of Gemelli pasta but use whatever you like)
sherry vinegar
2 cups tomato sauce (I used 1 cup of this sauce)
red pepper flakes
1/2 lb. ricotta salata cheese (I used no cheese, but served grated Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut the eggplants into cubes about 3/4-inch square, toss them lightly with olive oil and spread them out in a single layer on a sheet pan. (Note: I’ve made this twice now, and my instinct the first time was to toss the eggplant with some kosher salt before roasting. The instructions don’t call for this, and second time around, I used no salt, and I think the eggplant came out better.) Roast in the oven for 25 minutes or so, until the eggplant is brown and tender.

2. Put a large (or small) pot of water on to boil for the pasta. Add a large pinch of kosher salt. Cook the pasta al dente.

3. Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan with the olive oil and onions over medium heat. Sauté the onions until just caramelized. (Note: I started the onions when I put the eggplant in the oven — I find that caramelizing onions slowly over medium heat works best. I also added a pinch of kosher salt while sautéeing. The onions probably sautéed for 25 minutes to 30 minutes total.) Add the garlic and cook for a moment more, and then deglaze with a splash of sherry vinegar. Add the eggplant, tomato sauce, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Heat the sauce to simmering. Drain the pasta, add it to the tomato sauce pan, and toss gently. Chiffonade the basil and add it the pan.

4. Serve the pasta with a generous garnish of the chopped parsley (I omitted) and ricotta crumbled over the top (I also omitted, but served Parmigiano Reggiano on the side.)

Gemelli with Eggplant, Tomato and Caramelized Onions

25. August 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: CSA, Eating Locally, Entrees, Pasta, Sauces, dressings, jams & spreads, Vegetarian | 12 comments

Quintessential Coffee Cake

slice of quintessential coffee cake

Psssssssst. Do you have a sec? I hate to disturb you while you’re working but I’m having people over for breakfast this morning, and I’m serving them this. It’s delicious. It’s just a classic coffee cake, but boy is it hitting the spot. Seriously, on your next break, please stop by for a slice. Would love to have you join our little party.

I found the recipe by googling “best coffee cake ever,” which led me to discover The Pioneer Woman. She’s funny. She described the cake as a complete miracle. How could I resist making a complete miracle? I couldn’t, but I broke one of my rules in the process.

Rules, you ask? Yes. You see, I try hard to follow a recipe — a baked goods recipe at least — to the T first time around. I was doing well until I saw the word milk. And well, you all know about my inability to not substitute buttermilk for milk in a baked goods recipe. It’s a real problem. I’ll leave it at that. And then, to make matters worse, I got really lazy — didn’t want to separate the eggs or beat the whites until stiff peaks formed — and so I substituted in a whole egg. Yikes. I don’t think the Pioneer Woman would approve.

But the cake — oh the cake — it’s so delicious. Thank you Pioneer Woman for sharing such a keeper of a recipe. Everyone here is in total heaven. And readers, I encourage you to check out the PW’s original recipe. I’ve enclosed my lazy-man’s version below, but fully intend to make the original recipe one day.

Ok all of you, back to work. Promise I won’t disturb you again.

baked coffee cake

unbaked coffee cake

baked coffee cake

Classic Coffee Cake Ever
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman
Serves 6-8

Note: I made a half recipe and used a 9-inch square pyrex baking dish

FOR THE CAKE:
3/4 stick butter, softened
1 scant cup sugar (I used 7/8 cup, which is 3/4 cup + 2 T.)
1 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1/2 + 1/8 cup buttermilk

FOR THE TOPPING:
3/4 stick butter, softened
3/8 cups flour
3/4 cup brown sugar (or less — see updated notes)
1 scant tablespoon cinnamon
3/4 cup almonds or pecans, chopped (optional — see updated notes)

Notes:
• Next time, I might not even add nuts on top. I think I might prefer it without.
• Next time, too, I might cut back a wee bit on the sugar in the topping.

Notes updated:
• Made this again without the nuts, and I prefer it this way. It just has more of that classic coffee cake taste to me. Husband prefers nuts, however — he’s only tried it with almonds but thinks he’d prefer pecans (such a picky husband these days… sike, my love, you’re not picky at all). I should note that I’m not a huge fan of nuts in baked goods, so if you like nuts, I say use them!
• I lightly filled a 3/4 cup measuring cup with brown sugar, which made the topping slightly less sweet, which I prefer.

1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9-inch square pan (or the equivalent) with butter.

2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and salt. Add egg to butter and sugar mixture. Mix on low until combined. Add half of the dry ingredients. Mix until incorporated. Add all of the buttermilk. Mix until incorporated. Add remaining flour and whisk until just combined. Spread batter into prepared pan.

3. Meanwhile, make the topping: Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Use a pastry cutter or your hands to mix everything nicely together. Spread topping over batter. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until no longer jiggly. Let cool on wire rack for 10 minutes before serving.

slice of coffee cake

18. August 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, Breakfast, Olallie Cafe recipes | 43 comments

Pizza Margherita, Homemade Tomato Sauce, Homemade Ricotta

classic pizza margherita

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

Let me summarize:

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

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

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

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

Making tomato sauce:
making homemade tomato sauce

Straining homemade ricotta through cheesecloth:
homemade ricotta

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

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

unbaked margherita pizza

Classic pizza margherita:
classic pizza margherita

classic pizza margherita

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

nectarine and ricotta pizza

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

For the Sauce:

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

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

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

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

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

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

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

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth and any remaining whey. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

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

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

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

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

nectarine and ricotta pizza

11. August 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, Baking, Bread, Cheese, Entrees, Pizza, Sauces, dressings, jams & spreads, Vegetarian | 49 comments

Corn Fritters

corn fritters

Oh, where to begin, where to begin. I saw this recipe in last weekend’s WSJ’s food section and began foaming at the mouth. Look at this picture. Do those corn cakes not look perfect to you? Golden brown, loaded with corn — I just want to reach my hand through the computer and snatch one.

The recipe, credited to London’s Yotam Ottolenghi, sounded fantastic, too. So, I set to work scraping kernels from the cob of our delectable CSA corn and finely dicing the most beautiful hot peppers I have every seen and mixing a batter of polenta and Greek yogurt and olive oil and cilantro. The mixture looked divine — colorful, fragrant and perfect in consistency. This is exactly where I should have paused.

But I didn’t. I continued on with the recipe and delicately folded in 3 whipped egg whites. And then I proceeded to fry up corn pancakes, delicious in every which way, but not what I was looking for. I wanted fritters, not pancakes, and I won’t belabor this point any further since I just went through my fritter-vs-pancake preferences with you all with these guys.

But all was not lost. In an attempt to rectify the remaining batter (I had cooked 8 pancakes at this point), I added an additional ear of corn kernels to the batter and then violently stirred, attempting to deflate the effect of the whipped egg whites.

Success. Total succcess. I mean, I definitely have a thing for fritters these days, but these corn-laden crispy cakes are simply irresistible. I served them aside broiled fish but I love the idea of making them the star of the meal, serving them with a simple salad tossed in a citrus vinaigrette, which is how Ottolenghi suggests. I should note, too, that the batter — the egg white-deflated fritter batter, that is — can be made ahead. Once I achieved the consistency I was looking for, I set my batter bowl in the fridge until dinner time. Yum yum yum.

If you think this recipe sounds yummy, check out this one, too:Watercress with Egg, Goat Cheese & Seeds. Sounds divine. These two Ottolenghi recipes are part of a four “easy-enough” recipe series. The final one will be printed this weekend. Looking forward to it!

Peppers from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
peppers from our CSA

The first batch of fritters I made came out looking like pancakes. You can see in this picture below how those whipped egg whites produced a puffy pancake versus a fritter. After cooking 8 pancakes, I added another whole ear of corn kernels to the batter. At this point, the batter was considerably more corny, and the effect of the whipped egg whites, minimal. Next time around, whipped egg whites will be omitted — they seem unnecessary.

corn pancakes

Corn Fritters
Adapted from: The Wall Street Journal
Note: Yotam Ottolenghi, the creater of these corn cakes, serves them with a light salad of arugula and cilantro. Find the original recipe here.

SERVES: 4

½ cup quick-cooking polenta, or fine-ground cornmeal
1¼ cups corn kernels, cut from 1-2 ears of corn*
1 small shallot, diced fine (about 3 tablespoons)
1 small jalapeño, seeds and membrane removed, diced fine (about 2 tablespoons)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds, roughly smashed (optional — I omitted)
¾ teaspoon salt, plus extra for seasoning
¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
¾ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
1½ tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying
1 to 4 eggs (depending on whether you want to make a fritter or a pancake… see notes in post above and in recipe)
¼ cup chopped cilantro (or more or less to taste)

¼ cup sour cream or crème fraîche

*I ended up using 3 ears of corn to make the batter the consistency I was looking for. See notes in recipe.

NOTE: Batter can be made ahead and chilled. (After I achieved the batter consistency I was looking for, which was in the middle of the day, I stopped making fritters and put the batter in the fridge. When it was time for dinner, I took out my bowl and started making fresh fritters. Yum yum yum.)

WHAT TO DO:

1. In a large bowl mix polenta with corn, shallots, jalapeño, cumin (if using), salt and pepper. Add yogurt, 1½ tablespoons olive oil, 1 egg and chopped cilantro. Mix well with fork.

2. Here is where the “recipe” gets messy: If you like the texture of a pancake, separate the remaining 3 eggs. Place the whites in a bowl and beat to soft peaks; reserve the yolks for another purpose. Carefully fold whites into corn batter in two stages. Let rest 5 minutes. (Note: This is what I did initially. See photo directly above the recipe.) If you prefer the texture of a fritter (my preference), omit adding the whipped whites**.

3. Set large nonstick frying pan over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Pour in 1 teaspoon olive oil (or enough to just coat the bottom of the pan). Once hot, spoon 2 tablespoons of batter per cake into pan. Spread with the back your spoon to even out the batter. Make 3 to 4 fritters at a time. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook cakes 2-3 minutes, or until golden. Flip and cook 1 minute, or until golden. Season second side of fritters with a pinch of salt. Transfer to paper-lined tray. At this point, it would be wise to taste one. If you like the texture and seasoning, repeat the cooking process with the remaining batter. If you think the batter could use more corn, add more corn. If the batter needs to be bound together better, add another egg. Once you’ve achieved the right consistency, repeat the cooking process with the remaining batter or chill batter until you’re ready to start cooking.

4. Serve with sour cream or crème fraîche on the side.

Yield: about 16 cakes.

** I should note that I have not made this recipe without omitting the egg whites altogether — I simply have minimized their effect by adding an additional ear of corn to the batter and stirring aggressively to deflate their whipped texture.

This is what the batter looked like before I folded in any egg whites. I so wish I had tried making one fritter at this step.
corn fritter batter

This is what the batter looked like after I cooked 8 pancakes and then added another whole ear of corn kernels to achieve the fritter consistency I was looking for.
fritter batter

corn fritters

04. August 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Appetizers, CSA, Eating Locally, Hors d'oeuvres, Side dishes, Vegetarian | 28 comments

Crème Fraîche Ice Cream in Almond Butterscotch Cookie Cups

Homemade Créme Fraîche Ice Cream

This isn’t really my thing anymore. As delicious as they are, I certainly don’t need to eat my nightly scoop of ice cream out of delicate cookie baskets. I’m quite happy scraping right from the carton actually.

So why have I gone through the effort to make these precious ice cream vessels? Well, here’s what happened. A few weekends ago a couple of dear friends came over for dinner. I served a disappointing steak along side delicious corn and tomatoes (from our CSA) followed by a disappointing dessert. So on all accounts I failed. I felt really off my game. I mean, the two dishes I put no effort into were the only edible foods on the table. What’s more, the dessert I served — buttermilk panna cotta — is usually a go-to for me. I used to LOVE this recipe. I blogged about it. Made it all the time. How could it fail me?

Well, it did. I took one bite and thought, “This is way too sweet.” So, I set to work trying a few variations of lemon panna cotta, all of which failed. I needed something else. I needed something cool and sweet and tangy and delicious. I needed a little something called crème fraîche ice cream courtesy of David Lebovitz’ The Perfect Scoop, a book I obviously have not explored enough.

Ice cream is such a treat. And on these hot summer nights, does anything sound better? (With the exception perhaps of a slice of this?) If you are in need of a summery, entertaining dessert that’s really not too much of an effort to put together, this combo is a winner. The cookies, to my surprise, were completely simple to make and quite forgiving (see photo below). Delicate and sweet (be sure to brush your teeth immediately following dinner), these cookies are pieces of art themselves. I particularly like the taste of a few sweet-tart blackberries with this rich ice cream, but any berry will do.

Homemade Créme Fraîche Ice Cream

Fruit from our CSA this week. So delicious.
Blackberries and Peaches from my CSA

unbaked almond cookie cups

Oopsidasies… here’s why you should follow instructions:
oopsidasies

Almond Butterscotch Cookie Cups

Almond Butterscotch Cookie Cups

Homemade Créme Fraîche Ice Cream
Yield = 1 quart

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
big pinch salt (I used kosher)
5 large egg yolks
2 cups créme fraíche

1. Prepare a medium-sized bowl with a mesh strainer over the top and set it in an ice bath.

2. Warm the milk, sugar and salt in a medium saucepan. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Slowly pour the warm milk into the egg yolks, whisking constantly, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

3. Stir the mixture constantly over medium heat, scraping the bottom as you stir, until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon. Pour the custard through the strainer and stir until cool over an ice bath. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.

4. Once cool, whisk in the crème fraîche, then freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Note: Mine thickened up really quickly. After about 12 minutes, I stopped my machine.

Almond-Butterscotch Cookie Cups
Makes 12 cookie cups

4 T. butter
1/4 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 tsp almond extract (if you have it)
1/2 cup sliced almonds
6 T. flour

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Have ready 4 overturned teacups or custard cups. (Note: I did not turn over my cups.)

2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan with the corn syrup and brown sugar. Stir in the almond extract (if using), almonds, and flour.

3. Drop 4 slightly rounded tablespoons of batter, evenly spaced, on the baking sheet and using the back of the spoon, spread them into circles about 2 inches in diameter. (Note: Mine were about 3 inches in diameter and not evenly spaced, and they baked into one large cookie.) Bake the cookies for 12 minutes, until they’re deep golden brown. (Note: if you end up forming one large cookie as shown in the picture above, just cut through the batter with a paring knife.) Let rest for 30 to 45 seconds, then lift each cookie off the baking sheet with a flexible metal spatula and flip it over onto or into your teacup. (If the cookies get too firm to shape, return the pan to the oven for 30 seconds to soften them.) Let the baking sheet cool, then repeat with the remaining batter.

Homemade Crème Fraîche:

To make crème fraîche, place 2 cups heavy cream (try to not use ultra-pasteurized if possible but see note below if it’s the only variety you can find) 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.

Notes: If your mixture hasn’t started to thicken up after 12 hours, add a couple more tablespoons of buttermilk. I have noticed that when I use ultra-pasteurized cream (all that I can find these days) the mixture doesn’t thicken up as well or as quickly. I almost always have to add a couple more tablespoons of buttermilk. I have also found that plain yogurt seems to thicken the cream better than the buttermilk — it probably has to do with the amounts/types of bacteria cultures present in the yogurt.

You may have noticed that I love crème fraîche. I really do. I think I love making it just as much as I love eating it. It’s just so magical watching heavy cream transform into this thick unctuous mass. Yum. I’ve been making it a lot these days in my favorite quiche recipe, which I’ve been making without the crust — much less work and just as delicious.

Please forgive the videography!
This is what crème fraîche will look like after 12 hours at room temperature:

This is what crème fraîche will look like after 12 hours at room temperature + 12 hours in the fridge:

This is what my ice cream looked like after about 12 minutes of churning:

Homemade Créme Fraîche Ice Cream

29. July 2011 by Alexandra Stafford
Categories: Baking, CSA, Desserts | Tags: , , | 6 comments

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