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
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 (I don’t dampen — I just line my sieve with cheesecloth) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. 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. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Note: You can use the whey to make bread and other things — don’t chuck it.

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

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

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 (or don’t) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. 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. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Save the whey — you can make bread with it. Use the ricotta 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 (recipe below)
1-2 nectarines
olive oil
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Homemade Ricotta
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 (I don’t dampen — I just line my sieve with cheesecloth) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. 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. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Note: You can use the whey to make bread and other things — don’t chuck it.

nectarine and ricotta pizza

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

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

Apricot & Almond Tart

unbaked tart

I have no restraint. As I scraped every last morsel of frangipane from my mixer into the tart shell, I knew it was too much. There was barely room for the apricots. I should scoop some of this filling out, I thought. Nope. Not going to do it. I assured myself it would work out and pushed on.

Fortunately, I followed every other instruction in the recipe as well, including baking the tart on a cookie sheet, which caught a frightening amount of spillage, saving me from enduring a major post-baking oven-cleaning session. Why? Why?! Why do I not use my head sometimes?

Anyway, on Wednesday, a dear friend, remembering my adoration for frangipane tarts emailed me telling me he was going to make this recipe over the weekend. I clicked on the recipe, which sounded lovely, and thought, I’d like to make that too. Right now in fact.

And so I did, and it turns out that the recipe is quite lovely. It’s summery and festive, and with sugar-crusted apricot halves peeking through a golden-brown top, it would be show-stopping at a picnic, just as the article describes.

But while I loved the crust and the overall taste of the filling — reminiscent of pecan pie but without that trademark Karo-syrup sweetness — I think I might prefer this tart with peaches or plums. I’m not sure what’s to blame but my apricots oddly developed an almost canned taste during the baking. Has that ever happened to you? It was strange. Or maybe I would just prefer fruit that is cut into pieces, which might not look as pretty, but which might offer a better balance of flavors overall. If any of you out there give this recipe a go, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And last, I should note that a spoonful of cool and tangy crème fraîche as suggested accompanied this tart perfectly.

apricot and almond tart

cut tart

apricots and almonds

tart-making montage

frangipane-filled tart

apricot and almond tart

apricot and almond tart

Apricot & Almond Tart

Source NY Times
Time: 2 hours 10 minutes, plus at least 2 1/2 hours for chilling and resting

FOR THE PASTRY
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
2 1/4 cups flour, plus more as needed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 large egg yolk

FOR THE FRANGIPANE
7 ounces whole blanched almonds, a bit more than a cup
1 cup light brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling
14 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 vanilla pod, split lengthwise and scraped, pulp reserved and pod discarded
1 tablespoon flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
6 medium or 8 small ripe but firm apricots, halved and pitted

Crème fraîche or whipped cream, for serving*
* This recipe definitely needs something like crème fraîche or whipped cream. I made homemade crème fraîche, which couldn’t be simpler or more fun: 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.

1. To make the pastry: in the bowl of a food processor, combine the butter, flour and salt. Pulse until the mixture resembles very fine bread crumbs. Add the confectioners’ sugar, egg yolk and 2 tablespoons chilled water, and pulse a few times to bring the mixture together. Pour onto a work surface and knead the dough sparingly until smooth, being careful not to overwork it. Flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 24 hours.

2. To make the frangipane: In a food processor, grind the almonds to a fine powder. Transfer to a bowl. In the food processor, combine 1 cup brown sugar, butter, and vanilla pulp. Process until light and fluffy, then with motor running add the flour and the eggs. Add the ground almonds and pulse to mix evenly. Set aside at room temperature or refrigerate for up to 24 hours. Bring to room temperature and stir before using.

3. To assemble: Lightly flour a cool work surface and roll the pastry into a large disk about 1/4-inch thick. Press into a 9-inch tart pan with a removable base and trim the edge. Chill at least 1 hour.

4. Heat oven to 325 degrees with a large baking sheet on the middle rack. Spread frangipane in the chilled tart pan, and nestle the apricot halves evenly on top, cut sides up. Sprinkle each half with about 1/2 teaspoon brown sugar. Place the tart on the baking sheet and bake until golden, and set, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. If the top appears to be browning too fast, cover loosely with foil.

5. Trim any baked overflow to loosen the edge of the tart. Press up the bottom of the pan to loosen the sides and cool the tart in the pan on a wire rack. When completely cool, serve with crème fraîche or whipped cream.

Yield: One 9-inch tart (8 servings).

Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki

zucchini fritters

I think I’m the last person on the planet to make zucchini fritters. Why it has taken me so long to give them a go I do not know. Maybe it’s that I have a general pancake-making phobia? Or that the amount of zucchini-fritter recipes I have collected over the years in addition to the blog posts I have bookmarked and the cookbook pages I have dog-eared is a wee overwhelming?

In any case, I got over it earlier this week, spurred by a revelation that helped me breeze through my zucchini-fritter recipe collection and locate a few promising recipes. My revelation, you ask? I realized I wasn’t interested in making a pancake — I wasn’t looking to make a floury, bread-crumb bound, cheese-laden pancake. I wanted something resembling a latke but composed of zucchini, which would be crisped quickly in a pan and served with something cool like sour cream or tzatziki.

The recipe here fits that description. A combination of grated zucchini and potato with a little diced onion bound by a single egg gives these fritters that lovely latke texture. But the addition of lemon zest and lots of herbs give them a freshness and lightness that’s irresistible. I served this batch with tzatziki, which accompanied them well, but which truthfully is unnecessary — they’re so good on their own. Give them a whirl! I know you’ll like them.

Batter made with zucchini from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
Fritter Batter

fritters in pan

cooked zucchini fritters

Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki

Serves 2, Yield=6

2 cups coarsely grated zucchini
1/2 cup coarsely grated potato
kosher salt
pinch of flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon chopped chives (or whatever herb you like)
1 tablespoon chopped mint (or whatever herb you like)
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup diced white onion
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Tzatziki:
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 T. finely diced red onion
1 T. chopped mint
kosher salt
squeeze of lemon juice

1. Place the grated zucchini and potato in a colander. Spread the veggies out to allow for maximum surface area exposure and sprinkle all over with kosher salt. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to drain.

2. Meanwhile, make the tzatziki, if desired: Stir together yogurt, onion, mint, salt and lemon juice. Taste. Add more salt if necessary. Chill until ready to use.

3. After the 30 minutes, squeeze veggies out and wrap in paper towels. Squeeze again. [Note: The veggies will not drain out enough liquid on their own in the collander, so squeezing them with a paper towel is a critical step to mopping up that moisture.] Open up the paper towel and spread out your veggies. Sprinkle with a pinch of flour to soak up leftover moisture.

4. In a bowl, whisk together egg, herbs and lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add onion and grated zucchini-potato mixture. Stir well.

5. Preheat over to 200˚F. Place a foil-lined cookie sheet in the oven. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter. When foam subsides, drop a spoonful of your fritter batter in. Gently pat with a spatula to flatten out the fritters, which will help make them crispy.

6. Cook about 3 fritters at a time until golden brown on each side. Place fritters in the oven while you make additional pancakes. Serve as soon as possible with tzatziki on the side.

fritters with tzatziki

Buttermilk-Blueberry Breakfast Cake

Lemon-Blueberry Breakfast Cake

I swear buttermilk is magic. I’ve dwelled on this before. Buttermilk seems to turn everything to gold. Super-moist, super-delicious gold.

Anyway, I needed a simple, summery, breakfasty, cake-like-but-not-dessert-like recipe to make this morning. One of Ben’s friends had crashed here last night, and I thought it only appropriate to treat him to a proper breakfast. In other words, I was craving sugar and carbs. The truth is I’ve been craving sugar and carbs and a cake like this for months. But seriously, who doesn’t crave having a good, seasonal, berry cake recipe in their morning-treat repertoire?

Nobody. And I think I’ve found the recipe that fits the bill. On an old photocopied sheet of paper in my mother’s hand writing, I spotted a note: “Baby Boy’s Favorite.” Oh Baby Boy. Baby Boy is my younger brother, my parents’ favorite child, and one of the most satisfying people to cook for. If it was Baby Boy’s favorite cake, it would soon be mine, too. This cake is delectable! I think you’ll like it, too.

Lemon-Blueberry Breakfast Cake

mise en place

Lemon-Blueberry Breakfast Cake

Lemon-Blueberry Breakfast Cake

Buttermilk-Blueberry Breakfast Cake

Ingredients

  • ½ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 2 tsp. lemon zest or more — zest from 1 large lemon
  • 7/8 cup* + 1 tablespoon sugar**
  • 1 egg, room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 cups flour (set aside 1/4 cup of this to toss with the blueberries)
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 2 cups fresh blueberries
  • ½ cup buttermilk***

    * 7/8 cup = 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons

    ** This 1 tablespoon is for sprinkling on top

    *** To make homemade buttermilk, place 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice in a liquid measuring cup. Fill cup with milk until it reaches the 1-cup line. Let stand for five minutes. Use only 1/2 cup of the prepared mixture for the recipe.

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Cream butter with lemon zest and 7/8 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Meanwhile, toss the blueberries with ¼ cup of flour, then whisk together the remaining flour, baking powder and salt.
  3. Add the flour mixture to the batter a little at a time, alternating with the buttermilk. Fold in the blueberries.
  4. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan (or something similar) with butter or coat with non-stick spray. Spread batter into pan. Sprinkle batter with remaining tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes. Check with a toothpick for doneness. If necessary, return pan to oven for a couple of more minutes. (Note: Baking for as long as 10 minutes more might be necessary.) Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.
http://www.alexandracooks.com/2011/06/29/buttermilk-blueberry-breakfast-cake/

Cake with Anthropologie Oven Mitt... fave new kitchen accessory

Blue Cheese Dressing

blue cheese dressing

blue cheese dressing

Ben’s friend Aaron is a very good cook, a master of tacos, chicken parmesan and steak frites, in fact. Unfortunately for all of us, he’s a little possessive over his recipes. And he’s a tease, too. Often he’ll email me beautifully composed photos of his culinary creations, always threatening, however, that if I dare use his content without permission, legal action might be pursued.

So I’ve learned not to ask. Sort of learned. There was just one recipe I had to have.

On a humid Minnesota evening last summer, Aaron served a tangy, creamy blue cheese dressing over a crisp romaine salad aside grilled steaks, warm bread, Ore-Ida french fries, and corn on the cob. It was a memorable meal. Every bite. The blue cheese dressing, however, left an indelible imprint.

Sure, I could have scoured the blogosphere or checked out some of my favorite cookbooks for any old blue cheese dressing recipe, but that’s exactly what I feared — making any old blue cheese dressing. It would never match up. There was something special about Aaron’s recipe, and I made it my mission to find out.

After a wee bit of pleading and a year of subtle hinting, I learned that Aaron’s recipe is loosely based off Sally Schneider’s Roquefort Blue Cheese Dressing in her cookbook A New Way to Cook.

Aha. Sally Schneider. I should have known. Schneider is never without a trick or two up her sleeve. Her arsenal of reliable recipes has made her one of my favorite cookbook authors as well.

This recipe is surprisingly light — made with buttermilk and reduced-fat sour cream — as far as creamy dressings go, and the addition of sherry vinegar gives it the perfect bite. I served it just as Aaron did, over a simple romaine salad with a few halved cherry tomatoes, but I imagine this dressing would be a lovely accompaniment to the usual suspects: buffalo wings, celery sticks, pizza, etc.

Blue Cheese Dressing ingredients

Blue Cheese Dressing ingredients in blender

Blue Cheese Dressing

Adapted from Sally Schneider’s A New Way To Cook
Yield=1 1/2 cups

4 oz. blue cheese, such as Roquefort, Maytag Blue, Saga Blue — whatever you like
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp. sherry vinegar
1 tsp. olive oil or walnut oil (Schneider recommends)
freshly ground black pepper

1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth. Taste. Add more pepper if desired.

romaine salad with blue cheese dressing