Saturday, August 28, 2010

Zucchini Bread with Pineapple


I'm sure that most of you gardeners out there are up to your ears in zucchini by now and are scrambling for any delicious way to eat them before they go bad, and you've probably already had as many zucchini bread recipes thrown your way as you can bear, but hear me out. I'm not a huge zucchini bread fan (pumpkin is my go-to squash for bread making), but this stuff is good. I came across the recipe on this website a few weeks ago and bookmarked it, thinking I might, maybe, one day, sometime in the distant future, want to try zucchini bread. A few days later, I purchased a ginormous bag of zucchini at the farmers' market (four bucks for a huge bag- enough to fill a brown paper grocery bag!) and decided it was time to give zucchini bread another chance. Usually, I'll test out a few different recipes and find different aspects I like about each and then combine them into one uber-recipe, but this bread is almost perfect as is. I do sometimes swap out half the flour for wheat flour and play around with the nuts and dried fruit, and I omit the nutmeg because that screams "HOLIDAY SEASON" to me, but the base recipe yields a deliciously moist breakfast bread that I wouldn't want to change.

Zucchini Bread with Pineapple
Adapted from Simply Recipes

Ingredients:

3 eggs
1 cup olive oil
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups coarsely grated zucchini (I grate mine a bit finer when using wheat flour, just because I prefer the texture that way).
1 can (8oz) crushed pineapple, drained
3 cups all purpose flour (or replace half with wheat flour)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup raisins

1 Preheat oven to 350°F. In a mixer, beat eggs. Add oil, sugar, and vanilla; continue beating mixture until thick and foamy. With a spoon, stir in the zucchini and pineapple.

2 In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. A third at a time, add dry ingredients into wet and gently stir (by hand) after each addition. Add the walnuts and raisins, blend gently.

3 Divide the batter equally between 2 greased and flour-dusted 5 by 9 inch loaf pans. Bake for 1 hour or until a wooden pick inserted in to the center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Turn out onto wire racks to cool thoroughly.

Makes 2 loaves.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fig and Balsamic Jam, a la Thomas Keller


While perusing the produce section of my local Whole Foods yesterday, I had a temporary moment of stupidity as I walked up to two precariously balanced pyramids of fresh figs and suddenly just had to have some. I know very well that figs are one of the most perishable fruits out there and that they need to be eaten soon after harvesting, and that there is nary a fig tree anywhere here in the greater Chicago area, so therefore these figs would probably, well, stink. Yet somehow, my brain completely short circuited and I happily skipped out of the store with two pints of fresh figs and delusions of some sort of blue cheese/fig/prosciutto hors d'oeuvre that I could nibble on over the course of a languid summer afternoon while reading a book on my front porch overlooking Napa Valley (yes, the whole valley. Hey, I said "delusional," didn't I?). Fifteen minutes later, as I stood in my cramped town home kitchen with an adorable babbling two month old on my hip, I tasted a fig and realized that my prosciutto-wrapped daydream was not meant to be, and that I needed to find a plan B.


Plan B came in the form of Thomas Keller's Ad Hoc at Home.
If you have never perused this book, get thee to thy local bookstore and take a gander. Thomas Keller (he of The French Laundry *insert choir of angels*) is the man. I can't think of one recipe of his that I've tried that didn't rock my face off, and this one is no exception. Some of his recipes can be a bit fussy, but this one is simple: Cut up fruit, add balsamic and spice, simmer, finish with lemon juice, and cool. If you're wary of the ingredients (vinegar and peppercorns in jam?), don't be. The balsamic vinegar simmers down enough to lose most of the vinegary punch and adds sweetness, and the peppercorns add just enough of an earthy undertone to keep it from getting too sweet. If you've ever had mulled wine with peppercorns, it's very similar. The resulting jam is just sweet enough to still fall in the category of jams eligible for smearing on toast for breakfast, but savory enough to be well-utilized as an ingredient in tomorrow night's dinner. I'm eying a pork roast recipe in Ad Hoc at Home that calls for a cup of the jam. If you don't have access to fresh figs, dried figs will work perfectly fine, too.

Fig and Balsamic Jam
Ad Hoc at Home, Thomas Keller

Ingredients:
2 lbs. Black Mission figs, stems removed and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar (use a good-quality sweet balsamic)
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, tied into a sachet (I ran out of cheesecloth and ended
up using a tea ball)
Fresh lemon juice

Directions:
Combine the figs, sugar, balsamic vinegar, and a sachet in a large saucepan and attach a candy thermometer to the pan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer and cook, stirring to break up the large pieces of fig, keeping a chunky consistency, until the jam reaches 215 to 220 degrees F. Remove from the heat.

Remove the sachet and stir in the lemon juice to taste. Spoon the jam into a canning jar or other storage container, cover, and let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for up to 1 month.

Makes 2 1/2 cups.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sour Cherry Jam, Lebovitz style


In case you haven't noticed, sour cherry season (or, as I think of it, most awesome fruit to bake with EVER season)is lamentably short. They're still available at the markets here in Chicagoland, but if I were a betting woman, I'd bet they won't be around for more than another week or two. If you've never worked with sour cherries, get thee to thy local market pronto and buy some. That sweet cherry pie you usually make will absolutely sing if you swap sour cherries for the bings.


No-Recipe Cherry Jam

From David Lebovitz


1. Buy as many cherries as you feel like pitting. Figure one pound of cherries will make one good-sized jar of jam. Plump, dark Bing cherries work really well, although Burlats are good, and if you can find sour cherries, your jam will rock.

2. Wear something red. Rinse the cherries, remove the stems, and pit the cherries. Make sure to remove all the pits. Chop about ¾ of them into smaller pieces, but not too small. Leave some cherries whole so people can see later on how hard you worked pitting real cherries. If you leave too many whole ones, they'll tumble off your toast.

3. Cook the cherries in a large non-reactive stockpot. It should be pretty big since the juices bubble up. Add the zest and juice of one or two fresh lemons. Lemon juice adds pectin as well as acidity, and will help the jam gel later on.

4. Cook the cherries, stirring once in a while with a heatproof spatula, until they're wilted and completely soft, which may take about 20 minutes, depending on how much heat you give them.

5. Once they're cooked, measure out how many cherries you have (including the juice.) Use 3/4 of the amount of sugar. For example if you have 4 cups of cooked cherry matter, add 3 cups of sugar. It may seem like a lot, but that amount of sugar is necessary to keep the jam from spoilage.

6. Stir the sugar and the cherries in the pot and cook over moderate-to-high heat. The best jam is cooked quickly. While it's cooking, put a small white plate in the freezer. Remain vigilant and stir the fruit often with a heatproof utensil. (Wouldn't it be a shame to burn it at this point?) Scrape the bottom of the pot as you stir as well.

7. Once the bubbles subside and the jam appears a bit thick and looks like it is beginning to gel, (it will coat the spatula in a clear, thick-ish, jelly-like layer, but not too thick) turn off the heat and put a small amount of jam on the frozen plate and return to the freezer. After a few minutes, when you nudge it if it wrinkles, it's done.

If not, cook it some more, turn off the heat, and test it again. If you overcook your jam, the sugar will caramelize and it won't taste good and there's nothing you can do. Better to undercook it, test it, then cook it some more.

Once it's done and gelled, add a bit of kirsch if you have it, clear cherry eau-de-vie which will highlight the flavor. Or add a few drops of almond extract, but not too much, or it will taste like a cheap Italian cake. Ladle the warm jam into clean jars and cover. Cool at room temperature, then put in the refrigerator where it will keep for several months.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Robert Linxe's Chocolate Truffles


Ok. I know these may look less like something you would want to eat and more like, well, let's face it, a pile of poo, but trust me- you want to eat these. Robert Linxe is famous for his outstanding truffles, and unfortunately it's taken me until now to learn that Gourmet *moment of silence* printed the recipe with his little secret almost ten years ago. TEN YEARS. It's embarrassing how far behind the curve I am on this one. This was a fun recipe to make, and infinitely adaptable. I steeped some peppermint leaves in the cream for half an hour and added some homemade peppermint extract (the mint cream alone wasn't strong enough for my taste), but I imagine these would be great with anything from almond to hazelnut to Kahlua. Linxe's secret is that he pipes the ganache centers onto a parchment lined tray and then freezes them, then rolls them in a smear of melted chocolate in his hands to create a thin shell, then rolls them in cocoa powder (giving them the appearance of real truffles, straight from the ground. Cute, eh?). Once set, that thin coating of chocolate turns into a shell that lightly shatters as you bite into them, giving way to smooth ganache. I know you know this already, but make sure to use high-quality chocolate (he recommends Valrhona, but Scharffen Berger or Callebaut work well, too) since it's the star of the show here. It may seem expensive to use the good stuff, but you'll thank yourself in the end.


Ingredients

11 ounces Valrhona chocolate (56% cacao)
2/3 cup heavy cream
Valrhona cocoa powder for dusting

Preparation

Finely chop 8 ounces of the chocolate and put in a bowl.

Bring heavy cream to a boil in a small heavy saucepan. Make sure your pan is small, so you'll lose the least amount of cream to evaporation, and heavy, which will keep the cream from scorching. Linxe boils his cream three times — he believes that makes the ganache last longer. If you do this, compensate for the extra evaporation by starting with a little more cream.

Pour the cream over the chocolate, mashing any big pieces with a wooden spoon.

Then stir with a whisk in concentric circles (don't beat or you'll incorporate air), starting in the center and working your way to the edge, until the ganache is smooth.

Let stand at room temperature until thick enough to hold a shape, about 1 hour, then, using a pastry bag with a 3/8-inch opening or tip, pipe into mounds (about 3/4 inch high and 1 inch wide) on parchment-lined baking sheets. When piping, finish off each mound with a flick of the wrist to soften and angle the point tip. Freeze until firm, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt 3 more ounces of the same Valrhona and smear some on a gloved hand. Gently rub each chilled truffle to coat lightly with chocolate. The secret to a delicate coating of chocolate is to roll each truffle in a smear of melted chocolate in your hand. Linxe always uses gloves.

Toss the truffles in unsweetened Valrhona cocoa powder so they look like their namesakes, freshly dug from the earth. A fork is the best tool for tossing truffles in cacao. Shake truffles in a sieve to eliminate excess cacao. Store truffles in the refrigerator.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fava Bean Puree


As you can probably surmise from my glaring absence over the last 3 months, things have been a bit hectic around here lately. We've been thrown a few curve balls that have kept me out of the kitchen and out of the blogging world, but the Lord has blessed us immensely throughout everything and we now have a beautiful baby girl.


Since I missed most of springtime produce, I feel like I have to play catchup on a few recipes, starting with this fantastically simple recipe for fava bean puree from Alice Waters, the queen of all things fresh and seasonal. I ate it on toasted slices from a french baguette, but it's great by itself or on pita, and you can also skip the mashing/pureeing step and eat the beans whole. I skipped out on the fresh rosemary (rosemary and I didn't get along well during the pregnancy, and I'm still a bit wary of it) and it was still delicious. This dish is equally delicious if you skip the mashing and leave the beans whole.



Fava Bean Puree
From Chez Panisse Vegetables
3 lbs. fresh fava beans
1/2 to 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 bay leaf
1 small sprig rosemary (I left this out)
1 sprig thyme
1/2 lemon


1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Shell fava beans and discard the pods. Parboil the shelled beans for 1 minute. Drain them and immediately plunge them in ice-cold water for a few minutes to cool. Drain them again and remove their pale green skins, piercing the outer skin of each bean with your thumbnail and popping out the bright green bean with a pinch of your other thumb and forefinger.

2. Warm about 1/2 cup of the olive oil in a shallow, nonreactive saute pan. Add the beans and salt lightly. Add garlic, herbs, and a splash of water. Cook the beans at a slow simmer, stirring and tasting frequently, for about 30 minutes until they are completely soft and pale green and easily mashed into a puree. Add another splash of water from time to time to prevent the beans from drying out and sticking to the pan.

3. When the beans are done, remove and discard the herbs, and mash the beans into a paste with a wooden spoon, or pass them through a sieve or food mill, or puree with a food processor. Taste for seasoning and add more olive oil and a few drops of lemon juice to taste. If the puree is at all dry and tight, add still more olive oil. Don't be stingy with the oil; good olive oil is as important to the flavor of the puree as the beans. Serve warm or at room temperature, by itself or spread on grilled bread. Makes about 3 cups.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Double Vanilla Cupcakes: Respect the Bean


Why does vanilla have such a poor reputation? People will often refer to the boring and mundane as "just vanilla," which leaves me with the distinct impression that these naysayers have never had anything outside the realm of artificial vanilla extract. Pure vanilla, REAL vanilla, with its over 150 aromatic and flavor compounds (versus the artificial stuff's whopping 1), is anything but boring. The bean deserves respect.


These cupcakes are anything but boring, and they don't include any ingredients that push the vanilla bean off its well-deserved pedestal. The cupcake flavor is perfect, leaving me with no desire to change it, thought I do want to experiment with the texture a wee bit by adjusting the recipe to use cake flour instead of all-purpose, and by whipping the egg whites and folding them into the batter to make a lighter cake. Change or no change, this recipe will probably make a regular appearance in my kitchen.


Double Vanilla Cupcakes
(adapted, with slight changes, from here)

Ingredients

Cupcake

1 ½ cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg plus 2 egg whites
1/2 cup whole milk
1/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1/2 to 1 vanilla bean (I used a whole bean)

Frosting

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (I used closer to a cup of butter)
1 1/4 cups of powdered sugar
1 vanilla bean

Method

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. While the oven preheats cut open and scrape out the seeds of a vanilla bean. Place the seeds, empty bean, and the milk into a small saucepan. Heat to just under a simmer for a few minutes being careful not to scald the milk. Remove from heat and allow the milk to steep and cool. (Be sure to remove the bean after it cools. Wash it and then place it out to dry so it can be used again.)

2. Beat the butter for about 3 minutes on medium speed, then add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat for 30 seconds. Add the egg whites, one at a time, beating for 30 seconds each.

3. In one bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In another whisk together the vanilla steeped milk, vanilla extract, and sour cream.

4. Add the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the butter sugar egg mixture in alternating additions (dry-wet-dry method), starting and ending with the flour. Mix until just combined being sure to not overbeat.

5. Divide the batter into cupcake papers in a muffin tin and bake at 350F for 18-20 minutes or until slightly golden brown. Be sure to rotate the cupcakes after the first 15 minutes to ensure even baking. Be sure to keep a close eye as these can get overbaked quickly. Allow to cool on a wire rack. Frost when cooled.

Frosting

Beat the butter and slowly add in the powdered sugar. Scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and beat in.


Makes about 1 dozen cupcakes (I managed closer to 20 small cupcakes)

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pan-Seared Sea Bass with Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange Sauce


Recently, I purchased more Meyer lemons than would probably be considered suitable for one person to own, and, not surprisingly, ended up having to zest and juice more lemons than one pair of pregnant hands should ever have to zest and juice; now, my freezer has its own Meyer lemon section (is this sentence still going?) and I've been coming up with all sorts of fun ways to incorporate the aforementioned zest and juice into my life.

Of all the different ways I've used these wonderfully sweet and tart lemons, this is probably my favorite so far. At its core, this sauce is a citrus butter sauce, but it is rounded out with lightly caramelized shallots and a bay leaf that keep it just outside of the realm of "overwhelmingly tropical." It's delicious over a wide variety of seafood (grilled shrimp or seared scallops, for a start) and vegetables (especially asparagus), but I swear the first time I drizzled this over a piece of pan-seared Chilean Sea Bass, I heard the fish whisper you complete me. I heartily agree.

Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass with Meyer Lemon and Blood Orange Sauce

I served mine over roasted asparagus and topped it with some caramelized shallots, but I imagine this would be good over a variety of other vegetables or grains.

For sauce:

1 tablespoon of butter
3-4 Tablespoons shallots, minced
Juice from 1 Meyer lemon
1/2 cup blood orange juice
1/2 bay leaf
6 Tablespoons of butter, cut into Tablespoon-sized bits,
Salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

1. Melt 1 Tbsp. butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until tender and just beginning to color (do not brown them), about 3 minutes.

2. Add the lemon and orange juice and bay leaf and simmer on low until reduced by about half (about 5 minutes). Stirring constantly, add butter one tablespoon at a time, incorporating each piece fully before adding the next. Add salt and pepper, to taste, and serve over sea bass.

For Fish:

Olive oil
(2) 6 oz. portions of Chilean Sea Bass
Salt and pepper

1. In a medium saute pan, heat a couple tablespoons of oil over medium heat. Season sea bass with salt and pepper, then place in pan and saute on both sides, turning only once. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of your fish, but fish is done when it flakes easily in the center with a fork.