Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Moroccan Lamb Tagine, or How I Forgave the Weather for Being Cold and Wet

Welcome, winter.  Though you mark the end of wonderful things like tomatoes (grrrrr),  you allow me to turn on my oven for two hours and make lamb stew.  Amazing lamb stew.  And thank you, recipe-part-of-the-BBC's-website-which-I-didn't-realize-existed!  I've translated their recipe here, for your non-British enjoyment...  The recipe makes enough for 6-8 people, but did we scale it down? Nooooo.  Instead we have a meal's worth in the freezer, and leftovers for Thursday's dinner!  A word to the wise: you need a very large casserole dish for this.  Or two of them.  Trust us.

Lamb Tagine
spice mix:
1 t. cayenne
2 t. black pepper
1.5 T. paprika
1.5 T. ground ginger
1 T. turmeric
2 t. cinnamon

2 lb lamb stew cubes
2 large onions, grated (really! on a box grater, apparently) or minced
a few T. olive oil
a few T. argan oil (if you happen to have been to Morocco recently, or canola)
3 cloves garlic, crushed/minced/microplaned
2 c. tomato juice*
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes (the large can)
4 oz/.67ish c. dried apricots, snipped in half (a large, sticky handful)**
2 oz/.33ish c. dried dates, snipped in half (a small, slightly-less-sticky handful)
2 oz/.33ish c. golden raisins (a small, minimally-sticky handful)
3 oz/.5ish c. almonds-- flaked, chopped or slivered (a large handful)
1 t. saffron stamens
2 c. lamb or beef stock
1 T. honey
1 small bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped (for garnish)

Stir together spice mix.  Coat the lamb cubes in half of the mix (reserve the rest), and let marinate in the fridge for 6-12 hours.

Cook lamb cubes in olive/argan oil over med-high heat, transferring to your casserole dish(es) when nicely brown on the outsides.  You will probably have to do this in batches.  Deglaze pan with a splash of tomato juice and add this to the casserole.

The oil turns yellow from the turmeric...yum.
Looks can be deceiving-- partially cooked lamb does not make good eating.  (Yet.)
Start saffron soaking in a small bowl of water.  Preheat oven to 300.

...15 minutes later!

In a large saucepan***, saute onions and reserved spice mix over very low heat for about 10 minutes.  Onions should turn translucent but not brown.  BEWARE OF NOXIOUS ONION+CAYENNE+PEPPER+ TURMERIC GASES.  Resist the urge to take a deep breath of the fumes.  Add garlic and continue to cook over low heat and breathe sparingly.

Gas mask suggested.
After 2-3 minutes, add remaining tomato juice and/or stock to deglaze this pan, then add this awesomely-colored concoction to the casserole dish.

This was 3/4 of the stew-- smaller casserole dish, also full, not pictured.
Carefully stir in fruit, almonds, honey, diced tomatoes, saffron+its water, cover, and bake for 2 hours.  To check for doneness, remove from oven and fish out a lamb cube; if it is easy to stab with a fork and has the most amazing texture, it's done.  Otherwise, cook for an additional half hour.

Serve over couscous (Bring 1.5 c. water to a boil, add .5 T. butter, remove from heat, add 1 c. couscous, cover pan, and leave undisturbed for 5 minutes.  Uncover and fluff with a fork.  Feeds 3-4, scale up as needed.) with cilantro garnish.  Enjoy!

*Did you know that it is humanly impossible to buy tomato juice in this quantity??  There's 3.5 cups of tomato juice in our freezer now.
**Use a scale if you have one; it's especially nice if you can re-zero it and then weigh all of these things together.  But you don't have to be exact-- tagine will not be ruined by a few extra apricots.
***Ideally, you'd have a really nice enameled casserole dish (maybe in a color that matches your stand mixer) that can also go on the stovetop, and you would just do all of this in that (having set the lamb aside in a bowl, to add back in when you add everything else).

We didn't have any cilantro, but we forced it down anyways.

P.S. The dates will turn golden, look like olives, and taste like slow-cooked lamb....!!!  Prepare yourself for this culinary alchemy.
P.P.S. Turmeric/saffron stain things yellow.  Such as, countertops (so I hear) and tupperware containers (so I see).

P.P.P.S. I swear I was not drinking when I
took this picture but I thought it was level!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Peruvian Chicken and Mexican Corn

How better to celebrate the Fourth of July than with a Latin American dinner? (Okay, so there are probably many ways, but this way was delicious so I don't care.) Peruvian chicken comes from Cooks Illustrated (reproduced here, though it's missing the sugar, see below). The recipe is for a whole roasted chicken, but we had boneless chicken thighs so we used them instead (we halved the marinade for about 1.5 lbs of chicken). Mexican corn is just grilled corn with the addition of mayo (sounds gross but it's not, remember that mayo is just oil and eggs after all), cheese, ancho powder, lime juice and salt. With some brown rice to round it out and a Goose Island Summertime Ale, a good meal was had by all! (All two of us that is.)

Peruvian Chicken Marinade
adapted from Cooks Illustrated

1/4 cup, loosely packed, fresh mint
1 habanero chile (we subbed a jalapeno b/c, guess what, the grocery store was closed)
3 garlic cloves
1 t salt
1 T granulated sugar (sub honey if you like, but don't skip it!)
1/2 tsp of black pepper
1 T ground cumin
1 t pimentón (smoked paprika)
1/2 t dried oregano
2 T olive oil
2 t lime zest
1/4 c lime juice

Mix all ingredients in a small food processor or blender. Marinate chicken (boneless or bone-in chunks, or a whole chicken, or whatever) for 4+ hours. Grill until cooked, outer edges will brown and caramelize and be amazing. Cook time will depend on your chicken choice and grill temperature/temperament. Serve with brown rice or quinoa or potatoes or sweet potatoes or nothing at all.

Mexican Corn
a few ears of corn
cheese (parm or, ideally, queso añejo)
ancho or other chile powder
lime juice

Prepare corn for grilling: Carefully peel back husks (do not remove!) and pull out all silks. Re-wrap the ear in the husks. Some people like to then soak the ears for 15 minutes in a large bowl of water, but it seems to be totally unnecessary. Either way, grill the corn for 20-30 minutes over moderate heat. Outer husks will char and kernels will be tender (stab with a fork if you're unsure, but it's hard to overcook it.) Once it's barely cool enough to handle, peel back husks and slather in mayonnaise (good stuff please), then sprinkle heavily with cheese, spritz with lime juice, and dust with chile powder and salt. Eat while still warm. Wonder why you haven't moved to Mexico yet.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Dobos Torta (aka Nutella Cake)

Smitten Kitchen lady made this a bit ago, and I just bought myself this amazing cookbook, and two of my friends are going away for a month, and another of my friends says he ate this cake growing up in Serbia, so I just HAD to make this, you see. If this were a real dobos torta I’d've made a caramel-soaked top layer, but I can’t count and thus made too few layers so I skipped that (see the link above for details for how it’s supposed to look). A committee of two decided that a five-layer-cake without caramel is more exciting than a four-layer-cake with caramel. I decided to follow the cookbook’s recipe rather than the Smitten Kitchen one, almost entirely because it requires fewer eggs (6 versus TEN!). And it seemed like an apt way to break in the cookbook—page 72 is now well-marked with sticky batter drips. Luckily the copy I bought is a used ex-library book, complete with plastic-covered-dust-jacket! Since I bastardized it (er, adapted it) by making it without the caramel and covering it in roasted hazelnuts instead, this might get re-named to Nutella Cake. (A tragic occasion indeed.)

Dobos Torta


6 eggs, separated

1 1/3 c. confectioner’s sugar (divided use)

1 t. vanilla extract

1 c. plus 2 T. sifted cake flour*

pinch of salt

Chocolate Buttercream Frosting

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli chocolate chips)

3 sticks unsalted butter, at cool room temp (yes, three sticks)

2 T. cocoa powder

1 ¼ c. confectioner’s sugar, sifted

1 t. vanilla

1 large handful hazelnuts, de-skinned** and chopped (I guess this is optional)

*If you don’t have cake flour, take 1 c. AP flour, scoop out 2 T. and replace those 2 T. with cornstarch to make 1 c. cake flour. For this recipe I used 1-cup-minus-1/2-tablespoon AP flour and 2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch. Or thereabouts.

**Since you already have the oven on, throw the hazelnuts on an ungreased cake pan (or cookie sheet, or whatever), and roast them for about 15 minutes, or until the skins look loose, then let cool and rub vigorously in a kitchen towel until most of the skins come off. I may have over-baked mine as the skins turned almost black, but miraculously they didn’t burn and the nut meats actually got nicely golden brown and roasty.

Prepare pans/parchment:

Unless you have removable-bottom cake pans (thanks Bonnie!), I recommend the parchment paper method. In fact, it was even somewhat of a pain to get the layers off the greased-and-floured removable bottoms, so I’d parchment those too. But really this batter is so thick and foamy that you don’t need cake pans at all. Cut out parchment paper a bit bigger than the layer size you want, trace the circle (or rectangle, or whatever) that you want on parchment and lay the parchment on a cookie sheet (the cookbook notes that you should have the side of the parchment with the graphite/ink on it facing DOWN so as not to pollute the batter). I made five layers, each 9.5 inches in diameter, and supposedly the batter is enough for 6 layers at 9 inches, or you could do some math and make crazy sizes/shapes. Once you have all that set up (you might have to borrow some cookie sheets), turn the oven on to 400 F with the racks in the center and top third of the oven.

Make and bake batter:

Beat eggs yolks, 2/3 c. confectioner’s sugar and vanilla at high speed for 3 minutes, until they are pale yellow and thick (this is a job for the stand mixer).

In a clean, grease-free metal or glass bowl (I used my hand mixer for this), beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in remaining 2/3 c. of confectioner’s sugar until stiff, shiny peaks form.

With a large spatula, stir about ¼ of the meringue into the egg yolks to lighten. Then fold in the remaining meringue until mostly-mixed, leaving some streaks of white. Don’t worry about being overly-gentle, the meringue is pretty sturdy. (This is the perfect time to sample the batter for, er, quality assurance purposes.)

Sift half of the flour/salt over top and gently stir in, repeat with other half of the flour and stir until homogenous in color. Batter will be thick and foamy. Plop approximately equal portions of the batter onto your prepared parchment outlines, and spread the batter to the edge of the circles (push, don’t pull) to make a mostly-even layer, about ¼ inch thick, depending on the size and number of your layers.

Bake each layer for about 5 minutes (mine actually took closer to 7, I think my oven’s a bit cool), or until the top springs back when pressed and the edges are golden brown. Be sure to rotate the layers on the oven racks and turn them once; most ovens have a hotter side which will quickly burn these skinny little guys.

When done, flip the layers onto a rack and peel off the parchment, then flip them back onto the parchment or a rack to cool. The tops are very sticky, so don’t leave them sitting around top-side-down for any period of time. Let the layers cool completely, it won’t take long. Don’t worry if some layers are ugly (one of mine ended up with a hole in it), because they will all be lovely ensconced in chocolate frosting very shortly. Any that are particularly large or non-circular should be trimmed so that they stack nicely. (The cookbook recommends laying the bottom of an appropriately-sized springform pan or plate on top and trimming around...I just eyeballed it. I assure you that taste is not affected.)

Make frosting and frost:

Melt chocolate. Cream butter until smooth (for some reason the cookbook recommends using a hand mixer as opposed to a stand mixer for this—maybe to take advantage of the finer metal blades rather than the stand mixer’s paddle?). Mix cocoa into butter, then confectioner’s sugar, then chocolate, then vanilla. Beat until evenly-colored and frostingey. If your kitchen is 90 degrees, I’d recommend throwing the frosting in the fridge for a few minutes while you drink something cold (or wash the dishes) or you end up trying to spread something that’s the consistency of melted butter. Trust me.

When the frosting is spreadable, start stacking and frosting the layers of your cake. It’s a fancy cake, so use a fancy cake plate (thanks Bonnie!). I alternated the ugly layers with the pretty ones, saving one that was fairly flat and uniform for the top layer. Frost tops of all layers as you stack, then frost top and sides of cake. You don’t have to be too sparing with the frosting, but be modest about it or you’ll end up short for the sides. Sprinkle chopped hazelnuts on the top of the cake and refrigerate until eating time.

As you can see, my frosting layers are a little uneven...but it's good just the same!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Cardamom Knots!

I made cardamom bread today, but instead of making two mini braided loaves I made one mini braided loaf (with half the dough) and 3 bread-knots with the other half. It was a brilliant idea! And now I want garlic knots...

To make knots, roll a long snake of dough (at least 8 inches long), and loosely knot it. If you make it too tight the dough with stretch and split as it rises, so leave lots of space in there. No need to seal the ends-- there's no way those puppies are gonna un-knot themselves. Another fun idea is to make a pretzel roll, which involves an even longer and skinnier snake and making a loose pretzel shape (like this), in which case you'll need to stick the ends down with a bit of water or egg-wash.

I also sprinkled the knots with sugar and a little extra cardamom, which I don't usually do, but was a good idea b/c I hadn't measured the cardamom I put in the dough and it wasn't quite enough. The best thing about making cardamom knots is pulling them apart and eating them right out of the oven, which I've always kept myself from doing with the entire loaf... :-)

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sausage, Butternut & Gnocchi

I'm not sure where this idea came from, but it's a keeper. (And easy!)

Peel, cube and steam (until fork-tender) about half a butternut squash.
Meanwhile, crumble and fry about a pound of spicy italian sausage with half an onion, diced.
When the sausage is browned, remove it from the skillet and drain on paper towels.
Peel and thickly-slice 2 cloves garlic.
Boil water and prepare gnocchi according to package directions.
Heat remaining grease from sausage, add garlic and steamed squash cubes. Cook on medium-high until squash is lightly browned and/or begins to get squashy (er, squishy). Add back in the sausage and salt to taste.
Stir together gnocchi with sausage/squash and enjoy!!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Eggs Florentine

A decadent and more indulgent breakfast you will not find...at least not today! In an effort to teach my fiancée how to poach an egg we ended up with this breakfast classic. Though it has garnered a somewhat snooty reputation, this is actually a fairly simple dish to make, and make your own at that. The basic recipe is as follows:

Stack in this order:

-Toasted English Muffin
-Sautéd Spinach
-Poached Egg

That's it. Hollandaise, a simple emulsion of egg yolks and butter, may sound scary, but I assure you, so long as you keep stirring and don't over cook it, you can't screw it up.

I will say that we added a bit of garlic and fenugreek to the spinach which gave the otherwise bland vegetable a bit of a kick. All around it was a terrific learning experience and a completely delicious success.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Ginger Pear Skillet Cake

I'm a bit late on this again, sorry... I made this in, erm, early January. The recipe is straight out of a really pretty cookbook called "Farmers' Market Desserts", which I bought not 1, not 2, but 3 copies of last summer... (Not all for me, honest!) I used "Asian pears", which surely have a real name but I don't know it. They're about the size and shape of a Granny Smith, and they taste like pears but have nice bite (think a really juicy apple) when ripe. And they seem to ripen more gracefully than pear-shaped-pears, I've noticed. I have to say I almost made this cake with apples instead of pears, but the compromise worked out very very well. Without too much further ado, Ginger Pear Skillet Cake:

(from Jennie Schact's cookbook, see above)
She claims that this serves 8-10, but see, it's not really a dessert-cake and is likely to disappear rapidly and at all hours a la, well, cake. But it's good for you! Molasses is full of iron (and manganese, apparently)! Also, I left out the 3 ingredients that are supposed to get sprinkled on top of the pears before baking b/c they were on the back of the page so I didn't see them at the time...no unpleasant side effects were observed.

the recipe, finally:
2.5 c AP flour (I replaced almost a cup with whole wheat flour)
1.5 t ground ginger
1 t salt
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground allspice
1/4 t ground cloves
3/4 c canola oil
1/2 c "gently" packed brown sugar
1/2 c unsulfured molasses
1/2 c plain yogurt or sour cream (I ended up using a bit of buttermilk to round out the half cup)
1 T finely grated fresh ginger
1 egg
1 t baking soda (not "baking sofa", as I originally typed)
1/2 c hot strong coffee

turn the cookbook page over to see:
1 T butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 c brown sugar
1/4 t salt

Preheat oven to 325, oil a 10 or 11 in cast iron skillet. (Yes, okay, you could make this in a springform pan or even a 10 inch cake pan, but then it wouldn't be skillet cake, would it?)

Stir together flour, salt and spices (minus fresh ginger).

Whisk together egg, oil, brown sugar, molasses, yogurt, fresh ginger, and any other wet-ish ingredients I left out of that list until smooth. Stir in half of the flour. Mix baking soda/sofa into the coffee, then add that to the batter. Stir in remaining flour. Pour/glop into skillet and smooth top. Slice a few pears on top, arranging artfully (or scientifically). Then either do what Ms. Schact intended and sprinkle remaining butter/sugar/salt on top, or do what I did and just put the thing straight in the oven. Bake for about an hour, or until the top springs back when you poke it and it passes the toothpick test. Let cool for at least 20 minutes. No need to unmold it-- serve straight out of the skillet. I would have a picture of a slice or something if I hadn't been too busy stuffing my face. You know how it is. I only got the picture below b/c it was waaayyy to hot to be eating it yet.

A note on the spices: for heaven's sake don't be stingy. I know it says 1 t of cinnamon, but it's competing with molasses and Ms. Schact is a self-professed disliker of cloves, so you can double up all of those without much worry.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Candied Grapefruit Rind

It was snowing, so I took after this post and made candied citrus rinds! Grapefruit, from some delicious Texas grapefruits, yum. I would recommend that one boil the rinds a fifth time, as the four that were recommended still left them a bit bitter...

So, to do this yourself:
Halve and scoop the flesh from a few grapefruits (and eat it!)
Put them in a pot, cover with cold water, bring to a boil, and pour off the water.
Repeat 4 times.
Let rinds cool slightly and slice them prettily.
Using enough water to cover the slices in the pot, make a 2:1 simple syrup (that's twice as much sugar as water, by volume).
Boil the slices in the syrup for 20 minutes,
then strain them out and let cool on a rack until tacky (4+ hours). Save the syrup for...I'm not sure what yet. Grapefruit mojitos?
Meanwhile, make a bit of superfine sugar (sugar+food processer=superfine sugar).
Dredge slices in superfine sugar,
let dry for 12+ hours, then put in airtight jars.