Saturday, April 28, 2007

Fire-Breathing Brownies


It was my last piece, worth more than its weight in gold, for what I paid for it. It hit the floor with the light slap of a domino. I stared at it and recited the five-second rule. Or is it the fifteen-second rule? “Are you mad?” I asked myself. “You can’t eat anything off the floor. You KNOW the rule, however short or long, is a frat-boy crock that can conjoined you to the porcelain fixture in the bathroom for the next two days. Do the Zen thing and let it go.” So I let it go, reluctantly and solemnly lifting the final square of my Vosges Red Fire Chocolate Bar and gave it a good send-off into the abyss of slop, eggshells and peelings down the garbage bin. Then I got good and cranky. There were no sweets in the house but a thrice-bitten Easter bunny has-been and a can of aerosol whipped cream. I felt just as whipped as the contents of that can, so I decided to work my way through the scores of food blogs, eating vicariously through them.

There were cupcakes wearing heavy chapeaux of frosting, ready for Ascot; dainty tarts of fanned fruit fitted into crumbly, crimped crusts; puffed and porous parfaits of meringue wedged with jam…all sublime but all far too complicated and pastel to actually consider with my chocolate crisis at full tilt. Surely there was something to fix for my fix before we retired for the evening, before the brownie faeries were to arrive. I began to chuckle at the old-world tale my mother used to tell me of the little spirits who would come out at night and do your housekeeping for you. If only. Then it struck me, of course: brownies. Baker’s Chocolate exists but for what purpose except to beat up a batch of their One Bowl Brownies? I had boxes and boxes of the little squares standing sentry, waiting to please and serve. In my haste to reach them, I knocked down a bulging bag of assorted dry chili peppers, the epicenter of my hot little culinary world. Ideas were falling in my lap now. This was progress, as long as they weren't falling on the floor. I was going to have that last piece of Red Fire Chocolate after all.

Pine Nuts

Fire-Breathing Brownies - From the Baker's Chocolate One Bowl Brownie Recipe

[This recipe is a dead lift of the Baker’s classic with the addition of some high-flying hot chili powders. Please be cautious if grinding your own peppers. Accidentally breathing in the powder is actually painful; at the very least, expect a sneeze or two. I used 1 tablespoon ground cascabel and ½ tablespoon ground cayenne. Crazy you say? Perhaps, but everyone’s heat sensitivities are different. I seriously think I have dulled down my taste buds with heaping helpings of wats, tagines, salsas and curries in the last decade, so I've had to ramp up. The first time I baked these, with a scant tablespoon of ancho, the heat was almost imperceptible. My husband was grateful. I’ve added pointers to adjust the levels to suit your individual comfort zones. You can use any chili of your choice, but all have different Scoville rankings. Please choose with care.]

Ingredients

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1 ½ sticks butter
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon ground cascabel pepper or other pepper of your choice
½ tablespoon ground cayenne pepper or other pepper of your choice
1 cup nuts (I chose pine nuts to complement the Mexican mood)

Method

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large non-metallic bowl, microwave chocolate and butter for approximately 2 minutes until almost melted. Stir until fully melted, then add sugar. Mixture will be gritty. Add spices ½ teaspoon at a time, stirring well and tasting after each addition. Make sure you wait until the flavors really settle on your tongue before proceeding to the next addition. Also keep in mind that even if the taste registers really hot at this point, you have yet to add the eggs, flour and vanilla which will take the edge off the heat a bit.

Add eggs and vanilla, beating thoroughly until smooth. Beat in ½ the nuts, then the flour, a ½ cup at a time.

Turn out batter into greased 13 inch X 9 inch oven proof pan. Top batter evenly with remaining nuts. Bake 30 minutes on center rack of oven. DO NOT OVER BAKE. Brownies are ready when toothpick or knife inserted in center comes out clean or with a few sticky crumbs.

Allow to completely cool before cutting.

Serves 8 to 16 depending on courage and tolerance. Tall glasses of ice water or beer highly recommended.

This post is being submitted to Myriam of Once Upon a Tart, hostess of BrownieBabe of the Month, a food blog event, featuring the chewy, gooey wonder bars we all know and love.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

This Little Piggy – The Cipolline Onion


Sometimes as tiny as a quarter dollar coin, and as mauve-fleshed as its relative, the shallot, the squat and plucky cipolline onion is a hard-to-find but piquant little addition to a sandwich or salad. Also known as cipollini, its raw flavor is sweet and friendly for an allium family member, but really comes alive with small and simple embellishments likely already at hand in your cupboards. Even if you hated onions as a kid (and may STILL hate them now), you might enjoy this quick and sticky alchemy, tangy yet tame, as fun to poke with a toothpick and pop in your mouth as they are elegant to bejewel a crusted roast.



Stuffed Cipolline Onions - Adapted from a Magic Valley Growers Recipe
Ingredients

½ pound cipolline onions, fully intact. Do not peel or cut the root end off.
Handful of raisins, chopped nutmeats, or cooked ground meat (I used raisins)
1/3 cup balsamic, sherry or red wine vinegar
¼ cup brown sugar (good to use up any lumps; they quickly dissolve in the vinegar)
1 tablespoon dried rosemary or other savory herb
Salt and Pepper

Method

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.

Boil cipolline in a pot of water for 10 minutes. Transfer to cold water to stop cooking. Carefully peel and cut off root end, squeezing bulb or using tip of knife to remove core. Sit them upright in an oven proof dish and gently push filling into middle of each. Mix vinegar and sugar together in a bowl. Pour over onions. Sprinkle herbs and a crank of salt and pepper, then cover dish with foil. Place on center rack of oven and roast for 25 minutes. Turn off heat, remove foil and keep in oven an additional 15-20 minutes, until sauce thickens. Remove from oven. Serve either warm or cold. As they cool, the sauce will become even more syrupy.

Serves 4 as a condiment or snack. –

This post is being submitted to Glenna of A Fridge Full of Food... and Nothing to Eat, host of Kalyn’s Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging #80.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Laziest Loaf - Two-Hour French Bread


Despite all the well-deserved hoopla since the New York Times published a recipe for no-knead bread by the practical and plain-talking Minimalist writer, Mark Bittman, some happy home bakers felt they arrived late to the party. With eyes wide with awe or narrowed with skepticism, the greater contingent of yeast feasters contemplated the wondrous development of the no-knead (“Look, Ma, no hands!”) bread, where the chief effort is in patiently sitting on those hands, waiting from 12-18 hours for fermentation to breathe literally volumes of sticky, stringy dough. The dough is then casually baked after being casually dumped into a Dutch oven, the cover of the pot ingeniously used to hold the heat and steam in like a geodesic dome.

I am not a stranger to long fermentation; my ragingly successful teff batter, clocked at 24 hours, produced a bowl of ripe sludge akin to mortar and the sourest, spongiest injera to bed down with a hot-headed wat. I can wait if I want to, but I don’t always want to.

I didn’t want to wait some weeks ago. I was building a big creamy mess of Andean potato stew and needed to build an equally homey bread to soak, scrape and savor every last drop of it. It had to be a quick bread, but I refused the path of least resistance, the baking powder biscuit, a masterpiece in its own right, but lacking the quintessential crust and crumb that only those little yeast beasties can provide.

There are times when sauntering through a cookbook for your heart’s desire is just about the most comforting and cozy pursuit you could enjoy, but I did not have the luxury of time. The stew would be bubbling up fast enough, its potatoes threatening to revolt against their stylin’ cubism in favor of slop art. I Googled and gambled with the very first recipe I could grab.

About two hours later: French bread, a long, heavy arm of artisan crust as craggy and crackly as a lizard’s back, and a crumb dense and firm enough to withstand a crumbled smear of hard, cold butter without breaking. The party for no-knead bread may be nearly over, but there’s still cause for celebration.

Quick French Bread – Highly adapted from Vegan-Food

Ingredients

4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (no sifting necessary)
2 (two) ¼ ounce packets Fleishmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast – MUST be Rapid Rise or another brand of fast-acting dry yeast
2 cups of water
2 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons salt, seed, seasoning or dried herb (optional)

Method

In saucepan heat water and 2 tablespoons butter to very warm 120 – 130 degrees F. Transfer to very large mixing bowl. While water and butter are heating, stir dry yeast, sugar and 1 teaspoon salt into flour in a separate mixing bowl using a wire whisk. Make sure all yeast organisms are removed from the packets; they will want to cling to the edges. Slowly add ½ the flour mixture into the water, stirring well, then add the remaining flour mixture, beating it in with a wooden spoon. The dough will be very ragged and a little dry, but keep beating until there is no loose flour left in the bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or foil then set aside in a warm, draft-free place until dough doubles in size, approximately 45 minutes. When dough has doubled, punch it down, then empty the bowl onto a well-greased large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Flatten dough into rectangle about 1/3 inch thick, then roll the rectangle up lengthwise into a long loaf. Fold and tent the foil over the loaf and set aside in a warm, draft-free place until the dough has again doubled.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Place pan of boiling water on lowest oven rack, then arrange the now-doubled loaf on the center rack, opening up the foil to expose it. The foil will act as the baking sheet. Slash the loaf randomly with a serrated knife and gently press optional garnish into soft dough top. Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower temperature to 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Brush loaf with melted butter then return to oven for final 5 minutes.

Makes 1 generous loaf. --



This post is being submitted to Andrew at Spittoon Extra, host of Waiter, There's Something in My...Bread, the latest round of the food blogging event, Waiter, There's Something in My....

And here's the round-up published April 26, fresh out of the oven.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

S'more Spores - Grilled Portobello Caps


With its smooth, yet tatty domed roof, the Portobello mushroom looks like some prehistoric rock or succulent plant, stoic, hearty and self-sufficient. It needs no one and nothing but a bit of shade and damp, and would be perfectly fine living in a state of exile as the stillest of still life, affecting the perfect permanent pose throughout eternity, thank you. I, however, have other plans for it, shroom lover that I am. While I am certainly fond of its younger and smaller fungal self, the Crimini, there’s something captivating, indomitable and a little intimidating about the giant cap with the gorgeous gilled underbelly of spores arranged in perfect symmetry, dark, deep and dangerous. It’s no wonder I can feel myself shrinking to the size of a phantasmagorical 7-year old, half expecting an harrumphing and hookah-high caterpillar to stare me down from his high perch on the mushroom’s back. All the same, I will have to take the upper hand and grill its gills to the gills.

Illustration by Sir John Tenniel from
"Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

Pan-Grilled Portobello Mushroom Caps

Ingredients

4 Portobello mushroom caps, wiped clean with damp cloth, the dry stem trimmed
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
Juice of ½ lemon
1 clove minced garlic
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
Salt and Pepper

Method

Prepare an easy vinaigrette with all ingredients (or use your own recipe) except the mushrooms in a small bowl, then set aside for 30 minutes to let the flavors develop. Turn mushroom caps on their backs and pour the vinaigrette into the spores, allowing it to seep in. Let them stand for 30 minutes to marinate.

In a large skillet over medium heat, place the mushroom caps spore side down (no need to grease the skillet; they will release enough moisture to prevent sticking). After approximately 3 minutes, turn mushroom caps over. Some of the marinade will have dripped out to flavor the other side as they cook. After another 3 minutes, turn them periodically to brown and shrink them to your desired preference. Don’t be afraid to scorch them a little; it will only improve the flavor. The longer you cook them, the firmer and meatier their texture will be. Serve as a side dish, add sliced to salad or let a whole cap be the star attraction as a vegetarian-inspired burger.

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as an entrée. --



This post is being submitted to Kalyn's Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging #79, hosted this week by Sher of What Did You Eat?

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Orange Flower Crème de la Crème


It’s a week past Easter now, and I am still nostalgic about white chocolate and casting about the kitchen for something to catch my eye. Some sweet, of course, to replace the last wedge of glossy cheesecake I scrambled to create on the holiday. I love a well-stocked larder; it feels secure and cozy to know you’ve laid in provisions, especially when you’ve planned ahead for the Nor’easter and you sure as hell don’t want to have to go out into that cold, sloppy mess for any reason. So while the world outside is wet and wild, I am thinking ahead to the May flowers these savage April showers will ease into bloom in the coming weeks. There will be the blinding Bradford pears, the clusters of crabapples, and the canopies of powder puff pink cherries.

As I poke around the cluttered contents of my baking cupboards, I am now fixated on flowers. I know I have some essences somewhere, bottled up like genies desperate for release and eager to grant three wishes to their liberator. I find the rosewater and the orange flower water. The rosewater has been half drunk, liberally enchanting tall tumblers of the iciest Indian lemonade. The seal of the orange flower water, however, has yet to be cracked. Orange flower water is even more of an acquired taste than rosewater, powerfully perfumed to the tongue, a little goes a long way. I twist and break the cap off the bottle and ask for my three wishes: something sweet, something simple, and something to cure my white chocolate wantings. The genie is generous with me today.

White Chocolate and Orange Flower Mousse - Adapted from Waitrose

(Despite the title, this dessert does not have the pillowed pouf texture of a traditional mousse, but more that of a gleaming, eggless pot of crème, dense, decadent and delicious nonetheless.)

Ingredients

9 ounces white chocolate (I used Lindt bars, but there are other fine quality brands available.)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 tablespoons powdered or confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons orange flower water
Decorator sugar to garnish (optional)

Method

Melt chocolate with 5 tablespoons of the cream in a double boiler atop simmering water. Set aside, keeping barely warm and fluid. In a medium bowl, beat remaining cream into a soft, rounded thickness, taking care not to create stiff, dry peaks. Incrementally sift and beat the powdered sugar into the whipped cream. Carefully fold the melted white chocolate into the whipped cream. It will put up a bit of a fight which you can correct by lightly and patiently twirling a wire whisk into the mixture. Pour into ramekins or small glass stemware and chill for 20 minutes. It sets much faster than the recommended chill time. Garnish if desired. Serve with tiny espresso spoons, the better to savor in small, sweet bites.


This post is being submitted to Monisha of Coconut Chutney, who is hosting Sugar High Friday #30 for event creator Domestic Goddess.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

You Must Remember This – The Champagne Cocktail

Major Strasser: "What is your nationality?"
Rick: "I am a drunkard."

They drink a lot in Casablanca, even by the standards of old movies, though it’s not like the cranky quaffing of W.C. Fields, nor the self-satisfied sippings of Nick and Nora Charles, nor the tipsy team of George and Marion Kerby. Liquor in Casablanca is a darker brew, running the gamut from lost love, seething cynicism, political alienation and, of course, drop-dead glamour. It’s the glamour that’s got me going. Yes, we all know how drink and tobacco are hazardous to one’s health, but we’re going back to a time not so long ago when the world didn’t know any better or didn’t care if they did. Was there ever a pose more lux, languid and alluring than the curl of fingertips closing around a cocktail stem on one hand and the drifting coil of smoke from the half-sucked cigarette from the other? And didn’t the tense and terrifying undercurrent of Nazi occupation seem blunted, however briefly, by Inspector Renault recommending “Veuve Clicquot ’26, a good French wine”? Good old Veuve Clicquot, the shrewd and defiant wine widow bent on breaking through Napoleon’s blockade in 1814 and lavishing the Russian enemy with 10,000 bottles of her best bubbly. God bless Veuve Clicquot for her savvy, and God bless France for putting champagne on the map to begin with.

It is the occasional persnickety purist in me and a general love of all things bitter that leads me to but a slight variation on the classic champagne cocktail, the one Victor Laszlo orders for himself and his wife, Ilsa, as they are waiting for those golden letters of transit at Rick’s Café Américain. Since it is difficult to balance a 127-page script in one hand and a swell and swanky cocktail in the other, you can check out the dialogue here, while I go pop the cork.



Campari Champagne Cocktail - Slightly adapted from DRINKSMIXER

Ingredients

1 shot of well-chilled Campari
Well-chilled champagne or other sparkling white wine
1 sugar cube
Lemon or Lime garnish (optional)

Method

Pour Campari into a champagne saucer or flute. Fill glass with champagne almost to the top of glass edge. Drop sugar cube dead center into glass. Garnish if desired.

Serves 1.
~~~~~~

This post is being submitted to the duo of Married with Dinner, Anita and Cameron, who are hosting Mixology Monday # 14 - Champagne.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bitter is Better - Radicchio di Treviso


There are certain unique taste sensations that I crave in no particular order and at no particular time. There are the shocking little soapy jolts of perfumed licorice in Sen Sen, the heartless heat of the habanero, and the toasted and tumbled touch of brown rice in Genmaicha tea. Then there’s the terror taste that nature abhors, the one we are biologically hard-wired to run from because it isn’t sweet, and, therefore, possibly poisonous and certainly not healthy. I’m talking about bitter. I love bitter, the bolder, brasher and bitchier, the better. If I donate my brain to science, it is possible that they will find more spikes in my serotonin levels based on bitter rather than that other addiction, sugar. Sure, I’ve indulged in plenty of massive bowls of ice cream, slabs of chocolate, and handfuls of jelly beans, but plates piled high with radicchio?

Radicchio, a red chicory, is a relative of endive, and has enjoyed popularity in Italy since ancient Roman times. The Italians take their radicchio as seriously as the French do their wine, with exacting classifications and certifications. Others may recognize its dark magenta slashes dressing up salads and peppering slaws. The most commonly known variety outside of Italy is the small, round Chioggia, similar to a head of compact cabbage. This is the variety I slice and stack and make meals of, bare except for a splash of stinging vinaigrette. I love the taste of sting, too.


Then Treviso showed up at the green grocer, like a carefully carved bullet, bulging with broad vertical veins, its leaves crinkled and compressed. It was a work of art. Though I was tempted to quickly take a knife to it, I took my time researching recipes that would keep its beautifully speared and hooded leaves intact. It was time to turn on the heat.

Americans do not generally cook their salad greens as some other cultures do. We like our lettuces crisp and crunchy rather than braised and buttered. Clearly, I was in a rut, and Treviso took me out of it. I chose a recipe, not only for its simplicity, but for its breakneck speed. I knew that radicchio’s bitterness can be tamed and made more palatable by either pre-soaking or heating it. I did not want tame. I arranged a collection of leaves in a casserole dish, dressed them in olive oil and parmesan cheese, then reluctantly placed them in a very hot oven for only 10 minutes.


The transformation was stunning. The once bold and beautiful red leaves were now withered, crusty brown, looking more like grasshoppers who stayed on the beach too long. I lifted a small spear to my lips and hoped for the best. Now I was transformed. The edges were crackled with cheese, the middle was mellow and rich with oil, and the wide thick base of stalk still bitter enough to recall its salad days.

Roasted Radicchio di Treviso - Slightly adapted from Radicchio.com

Ingredients

1 large head of radicchio di Treviso, rinsed, patted dry, and peeled of any imperfect outer leaves
1/8 cup olive oil
1/4 cup grated cheese such as Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano
Salt and Pepper to taste

Method

Pre-heat oven to 450 degrees.

Cut off the base of the Treviso and separate out the leaves, layering them in an ovenproof casserole. Drizzle with olive oil and evenly scatter the grated cheese on top of the leaves. Place in hot oven for 10 minutes, remove and serve promptly.

Serves 2. --

This post is being submitted to Kalyn's Kitchen Weekend Herb Blogging event #78, hosted this week by Haalo of Cook (Almost) Anything at Least Once.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Quail Eggs - Handle with Care


There are curious little facts about quail eggs that you should consider if you ever happen upon them and would like to explore their possibilities. Given their diminutive size, one is inclined not to use great force to crack them open when the objective is to keep the yolk intact. While I used great care in the cracking, the shell shattered in the same way a hard-boiled egg would, like a plate glass re-inforced window with a web of concentric breaks but no real breach. This puzzled me to the point where I started to suspect they were, unbeknownst to me, already hard-boiled or were actually solid chocolate Easter egg escapees masquerading as poultry and hiding out in the produce section of Whole Foods.

Upon closer investigation and after a gentle shake that wouldn't even register .01 on the Richter Scale, I found that the egg's vulnerable raw yolk and white were surrounded by an unusually thick membrane, necessitating the delicate surgical procedure of slipping a stiletto-sharp tip of a knife into the top third of the membrane in order to expose the raw center. After all this fuss, I carefully propped them up in a towel while I set a small skillet over a very low flame for a simple recipe adapted from Food Down Under:



Quail Eggs with Black Sesame Seeds and Sea Salt

Ingredients

2 quail eggs per person as an appetizer, 6 per person as a breakfast
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
Sea salt
Scallion slivers for garnish (optional)

Method

Heat sesame oil in skillet over low flame. Gently pry open the eggs where you have cut the membrane and drop into skillet. You may be charmed to notice that the inside walls of the shells are of the palest natural blue.

The eggs, with yolks barely the size of a quarter coin, cook very fast. Turn off the heat and watch for the whites setting and the yolks rising (approximately 3 minutes). Remove from skillet to plate, scattering sesame seeds and a few cranks of sea salt over the eggs and plate. Garnish with scallion slivers if desired.

My curiosity, by the way, is satisfied. While quail eggs are remarkably adorable, full of unusual discoveries and lend themselves to easy artistic arrangement, they essentially tasted like hen eggs for all their pomp and circumstance. Now, let's see, there must be a leftover chocolate Easter egg around here somewhere...


Monday, April 9, 2007

To Fry or Not To Fry? The Question of Quail Eggs


I can hardly bear to crack these open. I keep thinking if I just keep them around long enough, they will hatch. Absurd, of course. They aren't even fertile. What would I do with four quail chicks as tiny as the knuckle of my pinkie? Raise them in the palm of my hand on squiggles of worms until they were strong enough to release in the woodlands.

Since the matter is really out of my palm, however, I have to consider the following delicate multiple-choice question:

A: Fried
B: En Cocotte
C: Deviled
D: Pickled
E: Poached

As I dicker with myself one more day, I am imagining what they taste like. Is their flavor rich or pale or indistinguishable from the chicken egg? I'll find out tomorrow, and so will you.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

You Are My Sunshine - Lemon Curd Cheesecake


It is Easter morning. It is 29 degrees out. 29 degrees! There is a wind howling around the corners of our condo. The trees, finally fuzzy with a haze of the palest green leaves, are whipping and bending. It’s time to pad out of bed and make for the coffee and a generous wedge of dense and dreamy cheesecake, studded with candied lemon peel, an allusion to Pashka, the Easter cheese spread of the Russian Orthodox served with the equally traditional Kulich.

I cut the cake. It is a disaster. The crust is pure mush, my beautiful frangipane crust. I am crushed and cursing like a sailor (on Easter morning, no less). What went wrong? I can guess a million things: bain marie seepage into the springform pan; the crust wasn’t browned and crisped enough before adding the cheese filling; the filling itself was too runny; the oven temperature just a little too low…

I could analyze ad nauseum, but I don’t have the time. A slow panic is setting in. I will have to admit defeat and do something I am loathe to do: I will have to consult Christopher Kimball, the king of “If it ain’t broke, fix it anyway.” Kimball and his Cook's Illustrated have a certain dim view of every recipe ever written, however successful it may be. Granted, some recipes are perfectly awful, but with Kimball, even the good ones aren’t good enough. There is always SOMETHING wrong on the exacting quest for perfection, which MUST be achieved each and every time. This tone causes me no end of annoyance, despite the fact that I have gleaned countless great tips from the fanatical engineers of America’s Test Kitchen, everything from ensuring a pie dough has more than a dribble of ice water to the painstaking finer details of divine French fries. Admitting the contradiction, I peruse the Cook's Illustrated recipes for cheesecake. I am expecting no less than a miracle today on Easter Sunday. Here it is:

Basic All-Purpose Graham Cracker Crust (generic recipe)

Ingredients

1 cup finely ground or crushed graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ cup melted butter (1/2 stick)

Method

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In a medium bowl, mix crumbs with the granulated sugar. Slowly add melted butter, tossing and pressing the wetted crumbs with a fork until the mixture resembles wet sand. Empty the crumbs into an 8-9 inch springform pan, tamping down and spreading the crumbs evenly to cover the entire surface.

Position pan on middle rack of oven and bake for 15-18 minutes until golden brown. Remove from oven and allow to cool on wire rack or cold stove burner.

While the crust is cooling:

Lemon Cheesecake – Loosely adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Ingredients

3 8-ounce packages of cream cheese, softened to room temperature (1 ½ pounds total)
1 cup white granulated sugar
4 eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup of candied lemon peel

Method

Maintain oven at 325 degrees.

Wrap bottom and sides of the springform pan with two sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil, folding and crunching it up the sides of the pan to hold the foil in place.

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until fluffy, light and without lumps. Gradually add sugar, beating well after each addition. Add eggs two at a time, beating well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and heavy cream, beating until just blended. Stir in candied lemon peel. Pour into prepared springform pan over the cooled crust.

Place filled pan in a bain marie or other baking/roasting pan large enough to hold the pan. Carefully pour hot tap water into the pan around the sides of the springform pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the springform pan. Center the entire pan assembly on the middle rack in oven and bake for 50-60 minutes, until the center temperature of the cake (use a thermometer) reaches 150 degrees. The cake surface will be a little wobbly and undercooked. Turn off heat and allow the cake to slowly cool in the oven with the door propped open. The cake will continue to bake from the stored heat and get firmer as it stands. After an hour, remove springform pan from bain marie and run a thin knife carefully around the inside rim of the pan to loosen the cake from the sides. Allow the cake to cool another two hours to room temperature. Do not remove the cake from the pan.

Lemon Curd Topping - Adapted from The Cake Bible

Ingredients

1/3 cup strained fresh lemon juice
4 egg yolks
1 cup white granulated sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons lemon zest

Method

20 minutes before the cheesecake is fully cooled, beat the egg yolks and sugar in a non-reactive medium saucepan. Add lemon juice and butter. Over low-medium heat cook the mixture, continuously stirring. It will slowly thicken and become more yellow and opaque as it cooks. It must not be allowed to boil. If the saucepan steams, remove from heat and continue to stir until temperature lowers. Curd is done when a wooden spoon swiped in the mixture is thickly colored yellow. Remove from heat and quickly pour contents through a large strainer into a non-reactive bowl, pressing the solids then discarding them. Stir in lemon zest. Allow to cool for 10 minutes.

Final Assembly

Pour warm lemon curd over top of fully cooled cheesecake still in the springform pan, smoothing over to fill entire surface if necessary. Chill in refrigerator at least 5 hours before carefully opening the springform clamp to remove the side ring.

Serves 8. --



This post is being submitted to the Easter Cake Bake event being hosted by Julia of A Slice of Cherry Pie.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Dinosaur in the Dining Room

(Image: istockphoto.com)

Do you have a formal dining room? Do you EVER use it except for holidays? Does it collect dust and “stuff” like mail, books, keys and cellphones more than it collects a hungry, chatty Sunday gathering of family and/or friends?

Or are you like us, in a condo with a small all-purpose table elbowed into the L-shaped space between the living room and the galley kitchen? This is cozy space and works for us as a family of two, but even this table tends to get cluttered with drop-offs and pick-ups. Because our schedules are so erratic, it is often difficult to plan and time a meal. As a result, Scott and I wind up eating on the sofa while watching a TCM we’ve recorded on TiVo. Outside of Christmas and Thanksgiving, the last time I joined in a communal feed fest at a large table was with colleagues at Carmine’s garlic palace in the theatre district.

But things are about to change. I’d like to have people over more often, to have a table to seat them around and not have to rely on a charming, but equally small sideboard for the mandatory buffet-style meal. We don’t have the space, but I’m going to make the space anyway. I have the vision burned in my brain, the track lighting to elongate and re-define the space that will center over a long, but narrow oblong table. I even have the table picked out from IKEA. We will have to pick it up on a very early Saturday morning, before the madhouse shopping traffic of Paramus, New Jersey, can sweep us into the angry vortex of the stacked Route 4/Route 17 interchange. Too bad we can’t go on a Sunday, but Paramus, to save its sanity, never repealed its Blue Laws. I wonder if they sit down to Sunday dinner in Paramus.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Sneaky Serrano - Salsa Verde

It’s been a week since I started whining about when we’re going to see some green around here, some indication that the vernal equinox has in fact landed in the Mid-Atlantic States. It’s making an appearance in Chicago, California and the UK, but the buds have to be teased out all over my borough of trees. I probably shouldn’t complain too vigorously; we could be in Maine, a state that jokes about its eight-month-long winters. When Scott and I honeymooned there last September (yes, we went to Red’s Eats), there was a flurry of construction activity making time before the weather changed. There were also many businesses already shuttered for the end of tourist season. No one but us stragglers around.

A tomatillo.


A charred Anaheim pepper.
I’ll have to take matters into my own kitchen-crafty hands again, and conjure up the green man. I have a sack full of tomatillos and a pair of Anaheim peppers ready for the ritual. And make no mistake, charring, peeling and seeding peppers is a ritual not for the impatient; if you shortcut the blistering of the skin, you will make up the time with more tedious and frustrated peeling. Take care, too, when you cut and seed the serrano, the little sneak. He pretends he’s just a smooth and timid pipsqueak of a pepper, added more for color than bite, but with up to 15,000 units on the Scoville Chart, your skin will blister, too, if you touch your fingers to your mouth. That’s what’s so delightfully deceiving about Salsa Verde, so cool yet devilishly hot. It’s green for danger.

A serrano pepper.
(Image: istockphoto.com)

Salsa Verde - Recipe from Epicurious.com

This recipe was only slightly adapted, substituting vegetable broth for the chicken broth. Also note, the Anaheim peppers need to be fully charred, unlike my photo above.

This blog entry is being submitted to Kalyn's Weekend Herb Blogging event. Anh of Food Lover's Journey is this week's host.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Friday Night Fish Fry - Blackened Bluefish and Burnt Mushrooms


Unless I make a special trip to an up-market store like Kings or Whole Foods, it is almost impossible to find a fresh and wild-caught fish fillet or cluster of shrimp as it is to find a broad range of international pantry supplies under one roof. After peering too many times through the glass case at the feeble, farm-raised offerings splayed on ice, I now save myself five minutes with a quick glance down into the self-serve case housing pre-wrapped tidbits, most of which aren’t worth a second glance, either. On the rare occasion, I have found Canadian flounder and tender, plump scallops that haven’t been previously frozen and treated with that bitter chemical which renders them completely inedible. It was a rarer occasion still to spy something I haven’t seen in a good ten years.

At first I thought it was just old fillet, left for very dead by clerks who hadn’t gotten around to rotating out the stock. But as I leaned into the case, there was something faintly familiar about the gray-blue flesh and the general shape and size of the fillet. My eyes began to pop with wonder and memory. It was bluefish, and I was in bliss. I prepared them exactly the same way as I did years ago, when a colleague brought me back an icy-cold bucket of them from a fishing expedition off Long Island. I ate several wonderful meals off that catch. I hope I don’t have to wait another ten years to have these tender, mild and healthy fish again. I am not so sure, though; I made a special point to stop at the cold case in the market yesterday, but there were none to be had.

Blackened Bluefish

Ingredients

4 small bluefish fillets, no more than 8 inches long. (Mature, larger fish are very oily and unappealing.)
4 tablespoons butter or oil
4 tablespoons Cajun seasoning (I used a Paul Prudhomme blend)

Method

Dredge fish fillets in flour. In a large skillet heat butter/oil with spices until sizzling. Add fillets skin side UP. Cook over low-medium heat for 7 minutes. Turn and cook another 3 minutes. Turn again, remove from pan, and serve immediately.


Burnt Mushrooms

½ pound white button mushrooms, sliced
2 tablespoons butter or oil
2 tablespoons dark molasses
2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce

Method

Heat butter in skillet (cast iron preferred) then add mushrooms, cooking over low heat until they have shrunken to half their size. Turn heat up to medium, add Worcestershire Sauce, then molasses. Stir and turn mushrooms as they start to scorch and caramelize, approximately 5 minutes. Remove from heat and serve immediately. Serves 2.

I served these dishes with plain brown rice.