Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Long Time

It's been a long time, I know. I've been busy with finals, graduating, and dragging all of my stuff back home in preparation for my move to the Czech Republic. So here's a a short post with an elegant, celebratory recipe.

Spicy Cumin Cheese Straws
Adapted from Epicurious

4 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded fine (about 1 1/4 cups)
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1/2 package frozen phyllo dough, thawed
2 sticks butter
1 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon paprika
coarse sea salt to taste

In a small bowl toss together cheese, ground cumin, paprika, and cayenne.

Separate your phyllo dough into individual sheets. Brush one sheet with butter all the way to the edges. Smooth a second sheet of phyllo on top of it. Continue until you have used half of your phyllo sheets. Sprinkle the cheese and spices onto the dough, leaving a one-inch strip along the top and bottom. Press another phyllo sheet on top, making sure to seal the edges with the butter so your straws don't fall apart. Continue layering the phyllo sheets until you run out. Brush the top sheet with butter and sprinkle with sea salt.

With a pastry wheel or sharp knife cut pastry into strips about 7 1/2 inches long and 1/2 inch wide. Twist strips and arrange on baking sheets, pressing ends onto sheet to keep strips twisted.

Preheat oven to 350°F. and grease 2 baking sheets.

Arrange half of cheese straws about 1 inch apart on 1 baking sheet and bake in middle of oven 8 to 10 minutes, or until pale golden. Bake remaining cheese straws in same manner.

Serve cheese straws warm at room temperature.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Unexpected Ways

Sometimes things come together in unexpected ways. Like spending months and months desperately searching for a job after graduation only to hear...absolutely nothing. And then finding out that the one job that did interview you went to someone else. And then a week later getting an e-mail that says...you got it.

Did I mention that I have a job?

Oh, and it's in Prague. That's right, beginning in July I will be writing to you from the Czech Republic, where I will hopefully have a kitchen and not just a hot plate and a microwave. Unfortunately at the moment, that's looking like it might be the case. We'll see.

But like I was saying, sometimes things that you don't expect to work out just...do. Like these tacos. Normally, the combination of lime, beans, feta and hot sauce would seem a little strange. But let me tell you, these tacos have won over everyone who has tried them, even the most skeptical of critics. There's something about the barely-there flavor of the cumin that the feta complements beautifully, and the hot sauce and lime just enhance everything else, rather than overwhelming it.

And the best part is, they're ready in under ten minutes. I've made this recipe at least five times since I first saw it, and if only I had feta in my fridge right now, I'd be going on number six for dinner.

Black Bean Tacos with Feta and Slaw
from Smitten Kitchen

Makes 4 tacos

1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
1 teaspoon ground cumin
5 teaspoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons (or more) fresh lime juice
2 cups coleslaw mix or shredded cabbage
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 white or yellow corn tortillas
1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
Hot sauce

Place beans and cumin in small bowl; partially mash. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix 2 teaspoons olive oil and lime juice in medium bowl; add coleslaw, green onions, and cilantro and toss to coat. Season slaw to taste with salt and pepper.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large nonstick or cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add tortillas in single layer. Spoon 1/4 of bean mixture onto half of each tortilla; cook 1 minute. Fold tacos in half. Cook until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Fill tacos with feta and slaw. Add hot sauce as desired.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thanks Mom

I should preface this by saying that I personally did not make this soup. My mother did. It was delicious nonetheless. It's from Ina Garten's show The Barefoot Contessa, which always features simple recipes that I want to make the second I see them.

I usually prefer really smooth tomato soups, but the flavor of this soup is so deep from roasting the tomatoes that I made an exception. The texture enhances the combination of tomato and basil, and works beautifully with the barely-there punch from the red pepper.

Again, you have my mom to thank for this one.

Roasted Tomato Basil Soup
From Ina Garten

3 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped yellow onions (2 onions)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 (28-ounce) canned plum tomatoes, with their juice
4 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
1 quart water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Toss together the tomatoes, 1/4 cup olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on a baking sheet and roast for 45 minutes.

In an 8-quart stockpot over medium heat, saute the onions and garlic with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the butter, and red pepper flakes for 10 minutes, until the onions start to brown. Add the canned tomatoes, basil, thyme, and chicken stock. Add the oven-roasted tomatoes, including the liquid on the baking sheet. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered for 40 minutes. Pass through a food mill fitted with the coarsest blade. Taste for seasonings. Serve hot or cold.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Muffin Top

There's a reason that I've had this song stuck in my head for two days: I made muffins. (Unfortunately, I can't find a clip of Jenna actually singing the song...you'll just have to imagine.)

I'm not usually a muffin person. They're fine, I suppose, but not something I ever crave. Usually they're too dry, and the truth is, I don't really like blueberry muffins, which seems to cut out ninety percent of my options. The other night, though, I happened to be in possession of just one orange, and a desperate desire not to begin writing my senior thesis. I wanted to make scones, but since my copy of Baking doesn't include a recipe for orange scones, I decided that muffins would have to do.

I'm so glad that I did. These muffins are wonderful. And hopefully that means a lot coming from someone who isn't easily impressed by a muffin. They're moist from the honey and have just enough orange flavor that it's noticeable without being overpowering. They don't crumble when you slice them, and with a little butter, they're beautiful for breakfast. I modified the recipe some, since it originally called for blueberries. I think mini chocolate chips made an excellent substitution.

These are best the day they're made, and perhaps the next morning. However, they'll keep for 2-3 days and still be delicious.

Orange Chocolate Chip Muffins
Adapted from Baking, by Dorie Greenspan

Grated zest and juice of 1 large orange
About 3/4 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons honey
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup miniature chocolate chips

Decorating sugar, for topping (optional; I forgot to do this)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter or spray the 12 molds in a regular-size muffin pan or fit the molds with paper muffin cups. Place the muffin pan on a baking sheet.

Pour the orange juice into a large glass measuring cup or a bowl and pour in enough buttermilk to make 1 cup. Whisk in the eggs, honey and melted butter.

In a large bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and the fragrance of orange strong. Whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and, with the whisk or a rubber spatula, gently but quickly stir to blend. Don’t worry about being thorough - the batter will be lumpy and bubbly, and that’s just the way it should be. Stir in the chocolate chips. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups.

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes. If you want to top the muffins with decorating sugar, sprinkle on the sugar after the muffins have baked for 10 minutes. When fully baked, the tops of the muffins will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the center of the muffins will come out clean. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for 5 minutes before carefully removing each muffin from its mold.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


How do you feel about vinegar? Particularly balsamic vinegar? Because I love it, but it's a recent development for me. Up until last year, I was actually a bit afraid of balsamic vinegar, at least as it relates to desserts. But that was then.

One late summer afternoon, my uncle had a bottle of really nice balsamic vinegar. The kind that comes with a rating system for quality. You know, the fancy stuff. Having spent the afternoon experimenting with putting Tabasco sauce on fruit, (it's excellent with watermelon and mango,) my uncle suggested that I try balsamic vinegar with my strawberries. I resisted at first. It seemed so strange. (Not like Tabasco!) But one berry and I was sold. The sweetness and acidity of the vinegar blended so well with the taste of the strawberry that I had to restrain myself from eating the whole basket. And, my uncle informed me, it also went great with ice cream.

I forgot about that advice until about a month ago, when we had vanilla ice cream and an unopened bottle of balsamic vinegar in my apartment. My last few caramel-making venture had ended in disaster--the lights in my kitchen are so bad that I have a hard time seeing the sugar as it melts, and then it burns--and I wasn't up for wasting another cup of cream. Balsamic vinegar to the rescue.

The taste is undeniably unexpected. The contrast is much more marked than it is with the strawberries; the smoothness of the ice cream seems almost jarring against the sharp vinegar. But after your first bite, it's addictive. Soon, though, it wasn't enough to just pour it over my storebought vanilla ice cream. Naturally, the next step was homemade balsamic vinegar ice cream.

The combination as an ice cream is much less shocking in your mouth than its predecessor's individual parts. It has a tangy, light taste, almost like yogurt. The smooth texture does wonders for the flavors, eradicating the strong taste of straight vinegar that comes with using it as a topping. I love this recipe. I absolutely, completely, and wholeheartedly love it. But to do so, you have to absolutely, completely, and wholeheartedly love balsamic vinegar. If you have your doubts, if you're on the fence, this might not be the recipe for you. (For example, my mother thinks that this ice cream is "interesting.") But if you're like me, you won't be able to stop eating it. Or thinking about it. Or wanting to make another batch. I don't blame you.

Balsamic Vinegar Ice Cream
8 egg yolks
1 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
2 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 tablespoons regular balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
A pinch of kosher salt

In a medium bowl combine egg yolks, salt and sugar and whisk until pale in color. In a large pot or saucepan bring cream, milk, and vanilla extract to a boil. Slowly add the hot milk and cream to the egg mixture, whisking constantly. Add balsamic vinegar and chill for at least 2 hours. Once mixture is cold, run in ice cream machine in accordance with manufacturer's instructions and return to freezer for as long as possible (preferably 4-6 hours) before serving.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

To The Point

And now, without further ado...

Apple-Apple Bread Pudding
From "Baking: From My Home to Yours" by Dorie Greenspan

3 medium apples, peeled and cored (I used Granny Smiths)
3 T butter
3 T sugar

12 oz. egg bread, sliced .5" thick
1 C spiced apple butter
3 C whole milk
1 C heavy cream
3 large eggs
5 large egg yolks
.75 C sugar
1 tsp vanilla

Butter a 9 x 13" baking pan, dust the inside with sugar, and tap out the excess. Line a larger roasting pan with a double thickness of paper towels.

Cut each apple in half from top to bottom, cut each half lengthwise into 6-8 slices, and then cut each slice in half crosswise.

Put a large skillet (preferably nonstick) over medium-high heat, add the butter, and when it melts, sprinkle over the sugar. Cook the butter and sugar for a minute or so--you want the sugar to caramelize but not burn, so adjust the heat accordingly. Toss in the apple slices--don't worry if the caramel seizes and lumps, it will melt and smooth out as you work--and cook, carefully turning the apples once or twice, until they are tender but not soft, 3-5 minutes. They should be golden, and some might even be caramelized. Transfer the apples and the liquid to a plate.
(I tore my bread into pieces before staling it, rather than retaining the whole slices.) If your bread is not stale, spread it out on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone mat and bake at 350 F to "stale" it for 10 minutes.

Spread one side of each slice of bread with the apple butter, then cut each slice on the diagonal to get 4 triangles. (I put my bread chunks and apple butter in a bowl and tossed them until they were coated.) Cover the bottom of the baking pan with half of the bread, arranging the triangles, buttered side up, so that they overlap slightly (don't worry about spaces between the slices). Spoon over the apples and their liquid and finish "the sandwich" with the rest of the bread.
Bring the milk and cream just to a boil.

Fill a teakettle with water and put it on to boil; when the water boils, turn off the heat. (I skipped this step, as I couldn't find my roasting pan to be able to put my baking pan in it.) Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, yolks, and the .75 C sugar. Still whisking, slowly drizzle in about one quarter of the hot milk mixture--this will temper, or warm, the eggs so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remaining milk. Add the vanilla and whisk to blend. Rap the bowl against the counter to pop any bubbles that might have formed, then spoon off any foam that has risen to the top. Pour the custard over the bread and press the bread gently with the back of a spoon to help it absorb the liquid. Leave the pan on the counter, giving the bread the back-of-the-spoon treatment now and then, for about 30 minutes.
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 325 F.

Put the baking pan in the roasting pan, slide the setup into the oven and very carefully pour enough hot water into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the pudding pan. Bake the pudding for about 1 hour and 25 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. Transfer the baking pan to a rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ice Boulders

I have to apologize for my long absence. My midterms this semester (my last semester of college...yikes!) completely overwhelmed me. And then for spring break, instead of going to Cancun or Hawaii, I went here:

With these two:

We played on the beach, which was still full of icy boulders even though it was warm enough not to wear a jacket. We read, watched movies, and made the world's worst batch of biscuits.

I know I promised you caramel apple bread pudding, and I will hold to that promise and more. Again, soon.