Thursday, April 29, 2010

Mango Kulfi

serves...a lot. This came bursting out of my ice cream maker. Um, maybe a quart?


This is a recipe that I cut out of Vegetarian Times and have been meaning to try for awhile. It is allegedly an Indian frozen treat. I’ve never had the real thing, but this was tasty. The texture is different from ice cream…less creamy, but fluffier somehow. 

flesh of 2 mangos

2 12-oz. cans evaporated milk

1 14-oz. can sweetened condensed milk

1/2 tsp ground cardamom

Puree the mango flesh, transfer to a large bowl and whisk in the milks and cardamom. Freeze in ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Best Banana Bread, Truly…

makes 1 9-in loaf


I imagine most people have or have encountered a banana bread recipe that they believe to be the alpha-banana bread, the referent from which all banana-y signifiers spring, and this is mine. I was reminded of it, actually, when Mark Bittman (that name again!) reposted the recipe on his New York Times blog recently, a testament to its greatness, I suppose. As always I tweek it a little to diversify the flours, but like most recipes for standards such as this, it’s a great template for your imagination. According to Bittman, the coconut is the key.

1 C butter, softened

1 1/2 C white flour + 1/2 C whole wheat flour (I combined whole wheat, barley and rice, as I usually do)

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp baking soda

3/4 C sugar (I used brown sugar)

2 eggs

3 ripe bananas

1 tsp vanilla

1/2 C grated coconut (Bittman recommends unsweetened, but I only ever have sweetened on hand and haven’t found that it’s too much)

1/2 C chopped nuts, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pulse bananas in the food processor until coarsely chopped.


Cream the butter and the sugar until fluffy, beat in the eggs and vanilla (I do this in my food processor too). Stir in eggs, then dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking soda, until just combined.

Allow little toddlers in dinosaur pajamas to taste the batter.


Pour batter into a greased 9-in loaf pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out fairly clean. 


Beet Roesti

serves 4-6, unless you're me. I could eat the whole thing by myself.


It would be difficult to find a less photogenic dish than beet roesti…almost as difficult as finding a more delicious vegetable concoction! Yes, it looks like mysterious burnt muscle tissue, or possibly charred animal brain matter, BUT, it’s the most divine way to eat beets. I like beets anyway, so I don’t need to be convinced, but if anyone you know does, this is the means by which to do it. The rosemary is the perfect balance to the natural sweetness, and the crispy, almost latke-like crunch that forms on the outside will help convince doubters that beets are not so different from other beloved root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots. Like I said, I need no convincing on beets, though I admit that they can be prepared in…gross ways…so I thank Mark Bittman for introducing me to this method which I can now use to spread the beet love all over the universe. PS: if you’ve never eaten beets before, do not be alarmed the next day. YES, they do color your body’s waste, if you know what I mean. NO, you don’t have bladder cancer or some wicked colon disease, you’re not bleeding from the insides, it’s just the vestigial pigment of those beloved beets saying hello one last time.

1 to 1/2 beets trimmed and peeled

1 tsp dried rosemary, crumbled

1 tsp salt

1/4 C flour

2 Tbs butter

Grate the beets in a food processor or by hand. Why do raw beets always look positively hallucinogenic when you try to photograph them?


Preheat a large skillet over medium heat. Toss the grated beets in a bowl with salt and rosemary, then little by little incorporate the flour until evenly distributed. Melt one tablespoon butter in the hot skillet. When it’s sizzling, scrape the beets into the skillet and press them into a flat, round shape with a spatula. Here we go:


Cook until the bottom is crisp, 6-8 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally. Now it’s time to flip. Slide the cake onto a plate, cover with another plate and invert.  


Add the second tablespoon of butter to the pan and let it heat briefly. Slide the cake back into the skillet and cook another 6-8 minutes:


Cut into wedges and serve immediately.  


serves 4


Gazpacho = cold Spanish tomato soup. Ever heard of it? It’s one of our all-time favorite warm weather treats, especially when the garden is going crazy in July and August. One of the great advantages of gazpacho is that it can be personalized (make the soup with tomatoes, top it with whichever vegetables you prefer), as well as easily adapted (one of our favorite variations is made with tomatillos instead of tomatoes). There’s also something sort of hilariously kitsch about it. It’s the fondue of the 80’s and 90’s: after every couple got three fondue pots at their wedding, the whole idea just took on this maize and olive green 1970’s hue of culinary disrepute. Fondue is back now, and I think gazpacho is on its way. Who could say no to such extreme freshness? Who could deny the dish that tormented Arnold J. Rimmer to his very soul? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you can watch the video below to see clips (someone's clever montage) from one of my favorite British comedies, Red Dwarf, during which hopefully you’ll have a laugh, wonder so deeply why that guy has an H on his head that you watch the whole series without sleeping, or at least learn a little more about gazpacho.


2 lb tomatoes, cut into large chunks

1 1/2 C water

1/4 C olive oil

2 Tbs vinegar

1 Tbs sugar

1 tsp salt

1 clove garlic

4 C cubed artisan bread, divided

Start by making the croutons: place 2 C cubed bread in a bowl; drizzle with olive oil and sea salt.


I like to put mine in the toaster oven at 375 for 15-20 minutes until they’re golden and crispy.

Next make the soup: place first 7 ingredients in blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Chill in the refrigerator until cold.

Here are my gorgeous tomatoes, many of which came in my organic produce box this week. As you can see, I had too many. Most of us would be hard pressed to fit almost three pounds of tomatoes in our blenders, so stick to two, like the recipe says:


Just before serving chop the vegetables that you’d like the add to your gazpacho. We like cucumber, avocado, green onion, peppers, fresh corn (we cut it off the cob, raw), mushrooms, etc. and lots of fresh parsley or cilantro. Here’s our bowl of goodness next to the toasty croutons:


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Using Roasted Red Peppers 3: In egg salad


Egg salad is a standard Gray family lunch solution. Well, it just got a whole lot cooler, especially for Chris, who likes to load his egg concoction up with all sorts of disharmonious (in my opinion) chunks of culinary miscellany. In this particular batch (I made this one for him, so maybe it’s slightly less discordant than most): diced chicken-mango sausage, diced roasted red peppers, diced dill pickle. He likes to top it off with a little chipotle Tabasco. After he started eating I asked, “What do you think of my roasted red pepper experiment?” “I think it’s a success. What’s the experiment?”

Monday, April 26, 2010

Using Roasted Red Peppers 2: in recipes that don’t call for them

How irresistible! How could I make a tart/quiche and not add roasted red pepper strips when I have them RIGHT THERE in the fridge?? The flavor, of course, is great, and the nutritional profile is stunning. The serious cooks are right! Check out my addition to the Swiss chard tart here.

Swiss Chard Tart: Pasticcio di Bietole al Forno


Thank you, Mario Batali, for helping me to get my toddler to eat Swiss chard. Actually it wasn’t just my toddler, it was me too. Ordinarily I’m ok with greens—I don’t cook them as often as I would like or should, but we get on well enough. With this baby in my belly, however, I have been kind of down on them. I’m sort of forcing myself to eat spinach salads a few times a week (weird, with Sawyer that’s ALL I wanted to eat), but when our beautiful box of organic produce arrived on Thursday and I saw the lush green leaves and tell-tale bright red stems of Swiss chard, I had a bit of a pang in my heart, something along the lines of, “I love you, but what am I going to DO with you??” This tart was the perfect way to eat my greens and love them too. My only complaint, if it can be called that, is that the tart is very thin (there are only 3 eggs after all) and could be bulked up considerably if it’s meant to be a main course. So if I were making it again I would double the eggs and chard, but leave everything else the same. Also notice that I added a good amount of roasted red pepper strips, since I’m on a quest to see how they’ll transform my cooking if I have them on hand. Huge thumbs up on the pepper strip addition.

2 pounds Swiss chard, washed and spun dry

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 Spanish onion, thinly sliced

2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/4 bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped to yield 1/8 cup

1/2 C roasted red pepper strips, if you so desire

3 large eggs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

1 cup bread crumbs

Bring 8 quarts water to a rolling boil and add 2 tablespoons salt. Roughly chop the Swiss chard, discarding the rough stems. Add the Swiss chard to the boiling water and cook until tender, about 15 minutes.


Drain thoroughly and set aside.

In a 12-inch saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil over a medium flame until hot but not smoking. Add the onion and garlic, and cook until soft and golden brown, about 5 minutes. Add the Swiss chard and the parsley. Let cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the red peppers in the last few minutes, if you’re using them. Remove from the heat and let cool.


Meanwhile, break the eggs into a small bowl. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Add 3 tablespoons of Parmigiano and, using a whisk, mix until the ingredients are well-blended. Add the egg mixture to the cooled Swiss chard and toss to combine.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Using the remaining olive oil to lightly grease a shallow 9-inch round or oval baking dish. Dust the bottom of the baking dish with 1/2 cup bread crumbs.


Carefully place the Swiss chard and egg mixture into the pan.


Dust with the remaining Parmigiano and then the remaining bread crumbs. Here’s how it looked before going into the oven:


The recipe said to bake it for an hour, but my instincts told me that was way too long (in Colorado, at least), so I did 45 minutes and I think it could have used 5 minutes less. Basically you want the crumbs to be golden and the egg to be set. It should look something like this:


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pressure Cooked Braised Artichokes


The Grays love artichokes. And the pressure cooker makes them a quick weeknight endeavor. Here’s our favorite recipe.

2 C water

juice of 1 lemon

1 bouillon cube

1 clove garlic

1 1/2 Tbs fresh or dried parsley

4 Tbs olive oil

2-4 artichokes, stems removed

Mix the braising ingredients in your pressure cooker and place artichokes therein:


Seal your cooker and set the stove top heat to medium high. Once she starts singing, reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 15-18 minutes. Release the pressure valve, remove the artichokes and pour about 1/2 C braising liquid into a bowl. Whisk 2-4 tablespoons of butter into the liquid (depending on how buttery you like your dipping sauce).

Most Savory Roast Chicken


This was originally going to be a slow cooker roast chicken, but this morning got so hectic, there was just no way that I was going to get a chicken spiced up and ready to go before 8am. So the time-saving slow cooker got pushed aside for a proper oven tonight, with no loss whatsoever, I think. The spice mix is a variation on one I found on the Tasty Kitchen website, and it really is as close to commercial rotisserie chicken as I’ve ever tasted. One more thing: being the lazy cook that I am, I can’t be troubled to truss my bird. Therefore: I cook it breast side down on a roasting pan to avoid the breasts getting overdone, which is more or less what trussing achieves. Remember to let your bird rest for 15 minutes before carving in order to seal in the juices!

1 Tbs salt

2 tsp paprika (I used 1 tsp regular and 1 tsp smoked paprika)

1 tsp thyme

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp cayenne

1 tsp black pepper


Preheat oven to 450. Remove giblets from chicken, rinse bird and pat dry. Rub the carcass with butter, salt the inside. Rub the spice mixture onto the outside of the bird. Place breast side down on a roasting pan. Roast for 15 minutes, reduce temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 18-20 minutes per pound of bird. Use the pan juices to make gravy, if you wish, or I often use them to flavor soups/sauces. I also usually toss the carcass in the freezer to make stock.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Using Roasted Red Peppers I: in a spinach salad


This is the start of my quest to see just how useful a jar of roasted red peppers really is. They were very tasty here, so for now: roasted red peppers, 1, Sarah’s doubt, 0.

Nutty Whole Grain Strawberry-Blueberry Streusel Pie

Makes one 10-12-inch pie


There were several motivations in the creation of this treat (the various parts of which are adapted with great liberty from Mark Bittman’s recipes in How to Cook Everything): the first was a huge amount of strawberries that we weren’t managing to eat fast enough; the second was a beautiful, warm bowl of freshly ground chickpea flour that I was anxious to try out in a baked good; and the third was my exquisite but heretofore unused handmade tart pan that I bought in the most adorable village of Kaysersberg in Alsace, France over winter break. Them’s pie-makin’ circumstances.


10 Tbs cold butter, cut into chunks

2/3 C whole wheat flour

1/3 C barley flour

1/4 C brown rice flour

1/4 C chick pea flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbs sugar

4 Tbs ice water



7-8 C blueberries and sliced strawberries

1/4-3/4 C sugar (depending on how naturally sweet your berries are)

3 Tbs cornstarch


Streusel topping:

8 Tbs butter

1/2 C brown sugar

1/2 C walnuts

1/4 C whole wheat flour

1/4 C oats

2 Tbs wheat germ

1 Tbs ground flax meal

Make crust: put all ingredients except water in the food processor and process until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add water little by little until the dough comes together into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill 1 hour.

Make the filling: macerate the berries in the sugar for an hour. Drain out the juice and whisk in the cornstarch. Return juice to berries.

Make the streusel topping: combine all ingredients in the food processor and process until nuts are chopped and ingredients are combined into a homogenous crumb mixture.

Assemble! Roll out the pie crust and fit it into your 10-12 inch pie pan. If you’re crafty, you can do fancy things to the edges, crimping or rolling or whatever great pie makers do. I have a bit of a challenge my with totally gorgeous and authentic Alsatian tart pan—it can’t handle “les chocs thermiques,” so I have to preheat it in the oven and then try to unroll the crust into the hot pan. It’s not a huge pain, but it does mean that I’ll never have beautiful edges; it’s just too hot to handle and the crust starts to fall apart as it warms. Anyway: next pour in the filling and top with the streusel mix. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes, or until the topping is crisp and the filling is thick.


Did this just spring forth from a French country house, or what??

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Kamut Salad

serves 6


I came into some kamut recently and was excited to try this new grain, a high-protein member of the wheat family. Turns out it’s not something you can just toss on the stove. So after a little planning I managed to organize myself enough to soak it overnight and then leave myself 60+ minutes to cook it the next day. Personally, the jury is still out a little in this grain. It’s nutty, it’s filling, it worked nicely with the other components of the salad…it’s just a total jaw workout to eat it. And I cooked it for probably an hour and 15 minutes (when the directions said 45 min). On the other hand, we shared this with friends on Sunday night, and all of them (Chris included, actually) thought it was delicious and that I had really gone overboard on my disclaimer about the texture (I told them to massage their jaws before eating). So maybe it’s just me. Is anyone else on the kamut train? Regardless, this was a tasty, light salad to accompany our kebabs, and if you don’t have kamut, it would be delicious with brown rice, couscous or even pasta.

1 C kamut, soaked overnight

2 1/2 C water

dash salt

1 apple, peeled, cored, and chopped

1/2 C craisins

1/2 C chopped cucumber

1/2 C chopped red bell pepper

1/3 C toasted walnuts

1/4 C chopped green onions

I didn’t have any fresh herbs when I made this, but I think they would take it to a whole new level…I’m thinking sage or thyme.


1/4 C thick plain yogurt

3 Tbs orange juice

1 Tbs balsamic vinegar

1 tsp Dijon mustard 

salt/pepper to taste

Drain the soaked kamut and add it to a pot with the 2 1/2 C water and pinch of salt. Bring to a boil then cover and cook over low heat for 50-70 minutes, until the grain is tender-ish and the water is absorbed. Rinse under cool water and add remaining salad ingredients:


Whisk the dressing together and pour over the salad. Chill for a few hours before serving to allow flavors to blend.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Homemade Granola

Makes 8-12 servings


Oh, man, what a great day. The boys have gone to the park, leaving me in a quiet house, there’s a cup of herbal tea cooling next to me, the kamut is on the stove (first try, I’ll keep you all posted), our little family is growing (#2 kicking in-utero as I type), and the sky is that sentimental shade of grey that inspires the imagination and effaces regret. It’s a day when creation feels right: just spent a load of money on things to grow and improve our vegetable garden, but since I won’t be tasting any of those fruits for a few months still I need the immediate satisfaction of a kitchen concoction instead. Spurred on by a big package of raw pumpkin   seeds that I acquired recently, I set out to try some homemade granola. This took me about 3 minutes to put together, and the only attention it needed was being stirred every 10 minutes or so during the cooking time.

One day later: what a perfect Sunday breakfast this made today with a little fruit and yogurt. I love that it’s not too sweet.

2 1/2 C rolled oats

1 C sliced almonds

1/2 C pumpkin seeds

1/2 C wheat germ

1/2 C flaxseed meal

1/2 C shredded coconut

1 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ginger

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 C olive oil

1/4 C maple syrup

1/2 C pineapple juice

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Spread on a cookie sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 40 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon every ten.


Let it cool completely on the cookie sheet (it will crisp up during this time) before transferring it to a tupperware for storage.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Roasted Red Peppers, alleged pantry staple

Most people that I would consider to be real cooks seem to always include a jar of roasted red peppers on their list of pantry staples. This has always been a bit of a mystery to me, but it might just be because, compared to flour or rice or chicken broth, it’s a rather pricey and sort of unnecessarily luxurious “staple.” But folks are always talking about how great peppers are for throwing together a quick appetizer or snack, so I decided to make a batch of my own and see what happens over the next few months.

So: set your oven to broil, line a cookie sheet with foil, and coat four red peppers with olive oil. Check the peppers every few minutes, turning them whenever you begin to see brown spots on the up side. Once they’re browned/blackened all over, you need to seal the peppers up somehow so the skins can steam loose. I locked mine into the pressure cooker (a weird solution, I agree); you could use a big ziplock or whatever. Here’s how they looked right before I sealed ‘em up:


Let them sit for 20 or 30 minutes before removing the skins. Every description I’ve ever read talks about the peppers “slipping” out of their skins. I have never had that experience. But I’ve found that it’s a little easier if you start at the stem and loosen all of the skin around it before trying to peel the pieces downward. Here’s a handsomely peeled pepper ready to be sliced:


I layered some thinly sliced garlic between each layer of pepper slices.


Once the jar was full (this is that sort of medium-sized mason jar; four peppers fit perfectly), I topped it off with more olive oil:


The jar is all sealed up and sitting in the fridge; I’m going to let it marinate a few days before trying anything. A few ideas for now: red pepper hummus, dip with cream cheese, vinaigrette, soup…and in strips on sandwiches.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Almost Spring Soup, aka stretching the pantry in a time of need

Serves 4


We’ve all been in this position: you’re 5 or 6 days overdue on a trip to the grocery store, there’s no time to go, maybe you’re feeling a little under the weather (I’m being assaulted by a spring cold as I write this), and you really need something nourishing and fresh. What’s in the fridge? Hmm…some celery that could be used as string to tie up packages, a few carrots…virtually nothing else. Even though I’m dreaming of the wonderful vegetables that come with spring gardens, I don’t have any of them yet. Time to turn to the pantry.

We all know that frozen vegetables are picked at their peak of ripeness and frozen within a few hours. At least that’s what the people on the Food Network tell us. But many vegetables get tough and gummy when frozen, so I only keep around the ones that either defy that trend, or that I know I can puree or bake into some other dish. In other words, I tend to favor spinach, peas, corn, and green beans. Another frozen staple: the on-going bag of vegetable bits. All of my nubbins, peels, leaves and stalks that don’t end up in the composter get tossed into a freezer bag and saved for days like this. A homemade vegetable broth will elevate frozen-vegetable-soup to something delightful and healthful.

In this bag I had onion and garlic skins, celery tops/bottoms, parsley stems and squash nubbins. I simmered this mix for about an hour in about 5 C water, then strained.


Now the soup. Potatoes are great for soup that you’re going to puree because they give it body and creaminess. After that pretty much any vegetable will do.

5 C broth

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed

about 1 1/2 sliced carrots

1 onion, chopped

Simmer this mix for about 20 minutes, until carrots and potatoes are getting tender.

Add your frozen vegetables (basking here, looking like a portrait of frosted-over springtime):


Simmer 10-12 more minutes until vegetables are tender. Puree about 3/4 of the vegetables in the food processor with a few tablespoons of milk. Add the puree back into the pot. Season with salt and pepper, serve with a little dollop of sour cream.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Brown Rice Jambalaya…with okra!

Serves 6


I like healthy food and Chris likes comfort food. But he’s smart enough to know that he ought to eat healthy food in between the sausage sandwiches, wings, nachos and ruebens. He only eats broccoli (and eggplant, and spinach, and brussel sprouts, and beets, etc.), I learned today, “because I know they’re good for me.” This was a huge shock. Here, all this time (nigh upon six years of marriage), I actually thought that he LIKED vegetables. Ladies, don’t make my same mistake. Don’t ask your husbands “What’s your favorite vegetable?” I was very disappointed to learn the truth (though to his credit he likes all the vegetables that, botanically, are actually fruits: peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, avocadoes, etc.). The question was altruistic—I wondered what he wanted me to plant in the garden this year—but his response gave me license to be entirely egoistic: I’ll plant whatever I want to eat because I love vegetables, whereas he eats whatever I put in front of him and only does because he knows it’s good for him. In the meantime, I have to make it up to him in other ways by cooking things like jambalaya (which isn’t devil-food or anything, but it could stand to be improved, nutritionally-speaking). But for my own sake I have to impose my salutary penchants onto his comfort food. Hence this brown rice jambalaya with okra, which could be made over even further if you wanted to use quinoa and turkey sausage or tofu. Let me know how that level of adulteration goes over at your house.

A note: I left all the spicy spice out of this recipe because kids were going to be eating it. We brought the Creole seasoning and the huge basket of hot sauces to the table so everyone could season it to his/her own liking.

1 large onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 stalks celery, chopped

2 Tbs butter or oil

2 medium chicken breasts

12 oz. white sausage (I used bockwurst, but andouille is the ideal), sliced

2 3/4 C broth

1-15 oz. can diced tomatoes with juice

2 C brown rice (I used brown jasmine—cooking time and water quantity might vary a little depending on your kind of brown rice, so keep an eye on it while it’s simmering)

1-12 oz. bag frozen cut okra, rinsed (cause okra can be kind of slimy)

2 bay leaves

1 tsp thyme

1/2 tsp ground or rubbed sage

1/2 tsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (I left this out this time, cause of the kids)

salt, pepper, Creole seasoning and hot sauce to taste

In a large pot sauté the onion, garlic and celery in the butter for 5 minutes. Add the chicken and sausage and cook over medium heat until the chicken looks cooked on the outside. Add the broth, tomatoes, okra, rice and spices. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low and let simmer until juice is absorbed and rice is tender, about 35 minutes.

Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake, Part II, aka, chocolate mousse revision

I don't know if it's actually possible, but I think I may have inadvertently improved upon the recipe below for flourless dark chocolate cake. I was thinking of some gluten-free friends of mine that I thought needed a little love, and also I was thinking about all that leftover dark chocolate, and I decided I would make another batch of the cake and cook it in mini-souffle dishes this time. Well, as fate would have it I inadvertently, as I said, doubled the sugar. Blast! One of the things I liked best about the original version was that it wasn't too sweet. So, looking for a way to mediate the sweetness, it occurred to me that I could use up some leftover ricotta cheese that, otherwise, was just taking up space in the fridge. So after the eggs were done beating, I added in about 3/4 skim milk ricotta. Otherwise the recipe is exactly the same (so to recap, 1 C sugar instead of 1/2, and 3/4 C ricotta). I poured this into 6 greased and cocoa-powdered souffle cups, and cooked them for 25 minutes or so. What can I say? The result is so extraordinary. It's like the most amazing dark chocolate cake has been transformed into a dark chocolate MOUSSE cake. Cooking is always an exercise in tempting fate. You never know when you're going to accidentally put in powdered sugar instead of flour (this happened to my brother) or double the milk by advice is to embrace it; you never know what unearthly delight you will create, despite yourself.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Flourless Dark Chocolate Cake

serves 8-10


My dear friend’s birthday is this week, and this cake was an uncompromising union of her love for chocolate and our other friend’s gluten intolerance. Maybe one of the easiest cakes I’ve ever made—I managed to find a recipe that didn’t require whipping the egg whites separately—it dressed up beautifully to suit everyone’s tastes: Petra and Liz had it with whip cream, I enjoyed it with a little sifted powdered sugar. Truthfully, I can’t believe just how delicious this one was. Try it, try it, try it.

6 oz. dark chocolate, broken up (I used Lindt 85% cocoa)

1 cube butter, cut into chunks

5 eggs at room temperature

1/2 C sugar

1/4 tsp salt

1/3 C cocoa (I used a blend of regular and Dutch process)

Place chocolate and butter in a bowl over a pan with 2 inches a water over medium-low heat (aka, a bain marie):


Soon enough the butter and chocolate will have melted gently. Stir them up well and set them aside to cool.

In the meantime, put the eggs and sugar in the food processor, and process 4-5 minutes until pale in color and doubled in volume (obviously a mixer works too, but I’m all about mon robot de cuisine). Whisk about a cup of the egg mixture into the chocolate to lighten it, then gently fold the chocolate into the remaining eggs. Sift the cocoa powder over the batter, and fold gently until combined:


Grease an 8-in round pan and dust with cocoa powder:


Bake cake at 375 for 30-35 minutes. It will be massively puffy when it comes out of the oven.


But after it has cooled it will sink down a little. Now dress it up to suit your fancy.


Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Cauliflower

serves 4-6


These were so garlicky that the smell filled the whole house when I opened the tupperware to reheat them. Feel free to temper it. Or to embrace it!

1/2 head cauliflower cut into medium florets

3-4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and cubed

4 Tbs butter

4-6 cloves garlic, minced

1/3 C milk

Bring a large pot of water to boil and simmer potatoes and cauliflower until tender, 15-20 minutes. In the meantime, melt the butter in a small fry pan over medium-low heat and sauté the garlic 3-4 minutes until it begins to brown. Drain the potatoes and cauliflower, place them in the food processor with the milk and the butter/garlic and process until smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gnocchi with Walnut Sauce

Serves 4-6


Another classic dish for the Italian-themed cooking club tonight, gnocchi with walnut sauce is one of my all-time favorite indulgent but so speedy weeknight dinners. I’m putting my favorite gnocchi recipe below, but feel free to use boxed gnocchi—I did tonight, and once it’s drenched in the walnut sauce they’re really not much different from the homemade version of these clouds of potato dumpling ecstasy. You can make the walnut sauce in about 90 seconds in the food processor, so once the pasta is boiling this is about the quickest meal I can think of.


2 waxy potatoes

1 Tbs salt

2-2 1/2 C flour

1 egg

pinch grated nutmeg

2 Tbs butter

Bring the unpeeled potatoes to boil in a large pot of salted water. Cook until potatoes are tender but not falling apart. Drain and peel as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Mash potatoes with food mill (it’s important to get all of the lumps out). Turn potatoes out onto floured surface, and pour about half of the flour over the top, mixing lightly. Crack the egg over the potatoes, add nutmeg, and knead gently, drawing in more flour as necessary. When the dough is light to the touch and no longer sticky it is ready to be rolled. Divide the dough into four parts and roll each into a 3/4-in strand. Cut the rolls crosswise into 3/4-in pieces. Roll the gnocchi along the tines of a fork if you like them to look authentic. Bring a large pot of water to boil and cook the gnocchi in batches until they float (3-4 minutes). Drain in a serving bowl. When all gnocchi are cooked, toss with walnut sauce and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

Walnut Sauce

1 C walnut pieces or halves

1 Tbs bread crumbs (I used Italian-style)

3 Tbl olive or walnut oil

3 Tbl fresh chopped Italian parsley

1/4 C butter, melted

2 Tbs cream (I used milk and didn’t notice a difference)

Place all ingredients in the food processor and blend until smooth (3-4 minutes).

Sicilian Cassata Cake

serves 8-10


Why do I often seem to have my first encounter with amazing international dishes thousands of miles from their point of origin? I was wondering this last night as I prepared my first, long-awaited Sicilian Cassata Cake. The one and only time that I tasted this hallowed delicacy was when I was living in New Orleans of all places. Imagine sponge cake soaked in liqueur, topped with swaths of thick ricotta cream which is studded with candied fruits and bits of dark chocolate, the whole thing slumbering under a sweet-sticky blanket of marzipan. Just imagine! The combination of flavors and textures so enchanted me that I never forgot the name, and waited all these years for an excuse to try it—the excuse being that cooking club is about to happen and this month’s theme is Italian cuisine. Yes, yes, I could have made it any old time, but sometimes I need a little motivation to undertake a project as large as this one; the whole thing probably took upwards of 3 hours—it goes without saying that it was worth the effort. At least the ladies at cooking club tonight confirmed that it was worth my effort to them. Totally delicious. I think next time I’ll make the cream layers a little thicker.

For the marzipan

9 ounces (250 g) blanched peeled almonds

3 drops of bitter almond extract

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2-4 Tbs water

a few drops of green food coloring

cornstarch or potato starch for dusting the counter

For the sponge cake

3/4 C granulated sugar

1 1/4 C flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

6 eggs, room temperature, separated

minced zest of 1 lemon

A pinch of salt

For the apricot glaze

1/2 C apricot preserves

1/4 C water

1 tsp rum extract

For the ricotta filling

1 1/8 pounds (500 g) ricotta

1/2 C powdered sugar 

1 tsp vanilla

2 oz. chopped candied fruit (I used maraschino cherries, but next time will try a mixture of candied lemon peel and cherries)

2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, grated (be careful, I took a chunk out of my thumb)

First stop: marzipan, because it needs to chill in the refrigerator before you roll it out. Place the almonds in your food processor and process until reduced to a fine powder. Blend briefly with the powdered sugar, then add the almond extract, food coloring, and water, little by little, until the mixture just comes together (the original recipe said 1/4 C, which I just poured in trustingly, and it proved to be a little too much). Turn the almond paste out onto a cornstarch dusted counter (put more cornstarch on your hands, cause this stuff is STI-CKY) and knead a few times until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until you’re ready to roll it out.

Next: start making the sponge cake. Put the yolks in the food processor with the sugar and blend 4-5 minutes until pale in color and fluffy. Sift in the flour and baking soda, then add the minced lemon zest, and pulse until combined.


In a separate (clean, grease-free, need it be said?) bowl start whipping the egg whites on low speed. When they get frothy, add the pinch of salt and turn the  mixer to high. Beat those puppies until they form stiff peaks (this should take about 5-6 minutes):


Scoop about a cup of the egg whites into the yolk mixture and pulse until combined; this will lighten the yolk mixture and make it easier to combine the two. Transfer the yolk mixture to the bowl with the whites and begin gently, gently folding the batter over with a rubber spatula until it all comes together into a lake of frothy elegance.


Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9x9 in square pan and bake at 360 degrees for 30 minutes. It will be majorly puffed when it comes out of the oven (and maybe a little lopsided, but don’t worry, it will sink and even out):


While the cake is cooling you can prepare the glaze: whisk together the apricot preserves, water and rum extract. Oh, that was easy.

And now you can get to the business of rolling out your marzipan. Dust your counter, hands and rolling pin with mad amounts of cornstarch. Here’s my station all ready to go:


Line a 9-in loaf pan with plastic wrap. Roll the marzipan into a large rectangle. I’m sorry, I didn’t measure it, I just eye-balled it. For a 9-in pan though, it seems like it would need to be about 16 x 12 or so.


Run a spatula under the marzipan to loosen it, then transfer it gently to the loaf pan. This is heavier and not as cohesive as fondant, so you have to make sure that you get the sheet to sink down into the pan as quickly as possibly, lest the sides fall off.


Now trim the edges and patch up any holes:


Cover this with a damp kitchen towel while you move to the next step, making the ricotta filling: place the ricotta, powdered sugar and vanilla in the food processor and process until smooth (I don’t joke around about how much a I use my food processor). Transfer to a medium-sized bowl and stir in the grated dark chocolate and candied fruit.

Here’s the grated chocolate, which I thought was so lovely:


And here’s the mix all together:


Once the cake is cooled, transfer it to a large cutting board; slice it in half to form two rectangles:


then slice each of those in half length-wise so you have 4 2-in high rectangles. Brush each with the apricot glaze:


Now the stacking and smashing must begin. Scoop about 3/4 C of the filling into the loaf pan and smear it along the bottom and sides as best you can. This can sometimes cause the marzipan walls to collapse, but just do your best. Next place one of the cake layers inside the pan. Cover it with ricotta filling, top with another cake layer, cover with ricotta filling, etc., you get the idea. End with a layer of cake. Now, you really have to press those suckers in there. The pan will probably seem full after just two cake rectangles, but you must persevere. When you’ve got everything it, place another sheet of plastic wrap over the top, then weigh the cake down with something really heavy, like cookbooks, or a brick. Chill it in the fridge like this for at least 24 hours before serving:


Once you unmold it you can undertake a variety of different decorations. Freshly unmolded, it looked like this:


I didn’t have time to do much in the decoration dept. I though I would do a little powdered sugar stencil, but I obviously needed to put in a little more time for this to turn out. Here’s my very subtle result: