Posts Tagged ‘Recipes’

Jonathan Waxman’s Warm Sweet Onion Tart

August 9th, 2010
Warm Sweet Onion Tart Slice

Warm Sweet Onion Tart

Jonathan Waxman is one of my favorite chefs. Credited with bringing California cuisine to New York City, he was a celebrity chef in the pre-Food Network era, little known to those outside the food industry and restaurant aficionados. Thanks to an exceptional run as a contestant on Season 2 of Top Chef Masters, he is finally getting some well-deserved renown from the general public.

On a recent summer evening, the roll-up doors to his West Village restaurant, Barbuto, were wide open and conviviality virtually poured out onto the sidewalk. Chef Waxman was overseeing the dining room and kitchen, a particularly refreshing sight at a time when several star chefs seem to have little to do with their establishments. While the space has an unfinished feel about it, it is quite deliberate and puts a spotlight on the rustic and beautifully crafted cuisine.

My friend Anne introduced me to his cookbook, and it’s a page- turner. It perfectly expresses my ideal culinary philosophy: Use few ingredients of the freshest and finest quality to create soul-satisfying food.

We had friends over for a late lunch on a particularly sweltering day. I wanted to serve something substantial but not hot, and so chose this tart. I prepared it in the cool of the morning and then served it room temperature with a salad. It is sweet, savory, tangy, and rich, and tastes awfully complicated for something that has only seven ingredients.

Warm Sweet Onion Tart
by Jonathan Waxman
from: A Great American Cook: Recipes from the Home Kitchen of One of Our Most Influential Chefs
© Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007

Serves 6 (or four as a main course with a salad -t)

- 2 large sweet onions, such as Vidalia
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 pound puff pastry, preferably an all-butter brand such as Dufour (or 1 sheet pastry from a 17 1/4-ounce package)
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- A few thyme blossoms or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

Slice the onions crosswise as thin as possible. Place a large skillet over very low heat. Add the butter and when it melts, stir in the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, or until the onions are very soft and deep golden brown.

Add the vinegar to the onions and cook until it has reduced and slightly thickened, 5 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool, then season with salt and pepper.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the puff pastry 1/4 inch thick. Using a pot lid or a plate as a guide, cut the pastry into a 10-inch round. Fit the pastry into an 8-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim the edges of the pastry if necessary and prick it all over with a fork. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown on the bottom. (Don’t be afraid that the tart shell will burn later when it is baked again – the filling will prevent that from happening). Take the tart shell out of the oven and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes.

Whisk the eggs lightly in a medium bowl. Add the cream and thyme and blend well, then season with salt and pepper. Spread the onions evenly in the tart shell. Pour the egg mixture over the onions and stir gently with a fork so the custard mixture spreads evenly in the tart shell.

Bake the tart for 25 minutes, or until just set. Remove and let cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature, cut into wedges.

Sweet Onion Tart

Warm Sweet Onion Tart. Not as pretty as Chef Waxman would make it, I'm sure.

My Eating Well Challenge

May 10th, 2010

The EatingWell Cookbooks

EatingWell Magazine and EatingWell.com have been my go-to resources to find easy, nutritious recipes for several years. I particularly like their recipes because the ingredients are real food; no sugar-substitutes or ingredient-laden packaged items. Plus, I know from experience that their recipes work.

I own every one of their cookbooks, except the diabetes book, but for some reason I don’t cook from them. EatingWell offers almost all the recipes from their cookbooks and magazines on their website; an absolutely incredible library at one’s fingertips. I will sometimes browse the site, shop on the way home, and cook in the evening. But between traffic and lines at the market, my family sometimes doesn’t eat until well after 8PM, and by that time I’m completely exhausted.

I thought I’d try something I haven’t done in a while: Plan a week’s worth of meals. It is clear that the unhealthiest way to eat is on-the-fly. By dinnertime, one is scrounging for ingredients or relying on take-out. So on Sunday, while drinking my morning coffee, I dusted off The Essential EatingWell Cookbook, the first one of their publications I owned, and picked out four recipes to make for the week. I found that leafing through the book presented me with more options at once, as opposed to waiting for each page to load on my computer. I liked it. Besides, I love leafing through cookbooks. What a nice thing to do on a Sunday morning!

I made a shopping list, went to the supermarket, and am now the proud owner of the ingredients for four dinners for my family (with leftovers for lunches, I hope).

If this goes well, I’ll move on to another book next week and another the week after, until I finish cooking from each EatingWell book I own. Of course, this adventure will be interspersed with other recipes, book and restaurant reviews, and items of note, as usual. Stay tuned!

Update: July 14, 2010 – Lessons from Cooking at Home and My Eating Well Challenge

The recipes (*=favorite recipes):

Spice-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Sweet and Tangy Watermelon Salad*

Ham & Cheese Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Roasted Peppers Stuffed with Kale and Rice

Vegetarian Reubens with Russian Dressing*

Apple, Sauerkraut, Cheddar & Ham Quesadillas*

Cheese Tortellini with Spinach & Asparagus

Sauteed Chicken Breasts with Creamy Chive Sauce

Five Spice Chicken & Orange Salad*

Turkey Mini Meatloaves*

Warm Chicken Sausage & Potato Salad*

EatingWell’s Pepperoni Pizza

Ham & Swiss Rosti*

Chicken “Fried” Steak & Gravy

Beef & Portobello Mushroom Stroganoff

EatingWell’s Baked Macaroni & Cheese*

The Mailman Brings Cheese

February 9th, 2010

Vacherin Mont d'Or, Murray's Cheese Label

It all started with my friend’s enticing post about Vacherin au Four, a soft cow’s milk cheese, studded with garlic, fortified with wine, then melted in its wooden box in a hot oven and poured over potatoes or served fondue-style. There are few things I have a harder time resisting than melted cheese. Plus, it is winter, the height of the melted cheese season, so it seemed a perfect opportunity to try making this simple dish at home.

That meant getting my hands on some Vacherin Mont d’Or. Easier said than done in Northern New Jersey. I telephoned Wine Library in Springfield, who told me that while they did have an order that was supposed to arrive on the next boat, he wouldn’t know if it made the boat until it arrived, and even then he wasn’t sure it would make it through customs. I called Summit Cheese Shop in Summit, and was told that it would be nearly impossible to get, and good luck with that. I phoned Gary’s Wine and Marketplace in Madison, and was told they were out and didn’t expect to get any until next season, which would mean maybe October. I called Murray’s Cheese in Manhattan and was told, yes, they had plenty! I made two dates to hop into the city to pick some up, but both trips were foiled. I was going to have to suck it up and pay for shipping.

A foodie, shopping a website listing a large variety of cheese, armed with a credit card. Well, you can see where this is going, can’t you? My eyes glazed over as my fingers clicked to the “Special Sale” page. I would be saving money if I purchased some cheese on sale, wouldn’t I? And oh, what’s this? A virtual cheesemonger! Answer just a few multiple-choice questions, and my own cheesemonger will guide me to my ideal selections. I went deeper into my trance as “Amanda,” my virtual cheesemonger, described a list of cheeses that I’d surely enjoy. Click, click, click. I should get some bread too! Click. And oh yeah, I almost forgot, the Vacherin Mont d’Or. Click!

Two days later my professionally packaged box of cheese is waiting for me on the porch, with a stamped message on the top of the box informing the FedEx delivery person that it’s OK to leave the package with the recipient, even though it may stink. A lovely (to me) odor envelops our dining room as I inventory the contents of the box: Two Vacherin Mont d’Or (one for me, one for a friend), a half-pound of Cabot’s clothbound cheddar (a friend’s recommendation), a half-pound of Fourme de Ambert (“Amanda” said this blue is mild and sweet), one puck of Brunet (“Amanda” says it’s her favorite goat), a half-pound of Tete de Moine (I need this as have not used my girolle in ages), and one pound of Parmigiano-Reggiano (well, it was on sale), and a loaf of bread (if you’re going to go this far, you may as well buy the bread so you don’t have to go to the store).

Counter-top tasting: The first night, we have a simple tasting. My friend is right, Cabot’s clothbound cheddar is outstanding, and “Amanda’s” picks are spot-on. Not that I wouldn’t have been just as happy with any other cheesemonger’s choices. I have no prejudice against any cheese, but it was nice that these were cheeses that noticeably agreed with my taste. The goat is super creamy and mild, almost the texture of camembert, while the blue is downright luscious with a bit of tang. We eat it standing at the counter, all except the Vacherin and the Tete de Moine. Those, we’ll eat later.

Brunet, Fourme d'Ambert, Cabot Clothbound Cheddar

Vacherin au Four: I meant to make this on day two, but couldn’t get to it until day four. Life got in the way, as it often does, and we didn’t get to it right away. This is too bad because Anne over at Pots and Plumes had emailed me to say that we shouldn’t wait, as hers had been too ripe. I should have listened. When we received ours, it looked very fresh, almost white. By the time I retrieved it from the refrigerator to cook it, it was nearly orange and it had a very strong odor. I cooked it with garlic, wine, and a bit of chive, and ate it with potatoes and bread, but it had taken on a flavor of ammonia and was overripe. I emailed Murray’s Cheese, not to complain but to warn, and was told that I would be credited for the Vacheran Mont d’Or. Way to go Murray’s customer service! We will definitely be ordering from them again.

Vacherin Au Four

Interlude, cheddar with Diana Pittet: Ironic that of all weeks I should be attending a talk by Diana Pittet, who writes of her adventures in cheddar on her blog, CheddarBound. This is a very cozy affair in the private room at Jimmy’s 43 in Manhattan, during which Diana regales a crowd of listeners with stories of her travels and the making of cheddar. We enjoy a tasting of five cheeses, along with a cask ale, an apple cider, and an apple wine. Apple beverages go fabulously with cheese!

Spicy tomato and blue cheese soup
: It has occurred to me that perhaps I have purchased too much cheese. I should include some in a recipe, perhaps. I find the recipe for Michael Symon and Michael Ruhlman’s spicy tomato and blue cheese soup on leitesculinaria.com. Made with sriracha and blue cheese, it is creamy, fruity, and spicy. I highly recommend it. But I’m not sure I could have it more than a few times a year. It is rich.

Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup

Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup

Another tasting: End of the week, another spread of cheese on the counter for my husband and me to pick at. I’ve discovered this is probably my favorite way to eat cheese. It goes against all tenets of healthy eating, but I like it. Take what you want, when you want it. Leave the bread out with a knife nearby, or crackers, and maybe some olives, fruit, or nuts. Cheese is Nature’s processed food, so I figure it can’t be all that bad for us.

Tonight or tomorrow the Parmigiano-Reggiano will take its turn, grated over pasta. Sometime this weekend I’ll be leaving the girolle out on the kitchen counter to enjoy the thin rosette-shaped slivers of Tete de Moine with a glass of white wine. Probably while perusing Stinky Bklyn’s website. Their cheese-of-the-month club looks very tempting….

Long-Cooked Sugo and Turkey Meatballs with Porcini, Pine Nuts and Raisins

January 24th, 2010
Pasta, Sugo, and Turkey Meatballs

Pasta, Sugo, and Turkey Meatballs

“Oh, Lidia, this is never going to fit!” That’s me, brow furrowed, wooden spoon in hand, peering into my 3 qt. saute pan, talking to Lidia Bastianich as channeled through her book, Lidia’s Family Table. I believe I said that three times over the course of making this recipe. For some reason, it just doesn’t look like you can possibly fit any more ingredients in the pan, but by magic, and by the diligence of a good recipe tester, it all works out.

Chef Bastianich’s cookbook, true to its name, is full of recipes that will feed six or more. There are several recipes, such as this sugo, that describe one base recipe and then several variations or uses for it. For instance, she mentions this sugo is good “as a topping for a big bowl of dressed pasta,” “as a meat course with vegetables,” “in a risotto, using the sauce and broken-up meatballs,” etc. Among the expected recipes for pasta, polenta, and soup, there are some lovely vegetable recipes, such as roasted eggplant and tomato salad, and grilled corn and figs with balsamic reduction, and hearty dishes such as rabbit cacciatore.

With cinnamon, pine nuts, and raisins, the aroma and flavor of this sugo and meatballs are reminiscent of Middle Eastern cuisine. Although these ingredients typically fall into the sweet spectrum, their sweetness is tempered  by the vegetables of the soffrito and the acid of the tomatoes. I found the flavors of this dish refreshingly unexpected and interesting. The sauce is thick but not cloying, and coats the pasta (should you decide to serve it with pasta) beautifully. But the most incredible thing about this dish is the texture of the meatballs themselves. While sturdy and toothsome on the outside, they are incredibly soft and moist inside. Be forewarned, this is *not* your usual tomato-y sauce with beef or beef/pork/veal meatballs. If you are looking for the typical tomato-sauce and meatballs recipe, this is not it.

This recipe fit the bill as a winter-housewarming recipe (important criteria when it’s less than 40° F. outside), a meal to have together as a family, and the very important opportunity for leftovers. This makes enough for three meals for my family of three. It would have made four, except we ate a half dozen of the meatballs standing over the pot while we were tasting…for research, of course.

The recipe begins by making a soffritto. This is a vegetable base for the sauce, made by finely mincing various vegetables and softening them in the pan, before putting the tomatoes and broth in. Although the recipe says to cook the vegetables approximately four minutes, I cooked them longer. Make sure your vegetables are very soft, or else they will simply be hard pits in your sauce, rather than disintegrating into the tomatoes. In addition, when toasting the tomato paste, make sure it gets nicely browned. The whole concoction of vegetables and tomato paste when mixed together should be slightly darker orange-brown than the color of a basketball.

You’ll want very good ventilation for frying the meatballs, else your house may take on the odor of an Italian street fair for a while. However, Chef Bastianich makes note in her book that the meatballs don’t have to be fried (although I feel you will very definitely miss the texture). If you decide not to fry them, she says to increase the sauce by at least a third (or decrease the meatballs by a third) so that they have plenty of sauce to cook in.

Do not be put-off by the length of this recipe. While there are several steps and many ingredients, the directions are all relatively simple. If you love to cook, you’ll have a lot of fun making this dish. And remember, when you’re looking into the pan feeling certain that another quart of stock or three-dozen meatballs will not ever fit into your 3 qt. pot, believe me, it will.

Note: In the cookbook Lidia’s Family Table, Chef Bastianich includes a variation of this sugo with sausage meatballs. I have omitted directions for that recipe from this text.

Lidia's Family Table

Long-Cooked Sugo and Meatballs
by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich
from Lidia’s Family Table
© Knopf, 2004

About 2 quarts of sugo, to cook and serve with 3 dozen meatballs.

Frying the Soffritto and Starting the Sugo

For the soffritto
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium onions (3/4 pound), minced in a food processor
- 3 or 4 plump shallots, minced in a food processor
- 2 or 3 fat garlic cloves, minced in a food processor
- 1 large carrot, minced in a food processor
- 2 large stalks celery, minced in a food processor
- 5 or 6 fresh bay leaves
- 1/4 cup tomato paste

For the sugo
- One 35-ounce can San Marzano plum tomatoes and juices, passed through a food mill (4 cups)
- 8 to 12 cups or more hot Turkey Broth, Simple Vegetable Broth, or plain hot water (recipes for the broths are in the book, I used my own vegetable stock)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more if needed
- 1 cinnamon stick

Pour the olive oil into the pan, drop in the onions and shallots, and set over medium-high heat. Stir for a minute or two, until the onions begin to sizzle.

Drop the garlic into a hot spot and spread it out to caramelize for a minute, then stir with the onions. Stir in the carrot and celery, and get them cooking; drop in the bay leaves and cook the soffritto for another 4 minutes until it is starting to dry out. Lower the heat if necessary to prevent burning.

Push the vegetables to the side and drop the tomato paste into a hot spot. Toast it for a minute or more, then blend it into the soffritto. Pour in the milled tomatoes and juices, and stir; slosh the tomato container with a cup of hot broth or water and stir that in too. Bring the sauce to a boil quickly, and cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes or more, stirring frequently, until it has just begun to thicken.

Pour in 4 cups of the hot broth, stir it in, and note now the level of the liquid in the pan: this is about the level that the sugo should be at the very end of cooking, after the meatballs have been removed. Stir in another quart of the broth, and bring to a lively boil.

Submerge the cinnamon stick in the sauce. Cover the pot and adjust the heat to maintain a steady but gentle bubbling all over the surface of the sugo . Let it cook for at least an hour or longer, checking the pot every 20 minutes or so. It should be redicuing steadily. If it’s barely dropping, or not at all, raise the heat and set the cover ajar ot speed its concentration. If it’s dropping extremely fast, lower the heat to slow the evaporation. Add hot broth or water if needed to keep the sauce at the level you want.

Make the turkey meatballs while the sugo cooks. Once they are finished, complete the recipe as follows:

Have the sugo at a gentle simmer over low heat when the meatballs are fried and ready to go into the saucepan. Have hot broth or water on hand if needed. Drop the meatballs in one at a time; fit as many as you can in the bottom of the pan in one layer, but leave enough space to roll them around. Drop the rest of the meatballs in to make a second layer. Add hot broth or water if necessary so the meatballs are covered with liquid. Stir gently to mix the broth with the sugo – don’t break the meatballs! Cover the pan and raise the heat slightly to bring the sugo back to a simmer. Set the cover ajar and adjust heat to maintain steady simmering (but no threat of burning the meat on the bottom), and cook the meatballs for 35 to 40 minutes.

Turn off the heat and let the meatballs cool in the sugo and absorb more of its flavor (unless you need them right away). When cool, remove them to a big bowl. If the sauce is thin (probably well above the 2-quart mark), return it to a boil gradually and cook it uncovered to thicken. Stir frequently as it thickens; reduce it to the 2-quart level, or to whatever consistency you like – that’s the most important guideline. Taste the sauce during this final cooking, and add salt, if needed, or adjust the other seasonings.

Serve sauce and meatballs right away if you want. Otherwise, pack the meatballs in containers with enough sugo to cover and the rest of the sauce in separate containers. Portion them, for convenience, in the amounts you’ll use in different dishes. Store in the refrigerator for 4 days, or for several months in the freezer.

Making Turkey Meatballs with Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins

- 1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed
- 4 slices dried white bread from a sandwich or big Italian loaf
- 1 to 2 cups milk
- 3 pounds ground turkey meat
- 3 large eggs, well beaten with a pinch of salt
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1 1/2 tablespoons porcini powder (to make porcini powder, place dried porcini in a spice or coffee grinder, and pulverize them as fine as possible – for more notes on porcini, see Lidia’s Family Table)
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 3/4 cup golden raisins, plumped in warm water and drained
- 3/4 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry skillet

Pour the olive oil into a medium skillet, drop in the minced onions, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and set over medium-high heat, stirring until they begin to sizzle. Lower the heat and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onion is wilted and slightly dry (but not colored). Scrape out of the pan and let cool.

Break up the dry bread slices into pieces roughly an inch or two across – you should have almost 4 cups – and put them in a shallow bowl or baking dish. Pour enough milk over to cover them, and soak for 4 to 5 minutes. When the pieces are completely soft, gather them in your hands and firmly squeeze out all the milk; you should have almost 1 cup of densely packed moist bread.

Loosen  up the turkey meat if it’s been compressed in packaging; spread it out in a large mixing bowl. Pour the beaten eggs on top, sprinkle on the parsley, porcini powder, salt, and freshly ground pepper. Scatter the drained raisins and pine nuts on the meat, then spread the cooled wilted onions on top. Break up the clump of wet bread, spreading little bits over the meat. Now fold, toss, and squeeze the meat and seasonings together with your hands and fingers to distribute all the ingredients evenly.

Spread the flour about 1/4 inch deep in the center of a baking sheet.

Pour vegetable oil into a large, heavy skillet or saute pan – 12 inches in diameter if possible – to a depth of at least 1/3 inch.

Scoop up a portion of meat with a small ice-cream scoop, a large spoon, or your fingers. Lightly shape the meat between your palms into 2-inch balls, a bit larger than golf balls (or whatever size you like). Drop each ball onto the floured sheet, roll it around until coated, then place it on another baking sheet. Form and flour all the meat balls in this manner.

Set the skillet over heigh heat until the oil is very hot. With tongs or a spatula, carefully transfer meatballs to the pan, as many as you can, leaving at least an inch or so between them. Cook for a minute or two, until they’ve starged to brown on the bottom, then turn them continuously – watch out for oil spatters – until golden-crusted on all sides, about 6 minutes. As they are done, transfer the fried meatballs to a baking sheet (I set them on a cooking rack atop a baking sheet to keep them dry – T). When all the meatballs are on the tray, sprinkle salt lightly over them (just a couple of pinches in all).

Note: The meatballs will finish cooking in the sauce; they are fried just until a golden crust forms. So, if you intend to eat them as is instead, be sure to fry them longer, until they are cooked through.

Before frying the next batch, turn off the heat and, with a fine-meshed skimmer or strainder, remove any browned bits from the oil. Add oil if needed to restore the 1/3 inch depth and heat it up again. (I must admit, I completely skipped this step. I found there was plenty of oil to fry 3 dozen meatballs in about four or five batches)

When all the meatballs are fried, cook them with the sugo following the instructions above.

Sugo and Turkey Meatballs with Pine Nuts and Raisins

Cream Biscuits

December 27th, 2009

IMG_0053I know that there are people who can whip up a batch of biscuits with butter or lard in a few moments flat. I am not one of them. I have “hot hands,” which means that the moment a stick of butter knows that it is going to be touched by me, my hands burst into blames which then instantly melts the butter. It’s like having an undesired superhero power, and which, needless to say, makes an awful mess. So when I saw this recipe for Cream Biscuits on Smitten Kitchen (a fantastic blog – if you’re not following it, you should), I thought I’d give them a whirl. She assures her readers that they are spectacularly easy, and you know what? They are!

Adapted from “James Beard’s American Cookery,” these biscuits take practically no time to put together. There are no sticky hands or oily countertops. I omitted the sugar, and I’m not sure I would ever add it. The recipe yielded 10 biscuits when I made them. Serve them warm from the oven, with butter of course. They are more substantial than butter biscuits, which makes them perfect to serve with eggs and bacon. You are simply not going to believe how easy these are to make. You’ll be a hero when you make these for your Sunday brunch.

A side note on the bacon: We tried Tommy Moloney’s Back Bacon with our brunch and it was delicious! It’s a bit like a thinly sliced pork loin with beautiful trimmings of fat. We got it at our local supermarket, so it should be relatively easy to find. If you can’t find it and would like to try it, simply use the link to order online.

IMG_0046Cream Biscuits
Adapted from James Beard’s American Cookery, and as blogged on SmittenKitchen.com

- 3 tablespoons melted butter
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the surface
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar (optional)
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt butter in a small pot or microwave dish, and set aside. Sift two cups flour, the baking powder, salt and (if using) sugar into a large bowl. Fold in 1 1/4 cups cream. If the dough is not soft or easily handled, fold in the remaining 1/4 cup cream, little by little.

Turn dough onto a floured surface, mound it into a ball and, using your hands, press it to a thickness of about 3/4 inch. Cut into rounds, 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Gather dough scraps and continue to make rounds. Dip the top of each round in melted butter and arrange on the baking sheet. Bake until golden, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately, or freeze for future use. [Biscuits can be baked straight from the freezer, and additional few minutes baking time will be needed, usually around 3 to 5.]

Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Pecan Frosting

December 1st, 2009

germans_chocolate_cakeMy boss has a tradition of buying or making the employees in her department whatever kind of cake they want for their birthday. She’s pretty awesome that way. So the first year I worked for her, I asked her what her favorite cake was, and she replied, “German Chocolate Cake.”

The first thing I see in my mind when someone says “German Chocolate Cake” is the green box of Baker’s German’s Chocolate, as seen on the shelf in the baking aisle of every supermarket in the United States. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what else people use German’s Chocolate for. I can’t imagine eating it on its own as it’s rather chalky. But sure enough, that image popped up in my head, and off I went to bake my boss’ birthday cake.

I have made this cake for four of her birthdays. The first two years I made the cake, I used the recipe from The Joy of Cooking. This might make people scratch their heads. Why on earth, one would wonder, would I use a recipe from a book when the recipe for Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake is clearly on the chocolate’s wrapper? The answer is…I have no idea. I think somewhere in the back of my mind I had this theory that The Joy of Cooking would have improved the recipe. (This is a ridiculous theory considering wrapper recipes are pretty much tried and true.) Besides, that recipe had sour cream in it. Everything that has sour cream in it is better, isn’t it?

Oh, not so.

My edition of The Joy of Cooking took a walk two years ago, which is odd because it’s a pretty tough thing to lose considering its binding and size. It even has a ribbon to hold your page (a feature I think all cookbooks should have – two ribbons would be even better). So, in desperation, I turned to The Fannie Farmer Cookbook.

This now might make people seriously wonder about my sanity. Why, one would ask, would you use a recipe from a book, again, when the recipe for Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake is Right. There. On. The. Wrapper? The answer is…I have no idea. But let me tell you, when we ate that cake it was so light, so delicately flavored, and so fulfilling, that I was actually glad to have lost The Joy of Cooking. I vowed that the Fanny Farmer recipe would be the only recipe I’d use for German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake from that time forward!

The joke is on me.

In preparing to write this, I went to Kraft’s website, wanting to relay the story about how what people call “German Chocolate Cake” is in actuality “German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake,” because the woman who submitted the recipe in the 1950′s to a newspaper used General Food’s (later, Kraft’s) Baker’s German’s chocolate brand. This cake has nothing to do with Germany. But you can read all about that here at Wikipedia, now that I’m thoroughly ashamed and this has turned into a different post altogether.

The joke’s-on-me part is that I just discovered that the recipe from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook is the same recipe as Kraft’s Original Baker’s German Sweet Chocolate Cake on Kraft’s site. Why Fannie Farmer doesn’t mention this, I don’t know, but there you have it. I’ve been laughing at myself the last 15 minutes.

The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (13th edition) incorrectly titles the recipe “German Sweet Chocolate Cake,” and leaves out a very important step: beating the egg whites to stiff peaks!

So here, with instructions adapted from both Fannie Farmer and Kraft Foods, Inc., is the recipe for the very delicious German’s Sweet Chocolate Cake. I’d say it’s a grownup style of cake. The chocolate is very subtle, much like the cocoa flavor in Red Velvet Cake. It’s not overly chocolate-forward, and it’s very balanced with the flavor of the classic coconut-pecan frosting, which I’ve given the Fannie Farmer version of here. This is perfect with a cup of coffee.

Ingredients (makes 16 servings):
- 4 ounces (one package) Baker’s German’s Sweet Chocolate
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1 cup butter
- 2 cups sugar
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 1/4 cups cake flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1 recipe Coconut-Pecan Frosting (recipe follows)

1. Preheat the oven to 350. Cover the bottoms of three 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper, and spray the pans with baking spray (alternatively, grease the sides of the pans with butter). Set aside.

2. Break the chocolate into pieces in a glass bowl. Pour 1/2 cup boiling water over the chocolate and stir to melt all the chocolate until smooth. Set aside to cool.

3. In a standing mixer with the paddle attachment, or in a bowl using a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy and light in color. Add egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Blend in the vanilla, then the chocolate.

4. In a large bowl, mix the flour with the baking soda and salt.

5. To the chocolate mixture, add the flour mixture and the buttermilk, alternating between the two, beating after each addition until smooth. Set aside.

6. Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Combine until just mixed – not too much or else the eggs will deflate. You should have a fairly airy batter.

7. Pour the batter into the three separate pans equally. Bake for 30-35 minutes until a toothpick comes out with only a couple of crumbs. Cool in the pans for five to ten minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool.

8. When cool, frost only the tops (not the sides) of each layer with Coconut-Pecan Frosting. Enjoy!

Frosting Ingredients (frosts two layers and the top of one 9-inch round German’s Chocolate Cake, recipe above):
- 1 cup evaporated milk
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
- 1/2 cup butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 1/3 cups Baker’s Angel Flake Coconut
- 1 cup chopped pecans

1. In a saucepan, mix the evaporated milk, sugar, egg yolks, butter, and vanilla, stirring over medium heat until thickened, anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Remove milk mixture and immediately stir in the coconut and pecans. Cool until thick enough to spread, stirring occasionally. Frost tops of cake layers only.

Portuguese Orange-Olive Oil Cake

November 10th, 2009

Orange-Olive Oil CakeA couple of weeks ago I began hearing whispers about a certain cake that was so very moist and flavorful, and once you’ve heard from more than three people on three completely separate occasions that there is something you MUST try, well then, you must try it.

David Leite
is one of my favorite essayists on food. He has a new book out, “The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors from Europe’s Western Coast,” which is receiving a lot of very good press. I also think he’s a natural on TV. I am not as familiar with his recipes, nor am I with Portuguese cuisine, but after trying this cake, I’m sold on both and am looking forward to trying more.

This is the perfect tea cake. Or dinner cake. Or breakfast cake. Or alone-in-the-closet-with-a-fork-cake. It is wonderfully moist, sweet but not too sweet, with a mouth-watering aroma of orange from both the juice and zest. David says on his site that it took 13 variations to get it right. Oh, did he get it right!

Pay attention to a few important notes: The first is to use a light-colored bundt pan. Mine is not exactly dark, but not light colored, and the outside of the cake was definitely a darker brown than I would have liked if I were to present it whole. This did not ruin the flavor, and could have been masked by a dusting of confectioner’s sugar, but just a word of caution. Second, the batter will have a much MUCH thinner consistency than one is used to for cake. Third, David says to let the cake rest a day or two. We had some the day after it was made, and then the day after that. I can report that the cake on day 2 was even more delicious than day 1. I urge you to visit David’s website to watch a video of how it is made (you can get a sense how thin the consistency of the batter is), and get the recipe from the source.

Portuguese Orange-Olive Oil Cake
by David Leite
from The New Portuguese Table: Exciting Flavors from Europe’s Western Coast

Make sure to use a light-colored Bundt pan. A dark one will turn out a cake that sticks and is unpleasantly brown. Since this cake only gets better with age, don’t even think about taking a bite until the day after you make it, or even the day after that.

- Nonstick baking spray with flour
- 4 to 5 large naval oranges
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
- 5 large eggs
- 3 cups granulated sugar
- 1 1/2 cups mild extra-virgin olive oil
- Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling

Method

1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven, remove any racks above, and crank up the heat to 350°F (175°C). Coat a 12-cup Bundt or tube pan with baking spray and set aside.

2. Finely grate the zest of 3 of the oranges, then squeeze 4 of them. You should have 1 1/2 cups of juice; if not, squeeze the 5th orange. Set aside.

3. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a handheld mixer in a large bowl, beat the eggs on medium-high speed until well-combined, about 1 minute. Slowly pour in the granulated sugar and continue beating until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. On low speed, alternate adding the flour mixture and oil, starting and ending with the flour, and beat until just a few wisps of flour remain. Pour in the orange juice and zest and whirl for a few seconds to bring the batter together.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a cake tester comes out with a few moist crumbs clinging to it, about 1 1/4 hours. If the top is browning too much as the cake bakes, cover lightly with foil. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes.

6. Turn the cake out onto the rack and cool completely, then place it in a covered cake stand and let it sit overnight. Just before serving, dust with powdered sugar.

Butternut Squash Soup

October 22nd, 2009

Jersey City’s Journal Square is a pretty beat up neighborhood. There’s barely a hint of the metropolitan city it used to be, except for the two majestic, well-preserved movie houses, one of which serves as a meeting hall for Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is a major transportation hub, with both a PATH station that runs to Newark and New York, as well as a large bus terminal, and there is a community college. It is a busy neighborhood, but not a particularly nice one. The massive improvements made downtown since 9/11 have yet to stretch to this part of the city.

I work between a salad bar, otherwise known as the “salmonella bar” due to its questionable temperatures for food safety, and a typical coffee shop with OK food. Other dining choices in the immediate area include Popeye’s, McDonald’s, White Castle, Blimpie, Subway, a few pizza places, a hot dog stand (with good hot dogs!), and, for the real fine dining experience, a Quiznos.

So on Wednesdays in the summer and fall, when Farmers’ Market is just across the street, it’s like a breath of fresh air. Not that it’s a great Farmers’ Market, it’s pretty bare-bones, only six vendors or so. But just to see all the colors of fresh produce under the tents is a sight for sore eyes.

Unlike most market days when I wander around buying what looks good and winging it, yesterday I went with one clear purchase in mind: butternut squash. I become very pumpkin-minded during the autumn, and I’ve been craving some squash soup. I think people are a little intimidated by winter squash, which is a shame. They are one of the easiest fruits to work with, very versatile, and can go to either the sweet or savory side of the culinary spectrum depending how they’re prepared.

There is pretty much nothing easier than this soup. There are five main ingredients: Butter, onion, butternut squash, stock, and nutmeg. The rest are optional, and you could mix it up by using a different winter squash, such as acorn or pumpkin, or adding an apple when simmering the squash. One could also spice things up with cayenne (red pepper) or chipotle, paprika, or curry powder. This soup is ready in less than 30 minutes!

Ingredients (makes approximately four servings):
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 onion, large dice
- 2 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1.5″ pieces.
- 1 2″ piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut in a large dice (optional)
- 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- Lemon juice to taste (optional)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tbsp heavy cream (optional)
- Sour cream (optional)
- Chives (optional)

1. Melt the butter in a large pot, add the onion and sauté until the onions are soft.

2. Add the squash to the pot, sauté for a few moments, add the stock, ginger (if using), salt and pepper. Simmer the squash on a high simmer until soft, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

3. Purée the soup with either a hand blender, or transfer the soup to a blender in batches, purée until smooth, and return the blended soup to the pot.

4. Bring the soup back to the heat and add your nutmeg, and a good squeeze or two of lemon juice (if using). Taste for salt and pepper, and season if needed. Once the soup is hot, remove from the heat, stir in heavy cream (if using).

5. Spoon the soup into bowls, and garnish with a dollop of sour cream and chopped chives if desired.

Brussel Sprouts with Bacon and Onion

October 21st, 2009

I’ve been on a mission lately to eat more home-cooked food, trying to overcome a takeout-and-TV dinners habit that is clearly not doing me any good. (I think I’m showing my age here. I’m sure they call TV dinners something else now…frozen entrees?) Anyway, Monday night is “watching House on the couch” night, and I wanted something quick, warm, and relatively healthy. The following fit the bill.

Ingredients:
- 1.5 pints Brussels sprouts, trimmed and cut in half (or quarters if they’re large sprouts)
- 5 slices bacon, cut into lardons
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- Lemon juice to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste

I had a big batch of Brussels sprouts lingering in the vegetable drawer of my refrigerator from a farmers’ market visit about a week and a half earlier. They weren’t looking so good:


I cut the bottoms off and peeled away the brown bits. Voila, beautiful Brussels sprouts!


I cooked the Brussels sprouts in a big pot of boiling water for four minutes and drained them, rinsing them in cold water to stop the cooking and keep their bright green color.

I cut five strips of bacon into lardons (crosswise strips), and rendered them in a large sauté pan so that they were cooked, but not yet crisp, and removed them from the pan with a slotted spoon. OK, full disclosure, I would have used three strips of bacon, except there were five left in the package. If I left two behind I’d have to use them for something else, for which there might not have been enough. There certainly would not be enough for all the members of my household if I cooked only two strips of bacon for breakfast. I mean, really, what do you do with just two pieces of bacon? So I used all five.

I drained most of the bacon fat, leaving just enough in the pan to sauté the diced onions. Once the onions were soft and translucent, I added the Brussels sprouts and cooked them with the onions until the Brussels sprouts were getting toasty on the outside. I added the bacon back to the pan, gave everything a good squeeze of lemon juice, a sprinkle of salt, and quite a bit of black pepper.

Voila! Brussels sprouts with bacon and onions (terrible photo, but you get the idea):


The onions were super-sweet and the Brussels sprouts tender. Smoky bacon, acid from the lemon, and some heat from the pepper rounded things out. Now that’s a TV dinner.

Bolognese

October 19th, 2009

The past four days in the northeast have been particularly dreary. It has been overcast and wet, and much cooler than it should be in early autumn. Weather like this screams for comfort food that has been cooking for hours, filling the house with its fragrance and warming the soul, and what could be better on a Sunday than a rich, meaty Bolognese?

One of the most important things a good cook knows is how to build flavor. You’ll hear comments on this all the time on shows like “Top Chef.” How many times have we heard, “He doesn’t know how to build flavor,” or “I wish there was some acid,” or “This is the perfect balance of sweet and savory.” There are several ways to build flavor, often used in combination, such as reducing, salting, searing, and toasting. This Bolognese uses these techniques, but above all is the technique of browning. This should probably be called “Brown Bolognese.”

Chef Anne Burrell was one of my culinary school chef-instructors, and the best teacher we had when it came to technique and Italian cuisine. It is to her recipes I turn when I want to make great pasta. And so I used her recipe for Bolognese.

Bolognese Recipe:

I’ve edited this a bit from the original. Click here to see the recipe on the Food Network’s website.

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion or 2 small, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 large carrots, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 3 ribs celery cut into 1-inch dice
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Extra-virgin olive oil, for the pan
  • Kosher salt
  • 3 pounds ground chuck, brisket or round or combination
  • 2 cups tomato paste
  • 1 750ml bottle (about 3.5 cups) hearty red wine
  • Water
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 bunch thyme and 1 rosemary, tied in a bundle
  • 1 or 2 rinds of Parmigiano cheese (optional)
  • 1 pound pasta of choice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • High quality extra-virgin olive oil, for finishing

Directions:

1. In a food processor, puree onion, carrots, celery, and garlic into a coarse paste. In a large pan over medium heat, coat pan with oil. Add the pureed veggies and season generously with salt. Bring the pan to a medium-high heat and cook until all the water has evaporated and they become brown, stirring frequently, about 15 to 20 minutes.

2. Add the ground beef and season again generously with salt. Cook 15 to 20 minutes until beef is brown.

3. Add the tomato paste and cook until brown about 4 to 5 minutes, or however long it takes for the tomato paste to brown.

4. Add the red wine. Cook until the wine has reduced by half, another 4 to 5 minutes. Make sure it is reduced.

5. Add water to the pan until the water is about 1 inch above the meat. Toss in the bay leaves, the bundle of thyme/rosemary, and the Parmigiano rinds (if using), and stir to combine everything. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer, stirring occasionally. As the water evaporates you will gradually need to add more, about 1 to 2 cups at a time. Don’t be shy about adding water during the cooking process, you can always cook it out. This is a game of reduce and add more water. If you try to add all the water in the beginning you will have boiled meat sauce rather than a rich, thick meaty sauce. Stir and TASTE frequently. Season with salt, if needed. Simmer for 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

Note on pasta: When you cook your pasta, retain some of the pasta cooking liquid. Once you’ve added your pasta to the ragù, if you feel the pasta is too dry (it should be glistening somewhat), add a bit of the cooking water. The water you cooked your pasta in will have retained some of the pasta’s starch and will keep your sauce saucy, rather than watering it down. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and add Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. For this sauce, I’ve become fond of Barilla’s Campanelle. It has a lovely fluted shape that holds the sauce well.

How To Build Big Bolognese Flavor:

Beef: I strongly recommend rather than buying packaged “ground beef,” visit your butcher and ask him or her to grind particular cuts. It makes a difference in flavor and quality. For this recipe I used about 1 pound of ground bottom round and 2 pounds of ground chuck steak. One could also use ground bison or turkey. Some cuts have more fat, almost all have different flavors and textures. It’s worth exploring and discovering your personal preferences.

Herbs: In Chef Burrell’s recipe, she uses only thyme and bay. I add some rosemary simply because I like it. Some Bolognese recipes add nutmeg. It’s entirely up to the chef what flavors they want to add to their pots.

Wine: It is not necessary, but I like to use wine from the region of whatever region-specific dish I am cooking. One popular varietal from the Bologna region is Sangiovese, which is the main component of Chianti. Thus, I used Chianti for this recipe. This is merely a persnickety habit of mine, as I believe recipes from a particular region should use ingredients from the region. But whatever hearty, inexpensive red you can get your hands on will work just as well. Never break the bank buying wine you’ll be cooking with. Once you’ve concentrated the wine with the other flavors and cooked the alcohol out, you’ll barely be able to tell the difference whether you’ve used Italian Chianti or California Merlot.

Cheese Rind: Chef Burrell’s recipe does not note this, but I find that adding a rind or two of Parmigiano to a pot of soup or sauce adds a rich dimension. Nearly everyone who cooks has rinds floating around in the bottom of their cheese bins (and if they’re moldy, just cut the mold off). It’s not a crime if you don’t use it, but adding it is divine.

Techniques:

In step #1 you’ll be browning the aromatics. You’ll want a “crud” (or fond) to form in the bottom of your pan, thus you should use a steel or ceramic pan, not non-stick. The crud will darken until it looks nearly burnt. This is going to add flavor to your Bolognese! When browning the aromatics, take your time. For me it took nearly 30 minutes to get all the water out and get the vegetables to a deep brown color. You could keep a tiny bit of the vegetable paste uncooked to the side to see how the color changes over time. Remember, you want to brown the paste.

In step #2 you’ll be browning the beef. As the beef releases fat, you’ll be able to start scraping up the crud that formed earlier from the vegetables. Again, brown the beef, don’t gray it. It should be the color of something you’d want to eat, not something underdone.

In step #3 you’ll be browning the tomato paste. You’ll notice it’s a bright red when you add it (again, you could leave some raw to the side to get a sense of where you started). Brown, brown, brown. The tomato paste should not be at all red when you get to the next step.

In step #4 you’ll be reducing the wine. Reducing concentrates flavors. If you don’t reduce the wine, you’ll wind up with a very nice wine sauce with beef, but what you want is a meaty sauce with the richness of wine in the background. Again, this takes time. Depending on the heat of your pan and its depth, this might take four minutes or it could take longer. Don’t rush.

In step #5 you’ll add herbs and water, beginning the process of the long simmer, concentrating the beef, tomato, wine, and herbal flavors even further. Again, depending on heat and depth, you may wind up adding water more or less often, but make sure you add and reduce, add and reduce. Don’t add too much water. Chef Burrell’s recipe says you’ll add 2 or 3 cups at a time. I prefer to add less water more often, as I don’t want to boil the meat.

You’ll want the meat to be soft and unctuous and become the messenger of the sweetness of the aromatics, the acid of the tomato, and the earthiness of the cheese and herbs. Your house will be ten degrees warmer than the thermostat says, just from the aroma. I recommend eating while wearing pajamas and slippers.