Saturday, January 30, 2010

Lime Almond Squares

Alot of people are passionate about lemon squares or lemon bars. It's understandable; the combination of tart, sweet, sort of gooey citrus filling and buttery, shortbread-like crust is good. Really good. There's almost nothing like the bright taste of a lemon bar to lift you out of the winter doldrums.

ALMOST nothing, because I have to inform you that this cookie is better. It's lime filling is not only a bit more unusual than lemon filling, but it has a more distinctive flavor and it stands up better to all the sugar in the filling and to the buttery crust. Plus the addition of toasted, slivered almonds to the crust not only adds another layer of flavor, but it also provides a nice crunch. Besides, this cookie happens to be one of my husband's favorites.

I'm not sure where I got this recipe. I thought I got it from my mom, but when I asked her about it she claimed she got it from me. Regardless of its provenance (sorry about the lack of attribution), I promise you that lime almond squares will become one of your favorites too.

Lime Almond Squares
Makes 16

1 cup flour
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons well chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds

3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon grated lime zest
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt

Powdered sugar and lime curls, for garnish

For crust:
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line 8-inch baking pan with tin foil; butter foil.

2. Mix together flour, brown sugar and salt. Add butter and nuts, and blend together until a fine meal forms.

3. Press evenly into the bottom of the greased, foiled pan and bake until golden brown, about 20 minutes.

For filling
1. Blend together sugar, eggs,lime juice, lime zest, baking powder and salt until smooth.

2. Pour filling onto hot crust and bake until filling is slightly browned and just springy to the touch, about 20 minutes.

3. Cool completely.  Lift foil from pan, peel off foil and cut into 16 squares. Dust with powder sugar and garnish with lime curls.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

It's snowing (again) and I'm in the mood for soup.  I first started experimenting with this recipe for curried butternut squash soup a couple of weeks ago, when a ferocious blizzard buried us in 26 inches of snow.  The roads were awful and my car looked like an igloo, so I made do with the rather limited supplies I had: butternut squash, an apple, onion parsnips and a load of pecans we had just picked up in Alabama driving home from Florida.

The first time I made this soup I used chicken broth and some cream, but when my vegan sister-in-law visited last week I left out the cream and substituted vegetable broth -- and the soup actually tasted better! The toasted pecans add a nice crunch and if you're looking for a touch of something creamy (and you're not vegan) garnish with a dollop of sour cream or, better yet, Boursin cheese.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Serves 8

2 smallish butternut squash, about 4 lbs. total
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
2 parsnips, diced
1 granny smith apple, diced
4 tablespoons curry
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Pinch of cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
6 cups or more vegetable broth (or chicken broth)
1 cup toasted pecans, chopped for garnish
Sour cream or Boursin cheese (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 375 F. Peel, de-seed and chop butternut squash into one-inch cubes. Place squash in large bowl, drizzle with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add salt and pepper, and toss to coat squash. Spread squash on rimmed backing sheet and bake for about 45 minutes until easily pierced with a fork and slightly browned.

2. In large pot, heat remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add onions, parsnips and apple and saute until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Mix in curry, cumin and cayenne pepper; cook, stirring now and then, an additional minute. Add cooked squash and vegetable broth to the pot, mix and then bring to boil. Low heat to simmer and let cook at least 10 minutes.

3. Using an immursion blender (or regular blender in batches) puree soup. Depending on your taste, you can leave the soup a bit chunky or puree smooth. (You may need to add additional broth or water if soup is too thick.) For an ultra smooth texture, strain puree. Add additional salt and/or pepper to taste.

4. Garnish with chopped, toasted pecans and/or a dollop of Bousin cheese or sour cream.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Momofuku's Ginger Scallion Noodles

I was looking through the New Books section in my local public library when I came upon a copy of the Momofuku cookbook. I snatched it from the shelf so fast I probably left a trail of smoke. Momofuku is a restaurant group based in New York City. The cookbook, written by chef David Chang with Peter Meehan, interweaves recipes from three of Momofuku's restaurants in the East Village (a fourth restaurant recently opened in midtown) with Chang's story.

Chang's tale of his not-so-smooth rise to award-winning chef is a great read and the book captures Chang's "badass" intense style (being a "badass" chef apparently involves heavy use of the adjective "fucking"). What I particularly admired was Chang's ability to turn things around when his restaurants were on the brink of failure, his passion and creativity, and his unerring commitment to quality.

The recipes in this book, however, are not exactly home cook friendly. There are two issues: first, many recipes are complex. For example, the "goal" of the "brick" chicken recipe "is to completely bone out a whole chicken and end up with two boneless halves," which are then made into a "brick" shape using transglutaminase or meat glue. (This explanation is abridged; the recipe runs three pages.) Another example is the 48-hour short rib recipe, which the authors note is "not a reasonable proposition for the home cook unless you are willing to buy a vacuum-sealing machine and fabricate a water circulator situation." Hey, I consider myself a reasonably adventurous cook, but vacuum-sealing machines and water circular situations are probably not in my future. 

Second, many ingredients used in this cookbook are difficult to find, especially if you, like me, don't live in a city with a large Asian population (and lovely Asian groceries). And I know, as the book rather unhelpfully says in its sourcing section, if you're unfamiliar with an ingredient or can't find it, Google it (well duh). I just think it's generally impractical to order ingredients online to try a recipe.

For these Ginger Scallion Noodles (among the book's most accessible to home cooks), I used regular soy sauce instead of usukuchi, a light soy sauce used often by Chang. After looking for usukuchi in four stores, I just gave up. Surprisingly, I even had a difficult time finding sherry vinegar. For the noodles, I used lo mein instead of ramen (as it turns out Chang also initially used fresh lo mein before he found someone to make ramen to his specifications). Despite these changes, the noodles were delicious and I will make them again, but, honestly, I probably won't be buying this cookbook.

Please don't get me wrong, I actually appreciate the fact that the recipes in this book are not home cook friendly. After all, when I go to a restaurant I generally like to order something I couldn't easily make at home. This book actually makes me want to eat at a Momofuku restaurant.  Until then, I'll just settle for these noodles.

Ginger Scallion Noodles
Adapted, by neccessity, from Momofuku

2-1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions (white and green parts), about 2 bunches
1/2 cup finely minced, peeled ginger
1/4 cup grapeseed oil or other neutral oil
1-1/2 tsp soy sauce (or usukuchi)
3/4 tsp sherry vinegar
3/4 tsp kosher salt
6 ounces noodles, such as ramen or lo mein (fresh if you can find it)
Sliced scallions (optional garnish)

In a bowl, mix scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Let stand 15 minutes before using. Refrigerate, covered, up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature and stir before using. Makes about 3 cups.

To put together dish, boil 6 ounces of noodles, drain and toss with 6 tablespoons of scallion-ginger sauce (above). Top the bowl with 1/4 cup each of bamboo shoots (below), quick-pickled cucumbers (below) and pan-roasted cauliflower (below). Garnish with chopped scallions.

Bamboo Shoots

One 12-oz can sliced bamboo shoots, drained, rinsed
1 splash each: grapeseed oil, Asian sesame oil, soy sauce
Kosher salt, if needed

For bamboo shoots, in small saucepan, combine bamboo shoots, grapeseed oil, sesame oil and soy sauce. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, 20 minutes. Taste; season with salt if needed. Use immediately or refrigerate, covered, up to 4 days. Reheat before adding to noodles.
Quick-Pickled Cucumbers

2 Kirby cucumbers, cut into 1/8-inch thick rounds (about 4 cups)
1 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp kosher salt

For quick-pickled cucumbers, in small mixing bowl, combine cucumbers, sugar and salt. Toss by hand to coat well. Let stand 5 to 10 minutes. Use immediately, or refrigerate up to 4 hours.

Pan-Roasted Cauliflower

1 small head of cauliflower
1 tablespoon grapeseed oil
salt to taste

Divide cauliflower into florets. Heat oil in a hot wide pan, add florets and cook about 8 minutes over high heat, stirring occasionally,until florets are dotted with brown and cooked all the way through; season with salt.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Celery Root & Roasted Garlic Puree

Celery root is not going to win any beauty contests. It'll never be voted most popular. In fact, when I picked up a couple of these gnarly knobs at my CSA I heard several people ask "what are these?" which was inevitably followed by "what do I do with it?"

Celery root is actually a kind of misnomer. It is not the root of the much more common celery stalk. But celery root, also known as celeriac, is a member of the same family and it does have a similar flavor.

The best thing about celery root is that it's really delicious. This puree is a great alternative to mashed potatoes. It would make a luxurious side next to a holiday turkey or even perhaps, even better, as a bed for braised meat. Short ribs or lamb shank anyone?

Celery Root and Roasted Garlic Puree

2 medium celery roots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1-1/2 cups chicken broth (low sodium preferably) or vegetable broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons butter
4 cloves roasted garlic (or more or less to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Simmer celery root and broth in saucepan until tender, about 15 minutes.

2. Transfer celery root, reserving liquid, to food processor or blender and puree with cream, butter and garlic -- adding reserved broth as needed for a smooth but not too runny texture. Salt and pepper to taste.

Roasted Garlic
From Simply Recipes

1 (or more) whole heads of garlic
2 teaspoons olive oil per head of garlic

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F

2. Remove the outer layers of the garlic bulb skin, leaving the skins of the individual cloves intact. Cut off 1/4 to 1/2 inch of the top of cloves with a knife to expose the individual cloves of garlic.

3. Place the garlic heads in a baking pan. Drizzle 2 teaspoons of olive oil over each head and coat well using your fingers. Cover with aluminum foil. Bake at  for 30-35 minutes (cloves should feel soft when pressed).

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pork Tenderloin with Creamed Corn and Apple-Cranberry Chutney

I have really come to appreciate pork tenderloin. It's easy and quick to cook. It's tasty and it's economical. What more could you ask for?

This recipe combines rich, creamy corn, savory herb-marinated pork and a sweet-spicy-tart fruit chutney in one exquisitely balanced bite. In the summer, I like to use fresh corn and cook the pork on the grill. But, to me, this dish has more of a cool weather vibe; maybe because it's a little heavier than typical summer fare or maybe it's the apple chutney.

A load of just-picked apples -- mine came after my mom went apple picking in Vermont -- presents the perfect excuse to make this in the fall. This recipe makes more apple-cranberry chutney than needed, but it won't go to waste. Use it with chicken or turkey or another cut of pork.

Pork Tenderloin with Creamed Corn and Apple-Cranberry Chutney
Adapted from Bon Appetit

For the pork:

2/3 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
5 garlic cloves
3 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 shallots
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground black pepper
3/4 cup olive oil
2 12- to 14-ounce pork tenderloins, trimmed

For the corn:

6 cups fresh corn kernels or frozen, thawed
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 garlic clove, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced (optional)
3 tablespoons all purpose flour
1 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
1-1/2 to 2 cups whipping cream (or half cream, half half-and-half)
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the pork, combine first 6 ingredients in processor and chop finely. Blend in oil. Transfer marinade to glass baking dish. Add pork tenderloins to marinade and turn to coat. Cover dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.

For creamed corn:

Cook 1 cup corn kernels in boiling salted water until tender, about 2 minutes. Drain well and set aside. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and jalapeno and sauté until soft, about 3 minutes. Add flour and stir 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in chicken broth until mixture thickens and boils. Stir in cream. Bring mixture to simmer. Add remaining 5 cups of corn and simmer until mixture is thick, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes. Cool slightly. Transfer to processor and coarsely puree. Stir in 1 cup cooked corn kernels.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Heat 3 tablespoons oil in heavy large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. Remove pork from marinade. Add pork to skillet and sauté until brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer skillet to oven and roast pork until a meat thermometer inserted into center registers 180°F, about 10 minutes (or more).

Apple-Cranberry Chutney

2 cups apple cider vinegar
1-1/2 cups sugar
2 pounds Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (about 7 cups)
1 cup dried cranberries
5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger (or about 3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger)

Stir vinegar and sugar in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Boil without stirring until syrupy and reduced to 1 1/2 cups, about 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add all remaining ingredients. Simmer until apples are tender, liquid is absorbed, and mixture thickens slightly, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes.

To put together: Bring corn to simmer. Spoon corn onto plates, dividing equally. Slice pork tenderloins and place atop corn, dividing equally. Top with Apple-Cranberry Chutney and serve.

Serves six

Friday, October 30, 2009

Tangerine Vanilla Loaf Cake

It's fall and many food blogs are featuring recipes made with apples and pears. While I too find apples and pears worthy inspiration at this time of year, autumn also brings to my mind other seasonal fruit -- citrus.

You see, we lived in Florida for five years and October marks the start of the state's citrus harvest. Large trucks filled with juice oranges become a common sight on the highways and fruit stands are stacked high with several varieties of just-picked, juicy citrus. We luckily lived near a small private citrus grove, where we picked oranges, grapefruit, tangelos (a delicious cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit) and, my favorite, tangerines.

Tangerines, also known as mandarins, are smaller and sweeter than oranges, with a distinctive flavor. They also have looser skin than oranges, making them easier to peel -- and easier to eat.  Freshly squeezed tangerine juice is totally luscious, great on its own or mixed with champagne (tangerine mimosa anyone?) I also like to use the juice in cooking. For example, a spritz in an Asian stir fry provides a nice twist.  

So when I saw this recipe for a quick bread using clementines, I instantly thought tangerines. I used five tangerines in total, but more may be needed depending on the size of the tangerines. I also substituted one vanilla bean (I only had one on hand) for a teaspoon of vanilla extract and it worked out fine. The bread, which I'm calling a loaf cake, is moist and full of tangerine flavor; a great afternoon snack with a cup of tea.

Tangerine Vanilla Loaf Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

1 tablespoon tangerine zest
3/4 cup freshly squeezed tangerine juice, divided
2 tangerines, supremed* (for zest, juice and supremes about 5-6 tangerines total)
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting the pan
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (8 tablespoons or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
1-1/4 cups sugar
2 vanilla beans, split and scraped
2 large eggs

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter an flour 9-by-5 inch loaf pan.

2. Mix together 1/4 cup tangerine juice, heavy cream and vanilla extract in a medium bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking poder and salt.

3. With a mixer on medium, combine tangerine zest, butter, 1 cup of sugar and vanilla seeds (about 4 minutes). Add eggs one at a time. With mixer on low, add about a third of the flour mixture, then half of the cream mixture, another third of flour, the remaining cream and then the last of the flour.

4. Fold in tangerine supremes and pour batter into loaf pan. Gently smooth top.

5. Place loaf pan on rimmed baking sheet and bake 55-65 minutes or until tester comes out clean from center of loaf.

6. While loaf is baking, put 1/2 cup of tangerine juice and 1/4 cup of sugar in small sauce pan and bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer forthree minutes.

7. Remove loaf from oven. With a skewer, poke holes all over the top and brush with half the tangerine syrup. Allow loaf to cool about 15 minutes, remove from pan, and cool completely.

8. Brush the rest of the tangerine syrup onto the sides and top (again) of loaf.

* To supreme the tangerines, use a small paring knife and slice off the top and bottom, to expose the pulp. Starting at the top, where the pith (white part) meets the pulp, slice off the skin following the curve of the fruit. When all the peel is removed, slice out each segment by cutting in towards the center of the fruit along the membranes. Remove the now supremed segments.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Swiss Chard Ricotta Gnudi with Fall Mushrooms

I've been a Bon Appetit subscriber for longer than I can remember. Recently, there's been talk that Bon Appetit and its sister publication, Gourmet, may face reduced publishing schedules and "streamlining" due to a downturn in advertising revenues. This is a shame. I look forward to receiving Bon Appetit each month and I am frequently inspired by their recipes and photographs. 

Although I spend a good amount of time gaping at the photos, I realized that I rarely make any of the recipes. I mean, I mean to, but I just don't get around to it very often.  So, I've decided to make at least one Bon Appetit recipe a month as a sort of show of support. This month I made Swiss Chard Ricotta Gnudi with Fall Mushrooms.

This recipe had several things going for it as far as I was concerned. For one thing, I had just picked up a bunch of Swiss chard from my CSA and, for another, I have been making homemade ricotta cheese and this seemed like an ideal way to use it. But the gnudi were what really sold me on this recipe.

Gnudi (pronounced nudie) means naked in Italian and, true to their name, they're like ravioli filling without the pasta. I adore gnocchi and gnudi are gnocchish (is that a word?), but gnudi are made with ricotta cheese instead of potatoes and are more delicate and creamy than gnocchi.

Actually, gnudi are easier to make than gnocchi, although they do need to be refrigerated overnight, which makes this a plan-ahead recipe. The gnudi are served with sauteed mushrooms and a reduced chicken broth -- both easy to make -- although I probably should have reduced the broth more. Overall, though, this recipe was a tasty success and I plan to use it as a base to experiment with gnudi.  

Swiss Chard Gnudi with Fall Mushrooms
From Bon Appetit

Serves 6

1 pound Swiss chard, stem ends trimmed
1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese plus additional for serving
1/4 cup coarsely chopped shallot (about 1 large)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup all purpose flour plus additional for shaping dumplings
6 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 shallots, thickly sliced
1 pound assorted wild mushrooms (such as shiitake, chanterelle, and crimini), stems trimmed and reserved, caps thinly sliced
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces, divided
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Kosher salt

To prepare gnudi:

1. Cut chard leaves from each side of center stem. Cut stems into matchstick-size strips. Cover and refrigerate stems for sauce.

2. Cook chard leaves in large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 3 minutes. Drain; cool. Squeeze chard leaves until very dry; place in processor. Using on/off turns, finely chop chard. Add ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, shallot, egg, coarse salt, pepper, and nutmeg; process to blend. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Add 1/2 cup flour; stir to blend. Cover and refrigerate dough overnight.

To prepare broth:

1. In large saucepan, bring chicken broth, sliced shallots, and mushroom stems to boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until mixture is reduced to 3 cups, about 35 to 40 minutes (after 40 minutes I still had more than 3 cups). Strain and discard solids. Return broth to saucepan. (The broth can be made 1 day ahead. Just cover and chill, then rewarm before continuing.)

2. Melt 2 tablespoons butter with 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat; add sliced mushroom caps. Sprinkle with salt and pepper; sauté until mushrooms are tender and browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to bowl. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in same skillet over medium heat. Add reserved thinly sliced chard stems and sauté until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. (The mushrooms and chard stems can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature.)

3. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon some flour onto large plate. Working in batches, drop heaping teaspoonfuls gnudi dough onto plate with flour to form about 36 gnudi. Using floured hands, gently shape each into 1 1/2-inch-long, 1/2-inch-thick oval. Tap off excess flour; transfer gnudi to prepared baking sheet. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Cover and chill.

4. Bring large wide pot of salted water to boil. Slide gnudi into pot; cook until tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.

5. Meanwhile, whisk remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot broth. Season broth to taste with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.

6. Divide mushrooms and chard stems among 6 bowls. Add broth, dividing equally (about 1/2 cup each). Using slotted spoon, divide gnudi among bowls. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve immediately.