Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Visit to Providence and a Banana Caramel Cake

Providence is not the first place I would think to visit, but given the opportunity to travel, I'll go pretty much anywhere - and a week ago, I found myself on board a train heading north.  I brought an extensive picnic to accompany my journey (and as a result, ended up lugging a tote full of glass tupperware around New England with me) - Moroccan carrot salad (note: while long ribbons of carrot are attractive, grating works much better to soak up the sauce in this recipe), Reinhardt's whole-wheat pita, roasted beets, radishes, and a small, crunchy Persian cucumber.  The glass containers slid around the tray, and crumbs went all over my lap, but I am certain that my seat-mate was looking on in Great Envy.






Providence is red brick and walkways along the canal and a thousand churches and wood-paneled houses turned into Moroccan tea houses and "snuggeries."  It also has a one-way street called Friendship and is apparently run by the mob, but I didn't find either of these things.  I did, however, find a human in a bear suit playing a keytar: 



Providence was quiet.  The streets seemed empty, in a way that made me think that there was some big event somewhere, and if I just went around the right corner, I'd find it.  I didn't, but I found a lot of over things, and upon my return, I found myself with three very ripe bananas.

I suppose I could have made banana bread, but I was looking for something new, and I spent much of the afternoon wandering through various banana-y scenarios.  I decided to make something sweet and soft, with caramel and nuts for color and depth, and a bundt pan to dress it all up.  It would make a lovely tea-cake, and the leftover caramel would be amazing over ice-cream.



Banana Walnut Caramel Cake:
For the Cake: (adapted from Orangette)

Ingredients:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup + 2 Tbl packed light brown sugar
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
2 large eggs
3 large ripe bananes, purées
3/8 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup walnuts, divided
zest of 1 orange

Directions:
Preheat the oven to 350F.

Cream butter and sugar in a stand mixer on high speed until pale and fluffy.  While you're waiting, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl.  Also, chop 1 cup of the walnuts very fine, and chop the remaining 1/2 cup into attractively small pieces (these will top the cake.  Butter and flour your favorite bundt pan, and scatter the coarser walnuts at the bottom.

Add the eggs to the butter-sugar mix, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Add the bananas, beat thoroughly, and finally add the sour cream, vanilla, and orange zest, and beat until combined.  Add the flour, mixing slowly until almost combined, then add the finely-chopped walnuts and finish mixing by folding with a rubber scraper.

Pour some batter into the bundt pan, then pour some caramel (recipe below) on top.  Cover with more batter, then more caramel, then finish with batter.  (To be honest, I only managed one layer of caramel.)

Bake 30-40 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean, but with a few crumbs still clinging to it.  Let the cake cool on a rack for 10-15 minutes, then invert onto a plate.  Serve with more caramel sauce.

For the Orange-Caramel Sauce (adapted from this recipe):
Ingredients:
1 cup turbinado
2 Tbs strained, fresh-squeezed orange juice (from the orange you just zested)
4 Tbs unsalted butter (use the good stuff)
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp sea salt

Directions:
In a large saucepan, mix the juice and the sugar.  On the very lowest of heats, melt the sugar, stirring as little as you can possibly manage with a rubber scraper.  (Restrain yourself!  And read this.)


When the sugar has melted, bring it to a boil, and let boil for 3 minutes, or until it is a gorgeous golden brown.  Add the butter to stop the cooking, and stir continuously until the butter is melted and incorporated.  Remove from heat, and add the sour cream and sea salt.  Stir to combine.  Pour into a clean pint jar.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

A Beginning.

It starts here.



And then we do a little of this.



And then we put in a lot of this.



And then we let it sit for hours, on the lowest of low heat.  We go from this:



...to this...


...to this...



...to about a quart of beautiful, pale, not-quite-but-almost meltingly tender cabbage, of which I failed to take a picture.  The next day (if you are like me, and don't quite have time on a Monday night to make this all happen at once), put your cabbage in a pot with stock, and bring to a boil.  Add a can or two of beans, a couple tablespoons of butter, a good handful of parmesan, generous amounts of salt and pepper, and let it all heat and mingle.  When everything is thoroughly bubbly and warm and you're so, so hungry that you can't wait to take a picture (and really, that steam obscures everything), serve in a warmed bowl with more parmesan.  It's rich and filling without making you feel heavy, and sends rivers of warmth to the tips of your toes.

I almost don't want to write anything more: the recipe is beautiful and perfect in its simplicity.  Plus, you have cabbage to start chopping.

Smothered Cabbage Stew:
Adapted from Orangette

Smothered Cabbage:
Ingredients:
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup olive oil
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 medium head of Savoy cabbage (about 2 lbs.)
salt
freshly ground pepper
1 Tbl white wine vinegar

Directions:
Heat the olive oil in a large, thick-bottomed soup-pot or Dutch oven (my preference) over medium heat.  Add the onion, and cook, stirring every once in a while, until the onions are golden (five minutes, perhaps).  Add the garlic, and cook, stirring off and on, until the garlic smells fragrant (a few more minutes).

In the meantime, quarter the cabbage, core it, and slice it into long, thin slivers, making sure to break up any large pieces that may have escaped your knife (or do this before you start).  When the garlic is finished, add the cabbage to the pot, and stir to coat the cabbage in the oil.  (I sent little pieces of cabbage flying frequently, so really, use a big pot.)  Continue to cook and stir until the cabbage is fairly wilted, then add a good amount of salt and pepper, and the vinegar.  Stir to combine, then cover, and let sit for 1.5-2 hours on the lowest possible setting.  Stir the cabbage occasionally, and add a tablespoon or two of water if it looks too dry.  When the cabbage is done, you can proceed to the next recipe, or freeze it for another day.

Stew:
Ingredients:
1 recipe of smothered cabbage
3 cups of vegetable stock
28-oz cooked beans (I used garbanzos and great Northern beans)
2 Tbl butter
1/3 cup grated parmesan
salt and pepper
more parmesan to serve

Directions:
About as easy as it gets.  Add the cabbage to a large pot and pour the vegetable stock over it.  Bring to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.  Add the beans, and stir to distribute.  Add the parmesan and the butter, and turn the heat to medium-high until the soup starts bubbling again.  Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and serve with more parmesan.

Bliss.

...now that your tummies are full, and small smiles of contentment linger on your faces, I thought to have a long, thoughtful, after-dinner chat.  But I find that the writing has settled my stormy thoughts, the soup came back in spirit to tell me that everything's all right.  Or even if it's not, I've got soup in my bowl, and that's a pretty good start.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Shaker Lemon Pi(e)

I've been putting this off, mainly because I lacked an insightful or funny introduction.  Don't worry, I still haven't thought of one, but that's all right.  Even being homebound on the snow day (they've all been on Mondays - very convenient) did not give inspiration for this (even though I wrote pages elsewhere).  So, this post is just about pie.  In honor of Pi Day (of course), I made a Lemon Shaker Pie.



It is a perfect pie for winter, when citrus is abundant and cheap, and the ingredients are probably already in your pantry, so you don't have to wander out into the worst of all weathers, the Wintery Mix.



This particular recipe comes from both Tartine and Smitten Kitchen (who got it from Saveur, I believe - let's see how long we can make this chain), and was apparently a recipe originally created by the Shakers, who were apparently rather innovative bakers.  This lemon pie is a testament to their frugality: you use the entire lemon (excepting seeds and stem) in the filling, which becomes a lightly custardy lemon marmalade that just sings with bright lemon flavor.  I recommend small slices, and something creamy beside it, to balance the flavor - vanilla or crème fraîche ice cream, perhaps?

Lemon Shaker Pie
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen and Tartine
Ingredients
Filling:
2 large (1/2 lb) lemons (Meyers are lovely, but any relatively thin-skinned lemon will do)
2 cups (14 oz) sugar
1/4 tsp salt
4 large eggs

Egg Wash:
1 large egg yolk
1 Tbsp heavy cream

Crust:
1 tsp salt
2/3 water, very cold
3 cups + 2 Tbsp (1 lb) AP flour
1 cup + 5 Tbsp (10 1/2 oz) unsalted butter

Directions
Twenty-four hours (this is Important, you cannot skip this) before you want to bake this, prepare the lemons.  Zest the lemons into a non-reactive bowl.  Cut the lemons in half, and trim the ends, down to where the fruit starts.  Lay the lemons on their flat surfaces, and slice them as thin as you possibly can - paper thin - discarding any seeds you come across.  If the lemons are cold, they'll be easier to slice.  Add the lemons to the bowl with the zest, and add the sugar.  Toss so that the lemons and sugar are fairly evenly distributed, then cover the bowl and let sit for 24 hours.



In the meantime, prepare the tart dough.  Mix the flour and the salt in a mixing bowl, and cut the butter into large-ish pieces into the flour.  Using a pastry knife or two forks or whatever your preferred tools are, cut the butter with the flour until the butter is the size of large peas.  Drizzle the water into the bowl and toss with a fork until the dough comes together into a shaggy mass.  Put the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and divide it into two pieces.  The idea is to work the dough as little as possible, and to keep the butter pieces as large as possible.  That being said, form the dough into two disks, about 1 inch thick, and refrigerate for at least two hours.

The next day, discard any seeds that may have floated to the surface of the lemon-sugar mixture.  Beat the eggs with the 1/4 tsp salt, then add the egg mix to the lemons and sugar, mixing well.

Roll out the dough into two 12-inch wide, about 1/8-inch thick disks, and use one disk to line a 9-inch tart pan, trimming to leave about 1/2-inch of overhang.  Pour the filling into the shell, and cover with the second disk.  Trim and crimp the edges.  Mix the egg yolk and the cream, and brush over the surface.  If you like, you can sprinkle some coarse sugar over the top.  Refrigerate for 30 minutes while the oven preheats to 350F.  Just before baking, cut a few slits (or if you're me, 'pi') into the top to allow air to vent.  Bake 40 minutes to 1 hour (Tartine says 40min, mine took much longer) until the crust is golden and the pie is bubbling through the slits.  If the pie is getting too brown too quickly, you can cover it with foil.

Let cool, and enjoy!


Monday, March 3, 2014

Back!

...and checking in from Rockville, Maryland, where I am snowed in (wait, isn't it March?) and taking the opportunity to return to this long-neglected project.

My Rockville backyard.
There have been many changes behind the scenes - I finished the PhD and got a job on the other side of the country, and in between walked the Camino, worked on a farm in Bavaria, rode a camel in the Sahara, and much, much more, stories from which will certainly pepper this blog in the months to come.
Get it? Pepper?
Changes in my schedule and environment have led to changes in how and when and what I cook.  There have been new challenges (as well as numerous realizations of how spoiled I was in California - why would one live anywhere else?), but there have been new projects and goals, some of which have even succeeded.  Expect posts about bread, CSAs, and cooking with unusual (to me) Asian vegetables.

One of the big changes about the East Coast is the access to and price of produce.  I have mixed feelings about doing all my shopping at Lotte and H-Mart (fresh okra? now?), but when cilantro costs three dollars a bunch elsewhere, most misgivings seem to evaporate.  However, when I can cook something with ingredients that are dried, canned, or (mostly) in season, I jump on it.


If you aren't already reading 101 Cookbooks, go there now.  Heidi Swanson's recipes are fresh and beautifully photographed, and she has a knack for combining flavors and ingredients that challenge my conceptions of what "goes together," and always carries it off with style. (Guilty: I tend to be a little conservative when spicing, unless following a recipe.)  The following was adapted from her recipe.  My version omits the mint (which I thought was buried by the other flavors), and has a chili-like consistency, perfect for the snowy days.  I topped it with cotija, cilantro, green onions and freshly-squeezed lime juice, and ate it with toasted, thick corn tortillas, though I bet it would be delicious served over polenta.

Dried Fava Bean Stew with New Mexico Chiles
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks

Ingredients:
1 lb/ 16 oz/ 450 g hulled dry fava beans*
8 cups/ 2 L vegetable broth (I used this)
8 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 large white onion, sliced 1/2-inch/ 1 cm thick
1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
8 dried New Mexico chiles, (some spicy, some medium, depending on your preference), stemmed and seeded, divided
2 Tbl extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbl cider vinegar
3/4 tsp dried Mexican oregano
1 1/2 tsp fine-grain sea salt

Toppings: cotija (or other fresh, crumbly Mexican or Latin American cheese), cilantro, green onions, lime

Directions:
Place the fava beans in a large pot with the broth and three of the New Mexico chiles.  Bring to a boil, and simmer the mixture for an hour, or until the beans are tender, but not falling apart.

While the beans are cooking, put the garlic and onions on a baking sheet, and broil 5-10 minutes, about 4 inches from the broiler (this number is highly dependent on your oven.  Always watch broiling items like a hawk!), until the onion is browned and carmelized.




Remove the onions and garlic, and let them cool.  Once cool (or cool enough to handle comfortably), peel the garlic, and dice the onions and garlic together.  Whenever they're done, add the onions, garlic, and tomatoes to the beans, and let it continue to simmer.  Like all chilis, it benefits from cooking slowly over a long period of time, so don't rush it.

Take the remaining chiles, and somehow reduce them to tiny pieces.  (I used scissors, but this was painfully slow.  In the future, I would put it through a food processor.)  Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat, and add the confettied chiles.  Cook for a minute, stirring (do not leave them, or they will burn), then remove and add 3 tablespoons of water, and the vinegar, oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt.  Set aside, and let sit for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add to the pot with the beans.


When the beans are tender, and you just can't standing waiting any longer, salt the stew to taste (though be aware that the cheese is salty), and serve with all your favorite fixings: cotija, chopped cilantro and green onions, lime juice...  Enjoy!


*Note: Make sure your fava beans are hulled, or hull them before starting!  I did not, and found myself hulling a pound of hot fava beans halfway through cooking.  I cannot recommend this procedure to anyone.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Granola

I grew up on TJs ginger-almond granola (which I thought was pretty tasty at the time, granted), but was converted by a fellow from Eugene's The Lorax, who was visiting Berkeley and Lothlorien for a few days.  I have never eaten so much granola in my life as that week.



It took me a while to attempt it myself, but now that I have, there is No Going Back.  Fortunately (as the internet and most likely you have already realized), it's really pretty easy and tastes about a thousand times better than much of the stuff on the market.

Technically, the word I wrote down at the top of this recipe is "granaloa," which says something about the hour and/or mindset I was in at the time of recording.  I found it on the internet somewhere I am unable to recall (apologies to the since-forgotten blogger), and have adapted it as I like.  Have fun!