Tuesday, September 29, 2009

brown butter pound cake

brown butter pound cake

I have been ruined, my friends. Forever. By nothing more than a simple brown butter cake batter. And as I sit here and type this, I can only contemplate one thing – chemistry. What a boring name for what actually happens! It should be called magic, or sorcery, or things transformed. But not chemistry. That doesn’t sounds like something I want to eat.

While we’re talking chemistry here, let me just confess that I loathed chemistry in high school. In fact, I think I might have avoided pre-med specifically because of it. My mother still thinks I would have made a fantastic doctor (she thinks surgery’s my thing) and I don’t disagree with her – medicine has always fascinated me as I readily absorbed all the medical trivia. And they always say that you tend to remember that which interests you the most. Likes crus of butter, or benefits of raw milk, or say all the different kinds of apples you can find at farmers market this month. But what I am realizing now, after all these years, is that I should have loved chemistry most of all subjects; I should have been doing that homework first, and not last. After all, chemistry is all about change and transformation – which is really what cooking is all about.

yeah, this ain't no joke herefrothy
then bubblythen sorta sudsy and you gotta see those solids

Butter by itself is an exciting thing, at least to me. I could wax rhapsodic about how if you take cream and just shake it for some time, you get butter. You start with one thing. You finish with another. Magic, right? And when your end result happens to be butter – nothing short of enchanting or magical should be attributed to your result. But, if you continue on, and take this butter, this delicious, sinfully rich, tangy butter that you just made and you heat it to the point where its solids turn chocolatey-brown, you get this thing that I consider to be the sexiest two words in the English language – brown butter.

brown butter - swoon

I think it’s impossible to understand why people go mad for brown butter until you try it, or try something with it. I have yet to meet a soul who hasn’t been completely seduced by it. I say “seduced” and not “won over” because brown butter is exactly that: seductive, sensual, sexy. If butter is a negligee, then brown butter is the merry widow. Even as I write this, my heart sinks a little bit, the same way it sinks when someone you have a huge crush on leans in for that first kiss and the world suddenly goes into surreal slow motion.

brown butter pound cake

brown butter pound cake

For me, this pound cake is that ultimate crush. I can have it as dessert at the end of the meal topped with gorgeous berries (or wine-stewed prunes as in the picture at the bottom of the page) or it’s my perfect morning coffee companion. And while pound cake isn’t the kind of thing one normally gets giddy about, brown butter pound cake, certainly is, at least in my book. You should also know by now that I’m a girl who likes her bourbon and looks for opportunities sneak it in anywhere she can. At times, I wonder if the Sassy Radish logo should have a parenthetical “we like bourbon here” by-line. By now you probably guessed correctly that I couldn’t resist the opportunity to add a tiny bit here just to give the already earthy, nutty flavor a little hint of caramel and smoke.

brown butter pound cake

So, my goal here is to ruin all of you as well. Heck, if I’m going down, I’m taking you all with me. And while I might come across as all sweetness and innocence, I have devious plans. If you haven’t ever tried brown butter, then you’re in for quite a treat, and if you have – then I’m surprised you’re still sitting here and reading this post, instead of rushing to the kitchen to make this pound cake. Trust me – being ruined never felt so good.

brown butter pound cake

Continue reading brown butter pound cake.

Monday, September 28, 2009

wine-stewed prunes & mascarpone

wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone

Meet my new favorite dessert. Come over and say hello. No, really, take a good look at it, take it all in. Wine stewed prunes, folks. Yes, that’s right, my new favorite dessert is something that doctor might prescribe older folks for, well, lack of better word, regularity.

in watery winewine gets thick and luxurious

I know it seems perfectly unbelievable that something as, um, boring as prunes can go from Cinderella to belle of the ball in forty-five minutes flat. I would’ve never even considered it were it not for a recent meal at Frankie Spuntino, one of my all time favorite haunts, a place considered by some as the most important restaurant in New York City.

wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone

Usually, I am too full to look at dessert, but last time, I wanted to see what the offerings were and let me tell you, I’ve been missing out! These red wine stewed prunes topped with the creamiest of mascarpone around, was about the most stunning dessert I’ve had in a long long time. Its simplicity is what astounds me the most.

wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone

Luisa waxed poetic about them some time ago, and I’ve had the New York Times recipe bookmarked for ages (and yet never made the connection!) and I suppose it’s time for me to throw my hat in because these are incredible! The dessert is both comfort food and haute cuisine. Something about the thickened, reduced wine, infused with nothing more but sugar and two cinnamon sticks with prunes that absorb these flavors, takes you from pedestrian to decadent. And as we are very clearly entering fall season, eating this at the end of your meal is just about the coziest, most lovely thing you can do. Like pulling a nice woolly sweater over your head and just settling into the fuzzy warmth.

wine-stewed prunes with mascarpone

And though I know we’ve been cheated of a proper summer, I am welcoming fall with open arms. When at the end of a long day, I can sink into my couch holding a bowl of these prunes in my hands, I don’t even think of shorter daylight hours or the sweaters I’ll have to eventually unearth. This alone will be enough to carry me through the darkest and coldest of seasons. And I hope it does the same for you.

Continue reading wine-stewed prunes & mascarpone.

Friday, September 18, 2009

nectarine golden cake

nectrarine cake

Given the choice, I would pick a simple, everyday cake without frosting, over the fancy, tiered, frosted creation. I know that sounds practically sacrilegious – to prefer cake without frosting. But I just do. Most of the time.

Don’t get me wrong – a well-made frosting is a thing of beauty. But I really have to be in the mood for it. Whereas a regular every-day cake is something I could have, well, every day. It requires no fancy occasion, no long waiting between crumb-layer of frosting and its second one. You simply mix, bake, cool and eat. This four step process appeals to me because it gets me that much faster to cake consumption – which is the goal here. Such cakes are a salve to my busy days, a slice of comfort on my plate.

nectrarine cake

This is a great, every-day cake. The kind you can make on a whim, when you have an unexpected guest, or when you are absolutely keen on having home-made dessert, but are feeling slightly lazy in the baking department. Except, the cake is sort of more impressive than the sum of its parts (my favorite trick!) as it’s got this fancy fruit thing going on – dressed up with generous chunks of nectarines, or, depending on your preference and farmers market offerings – peaches. Of course, you could get all Rosh Hashana crazy creative, and put some apples in it instead. Which makes me think – this could be really good drizzled with honey. Right?

And here’s what happens. These glorious chunks are too heavy for the batter when you place the slices on top of it, and so while the cake is baking, the slices sink deeper and deeper into the batter. Sounds sexy, right? The fruit just can’t help itself, the pull is far too much.

nectrarine cakenectrarine cake

When you take your cake out, it’s like a vanishing act, you wonder, what could have possibly happened to that fruit you so carefully arranged? But you patiently let the cake cool before you serve yourself a generous slice (that’s before your guests arrive, because let’s face it, you cannot possibly be patient around a cake like this). It’s at precisely this point that you discover that this amazing fruit went into hiding – and you see its beautiful slices inside. It really is a stunner of a piece, you will note to yourself.

nectrarine cake

Of course, what kind of a person would I be if I didn’t do a quick confessional here. The first version of this cake was a fail. An EPIC FAIL. Despite being picture-perfect and smelling oh-so-seductively, it tasted like a box of baking soda. Imagine licking some baking soda off a spoon – disgusting, right? Well, it was.

nectrarine cake

How did this come to pass? How did such a lovely, easy, moist cake come to be inedible? Well, simple – instead of baking powder, I had put in baking soda (truly a d’oh moment in Sassy Radish kitchen) – and a generous amount as such. I should have caught on while measuring out my ingredients – who uses two whole teaspoons of baking soda on one little cake? Quite mad at myself for being so unattentive, I made this cake the very next day, this time being careful to use the proper ingredients – and the results were truly noteworthy. The cake proved to be everything I imagined it would be. It was the reason I eschewed frosting in favor of something like this.

nectrarine cake

And you see, if you read the directions carefully and put baking powder instead of a baking soda, your first bite, that moist, light, laced with vanilla and almond will not taste even remotely like toothpaste and you will not even think of this thing called frosting. Not even for a moment. You might think of me and of baking soda – and hopefully it’ll make you smile.

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Sunday, September 13, 2009

pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant

pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant

I got so excited cooking this, that I almost completely forgot to take the prep pictures. Which should tell you that you should, if you’re an eggplant fan, go ahead and make this right away. Consider it a direct missive. Waste no time – it is eggplant season and will be such through October.

This was borne out of, well, instinct, really. I was making dinner for a friend on Friday night and our initial plan was to make a stir-fry with vegetables and tofu and serve it over brown rice. But we got carried away – we made that along with leek confit, blackberry pie, and this pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant. What started out as a simple Friday night meal turned into a feast of sorts. And this was the surprise hit.

I wasn’t prepared to cook eggplant and when my friend picked it up, I automatically nodded, but did I have a plan? No.

In fact, I was all shades of disappointment with myself because I didn’t have pie crust waiting for me in the freezer, as I normally do, because I happen to get crazy last-minute urges to bake pies. Then again, it’s safe to say that I happen to have an abnormal love of pie. In fact, I have pies I’ve recently made lined up in the queue that I need to write about and I’m embarrassingly behind.

pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant

In any case, when I was amidst baking the pie (with pre-made crust, see I’m not above it!), prepping the stir-fry, and caramelizing leeks, I suddenly had an idea; I was going to bake the eggplant in an olive oil and pomegranate molasses glaze. I was going to add a spoonful of chopped ginger, a clove of garlic and a sprinkle of salt. And then, I was going to let it cook until the eggplant would get soft and impossibly buttery. That, was my plan and that’s what I stuck with.

I was a bit worried because, the whole dish was concocted in mere seconds. I had a flash of inspiration, but I had no idea what the results were going to be. But after my friend ate the near entirety of the dish, while I managed to only get a couple of forkfuls, I knew this improvisation was a hit. I loved my forkfuls and clearly, so did he.

The next day, I got to thinking about how sometimes when we improvise in the kitchen – we succeed. And other times – we fail. Both are good and necessary processes by which we learn, and yet somehow we get burned and scarred by our failures. My first-ever pie crust, an epic fail, caused me to avoid making my own crust for years. But once I got to do it again, I haven’t looked back since. Time and time again, I have to remind myself that should one of the dishes fail, all we have to do is move on, try it again and just realize that sometimes, our tempered eggs will cook, our souffl├ęs might not rise, our cakes might sink.

The worst thing – is that we try it all over again. And if that gets us back into the kitchen, is that really quite so bad?

Continue reading pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

roast chicken

classic roast chicken

There are plenty of stories that I could share with you about roast chicken. My memories of eating it as a child, as an adult, and in-between – are plentiful. But that’s really neither here nor there, and would be distracting to the missive – you need to make this. Soon. As soon as possible, in fact. And I want to tell you that there is a way to get your roast chicken perfect every time. In fact, this chicken sort of just cooks on its own with very little hands-on work. You know, I am having a hard time writing this post. I think what I want to say to you is this.

There is nothing more perfect than a perfectly roasted chicken.

classic roast chicken

Nothing more sublime. Nothing more attainable, accessible, every-day-comforting and yet luxurious and decadent. It’s the alpha and the omega of meals. It’s a meal fit for a regular-weeknight supper or a festive, celebratory feast. It’s like that amazingly, fabulous pair of jeans hanging in your closet. An every day must-have, that’s also great for a fabulous night on the town. And just as a pair of jeans is an essential wardrobe staple, roast chicken is its kitchen equivalent. It’s a classic everyone should master. And it is easier to make than you think.

classic roast chicken

I have, in my lifetime, attempted my hand at roast chicken with as much success as failure. I finally figured out a few things that, I think, make a nearly fool-proof system of getting your chicken just perfect every time. Besides this method, what it takes is just a few times’ making it. Getting a feel for the bird, for the roasting process, getting some courage in calling it when it’s done. Courage is huge here. I mentioned once that pie crust smells fear. I think it’s kind of true for cooking food in general. Or attempting something new. That something will intrinsically know your fear, so I suggest just charging on. What’s the worst think that can happen? You will eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for dinner – and is that such a bad thing?

classic roast chickenmaking gravy

Here are some of my thoughts on roasting a chicken.

First off, you want your chicken to be on the smaller side. You want that magic perfect proportion of skin to meat, i.e. fat to leaner meat. More fat equals tastier chicken. Also, more moist chicken, since this fat will guard your chicken from drying up. Larger chickens are, well, larger, and so somehow that fat distribution doesn’t quite work. So aim for a chicken between 2 1/2 and 3 1/2 pounds.

Secondly, it would help you a great deal if you prepped the chicken one to two days in advance. This means, salting it, putting appropriate herbs and whatnot, and letting it sit in the fridge, covered, absorbing this lovely salt. It’s really worth it.

Third, high temperature, is your friend. In fact, it is your right hand man when it comes to roasting a chicken. Don’t fear it, thinking that it’ll render your chicken dry. It won’t. I promise. In fact, you’ll be amazed what blasting your chicken with such high temperatures will do for the bird. It will melt in your mouth. It will not taste like pressed wood composite.

classic roast chicken - resting

Fourth, you want to make sure that before you place the chicken in the oven you want to make sure it is as dry as possible. Dry chicken means it will get crispy and sizzle. Wet chicken means, it’ll steam and steamed chicken isn’t nearly as exciting-sounding or tasting as roasted chicken. Don’t you think?

Finally, and just as importantly, once your chicken is done, you want to let it rest. Give it about 15 minutes so that it absorbs the juices and hangs out for a bit. Besides, after pulling it out of the oven, you’ll be compelled to pull up a chair and admire it – it will be terribly pretty to look at (and even better to eat, when you get around to it)!

classic roast chicken

But don’t admire it too long – you’ll have hungry guests and a meal is best admired when it is consumed and savored.

Continue reading roast chicken.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

vinegret – russian beet salad

venigret - russian beet salad

Okay, so clearly, I’ve a bit of a problem sticking with a writing schedule. I’ve been meaning to post this last week. But, you see, I’m becoming a regular at MGH, which isn’t particularly a good thing, and that place just takes the wind out of my sail. I’d like to think a hospital is not the kind of place you want to be recognized, unless you work there.

By now, you are all probably tired of hearing that I had yet another curve ball thrown my way, but that’s kind of what happened. And because I associate food with happiness and pleasant thoughts and joy, it’s difficult to write, never mind conceive of a way to connect this story to your senses, when you are thinking about things ending in “noma” and traipsing around various oncology wings in a hospital. When it rains, it pours. And let me hand it to you, dear 2009, you’re going down in my history as “la deluge”. In fact, I suggest we have an early break-up. You know, where I get to see other years? You haven’t been kind to me and I’m not the kind of woman who takes abuse sitting down.

carrots and potatoes

I won’t beat around the bush. Another family member of mine, this time my other grandmother, and my only remaining grandparent had to show up at the hospital to meet with her oncologist about a breast cancer diagnosis, so I went down to Boston to support her. The bad news is that this was another emotional hit for our family and we all took it pretty hard. But when the dust settled and once we met with the doctor, the good news came out. Short surgery. Self-dissolving stitches. Outpatient procedure. Allowed to shower the following day. In fact, the surgery should take about half an hour and then the extracted lump gets sent to a pathologist who’ll determine if radiation therapy is necessary. And, we were told, most likely, it will not be. So, bad diagnosis, but as good of an outcome as you can get given the circumstances.

Well, when life throws you lemons, you make lemonade, right? Right. In my case, I came into a nice little dowery of locally grown, beautiful beets. Beets. Beets? Really? No? No beets? No, really, come back, don’t go, you’ll like this, I promise you.

lots of picklesloads of beets

I feel like the poor beet is forever maligned in America. I remember mentioning once in middle school (I learned that lesson fast) about how much I loved beets and a boy sitting next to me smirked and said “Figures. All Russians smell like cabbage. Beets are gross.” While I have still no idea what cabbage had to do anything with beets, I’m guessing it was another vegetable he found disgusting. And I understand, beets aren’t easy vegetables to love. They’re oddly, deeply colored and they dye everything in sight a deep shade of magenta. They’ve got curious texture. They’re just not popular. They’re the unpopular kids of the vegetable garden. Like those kids in middle school who weren’t cool, but didn’t know it and ran for Student Council anyway. Beets try hard. They so badly want to be loved. And loved they are, at least in my kitchen anyway. By the way, I do not, nor have I ever (nor has any of my family immediate or extended) smelled like cabbage. Ever.

canned peas

Now, to the point. Vinegret is a Russian beet salad made with potatoes, onions, pickles, carrots and other things. It is hearty. It is filling. It’s got a bite. I was told, and I cannot recall by whom, that vinegret was invented during Soviet times. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it was a regular staple in our household and it tastes so Russian to me, that I wonder if there was ever a time Russians lived without it. We made it in the summer, when local beets were hitting the market, and we had it in the winter, when vegetable stores seemed to have little to offer by potatoes, carrots and beets. And then you wonder how those three came to be together. What would otherwise be a someone unexciting salad, it gets some edge from pickles and onions and an extra zing from a dash of dill. And while traditionally, you’d think of nothing else but sunflower oil to dress it with, all I had was extra virgin olive oil and it worked beautifully.

venigret - russian beet salad

I’m in such vinegret-loving stage right now that I’m thinking I’ll have to serve this around New Years, to greet 2010, bidding 2009 a farewell forever. And the leftovers (that is if you have any) are even better the next day. Now, that’s something I can look forward to.

Continue reading vinegret – russian beet salad.