Wednesday, October 28, 2009

fig tart with caramelized onions, rosemary and stilton

caramelized onion, fig & stilton tart

Do you know how I finally admit to myself that we’re in the thick of autumn and there’s no turning back? It’s nights like tonight: cold, rainy, windy nights. Nights when I’m going home after a sweat-filled, seriously challenging spin class and standing in the middle of a salad bar only to realize that the last thing I want to be eating tonight is a crunchy salad. Give me something warm and keep the cold vegetables away, please!

lots of onions - mmm.caramelized onion, fig & stilton tart

Normally, I’m a salad lover, the girl who loves to crunch on the crudite at parties.* In Russia, vegetables were the one thing I would dutifully eat. I would push the meat around my place like it was a soccer ball, secretly hoping that my mother would somehow think I was eating it. But my mother was far too smart for that, having gone through a very similar trick with her own mother and would give me stern looks after which she’d point to my plate with her fork, as if saying, “Don’t even try this wit me! I see right through you. Now eat your chicken cutlet!” My mother held a draconian watch over what I ate and I wasn’t allowed to leave the table until my plate was spotless and sparkling. But the vegetables – those went fast! It was the other stuff I couldn’t bear to eat. Vegetables – I could’ve been eating for weeks and months on end.

caramelized onion, fig & stilton tart

In Russia, however, fresh vegetables were only available in the summer. Fall, winter, early spring brought on lots of root vegetables, stews, soups, but not salads. I would have died for a salad back then. But now? With this rainy, drizzly weather, on days like these all I want is something slow-cooked, caramelized, hearty. Like a giant pile of sliced onions slowly and patiently cooked over low low flame for nearly an hour and a half until they’ve succumbed to the kind of perfection only achieved food gets brown and tastes of fall – a heap of fragrant, golden-brown goodness. A bit of sharp cheese doesn’t hurt either and a few slivers of fresh figs accentuate the onions. Add some buttery puff pastry in the mix, bake it until flaky and golden. As a piece de resistance, drizzle a bit of your best honey and bit into it. And then see the magic unfold.

caramelized onion, fig & stilton tart

I knew I had a winner on my hands when I saw the main ingredients of this listed in the title. As if I needed another excuse for caramelized onions, Stilton (swoon!) and figs. What I didn’t anticipate is what a hit it was going to be with my guests for a party I threw earlier this month. I don’t think I ever got this many compliments on a single dish, with these two being the continuous crowd-pleasers. This tart vanished in a matter of minutes. I kind of felt bad for guests who arrived late, but I’m sure those who ate a few extra slices didn’t mind their tardiness one bit. Even I snagged a piece and nearly fell over because people, this is good stuff. I mean, really good. The kind of good that makes you want to take the rest of the plate, go to your room, lock the door and not share. Fortunately for others, I like sharing and I prefer not to transition to pants with an elastic waist. But, I could’ve gladly consumed many more slices of this tart if there were any left.

caramelized onion, fig & stilton tart

Don’t believe me? Go and and make it for yourself! I dare you to eat only one piece.

caramelized onion, fig & stilton tart

*Before you go ahead and think that’s all I eat at parties, let me assure you that I’m an equal opportunity food consumer. If I see it, I will eat it!

Continue reading fig tart with caramelized onions, rosemary and stilton.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

roasted sweet potato salad with black beans & chili dressing

sweet potato salad

Okay, quick, when I say “potato salad” what do you think of? First associations, no cheating now. I bet you thought of summer and picnics, didn’t you?

And if you live in the Northeast, you probably thought of how summer of 2009 cheated you of the appropriate number of picnics. And now that we’re in the full swing of fall, there’s no turning back. Pumpkins and squash in the farmers market have replaced tomatoes and berries. The mornings are darker; the day lights hours – shorter. We wear layers. We carry umbrellas. We switch our closets out to winter clothing – a task that somehow always takes longer than you’d think. I have no explanation for this strange phenomenon; it would seem pretty straightforward: sweaters in, sun-dresses out. Right? And yet somehow it’s more tricky than this.

sweet potato saladsweet potato salad

And since we’re about as deep into fall as we can get (oh, yes, I know that November is all but knocking on the door) we’re pretty much done with the picnic season. While I’m sorry to just dangle the carrot in front of you, please don’t hate me because I’m going somewhere here with this. While the potato salad conjures up images of summer and cook-outs, I’d like to introduce you to my new fall staple – the sweet potato salad. This is all about the cozy and the comfortable. Think you, flannel, mulled cider and this salad. Some dim lighting and softly-playing music. You might even have a blanket nearby. There, doesn’t fall sound absolutely wonderful?

chili lime dressing

I first spied this recipe over at Mark Bittman’s New York Times Bitten blog and instantly knew it was going to become a new favorite. I’m not sure if it’s the jalapeno-lime dressing, or the roasting of onions and potatoes, which instantly gives them a more hearty, smokier flavor than if you were instead to boil the sweet potatoes. And Mark mentions that roasting gives the potatoes a tougher exterior so they keep their shape better when you mix all the ingredients (remember how smushed the regular potatoes get in a traditional potato salad?) One glance and the recipe held my attention. It was something old, yet something new. A seasonally updated twist on the known that sounded healthy, delicious and made me excited to go to the farmers market and see beautiful sweet potatoes laid out on farmers’ stands. Summer – I’d hardly thought of it.

sweet potato salad

Speaking of new and updated, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you some of the new features on Sassy Radish. That’s right – new things are abound if you poke around a bit. I’ve been joking to my friends that Sassy Radish got a face-lift, but it’s more like it got that and a few fillers to plump it up. Hey, anything to keep looking good for you, folks! So what do we have around here that might be of interest?

1. Goodbye MovableType, hello WordPress – that’s right, I made the publishing platform leap and switched teams. Lately, comment spam got to be so unwieldy in MT and I just didn’t have time to manually (yes, you read that correctly – manually) clean them out, because they were coming thousands a day. I heard from many people that WP has a terrific plug-in that catches spam way better than any other, and so I decided to take that leap. These wonderful people pulled all this off in a week. And put up with my late night emails (yes, there’s a time difference, but nonetheless).

2. Print feature – I know many of you have written and said there’s no way to print the recipe and guess what? Now you can! At the bottom of each recipe there’s a print link – and it prints with a picture – how awesome is that?

3. Updated recipe indices – the regular recipe index is still in place, but now you have a recipe index by month and a recipe index by topic/ingredient (that tag cloud you see below) – you can sort by that.

4. FAQ page – the questions are coming, but if you think there’s something that should be on it that you’d like to see, drop me an email and I’ll include your question.

5. There’s a conversions link – convert grams to ounces and back – without whipping out your calculator or trying to do math in your head (fun, but not without consequences, especially if cooking with bourbon and, um, having a taste).

6. Subscribe by email – you can now get Sassy Radish updates without having to check your RSS reader or the actual page. Content can get delivered to your inbox, which is particularly useful if your employer blocks everything but CNN, Bloomberg and the New York Times (big banks, I am looking at you).

8. My updated blogroll – it’s now pulling from my good reader and is dynamic. So when I subscribe to something new – it will reflect that as well.

9. Earlier posts – want to go back in time and see what I cooked up months prior, but wish to see the time line? At the bottom of each page, there are now links called “earlier posts”.

10. It looks like there are still a few kinks being ironed out but for now: PLEASE UPDATE YOUR RSS READER FEEDS: be it Google reader or something else.

So change, much as I like to resist it, is good. Especially change that replaces a traditional staple with a delicious updated one. This is a hearty and filling salad, but one that won’t leave you feeling sluggish or heavy. In fact, its crisp, bright, spicy notes will energize you and give you a spring in your step. And we could always use a bit more of that in the dark fall hours.

Continue reading roasted sweet potato salad with black beans & chili dressing.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

Consider this a lesson in scale. Something no cookbook will really tell you. You won’t see in the notes something like “If multiplying batches, strongly suggesting NOT trying to mix them all in one batch as your kitchen equipment is designed for home-sized batches, not bakery-sized ones”. Pretty obvious, right? And yet it wasn’t to me, until a few days ago. But now I know – when scaling things in multiples, you might want to do a few batches, to save your sanity and your equipment. In any case, this is a cautionary tale, just for you.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frostingpumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

As a total aside, I often wonder how various people cook under pressure. Like when you realize that what you’re doing might not work out, or that you missed a crucial step in the process (not that it’s ever happened to me; goodness, no!) and are trying to add this step later, and you get all focused and tense, or maybe you just remain completely cool as a cucumber, or maybe you hum? Me, I become sullen, focused, quiet. I want to be left alone; I don’t want to converse. I just want to get through the bump in the road and get beyond it. I tend to scrunch up my nose and purse my lips and squint a lot. Did you envision that lovely visage? Yes, that’s me, trying to focus. Stunning, I know.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

So, back to scaling and home kitchens and fun with all that. If you’re ever asked to do a larger-scale baking job, you should consider a thing or two. Like, the fact that you have a kitchen for home use. Or the concept of batches. Or the fact that perhaps even though you have a “Professional” strength mixer, your 5 quart bowl is anything but a professional size. Because you know, if you were um, say, a bakery, you’d be making dozens of cupcakes, not a mere dozen. And perhaps, you, dear readers, would have the foresight to consider all that, but lately, I’ve been in a whirl of work and travel I think my brain is full. I ought to sit down and think for a minute, but I don’t have that minute. Sigh.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

The other thing you want to make sure you’re good at, if you’re scaling a project like this, is multiplication and fractions. Now, fractions – I got this. In fact, I’m all over fractions, being that I work in finance. But if fractions ain’t your bag, get some help from a math-inclined friend, because when you are looking at 5/8 of a teaspoon measure of something and have to multiply it by three, that’s when you wish you really did pay attention in your math class.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

So how did I get to baking four dozen cupcakes in one sitting? Well, last weekend my friends Bill and Josey tied the knot, and I think my friends and I set some kind of a record for non-stop dancing at a wedding because that is pretty much all we did. And a few weeks prior to the wedding itself, Josey and Bill sheepishly asked me if I would make cupcakes for their rehearsal dinner. In response, I enthusiastically started to jump up and down. They took that as a yes.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

Because fall is full of amazing flavors and smells, I wanted to make cupcakes that would celebrate the season. And when I think of fall, I first think of pumpkin. I can’t go a block without seeing them displayed in stores, at farmers’ markets, on steps of brownstones (albeit the decorative pumpkins aren’t the ones you eat). I decided that I wanted to do a spiced pumpkin cupcake with a cream cheese frosting sweetened with some maple syrup, and thought (what naivete!) that I was being original and genius at creating something new. But when I excitedly wrote a friend about my new baking project, she responded, sounding a bit been-there-done-that “Oh like the cake David Leite made and Smitten refashioned into cupcakes?”

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

A few google searches later, I realized that my ideas were hardly original. And not only did Deb go ahead and make cupcakes, she piped the most beautiful roses on them as well. I’ve never piped any flower onto any cake or cupcake, so I watched the “how to” videos on YouTube ad infinitum. Please note: watching how to pipe roses and making them are two very different things. Which would explain for why my roses look out of shape and so, um, deconstructionist looking. I found that the cream cheese frosting was soft and was difficult to pipe, and my hand wasn’t used to making rose petals. If anyone can think of any tips as to perfect the matter (other than “practice, practice, practice”) I am all ears. But I do fear that I may just have to beg a bakery to take me under their wing for a week where all I do is play with frosting.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

A word or two about batches. They are (or seem to me) key in home baking where you are working with smaller bowls and containers. If you were to take this particular recipes, I recommend the following: take the ingredients below, multiply them by 3 and then divide by 2 to get your 2 batches. That way you measure everything out exactly, and not eyeball it (like, ahem, some people here) which then necessitates a few Hail-Marys in hopes that your eyeballing was good enough not to wreck a batch of cupcakes. You can also weigh your ingredients and do batches that way, as Lisa brilliantly suggested to me last night.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

Also, for cookware, I seriously recommend having 2 muffin trays. I think 2 is not an unreasonable number to have and you will certainly need it at one point or another, so stock up accordingly. The ones I like you can buy either here or here. I generally shy away from dark colored non-stick bake ware and find this non-descript light metal work best.

pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cinnamon frosting

In the end, this is all non-tricky stuff. The cake batter isn’t finicky. The frosting comes together like a dream. It’s sort of an easy process, but if you do wind up making four dozen cupcakes, be sure to give yourself a day to do it. Piping flowers takes time and is much trickier than it looks. But if you know what you’re going in for, you are prepared, you remain calm and you emerge triumphant, with boxes of cupcakes whisked away to a rehearsal dinner or whatever event you’re making them for. Your forehead will remain uncreased; your nose – unscrunched; and instead of pursing your lips, you might even be smiling to yourself as you lick the frosting off your fingers.

Continue reading pumpkin spice cupcakes with maple cream cheese frosting.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

sweet potato gnocchi

sweet potato gnocchi

It is customary, when making something for the first time, to start with the basic building block and build on out from thereon. I, on the other hand, like to raise the stakes a bit. Normally, you’d start with plain gnocchi to get a feel for it, learn how to get them just right before trying a variation. And even though making gnocchi was on my to-do list for quite some time, I fully got on board to make them only after seeing the October Gourmet recipe listed as Ruth Reichl’s Top 10 recipes in the issue. They were sweet potato gnocchi and I pretty much find sweet potato anything irresistible. There was just one catch – gnocchi is one of the dishes that for some reason scared and intimidated me. Hence the reason I haven’t made them yet.

one of these things is not like the other!raw milk parmesan is how i roll
sweet potato gnocchisage from my window!!!

But surely, you must remember what I said to you about fear and conquering it? Well, I decided to put my money where my mouth was and tackle that which made me nervous. If I tell you to be bold, shouldn’t, myself, adopt the very mantra I seemingly espouse?

the potato wellsweet potato gnocchi
my ball of doughrolling the dough

Where do I begin with gnocchi? My love for gnocchi goes beyond words. Made properly they should be like little clouds of goodness, whisking you away upwards to the sky. Made poorly, they’re heavy clumps of dough that stick to the roof of your mouth. In between, they’re perfectly palatable, but once you’ve tasted amazing ghnocchi, that’s pretty much all you think about when you’re eating the so-so ones.

like little pillows

It’s the kind of dish that makes me think: one false move, and it’s ruined. I suppose while something like stewed prunes is impossible to run into the ground, a dish like gnocchi takes practice. You get a feel for the dough, its consistency. You’ll know immediately if needs more flour, or if your potatoes aren’t dry enough.

sweet potato gnocchi

Because these gnocchi are made with sweet and regular potatoes, and there are a few things I’ve learned that I’d like to share with you. First, is that it’s very important to use the right potatoes – Russets have a high amount of starch and lower amount of water, compared to their other spud cousins – and that’s exactly what you want – a nice, starchy potato. Sweet potatoes, however, are much more moisture-laden, so next time I make these, I will cook the sweet potatoes a wee bit longer to dry them out a bit more. Having more moisture in your dough will yield a more doughy gnocchi – and what you’re after are little clouds of goodness; sweet potato goodness, no less!

sweet potato gnocchi

I chose to serve these in (what else?) a little brown butter (because I can and I will) and olive oil sauce where you slightly brown the gnocchi after boiling them, and sprinkle a bit of fried sage and shaved Parmiggiano Reggiano and some freshly ground black pepper. And when I finished my plate and used some bread to absorb some of the residual brown butter sauce, I once again was amazed at how incredibly sublime simple food tastes.A few ingredients, a little time, a hungry me. For that kind of bliss, I’ll raise the stakes any day!

sweet potato gnocchi

Quick note:
Here as Sassy Radish, we’re doing a little bit of maintenance and will be migrating over to a new platform (shhhh, that’s all I can tell you, but trust me it’ll be awesome when it’s done!). So, if things are a little wonky here, please be patient! When all is said and done Sassy Radish will be snappier and sassier and have more functionality than ever before.

Continue reading sweet potato gnocchi.