Wednesday, September 29, 2010

applesauce

my mother's kitchen light

And so we’ve officially ushered autumn in. Everywhere I turn – apples, apples, apples. Everyone keeps telling me about apple picking, my farmers market has more apple stands than I know what to do with, and I’m coming into a small apple fortune come Monday night when a friend plans to bicycle over a portion of her forty pound bounty, and I’m hoping to get busy with some apple butter, which reminds me I should get a food mill and some Bell jars stet.* But that’s a story for another day. Today is all about apple sauce that I made while at my parents’ house a few weekends ago.

quartered

You see, my mother, like me, gets overly excited about fall produce and before she knows it, her house is drowning in apples as if she’s about to start her own apple stand. But you and I both know that a human being can only eat so many apples a day and before you know it, they start to get all mushy and mealy. And then you throw them out, and that’s just tragic. Tragic, I say.

cored

So I found myself staring at piles of apples that I knew, (just knew!) were going to go to waste and that my mother would kick herself for allowing that to happen. I figured apple sauce might be a fun way to use them, and since I’ve never actually tried my hand at it, I decided to trust Elise’s recipe (since hers never fail me) and attempt one of my childhood favorite treats. So while my mother was napping, or running errands (I can’t recall which), I grabbed some apples and got to work. And by work I mean I cut and cored the apples, threw them in the pot with the remaining ingredients, brought everything to a boil, reduced heat, and let everything simmer for half an hour. In fact, while the apples were cooking, I got started on dinner and didn’t even tend to the pot once. Not a single time.

ready

If I’d known apple sauce was so easy to make, I would have never bought it in the first place. And the taste, the flavor, the apple-y intensity that a pre-made version can’t even approximately deliver – are well worth the minimal effort apple sauce requires. Besides, no scented-candle can make your house smell as cozy and welcoming as that cinnamon-apple smell that will envelop your house. If anyone finds a way to bottle it, let me know – I’ll be your first customer!

apple sauce
apple sauce

*Whoa, that was a long sentence!

Continue reading applesauce.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Spiced Chipotle Honey Chicken Breasts with Sweet Potatoes

chipotle honey chicken

At times, I think Melissa Clark and I share the same palate. Hers are the first recipes I unwittingly click on while reading the Dining section of the New York Times. Somehow we’re attracted to the same flavor combinations and meals. And I’ve cooked so many of her recipes over the years, I’ve yet to make something of hers that doesn’t taste good. I normally read her column, “A Good Appetite” over coffee, having just arrived to work at an ungodly hour, and thinking that all I wanted to do that morning was go home and cook her recipes. Melissa’s food is always approachable, honest, without pretense, not gimmicky, but always with a touch of whimsy. It’s simple, but not not simplistic. There are no semi-made shortcuts – just real food for real people who love to eat well.

chipotle honey chicken

When I learned that Melissa was coming out with her own book, titled after her column, I knew it was a book I had to own, and I had a feeling that I’d want to make everything from it. Now that I have the book – I can tell you in all honesty, I want to make everything from it, and I know that eventually I’ll cook each recipe, because I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t make me hungry. This is the kind of cookbook I’d want to write – with recipes that inspire – not intimidate; with stories preceding each dish, as if Melissa was in kitchen with you. The stories connect you with each recipes, often in the same way that our own experiences with food do, reminding you how some recipes come to be, how traditions are passed on from generation to generation.

chipotle honey chicken

The only problem with a book like that is having an impossible time deciding on which recipe to make first. Since I’m always undergoing some kind of analysis paralysis, I wasn’t really sure where to start, but something caught my eye – chicken breasts in honey chipotle glaze. You see, I am a dark meat chicken eater. To me, a chicken breast is something that will always hold way less appeal than a thigh or a drumstick. When I think white meat, words like “dry” or “saw dust” inevitably come to mind. In Russia, dark meat was prized far above the white, and was always set aside for children. Since chicken was sold whole and had to be quartered manually, we normally wound up with two breasts, two thighs, and two drumsticks. Someone would get stuck with the breast meat. That poor sap!

chipotle honey chicken

Imagine my mother’s surprise, when she discovered that chicken parts in the American supermarket were priced to her advantage. Chicken breast often cost two to three times as much as drumsticks or thighs. For a family that was pressed financially, we got to eat a lot of chicken. Except this time, with the abundance of affordable chicken dark meat, no one had to give up anything, and get stuck with the dreaded breast.

And I’ve been leaning towards dark meat so much for the most of my life, that I’d forgotten people might have other preferences. So imagine my surprise, when Andrew, sheepishly asked me to make something with white meat for a change! And that’s when I spied Melissa’s recipe for chipotle-honey chicken breasts. What sealed the deal was her vignette preceding the recipe – where she shares that her preference is so much more for the dark meat that there’s only one breast recipe in the book! I figured if that’s the recipe that made it into the book – it must be amazing!

chipotle honey chicken

And it was. The breast was anything but dry, and was instead sweet, smoky, spicy. Andrew was a happy camper and I was pleasantly surprised. We I licked the baking dish clean, and I was sad that I’d only made enough for two people. I would have loved leftovers. But I can’t just get distracted by one recipe. There are one hundred and forty nine other recipes I really want to make. I best get on it.

Continue reading Spiced Chipotle Honey Chicken Breasts with Sweet Potatoes.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

tomato sliders

tomato sliders

I think the only reason I would ever want there to be eternal summer is the promise of a tomato in my hand. I don’t think I can never get enough. I can have them in salads, on toast, slow-roasted, cooked into sauce, and in soup. I can also, with equal pleasure, bite into a tomato as if it were an apple and savor each ripe bite. And though, I am an autumn girl through and through, that ripe tomato cut into thick wedges, drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with fleur de sel, is pretty much my idea of heaven in a meal. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way about tomatoes, who might also wish for a summer if not eternal, then certainly extended. But eternal summer is clearly not here to stay, and I guess I’ll make peace with it soon enough. It’s just that I have such a hard time saying goodbye. I’m crap at it, really.

bun mise olive oil, lots of it.
drippy unbaked buns

Apparently, I’m not the only one who wants the season (or at least its produce) to last a little longer. The reason I made these tomato sliders in the first place is because Andrew spotted them in New York Times and promptly emailed me the recipe. One of the best things about dating someone who loves food as much as you do, is that they actively make suggestions and that the get it when you bolt from the couch to make impromptu ice cream. It’s not enough to eat something good, you must experience it with others. And food, as you well know, tastes much better when shared.

shhh, don't tell them they're about to get blanched nekkid!
you's about to get cored sundried
chopped

By now Andrew has heard me wax poetic about Blue Hill and the genius that is Dan Barber. And he sort of instinctively knew that these could not possibly be anything but sublime. Which they were. We could have easily made them into a dinner meal, but I was ambitious that night in the kitchen, and we had them as starters. I think we even fought over the last one – and generously decided to split it.
mascarpone and goat cheese filling
a view from above

I hope that you make these tomato sliders while there are still late summer (or early fall, come to think of it!) tomatoes at the market. Try to find the fragrant ones, heavy and fleshy – they will serve you well. The recipe looks like a handful, but really, there is nothing to it. It’s just a few steps, none of which take too long, and all of which can be made in advance. So if you’re hosting a party, these can be put together in no time. And they will, I guarantee you, steal the show. Because who can resist a miniature homemade burger bun with tomatoes, mascarpone, goat cheese inside? Exactly – no one. And if they do – clearly, that just means more left for you!

tomato sliders
tomato sliders

Continue reading tomato sliders.

Monday, September 20, 2010

project wedding cupcakes – one-bowl chocolate cupcakes

dark (and brooding)

Let me not beat around the bush and just be out with it – I’m making a hundred cupcakes for a friend’s wedding. One. Hundred. Cupcakes. Deep breaths. I’m clearly trying to challenge the notion that only home-scale baking can come out of a home-scale kitchen. We’ll just see about that. Deb has already successfully tackled a wedding cake, and she’s proof that you can create a large-scale, beautiful cake in a tiny New York kitchen. This is a test of will, patience, and excellent math skills. We’ll see how well I can multiply.

i keep my eggs in a bowl now

In case any of you are wondering how I managed to get involved in this project (because a demanding job in finance and maintaining this blog clearly aren’t keeping me busy enough), let me give you a brief history. Tight budgets are something that are familiar to most of us, especially, those of us living in New York, and particularly in light of the recession. Never mind that the second you mention the word “wedding” to anyone providing a service, they automatically charge you at least twice the regular amount. Want to get a hundred cupcakes from a bakery? That amount alone will probably spike up the price as you’re putting an additional constraint on a bakery that operates to capacity in what is most likely to be a tiny kitchen. Flower arrangements are pricey enough, but wedding flower arrangements are in a pricing category of their own. It’s hardly fair, I think, given how expensive weddings can run. In short, when I found out that my friend India was looking to do a wedding on a shoestring budget, I decided to make these cupcakes for her as a gift.

whisk the dry ingredients...

The advantage of cupcakes over cake is that because there is no cake to cut, guests (that means you, potentially) get their dessert faster. And given my views on dessert, I’m always in favor of eating cake sooner, always looking forward to the cake portion of the meal, in hopes that it will blow me away, and make me believe that really great tasting wedding cake is out there, somewhere. But so far, nothing has stood out, and perhaps that is because most weddings cakes are draped in loathsome fondant (seriously, am I alone in hating the stuff?), offering little besides cloying sweetness. Cupcake, on the other hand, don’t have any fondant (imagine having to drape a teeny cupcake in it) – and thus automatically, the problem falls away.

So, in the next few weeks, you’ll see the project unfold before your eyes. I’ll tell you of my butter-cream woes, and how I learned to “tame the beast”. If nothing else, at the end of this, I will emerge a better baker, and India will get her hundred cupcakes. Hopefully, they’ll be pretty, though my last buttercream adventure has left me nervous freaking out. Practice should, in theory, make perfect.

one. bowl. no. gimmick.

I had to, first, decide on what kind of cupcakes I was going to make – that was the easy part. Almost immediately I decided upon dark chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel buttercream frosting. I ran the idea past India and she loved it. The next step was to decide which chocolate cupcake recipe was goingt o win out in the end? I started to look for recipes for testing, making calculations of what ingredients I might need to have enough for recipe testing.

And just as I was ready to start playing around with recipes, I received a tweet from a lovely friend who generously offered to send me some Scharffenberger chocolate so I could test my chocolate cupcakes to my heart’s delight. An amazing coincidence, as I was going to be using Scharffenberger anyway!! Every week, I buy a few dark chocolate Scharffenberger bars at Whole Foods, and Andrew and I devour them. We’re nothing if not fiercely loyal to the brand. I love eating it and cooking with it. And I certainly didn’t expect to get a windfall of the very product on which I’m very happy to spend my own money. A few days later fifteen (fifteen, people!) pounds of chocolate showed up at my apartment. I expected a few chocolate bars, maybe a can of cocoa, but fifteen pounds!!

chocolate one-bowl cupcakes - wedding

I tested a few batches, from various recipes, adding and subtracting some ingredients, and finally settled on Martha Stewart’s “one bowl” recipe, which I have to say, is downright perfect. Martha really got this recipe down. Outside of scaling down a bit of sugar, you should change nothing here. And it’s got some serious dark-chocolate taste. Oh and the one-bowl part? One bowl cake recipes are New York apartment bakers’ wet dream. Don’t own a mixer? It’s okay – the one bowl cupcakes are mixed by hand with a spatula! Don’t have any counter space? No problem – you just sequentially add ingredients one by one into a, you guessed it, one, single bowl. Can I get an amen?

salted caramel buttercream experiment

And really, the one-bowl thing left with only fewer dishes to wash, for which I am endlessly grateful. If that’s not a thing of beauty, I don’t know what is. And the best part – when the time comes to make nine batches of these babies, I’ll be grateful I have fewer dishes to wash.

Stay tuned for adventures in frosting mishaps. And if any of you have any practical frosting advice to give, please do! I’ll share whatever I learn from my mistakes, but if you have any pointers, I’m all ears!

cooling

Oh, and I’m sorry for making you look at washed out, crappy pictures! The original ones have vanished, somehow, and all I got stuck with were rejects! To make matters worse, Picnik totally broke this morning, and I couldn’t even edit the baddies. Forgive me, it won’t happen again.

Continue reading project wedding cupcakes – one-bowl chocolate cupcakes.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

nutella ice cream

Nutella Ice Cream

We are a household that respects its dessert. To me, it’s the period at the end of the sentence, a conclusion of sorts. You wouldn’t want all your sentences to end in ellipses, would you? Well, lack of dessert, even something as small as a morsel of chocolate, leaves me feeling unsettled as if my meal is incomplete. Like forgetting my cell phone at home – I feel a little disoriented when that happens. That “period”, the conclusion so to speak is missing. Andrew, thankfully, is of the same dessert persuasion. We revere our dessert, and we rarely turn it down. During our first dinner together, despite being full, we still decided to share our dessert, an apple cobbler, thus cementing our commitment to that portion of the meal.

eggs

So, here’s how this all went down with this Nutella ice cream. Labor Day Monday, while Andrew and I were perusing our respective RSS feeds (nerds!), I David’s post about Fenocchio’s ice cream in Nice, the very same place I wrote about when I made the ice cream that might still be the finest frozen creation to emerge from the Sassy Radish kitchen. I told Andrew about my trip through France after graduating college, making my way down to the French Riviera, walking around Nice and discovering Fenocchio entirely by accident. I showed him David’s pictures, “Should we find ourselves in the South of France, you know where we’ll be going.” Andrew wasn’t really paying attention, his eyes were fixed on a particular picture, “Yeah, I would be all over that Nutella ice cream.”

yolks, sugar

A light bulb went off in my head – why wait until we go to France (which, let’s face it, might not be be for awhile – suppressed sob), when we can make our own Nutella ice cream tonight – just in time for dessert? Why else would you bother having your ice cream bowl permanently hanging out in the freezer, taking up precious space, if instant gratification is not to be entertained? Lucky for me, Andrew puts up with my whims of cooking frenzy, and willingly eats and suggests future cooking projects. It works out rather well – I get to play in the kitchen, and he’s always ready to sample whatever experiments (good or bad) to come out of there.

pale yellow

Twenty minutes later, the custard was cooling in the refrigerator. Which brings me to the following: homemade ice cream is within anyone’s reach. While might sound silly to take up precious freezer space with a giant bowl, if you like ice cream and buy it regularly, it’s worth trying to make ice cream at home. decent ice cream makers are fairly affordable, and with minimal hands-on time, you could be making your own. I promise you won’t believe your taste buds – the flavors will be cleaner, brighter, stronger; the texture – creamier. And there’s no end in sight to how many combinations you could create!

gently pour custard almost ready

Also, there’s something lovely and old-school about making your own ice cream. It’s almost a journey back in time when things were simpler and a little slower. A time when we weren’t drowning in email, social media, and a thousand television channels. When burgers and bagels were smaller, and “super-sized” meals didn’t exist. Homemade ice cream, somehow, reminds me of that time. Funny thing is, I don’t even eat that much of it, but when I do, homemade beats store-bought by a landslide.

hazelnut evil

The custard takes only a few minutes to come together; chilling time, of course, takes longer – but if you have half an hour to kill in the morning, you can make this and forget about it until dinnertime. Right before you make dinner, pour the custard into the ice cream bowl, affix your machine parts, and turn the machine on. It’ll purr, hum, and make satisfied growling noises until your ice cream is ready. And when you scoop that ice cream into your bowl, your dessert is no longer a period – it’s an exclamation point.

Continue reading nutella ice cream.

Monday, September 13, 2010

blueberry cobbler

blueberry cobbler

Fall is decidedly making its entrance with cooler and darker mornings and evenings, and is further marked by the disappearance of berries from the farmers market. I realized something was off season-wise, when I asked for hot coffee the other day instead of iced. And I actually wore a sweater coat out to dinner the other night and still was cold! That could also be the fact that I happen to be a girl a girl and get cold very easily. Or maybe it is actually getting chilly. Anyone else reaching for an extra layer when they go out?

flour, butter.... infinite possibilities

And yet I’m in my perpetual never-happy-with-whatever-season-I’ve-been-given mode. Spring is gone? But what am I to do with half a dozen strawberry recipes I want to try? Summer closing in on us? But! But! Wait! There are still tomato recipes sitting untouched on my desk, watermelon sorbet promised and forgotten about, and cobbler – Andrew’s favorite dessert, that I’ve been meaning to make all summer and yet until now, have failed to deliver. How does one forget to make her boyfriend’s favorite dessert? Shouldn’t courtship ensure that such thing are moved to the top of the priority list?

crumbly coming together
clump rolling out the dough - no mess!

Alas, blueberries are no longer at my farm-stand. But clever girl that I am, I froze a few pints and kept them for those moments when blueberries are called for (like pancakes), but are no longer in season. Frozen blueberries store remarkably well, given that it’s a hearty berry with thickish skin. There are still a few bags of these gems sitting around and awaiting their fate.

Last weekend, when we were blissfully lazy, soaking up the last few days of summer and making good use of the long weekend, I suddenly remembered my promise to Andrew that I would make blueberry cobbler. It was sort of a last-minute memory, but one that decided that evening’s dessert. [Did I mention that this household respects its dessert?] Cobblers are forgiving, quick, messy desserts. They’re rustic, unpretentious, messy, unfussy. They are in my preferred family of desserts where their beauty lies in their imperfections. A little drip on the side of the pie dish. A crumb or two on the plate. A messy piece heaped onto a plate and topped with a scoop of ice cream that immediately begins to melt to bleed into the blueberry filling, spreading itself out into a creamy blue rivulet on your plate. I could eat that mess every day.

sugary blueberries blueberry cobbler
blueberry cobbler

And since I’ve a few bags of frozen summer berries in my freezer, come winter there’ll be a cobbler or two served around here. It’ll be decidedly out of season, but much like a tropical vacation mid-winter can seemingly shorten the winter season and cure the snowy blues, so shall blueberry cobbler – reminding us of summer, sun, picnics in the park, and the golden summer light that seems to go on forever.

blueberry cobbler
blueberry cobbler

Continue reading blueberry cobbler.