Posts tagged dairy
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

harissa-roasted chicken with chickpeas and red onion

harissa-roasted chicken

Oh, chicken! You are so maligned sometimes. You’re the thing people probably order the least in nicer restaurants. And you’re easily relegated to boring and blasé. Sometimes you are cooked into dry oblivion, upon which you, at best, taste like pressed wood chips. To make matters worse, you’re far too humble to ever speak up for yourself. Instead, you wait. You wait for a cook to realize your true potential, and elevate you to your well-earned exalted position. Just as a concept, chicken, you are bland. Commonplace, even. But there are so many way to prepare you, that you possess the versaility other meats simply to not. You can be dressed up, or down, depending on the occasion. Different version of you have legions of loyal followers. Roast chicken. Chicken braised in Riesling. Chicken braised in milk. You can take on so many roles that it is, indeed, unfair to call you boring. Chicken, you are the Meryl Streep of food! There’s no one more versatile than you! [And thus, I end my ode.]

the magical ingredientsmarinading!

Despite chicken’s apparent versatility, writing excitedly about it, does present a bit of a problem. I think what makes or breaks a chicken dish, in particular, is how you make it. I know that this rule applies to just about everything, but I like think of chicken as the true, great, blank canvas. There’s an endless range of possibilities, but chicken generally needs a bit of direction, be is just a bit of salt and pepper, and roasting; or a more elaborate cooking process. And with a few great ingedients and some gentle prodding, what you can wind up with is nothing short of a miracle.

onion

I’ve been on a harissa kick lately, so much so, that I am thinking of just biting the bullet and making my own. Luisa’s recipe has been on my mind for awhile now, but as per usual, I am slow to get things done. Work, you consume me so! I made this a few weeks ago for a very special dinner. I’ll leave it at that, but suffice to say, I was trying to impress. I was intrigued by the marriage of yogurt, spices and harissa as a marinade for the chicken – I knew, in an instant, this would be fragrant, flavorful, intense. I wanted a chicken dish that wasn’t delicate with its notes; I wanted a bold, daring dish that would hold its own against the carrot salad. And the flavors worked beautifully. The yogurt added a lovely tang that took the heat of harissa and deepened its structure, all the while softening its heat just a bit. I wanted a slightly earthy aftertaste, so I mixed some cumin into my marinade – a decision I was particularly happy about once we tasted the final product. And because there were chickpeas in the salad, I opted to skip them this time around (fearing the mighty chickpea overload), but added some extra onions to roast and flavor the chicken.

onion, scattered
harissa-roasted chicken, ready for cooking

I’m always on a lookout for a chicken recipe that will be a real stand-out in a crowd of just-so recipes. I’ve gotten quite lucky with the Riesling one, and this apricot-Sriracha one (among a few), and this will take a place alongside my keeper recipes. If you think that making chicken is a snooze-fest, I implore you not to give the bird a chance – it will play any role you want and will transform itself so much so that you might just exclaim, “This is chicken?!?” and never look back. Except, maybe, to get second helpings.

harissa-roasted chicken

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Monday, June 14, 2010

carrot cake

carrot cake

Today, I have cake for you. Not just any cake – carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I know, it’s been all cake and sorbet and more cake around here lately, but we are entering picnic and barbecue season, and doesn’t carrot cake just makes you want to take a picnic blanket to the park along with lemonade and potato salad and slaw, and just sit under a tree for hours with friends, feasting and lounging away. My favorite weekend days is when your biggest accomplishment for the day is eating. There is nothing, and I mean, nothing wrong with that.

carrots!walnuts
dry ingredients mise

Saturday was that lovely kind of a day: my biggest accomplishment consisted of cooking some supper that involved a roast chicken, some guacamole and some pasta with tomato sauce and sausage – I know, lots of random things, but food had to be rescued and cooked. I also found excellent use for these plates – sliced kiwi looks amazing on them. When you start the day around noon, have brunch at 2pm and then for the rest of the day you resolve – no plans, no obligations – it is, I will tell you, an amazing day. Weekends like these are my favorite.

eggs

But this post isn’t so much about lazy weekends, as it’s about carrot cake. A carrot cake for my friend Bill’s birthday. The very same Bill of the mascarpone cake fame, except this time, I’m not a year behind in writing about it.

cake battercream cheese frosting

For Bill’s cake, I looked through every baking book I had (surprisingly few feature carrot cake, actually) until I came across a recipe that made me do a double-take. The recipe was called “Big Bill’s Carrot Cake” – it was as if cake fates have led me straight to it. Now, Bill isn’t particularly big per se, but the title sounded so commanding and the recipe was so perfect, that I decided then and there that this was going to be the cake. Besides, with the recipe coming from the one and only Dorie Greenspan – how could you go wrong?

carrot cakecarrot cake

If you’re like me and believe in the universe speaking to you via baked goods (because when you’re looking for a cake for your friend Bill and you find a recipe with his name in the title – is that not the universe sending you a sign?), then you will put to rest all the other recipes. Dorie knows her cakes, and after you read through any book by her, you feel like she’s your fairy godmother of baking. You know her. You trust her. You’ve had conversations with her while you baked from her books. She has never steered you in the wrong direction. She has never, ever, let you down. Her recipes are detailed, exact, certain, full of the kind of instructions you want to have in so many other books. Few baking personas are as universally adored and revered as Dorie – perhaps because she makes us all feel competent, even if a recipe looks intimidating. She whispers softly to us, “You can do it.

carrot cake
i was tempted to reverse the candle order

Well, friends – meet my new favorite cake. It even outpaces the peanut-butter chocolate one I’ve been so enamoured of. This is a cake that’s got it all – spice, nuts, raisins, a tangy cream-cheese frosting. It’s not too sweet, the frosting doesn’t overpower. It’s a perfect picnic cake, after-dinner cake, Mad Men themed birthday cake. It is, despite that long list of ingredients and preparation instructions, is manageable and unfussy. And it’s a cake that is going to be made a few times over in my kitchen this summer season – and I hope in yours as well.

bill's piece

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

This cake was frosted while standing on one foot. With the other foot held in the air. Lest you think I am an acrobatic baker, let me get right to the point: I had to hold the other foot off the ground because I couldn’t put any weight on it due to two stress fractures. But I didn’t know it at the time. I was just in a lot of pain, but there was an unfrosted cake staring me in the face and a birthday party an hour away. What’s a girl to do?

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frostingchocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

Let me make no apologies here – this is a post a year in the making. Somehow, this cake, this lovely offering of espresso, chocolate and mascarpone, got left behind and I found the pictures while organizing the digital mess on my laptop. What’s even more embarrassing, is that this cake was made for my friend Bill’s birthday last year, and guess what is rolling around in a few days? Funny how birthday return every year on the exact same day. And guess who is making Bill this year’s birthday cake? That’s right – this lady over here! I promise not to take a full year to get around to it. In fact, I already started writing about it, so there’s more cake coming your way. Thrilling stuff, I know.

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

You might be wondering how I came to be frosting a cake with a broken foot. Well, the day of Bill’s birthday party, I ran a race. Not a huge race, mind you, but a race nonetheless – a 10k. I had baked the cake the night before, froze the layers for easier frosting and set up my frosting mise en place for the following morning, knowing that I will have to rush home after my 10k, shower, change, grab the cake and dash to make the birthday brunch. Except, I managed to injure myself in the process (did not anticipate that happening!) What I knew was this: somewhere around the third mile, my foot began to throb every time I applied any kind of pressure on it, which, if you’re running, you’re doing quite a bit. If any of you out there reading this are runners, you also know that runners possess the “must-finish-the-race-at-all-costs” mentality and also brush of whatever possible injuries might be occurring as a simple “muscle spasm”. “It’s no big deal,” I told myself, “stop being a wimp and just finish the race already!” I hobbled the rest of the race, but I finished.

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

By the time I met up with the rest of my team, I couldn’t walk. And since no one suspected this could be a stress fracture (and I had never sustained one before) I thought this was a sprain that would dissipate in a couple of days. I decided that if I ice my foot as much as possible, and stay off it – it’s as good as problem solved. So I hobbled home, showered and changed, frosted and boxed the cake and hobbled to brunch, cake in tow. The cake was met with wild enthusiasm and I went home after to ice my foot and rest.

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frostingchocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting
chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frostingchocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

The next day, in horrible pain, I took myself to the ER where they cold me I had not one but two (!) stress fractures from overuse (I guess running those three half marathons in a month and a half was a bit much). I was told to stay off my feet as much as possible, given crutches and sent home. Being on crutches put a damper in my cooking routine, and then shortly after the injury, I moved to Brooklyn and then promptly got distracted with cooking things like ice cream and pies and meatballs and cupcakes. You know how I am by now: show me shiny and I am all distracted!

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

Better late than never, though, right? If you like mascarpone, coffee and chocolate – a cakier version of tiramisu, so to speak, then this cake is for you. I was slightly confused by the picture that the magazine (and online link) showed. Dark, glossy frosting is not what I wound up with, and it makes sense too. When you add mascrapone to your dark chocolate, the resulting color is not dark chocolate (comments in the link reflect the same dilemma!) – but something lighter, milk-chocolate-like. So if you do make the cake and find your frosting lighter than the picture – do not despair, as you are not alone in this. But should you really want to challenge yourself, you may want to frost this cake, standing on one foot, trying to keep your balance. You can lick the spatula at the end as your reward.

chocolate espresso cake with chocolate mascarpone frosting

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

indian-spiced rice pudding

arborio rice pudding with Indian spices

I’ve never been much of a fancy girl. Were it up to me, I’d spend my days in jeans and tank tops. Don’t get me wrong, I clean up rather nicely, but I am at my happiest just hanging out. Getting dressed-up never feels natural. Even when I get my hair cut, I hate to have my hair blown-out, choosing instead my unruly mess of frizzy waves. My affinity for the informal is probably why I don’t yet own a single little black dress. Not one. That should soon be rectified: a wedding I’m in this year wants the bridesmaids in LBDs, so I will be shopping for one pretty soon. Anyhow, dresses are dresses and jeans are jeans and I will forever have a love affair with the latter and regard the former with a bit of annoyance. Pizza, beer, jeans, and a tanktop – and I’m one happy camper.

scraping vanilla beansarborio rice pudding with Indian spices

At least I’m consistent. As unfussy as I am about dress code, I like to apply the same to food. Comforting and soothing is something I’ll take any day over fancy and engineered. I’ve deep respect for fine, jacket-and-tie kind of dining, but were it up to me, were I running a restaurant, mine would be focused on soothing souls and nurturing the senses. I’d serve rice pudding for dessert and call it a night.

arborio rice pudding with Indian spices

I think that rice pudding is just about one of the loveliest things there is out there. Like cozy wool socks, or homemade marshmallows. It’s my go-to comfort dessert, and one that I welcome this time of year with open arms. It also makes your house smell deliciously divine: sweet, warm, wintry. I prefer my rice pudding slightly warmed, but a friend of mine recently confessed to having an unhealthy addiction to eating cold rice pudding early in the morning before work. A breakfast pudding, if you will. While she felt pangs of guilt about indulging her rice pudding yen in the morning, to me – nothing sounded better because I was reared in a type of morning rice pudding in Russia. Except in Russia we didn’t call it rice pudding – we called it “risovaya kasha” or kasha made of rice. Kasha, in Russian, denoted a porridge of sorts, usually eaten for breakfast and made with a whole grain. My arch-nemesis was something called “mannaya kasha” – which, I think, in the US is called farina. I still shudder at the thought.

bayleaf

Of course, as a kid I was an impossible-to-please-picky-eater; I gagged on practically everything that was milk-based. Grass-fed cows’ milk, folks. Cows that knew not what hormones or antibiotics were. Cows that spent their days in the pasture, calmly, thoughtfully (I like to think) chewing on grasses and mulling around. And I gagged on such a thing.

I grew up in a household that thought (rightly so!) that milk equaled health; and a healthy child was what the zenith of family goals should be. Thus various milk products were force-fed down my through as if I were a foie gras goose being readied for the plumping. Breakfast was almost always a hot grain cereal: sometimes buckwheat, sometimes cream of wheat, sometimes the overcooked, glue-like oatmeal my grandmother loved to serve. And sometimes, when I was lucky, it was rice pudding. Studded with raisins and impossibly rich. I ate that with more enthusiasm than other breakfast foods mostly because the raisins served as a good distraction.

arborio rice pudding with Indian spices

By the time I grew up, I kind of forgot about rice pudding and it was eating kheer at Indian restaurant a few years back that jolted my memory. After that, rice pudding was all I could think about. I made it over and over and over. I combined the Indian flavors with the more traditional pudding recipe. And added a bay leaf as it gave the rice a slightly woodsy, herbal fragrance. Sometimes, rice pudding tastes so candy-sweet, it’s almost overwhelming. I liked having a little earthiness to the smell and the bay leaf complements the sweetness rather nicely.

While I typically share my food with friends, I never shared rice pudding. It would vanish from my kitchen with lightning speed; faster than I could snap a photograph. Last year, I made this pudding, took pictures and then immediately forgot all about it. I do this a lot – forgetting to write about recipes I’ve cooked eons ago. I hope you can forgive me because this is seriously good. And comforting. And warm. And you can have it for breakfast too and not just for dessert. Wearing pajamas. Or jeans and tank tops. Or fancy black dresses. It’s totally up to you!

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

homemade ricotta cheese

homemade ricotta

My mother makes her own farmers cheese. Hers is a simple process, but a lengthy one that takes about a day, with milk and buttermilk slowly simmering together on the lowest heat imaginable until they slowly curdle and form amazing, delicate, tangy cottage cheese. It is a farmers cheese I cannot get enough of when I go home, and if it traveled well, I’d be bringing lots back to New York with me. Unfortunately, I cannot give my cheese experiments twenty-four hours – I have to leave the apartment building for work, gym, errands, and something about an unattended pot makes me anxious.

i heart this milklemons make me smile

But ricotta cheese – that’s another story. It takes very little time to make and most of it is hands-off time – letting the milk boil, draining the curds. Simple and quick! And I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to actually make it. So simple, it’s nothing more than a few simple ingredients. When combined, they do something transformative and magical and create delicious, creamy ricotta.

cream, being poured

These are the kinds of things in the kitchen that really put a smile on my face. I generally like to putter around in there and find contentment in chopping things and baking and braising. But things like baking bread or making ricotta cheese, or butter, these are things that make me feel closer to the elements. They’re truly simple pleasures: basic, fundamental and true.

pushkin's first day at home

Which brings to another basic, fundamental and true thing: love. As I type this, a tiny furry creature is curled up to my right, blissfully asleep. Periodically, he sighs, rolls over and falls back asleep. World – meet Pushkin McLovin’ – a new addition to the Sassy Radish household. He’s mighty pleased meeting you and he’s super playful and very soft and I’m terribly, terribly smitten with him. I’m not sure at what point I fell in love with him, but here I am, a little unsure of what’s next, but very excited to have him. It feels very simple and basic and wonderful.

readying the cheese cloth

Back to ricotta – I can’t stress how easy it is to make and how delicious. I’m pretty sure that once you try this at home you may never buy the store version ever again because it is a pale, pale comparison to its homemade cousin. It also has a million uses, from stuffing manicotti, to cannoli filling to something I’ll talk about in my next post. Because I like to keep you guessing.

homemade ricotta

Which I think is what Pushkin will do as well – keep me guessing for awhile. What kind of cat will he be? Lively or mellow? Affectionate or aloof? Only time will tell, but I can tell you this much – this not knowing, is actually quite nice.

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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!

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