I had the first snow day of my adult life last week, and I got just as excited about it as I used to when I was a kid. When my alarm went off, I rolled over to check my email, discovered a note from the boss saying we could work from home, and am not ashamed to admit to giving an excited fist pump and a half-asleep “YES! Snow day!” before turning back over for one more hour of sleep. This is the third work-from-home day I’ve had in as many weeks (first two thanks to office painting) and here’s what I’ve realized: I get more done when working from home. I’m happier and more well-rested because no commute–and no deciding what to wear–means an hour of extra sleep, I’m more focused on my business-work when I’m doing it, and during the breaks I take, instead of clicking around the web or aimlessly wandering the office in search of chit-chat, I get practical stuff done. Things like laundry and errands and a workout, and, most importantly for this site, baking. I wonder if my boss would let me work from home more often if I promised to bring in baked goods.
I’d had a muffin craving since reading this Bittman article, and I’d been trying to eat only whole grains for the month as part of a fitness challenge I was participating in, so I decided to use his piece as an inspiration to overcome my fear of baking with whole wheat flour. I eat whole grain bread happily, and I have finally found a couple of whole wheat pastas whose textures aren’t gritty, but whole wheat baked goods? To me, they conjured up dry-as-a-bone, leaden health food store lumps. Something virtuous that I would have tried to choke down by dipping them in tea. Not so with this recipe. These are surprisingly airy for whole wheat, the keys being, as the article says, buying whole wheat pastry flour, which is ground finer, and not over-mixing the batter.
I upped the sweet potato content from the original recipe because there was a little extra in the can that would have gone to waste, and because I was terrified, despite his assurances, that they would be too dry. I took my spice cues from the piece, but added a little vanilla extract for a touch of added sweetness, plus used mostly brown sugar and added toasted, chopped pecans. My thought here was to try to re-create the sweet potato dish we often have for Thanksgiving, in muffin form, and it worked! They’re just sweet enough to feel like a treat, with healthy enough ingredients that it doesn’t feel like you’re having a cupcake for breakfast, which is how I often feel about most muffins. (And honestly, in that case, I’d rather just have a cupcake.) They also make your house smell incredible while you’re snowbound, which could come in handy if this winter keeps going the way it’s been going. I am pretty sure the scent of cardamom has magical, mood-lifting properties further enhanced by the sight of fresh snow accumulating on branches.
I imagine these would be great as a way to turn a bowl of spicy soup into a meal, and I can tell you for certain that the’yre fantastic with a cup of tea. They also freeze well (flash freeze on a sheet and then toss in a freezer bag) and can be popped in the microwave for 20-30 seconds and eaten when you need a winter morning pick-me-up. Add a pat of butter for those extra-cold days.
Cardamom-Ginger Sweet Potato Muffins with Toasted Pecans
adapted from Mark Bittman in the New York Times
½ cup melted butter, slightly cooled
¾ cup pecans, toasted, then coarsely chopped
2½ cups whole wheat pastry flour*
¼ cup granulated sugar
½ cup brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
¼ tsp freshly ground cardamom
1¼ cup sweet potato puree
½ cup buttermilk
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 egg, lightly beaten
*Make sure your whole wheat flour says “pastry” flour. It’s ground a lot finer than regular whole wheat flour and keeps the muffins from becoming the kind of leaden baked goods often associated with whole wheat. (Bob’s Red Mill and Arrowhead Mills both make it.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease muffin tin or line with cupcake liners.
Toast pecan halves over medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet, stirring frequently, until fragrant. Spread in a single layer over a plate or cookie sheet to cool. Chop coarsely when cool.
Melt 1 stick (½ cup) butter in pan over low heat and set aside to cool slightly.
Combine flour, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices in a large bowl and stir together with a whisk.
In a separate, smaller bowl, mix together buttermilk, sweet potato, vanilla extract, and the cooled butter.
Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and slowly stir until just combined. With muffins, you want to stir as little as possible, so just sort of fold in the dry ingredients until there are no dry spots. Do not over-mix! Lumps are totally okay. Gently fold in chopped pecans.
Fill muffin pan so that each cup is about ¾ full. Bake 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.
Yields: 16 muffins
Time to Make: 15-20 minutes active prep, 45 minutes total time
I have a distinct childhood memory of being completely disgusted by my grandmother putting salt and pepper on an otherwise perfectly good slice of cantaloupe. This was before I baked my first batch of cookies and saw how salt can bring out sweetness, and long before a Belgian exchange student introduced me to the joys of dipping salty pretzels into a jar of this strangely delicious, sweet concoction called Nutella. Obviously, times have changed, and that grossed-out kid has turned into someone who loves few things more than a sweet/salty combination. Melon and feta? Yes, please.
In keeping with the too-hot-to-cook theme from my last post, this salad takes about 10 minutes to prepare and does not require even looking at the stove. If you’ve eaten dinner at my apartment in the summertime, you have probably been served a version of this dish at some point. It’s one of those summer regulars, so easy I can do it without thinking, which comes in handy when my brain has turned to mush from the heat.
I was reminded of it for the first time this year by something similar that appeared in Mark Bittman’s excellent list of 101 Simple Salads for the Season, a list I plan on referring to for inspiration throughout the summer. Inspired by Greek chopped salad, but with a watermelon twist, this salad’s ingredients vary, depending on what I have on hand. I’ve made it with and without both olives and onions, I’ve used cherry tomatoes or chopped up beefsteaks or heirlooms. The only constants for me are the watermelon, the cucumber, and the feta, all of which combine for the perfect sweetsavorycrisprefreshing bite. This salad is very forgiving, so if you don’t have something listed below, don’t worry, and the amounts included are only guidelines. Add more of something if you love it, less if you don’t. My only word of caution to you is that this salad does not keep well, so make only what you will eat that meal. It’s so easy to prepare that you can always whip up another batch if needed.
8 oz watermelon chopped into cubes (I admit, I usually buy this pre-cut–we just can’t go through a whole melon ourselves!),
1 large cucumber, peeled, and cut into chunks
couple of handfuls of cherry or grape tomatoes OR 2 large tomatoes, chopped
½ of a red onion, diced
¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
4 oz feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
Salt & fresh-ground pepper to taste
Prepare all of the salad ingredients and add to a large bowl. In a separate, small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients and pour over salad. Toss everything together, and serve immediately.
Yields: about 4 generous side servings
Time to make: 15 mins
I thought maybe Brooklyn wasn’t going to get a real summer this year. It’s been cool and rainy around these parts for months. (Which is part of why the Northeast is likely going to have a sad tomato crop.) Then, last weekend, August descended upon us with a vengeance, and a week early to boot. We scrambled to install the bedroom air conditioner, giving us a nighttime reprieve, but there’s no relief at all in our tiny-top floor kitchen. An open window and a mini-fan are no match for this humidity, and I would be lying if I told you I didn’t eat cereal for dinner one night this past week, when the thought of the energy required to chop something, never mind the heat generated by turning on a burner, left me exhausted and defeated before I even tried. So I’ve been dreaming up no-cook or quick-cook meals for days on end now, and I’ve got several to share with you.
First, though, do yourself a favor and mix up a batch of this super-refreshing drink. Jeff has been on a lemonade-making kick lately, and it’s rare that there’s not a jug of it in the fridge. The rain seems to have been good for the cucumber crop, as I can’t seem to go through all of them between CSA pick-ups, and there’s only so much cucumber salad a girl can take, so I tossed some slices in to the lemonade. I threw in some berries (we’ve used strawberries and raspberries now — both work well, and I imagine blackberries would, too) and some mint from the plant in my window garden, which also seems to be happy about the rain, and it’s many of the best tastes of the season in an ice-cold glass. Keep it in your refrigerator and pour yourself a glass of it when you’re half-wilted and ready to dial for takeout. If it’s been a very long day, toss a shot of vodka in. I guarantee it will perk you up, cool you down, and have you ready to face dinner.
Lemonade with Strawberries, Cucumbers, and Muddled Mint
for simple syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice (7-10 lemons, depending on size)
3 to 4 cups cold water
a handful of mint leaves, plucked from their stems
1 tbsp sugar
10-15 strawberries, hulled and sliced
half a slicing cucumber, peeled, sliced, and then quartered
First, make simple syrup by putting 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water into a medium saucepan and boiling until clear. (You can throw a pinch of lemon zest in here as well, if you want to amp up the lemon flavor.) Set aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Squeeze lemons into a glass measuring cup until you have 1 cup of juice. Rinse, hull, and slice strawberries. (If using raspberries or blackberries, you can just cut in half.) Peel and slice cucumber. Muddle mint with the tablespoon of sugar until it’s a bit bruised and you can really smell it. When simple syrup has cooled to room temp, measure out 1 cup of it (you’ll have a little bit left over–I keep it in the fridge and use it in iced coffee) into a pitcher, add fresh lemon juice, and then cold water. How much water you add will depend on how strong you like your lemonade. Start with 3 cups, and then add more if you want it slightly more diluted. Toss in the mint, strawberries, and cucumber, and shake up the pitcher a bit. If it’s cocktail hour, put a shot of vodka in your glass. Serve over ice with a mint sprig garnish
You can drink this immediately after making, but it’s better if it chills for a couple of hours and the flavors have time to blend. It keeps for a couple of days in the fridge before the berries and cukes start to get too soggy, but in my experience, it never lasts long enough for that to be a problem.
Yields: about 6 glasses
Time to make: 15 mins active prep, a little more time for cooling
I get absurdly excited about sour cherries. I think it’s because they’re around for such a short time before they’re gone until next year. I missed them last year. I was busy or out of town, and by the time I got around to them, all I could find was one sad-looking,overpriced container of bruised, half-decayed fruit at a local gourmet shop. I stupidly bought them, but was then so depressed by them every time I opened the fridge (by the time I weeded through the nastier specimens, there would hardly be more than a handful or two left, and what could be done with those?) that I let them sit in my refrigerator, occasionally plucking one from certain doom, until there was no doubt that they had moved past questionable to inedible.
I was not going to make the same mistake this time around, so it would be no exaggeration to say that I was stalking cherries at the market. My surveillance was rewarded with a couple of quarts of perfect, bright-red, super-tart cherries last week. Some of them went into sorbet (same recipe as the strawberry on this site, but with lemon juice instead of balsamic, and without the basil), some of them went directly into my mouth, and the rest, I made into pie.
I used to fear pie crusts. All it takes is one late-night crust disaster in a too-hot summer kitchen to send a girl running to the nearest bakery, but I’ve learned that with temperamental dough the fridge and freezer are your friends. A little internet tutorial from a more experienced baker also helped a lot to ease my fears.
Here are the secrets: 1) Keep everything as cold as possible–the flour, the bowl, and especially the butter. 2) Don’t overwork it. Visible chunks of butter = flaky deliciousness. No signs of butter = tough chewiness. 3) If the dough starts getting all melty, back in the fridge (or in the freezer for 5 minutes). That’s really all there is to it. Do not fear the crust!
Also, a lesson learned myself this time around: Who cares if it’s not perfect? This was not one of the more beautiful pies I’ve ever made. It was hot and humid, and I was up too late and frustrated. The crust has a tidal wave quality from where I got tired of trying to crimp and just sort of let the overhang, er, hang over. Guess what? It tasted delicious! So, even if your pie is not going to win any beauty contests, just call it “rustic” and serve. I guarantee you people will gobble it down just the same.
Sour Cherry Pie
adapted from Bon Appetit via Epicurious
2½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
¾ tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) very cold, unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
5 tbsp (or more) ice water
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp cornstarch
¼ tsp salt
5 cups whole pitted sour cherries (for me this was about a quart and a half unpitted cherries, or about 2 pounds)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 tbsp unsalted butter, melted, for brushing on crust
1 tbsp sugar, for sprinkling on crust
First, mix the flour, salt, and sugar for crust in one bowl and put the cubed butter in another bowl. Put both in the freezer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a one cup measuring cup with water and add a few ice cubes. After they’ve had their freezer time, sdd butter cubes to flour mixture, and use a pastry blender to blend together until the largest pieces are about the size of peas, and the rest looks like coarse cornmeal. Take one tablespoon at a time of ice water from the cup, drizzling it into the dough and pressing together with your fingers, until it holds together enough to form a ball. You want it to just come together, and you don’t want to over-work it. You should be able to see patches of butter throughout. Once you have it in a ball, divide that ball in half, and flatten each of those balls to form a 4-inch disk. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. (This part can be done ahead, and the dough will keep in the fridge for a couple of days–just be sure to double-wrap it, so that it doesn’t end up tasting like your leftover takeout.)
The filling is the easy part. Just mix the whole, pitted cherries, sugar, salt, cornstarch, lemon juice, and vanilla in a bowl a few minutes before you take the dough out of the refrigerator.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one disk (leaving the other in the refrigerator until you need it) until it’s a 12-inch round. Drape over a 9-inch pie dish and trim the overhang until it’s about half an inch. Discard scraps. Roll out the second disk to the same 12-inch round. If at any point, the dough sticks, dust the surface or the pin with more flour (excess can always brushed off) or, if it gets really bad, do not give up! (Or freak out–as I have a tendency to do.) Instead, gently gather the dough back into a ball and put it in the freezer for five minutes or so until it behaves again.
Make a mound with the filling in the pie-dough-lined pan, so that it’s slightly higher in the center. Sprinkle the butter cubes over the filling. Drape the second round over the top, again trimming any overhang to half an inch. Use your thumb and forefinger to pinch the two crusts and seal them together.
Cut a few small slits in the center of the pie. Brush the crust, but not the edges, with the melted butter and sprinkle with sanding sugar (or regular) until it sparkles. Place the pie pan on top of a baking sheet (to catch any drips) and bake 15 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 375 degrees and bake 45 minutes to an hour longer, until the crust is a light, golden brown, and the filling is bubbling out the slits a bit. If during the baking, the edges start to get a little too brown, just cover them with foil for the remaining time.
Allow to come to room temperature before serving. Otherwise, your filling will not set, and the cherry deliciousness will go running everywhere. If you absolutely cannot wait, serve the runny pie over vanilla ice cream, but patience in this case is definitely rewarded.
Yields: 1 9-inch pie (# of servings varies, depending on size of slices)
Time to make: 45 mins active prep, 4 hours total start-to-finish cooking time
This isn’t so much a recipe as a very easy technique. The first time I had peppers blistered like this was in Spain, and they were a revelation. They were pimientos de Guernica, mild but flavorful little peppers, fried in olive oil until blistered, then tossed with coarse sea salt. The sweetness of the pepper, that lovely charred tang, and the crisp flakiness of the salt combined to create one of the most addictive foods I’ve ever encountered. I ate them every chance I had that trip, eventually also discovering pimientos de Padrón, which are similar to Guernicas, but with with an occasional spicy-hot one in the mix. Eating them is a little like playing a pepper version of Russian Roulette — you never know who’s going to get the kicker until he’s reaching for more sangria.
The Padrónes I see now and again, but I haven’t had much luck finding Guernicas here in New York, other than at my favorite little tapas bar, Tia Pol, and next time I go, I’m going to ask where they find them. Meanwhile I’ve found that shishitos make a very fine substitute, and the fantastic Yuno’s Farm stand at the Union Square Greenmarket (Mondays and Fridays) has a steady supply of them from now until fall.
These peppers make the perfect summer dinner party appetizer, as they can be made in under 10 minutes, they look pretty, and they’re a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. They’re also great for a quick snack at home. We eat them like popcorn while watching a movie, and I often eat them standing at the kitchen counter on the nights I come home starving and am too impatient to cook a full meal. The key is to get fresh peppers and use good quality olive oil. (Unsurprisingly, I’m partial to a Spanish variety, made from arbequinas, but any good kind will do.)
Blistered Shishito Peppers
couple of handfuls of fresh shishito peppers
1-2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan
couple of pinches of coarse sea salt
You’ll be cooking the pepper whole, so do not remove the stem. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Turn heat up to high and add the peppers in a single layer. Don’t crowd them; cook in more than one batch if needed, but they need to have space to brown rather than steam. Once you’ve added the peppers to the pan, do not stir; let them sit in place for about 2 minutes, to allow them to brown and blister. Toss the peppers and then let them sit again for another 2 minutes. Toss more frequently for 1-2 minutes after that, until peppers are lightly charred (they should be brown rather than black) on the outside and very tender. Spread on a plate and sprinkle generously with sea salt flakes. Serve immediately. Use the stems to hold onto the peppers, suck the meat off the ends, then discard stems. I challenge you not to tear through a plate in less than five minutes time.
It’s all strawberries, all the time, around here, I know. I’ll vary it up a little soon, but there are few things I hate more than to see good food go to waste, so when the last of the CSA berry bounty was still sitting on my counter on Sunday night, and I’d used up all my creative cooking energy on the tart, I decided on an old standby.
Let me tell you a secret about sorbet: It is one of the simplest things on earth to make, but people are always impressed by it. If you’re looking for the perfect, refreshing ending to a summer dinner party, this is it. No oven required. The only ingredients needed are fresh fruit and sugar (and sometimes water, though strawberries don’t even need that), but sorbet also lends itself to endless variations if inspiration strikes. And don’t worry if you don’t have an ice cream maker. I made this batch in the freezer using a pan and a fork, and it was no less delicious than the mechanically produced version, and much better than almost anything you can buy in a store.
Strawberry sorbet is as simple as it gets because the berries contain enough water that just slicing them and leaving them to macerate with some sugar for a short while is all the prep you really have to do. They do all of the work for you. Perfect for a lazy summer Sunday. I added balsamic vinegar with the intent of throwing in some chiffonaded basil leaves and recreating a favorite variation from last summer. But my window-garden basil had gone all droopy and pathetic from too much rain and not enough sun, so no green this time around, just the tang of balsamic, which it turns out is lovely on its own. If you’ve had more success with your basil than I’m having, just cut a handful into thin pieces and toss it in after you’ve pureed and chilled, just before you freeze. It may sound strange, but it’s delicious and surprising, and I’m going to make sure I have some on hand next time. If you’d rather stick to basic, unadorned strawberry, just sub in 1 teaspoon of lemon juice for the balsamic and omit the basil leaves.
Strawberry Balsamic (Basil) Sorbet
3 cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
½ cup to ¾ cup sugar*
pinch of salt
1½ tbsp good-quality balsamic vinegar
a few basil leaves, cut into thin strips
*How much sugar you use depends on taste and on how sweet your strawberries are on their own; taste to see.
Mix sliced strawberries, sugar, salt and vinegar together in a bowl until well combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes, until sugar is dissolved and strawberries have given up quite a bit of juice. Puree the mixture in a blender or using a hand blender, and then return to bowl, re-cover and refrigerate until well chilled–at least one hour, but I usually give it two.
When the mixture is cold, toss in the basil leaves if using, then pour it into an ice cream maker if you have one, following its instructions. To make without a machine, pour the puree into a frezer-safe pan–I used a large-ish rectangular plastic storage container–cover, and put in the freezer. Every half an hour or so, fluff/re-mix the sorbet thoroughly with a fork. This prevents ice crystals hardening and making your sorbet more icy in texture than you’ll want. I did this 4 times for a total of 2 hours freezing time before having some. When the mixture is pretty frozen, pack it as tightly as you can into a smaller container, press a piece of plastic wrap to the surface, and then cover. (All of this is to prevent freezer-burn.) For best results, eat within a few days of making.
Yields: About 6 half-cup servings
Time to make: 20 minutes active prep, about 5 hrs start to finish, including freezing time (much less if you have an ice cream maker)
It’s the first day of summer, not that you’d know it from looking out the window. It’s been a very grey and rainy June here in New York, and, while I am grateful that I haven’t yet had to install the air conditioner and can still happily sleep at night with the windows open and the curtains blowing, I’m also jonesing for summer in the worst way.
Strawberries are the harbinger of hot days to come, so I was pleased to see two whole quarts of them show up in my first CSA share pick-up this past week. Upon getting them home, I was just a little disappointed. Perhaps they’re just as displeased with the torrential downpours we’ve been subjected to for weeks now as I am, because the strawberries, while beautiful, seem to be a little watered-down this year. Not bad, just not as strawberry-y as expected, even the usually-perfect tiny ones. This makes them not so great for popping into one’s mouth straight from the little green cardboard box, but they can be dressed up nicely, and paired with some perfect, tart rhubarb, and I can have a taste of summer even if the sky is not cooperating with the season. On the bright side, it’s still cool enough that I’m willing to turn on the oven in my top-floor, tiny kitchen. Add to that my recent discovery of the most incredible Dancing Ewe Farm sheeps-milk ricotta (available at the Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays–so good I’ve been getting off the train on my summer half-day commute home for the sole purpose of picking up a basket), and suddenly I was on a tart-making mission.
The tart shell is from Alice Waters by way of Smitten Kitchen. I made the apple tart last Thanksgiving to rave reviews, so I figured that crust was a good place to start. I modified it slightly, by upping the sugar a bit, since this filling was more tart than the apple one. The rest was improv, based in part on how much rhubarb I had on hand–I knew I wanted equal parts strawberry and rhubarb. I also wanted the tart to be more fruity than cheesy, so the ratio of fruit to cheese is 4 to 1. The cheese is so fantastic and nutty that I didn’t want to mess with it too much, so I added just a little vanilla to sweeten it up. I wanted really simple flavors, so I stopped there, but if you wanted something more complex, I bet a pinch of cinammon or some grated nutmeg would be delicious in the cheese. Alternatively, some orange zest tossed in with the fruit would probably be delicious, too.
The experiment turned out really well. The only thing I’d do differently next time is to maybe pre-bake the tart for a short time before adding the filling. I covered the bottom with a couple of tablespoons of cornstarch, and I baked the tart pan on top of a pizza stone in an effort to keep it crisp. While definitely not soggy, it still wasn’t quite as firm as I would have liked, so if anyone else tries pre-baking and has success, please leave a note in the comments.
If you have a kitchen full of strawberries like me, this is a fine use of them, though I have many more to make my way through. Next up, strawberry sorbet!
Simple Strawberry Rhubarb Ricotta Tart
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp sugar
⅛ tsp salt
6 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes
3 tbsp chilled water (+more if needed)
2½ cups strawberries, hulled and sliced
2½ cups rhubarb, chopped into ¼-inch pieces
½ to ¾ cup sugar*
1¼ cup ricotta
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp of cornstarch for sprinkling on the bottom of the tart before filling
1 tbsp butter, melted, for brushing the crust
1 tbsp coarse or granulated sugar for sprinkling on crust
*My filling needed 3/4 cup sugar because of very tart rhubarb and the aforementioned slightly anemic strawberries. If you have very sweet berries, you will not need this much.
Sift together flour, sugar, and salt in a large bowl. Add butter cubes and blend with a pastry blender until the largest pieces are pea-sized. Add the cold water and toss with your hands until the dough just barely holds together enough to form into a ball. (You can add a tbsp or so more if your dough is too dry. Since it’s so damp here, I needed very little.) Flatten dough ball into a 4-inch disc, double-wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least half an hour. Overnight is fine, too, if you want to do this prep the night before.
Toss berries, rhubarb and sugar in a bowl and allow to macerate for 15-20 minutes.
Mix ricotta and vanilla in a small bowl until well combined.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. (If you have a pizza stone, put it in while the oven heats up, and place tart pan on top of it when ready.)
Remove dough from refrigerator, let sit for a few minutes, then roll out the tart crust on a lightly floured surface, using clockwise rolling movements to keep it round, until it’s fairly thin, and about 14 inches in diameter. Drape the dough over a lightly greased 9-inch tart pan, letting the extra dough hang over the edge of the pan. (If you don’t have a tart pan, you can also make this tart galette-style–just place the dough on a lightly greased cookie sheet, put filling in the center, and fold the edges over free-form.) Press dough into the bottom and sides of the pan. If you have any tears, just pull a little extra from the overhang to patch up. Sprinkle the cornstarch evenly over the bottom of the crust to help keep it from getting mushy.
Spread the cheese filling evenly over the bottom of the pan. Remove the fruit from its bowl with a slotted spoon. You don’t want the juices in the bottom of the bowl, since they will make the crust soggy. (That leftover juice will be very sweet. I used it to sweeten a small batch of fresh-squeezed lemonade.) Spread the drained fruit over the top of the cheese mixture. Fold the overhanging dough up to form a crust. Brush that crust with melted butter. Sprinkle any leftover butter over the filling. Sprinkle crust with coarse sugar if you’ve got it, otherwise regular granulated works just fine.
Bake tart for about 40 minutes, rotating it a couple of times to ensure even cooking. If the crust starts to get too brown before it’s finished, you can cover with tin foil. Tempting as it may be to eat it straight out of the oven, wait for the tart to cool to room temperature; otherwise, all of the delicious juices will run out when you cut it.
Yields: 1 9-inch tart (8-10 servings, depending on size of slices)
Time to make: 30 mins active prep, 1 hr , 15 mins total cooking time
Today the temperature rose to 50 degrees and the sun finally showed itself. I was able to wear a jacket that was not of the head-to-toe, sleeping-bag variety! I didn’t wear a hat! I definitely needed a day like this. Stepping outside was like coming up for air.
By happy coincidence, we had planned an afternoon of exploration, and so headed a few stops further into Brooklyn on the Q train to Cortelyou Road, to wander around Ditmas Park. It was only ten minutes by train from our neighborhood, but it felt like leaving town for the day. Wandering blocks lined with huge Victorian homes and gigantic trees that I could see would be beautiful when they actually had their leaves, I started daydreaming of backyard hammocks and second-story porches and lounging around in an actual backyard with enough grass that I could actually smell it.
Alas, I think rentals in those houses are difficult to find, but it was good for my imagination, which has been in serious need of a workout lately. The rest of me has been in need of a workout, too, and I don’t think I like any exercise more than long, meandering walks through unfamiliar territory. So I returned to Park Slope late in the afternoon one happy, and hungry, girl.
Having eaten nothing but a bowl of oatmeal in the morning, I was too hungry to cook, so we stopped by the local greasy spoon. Anywhere you can get eggs and toast at 4 pm for under $5 is all right by me, as I would eat breakfast for half my meals if it were more convenient to do so. However, having eaten at an off hour, I found myself only mildly hungry at dinnertime, but in need of some sustenance to tide me over until morning.
The solution: this easy, satisfying, salad, which is the perfect antitode to a day spent consuming very tasty but very beige food. Much like my spirits were lifted by the brightly painted houses, my taste buds were energized by the vibrant colors and flavors here. You can toss this together in 5 minutes, it looks gorgeous, so it’s impressive enough to serve to guests, and in my opinion, it just might be the perfect winter salad. Each pop of tart pomegranate bursting and combining with salty pistachio wakes you up a bit. So, for those, like me, in need of waking up:
Pomegranate & Pistachio Salad
6 cups mixed greens or arugula
1/2 cup or so salted, shelled pistachios
1 pomegranate, de-seeded*
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar**
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1 tsp chopped shallot (optional)
salt & pepper to taste
Divide greens between 4 plates. Sprinkle pistachios and pomegranate seeds over each. In a small, non-reactive bowl, whisk together all dressing ingredients until emulsified. Drizzle a little dressing over each plate, and voila! Perfect, gorgeous salad.
You will likely have leftover dressing. It will keep in the fridge for a week. It will separate while storing, but a quick whisk before serving will bring things back together nicely.
*I learned how to de-seed a pomegranate without staining my kitchen or my clothing red from this fantastic Simply Recipes post, so I recommend you check it out!
**Balsamic vinegar is one of those things where I had to be convinced, but it turns out that it really pays to get the more expensive stuff. It doesn’t even faintly resemble the lip-stinging cheap stuff; it’s sweeter and mellower and a bit syrupy, which makes it great for homemade salad dressing. Unless you eat salad every meal, a bottle lasts for a long time (I feel like a bottle lasts about a year for me), so I encourage you to upgrade to the kind with the cork top. I use Fini, if you want a recommendation.
Yields: 4 servings
Time to make: 5 min
Today marks six years with my favorite food-taster, dishwasher, and dinner companion. We’re headed out to a neighborhood favorite this evening to celebrate, so there will be no cooking tonight. Instead, I thought I’d post a recipe Jeff made for me when we were first dating, and which has become one of my favorite winter dishes. This was before I’d even been to Spain, let alone developed the obsession I currently have with its food and wine, but it turned out to be an indicator of things to come. Guisat de cigrons is Catalan and translates to “chickpea stew.” The English sounds much more ordinary than this dish actually is, though it is, like most stews, relatively easy to make. The key is getting good meats and making sure you’ve left enough time for the pot to simmer and the flavors to meld into one another. This stew is the kind that gets better after sitting overnight, perfect to keep in the fridge and steal bowls from over and over during a dreary February week.
The original inspiration came from a back issue of Saveur, now lost, though we have never once made it exactly as instructed in that recipe, having never had every ingredient specified. I’m pulling this from a messy piece of notebook paper where I’ve scribbled the basic ideas, but it changes a little each time. If you like things very garlicky, by all means add more; the original definitely called for what seemed to me like an absurd amount. If you’re vegetarian, I bet it would be easy to adapt this to a meatless version. (An added dose of some good olive oil and upping the paprika to make up for what you’d lose from the chorizo, plus a bit more spinach would be moves in the right direction, I think.) It’s up to you. I will tell you that the best version I made was with a bag of Rancho Gordo dried chickpeas that I soaked and cooked ahead the day before, but that takes more foresight than I usually have, and canned work just fine, too.
For me, the steam from a pot of this stew conjures fond memories of moving from the early stages of dinners out and getting-to-know you questions to dinners in and proffered wooden spoons for tasting. I hope this dish works just a little of that magic for you, too.
Guisat de cigrons
⅓ cup olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled & minced
¼ tsp sweet paprika
1 bay leaf
3 oz serrano ham (ask the butcher to cut you 1 thick slice), cut into small cubes
3 oz spicy chorizo, cut into small cubes
6 tbsp tomato paste
⅓ cup dry white wine
4 cups chickpeas
1 bunch spinach, rinsed and coarsely chopped
Heat ⅓ cup olive oil in large-ish, heavy-bottomed pot (I use a 5-qt dutch oven) over medium-low heat. Add onions, garlic, paprika, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring often, until onions are very soft. (approx. 30 mins.)
Add serrano ham and chorizo and cook 4-5 mins.
Add tomato paste and cook for 3 more minutes, stirring frequently.
Add wine and cook until alcohol evaporates, 2-3 minutes.
Add 6 cups cold water and increase the heat to high. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium, and continue to simmer until liquid has reduced by about a third, 45 minutes or so.
Add chickpeas and warm through, 10-12 minutes. Add spinach and cook until just wilted.
Discard bay leaf, season with salt and pepper to taste. Optional garnish: one hard-cooked egg, quartered, per bowl, floating on top.
Serve with a torn-off chunk of good bread or, even better, with pan con tomate, toasted bread rubbed with cut garlic and a cut tomato, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with just a little coarse salt.
Yields: 6 servings
Time to make: 30 min prep, 1½ hr total cooking time
I brought the camera to the office today and accidentally left it there, so there is no mouth-watering photo to convince you to try this recipe, but please, if you like lamb at all, just trust me on this one. It’s delicious!
During the summer and fall, I participate in a great CSA program. In addition to the weekly veggie and fruit pick-up, they’ve organized a bunch of local farms to provide meat, dairy, honey, jams, bread, and all sorts of other good stuff that you can special order and pick up with your usual allotment. I ordered an assortment of meats with my last pick-up of the season and have been pulling them from my freezer now and again as winter drags on.
One of my favorite places to order from is 3-Corner Field Farm, which specializes in sheep’s-milk cheese and lamb, along with wool yarns and lanolin soaps. I could eat their fresh ricotta by itself with a spoon, but that’s for another post. Their lamb is grass-fed, humanely raised, no hormones, no antibiotics, etc., etc. Now, I’m already a firm believer in eating less meat but getting the good stuff when you do, but the difference was really brought home to me by how much more appetizing this package of ground lamb looks than the greyish mass that my local grocery store offers. All of this is a very long way to say that the dish I’m about to tell you about is fairly simple, which means you can really taste every ingredient, especially the lamb, so get the best stuff you can find.
This is my adaptation of the recipe for Daoud Basha in Claudia Roden’s fantastic The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. (If you have any interest at all in Middle Eastern food, I cannot recommend this book highly enough! Arabesque is wonderful, too, and has incredible photos.) I’ve changed a few things from the original. I had less ground lamb than called for, so I adjusted for that, and while I’m sure the dish is even tastier with fresh tomatoes when they’re in season, there was no way I was going to use the mealy ones on offer this time of year, so I used canned instead. Finally, I combined a couple of her suggested variations into one recipe.
Truth be told, I probably used closer to ¼ tsp red pepper flakes, because I like things spicy, but start with the listed amount and add more later if desired. The sweetness of the cinnamon and sugar are balanced nicely by the kick of red pepper and the brightness of the lemon juice, and I loved the added texture of the pine nuts in meatballs, a dish which I sometimes find can be too mushy.
We ate these delectable little morsels folded into a warm whole-wheat pita, with a dollop of sheeps-milk yogurt smudged over the tomato sauce before rolling the whole thing up, and they were heavenly. But they would be just as good served over couscous, rice, or egg noodles. In fact, I plan on trying them that way in leftover form.
Lamb & Pine Nut Meatballs in a Spicy Tomato Sauce
(adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food)
1 pound ground lamb
1 large onion, finely chopped
salt & pepper
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp allspice
⅓ cup pine nuts
1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes
1½ tsp sugar
3 gloves garlic
⅛ tsp crushed red pepper flakes
2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 400°.
Mix together ground lamb, onions, pine nuts, cinnamon, allspice, a generous pinch of salt, and a few grinds of pepper in a large bowl. Use your hands, and don’t be shy. You want all the ingredients to blend well and for the mixture to come together as a paste.
Drizzle a little canola oil into a dish. Form small meatballs (an inch or so in diameter) from the paste and lightly roll each one in the oil before placing in a single layer in a 9×13 baking dish. Bake 18-20 minutes, until the lamb is a brownish color (though not necessarily browned).
While the meatballs are baking, put the three cloves of garlic through the press and saute in a tbsp of olive oil over medium heat in a large saucepan (I used a 5-qt dutch oven) for a minute until fragrant. Add in crushed tomatoes, sugar, crushed red pepper flakes, lemon juice, and a healthy pinch of salt. Simmer until the meatballs are done.
Remove the meatballs from the oven and add to the tomato sauce. Simmer for 20 more minutes, until the sauce cooks down a bit and the meatballs melt in your mouth.
Yields: 6 servings
Time to make: 20 mins prep, 40 mins total cooking time
ps. There may be no photographic evidence this time, but the recipe was good enough that I am positive I will be making them again and I promise you a picture the second time around.