July 15th, 2015

Chocolate Zucchini Cake

This is the type of cake that calls to you. You may find yourself cutting thin slices off whenever you pass through the kitchen. It isn’t too sweet, and it is incredibly moist. I read a lot of recipes, and their are some cake recipes that claim to actually get better with age. I had never experienced this, and didn’t really believe it to be true– until this cake. I swear! On day two, it was more complex, and had settled into itself!

ChocZucCake2It is July, which in the kitchen can mean many things. Lots of salads, no roasting or braising for long periods of time, ice cream is your friend, etc. But one rule holds true– there is most definitely a glut of summer squash. It may be growing in your garden, cooling in the fridge, setting on the counter. Now I like zucchini as much as the next person. I will eat it in various savory accoutrements– even multiple times a week. You probably would like to have me around. But for the most part, sweet zucchini bread and tea time zucchini muffins leave me rather cold. But then I saw this recipe– with chocolate– and I decided to branch out.

ChocZucCake1This cake will not solve all of your summer squash abundances. It only uses two medium squash. But it will have you feeling virtuous– both for using things up, and incorporating a vegetable– something that is otherwise good for you– into a dessert. Maybe you can even have a slice of this cake for breakfast! (I did, and can say, paired with a glass of cold-brewed coffee, it is superb.)

Made with buttermilk, the cake is doubly moist. And for those people, like my husband for instance, who is very skeptical of vegetable-oriented desserts, the grated squash virtually disappears into the body of the cake. The chocolate is present, but not overpowering. I made two additions to the recipe. I added one cup of mini, semi-sweet chocolate chips, which where great. They melted into the cake and made it slightly richer, and I added a simple glaze, because I can’t leave well enough alone.

ChocZucCake3Chocolate Zucchini Cake
adapted slightly from Saveur

2 medium zucchini (10-12 ounces) trimmed and grated on the large holes of box grater
2 3/4 cup (13 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (3/4 ounce) unsweetened cocoa
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

Glaze:

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup (2 ounces) powdered sugar
1-2 tablespoons cream

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 inch, deep, springform pan. It is important that you use a deep pan. This is a tall cake, there is quite a lot of batter, and it rises.

Working in batches, squeeze as much liquid as possible from the zucchini, and set aside. In a medium-size bowl, whisk the flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugar together, until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one at time, until fully incorporated. Mix the oil, buttermilk, and vanilla together. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture into the sugar mixture, mixing well. Add 1/2 of the buttermilk mixture, mixing well. Repeat the additions, ending with the flour mixture, and mix well to fully combine. Fold in the zucchini and the chocolate chips.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for approximately 1 hour 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven, and cool for 30 minutes. Remove the outer ring, and let the cake cool to room temperature.

Make the glaze: In a small bowl, mix the melted butter and the powdered sugar together. Slowly add the cream until a smooth glaze is formed. It should be of pourable consistency.

Pour the glaze over the cooled cake, letting it drip over the sides. The glaze will harden some, but will still be sliceable.

June 19th, 2015

Strawberry Pudding

My sister visited from California last week, so one day we went to the city. It was one of those perfect New York days. The sun was mostly shining, the weather was warm, and the stench of sidewalk trash had yet to set in. We didn’t really have a plan, no dinner reservations to catch, no ticket times to observe, we just walked– from the Flatiron to the West Village. We had a stupendous late lunch, and then we just meandered around the Village. This eventually led to a stop at the original Magnolia Bakery. It had been years since I had been there. In fact, I don’t think I ever stopped in when I lived in the city.

My sister and I both have an enormous sweet tooth, and it’s difficult not to become swept up by the mounds of buttercream, and cascades of sprinkles, that overrun that shop. We each got mini cupcakes, because a cupcake at Magnolia Bakery is a prerequisite, and a single serving of their banana pudding. The cupcakes were a complete disappointment, so let’s not even discuss them! This is a post about pudding, and their banana pudding was divine! Rich, super creamy, not overly sweet, it tasted very homemade.

StrawberryPudding1That night, when I got home, I pulled out my Magnolia Bakery cookbook (a cookbook that I’ll admit to never really using!), and found the recipe for Banana Cream Pudding included. I was sort of aghast. The dreamy pudding that I imagined bakers stirring endlessly over double boilers, was really just a strange combination of instant pudding and sweetened condensed milk. A healthy dose of whipped cream is what made the pudding light and airy. And the vanilla wafers– they weren’t made from scratch either. Try a box of Nilla wafers!

From this I learned that sometimes no slaving is needed to make something delicious. I went to the market post haste to buy my “cooking” supplies. With the glut of fresh strawberries at the market right now, it seemed a shame to limit the pudding to only bananas. Strawberry pudding it would be. In the pudding aisle, there was a box of white chocolate pudding right next to the vanilla. If I already was making a fruit substitution, why not a pudding substitution as well?

StrawberryPudding2Following the banana pudding recipe, I mixed up the pudding with the strange concoction of sweetened condensed milk and water and let it set overnight. The next morning, I whipped the cream, using only half of the called for measurement, and folded it into the now-set pudding. Then the layering began of wafers, strawberries, and pudding, all nestled in a clear glass bowl. Topped with cookie crumbs, the whole mess went back into the fridge to soften and meld until dessert was served.

StrawberryPudding3And the pudding was pretty outstanding. The wafers were perfectly soft, and blended into the pudding. The strawberries were wilted, but still maintained their integrity, and the entire dish, although laden with cream and cookies was somehow light. It was sort of eating a big bowl of strawberry shortcake, that was already mixed up for you.

Do I feel bad that every step of this pudding was pre-made? I guess not. Will I be making it again? Oh yeah!

Strawberry Pudding

adapted from Magnolia Bakery’s Banana Pudding

Everything about Magnolia Bakery is excessive, so while this pudding is inspired by the bakery’s pudding it is more ascetic (if a fruit pudding can even BE such a thing). It is restrained, smaller, but the pudding still feeds at least 8. It stays in the fridge for a few days, but the wafers will get softer each subsequent day.

1 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 1/2 cups ice cold water
1 3.4 ounce box instant white chocolate or vanilla pudding mix
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 12 ounce box vanilla wafers (you won’t be using the entire box)
3 cups ripe strawberries hulled and sliced (about 1 pound)

In a medium bowl whisk together sweetened condensed milk and water until blended. Add pudding mix continue to whisk into fully incorporated. The mixture will still be liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for a minimum of 4 hours or up to overnight.

Once pudding has set, whip heavy cream in a large bowl with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Fold pudding into the whipped cream until completely blended.

In a large 2 1/2-3 quart bowl, preferably clear, begin layering in the ingredients starting with the pudding, wafers, and finally the strawberries. Repeat the layer 3 times, ending with a layer of pudding. Garnish with cookie crumbs, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for an additional 4 hours or up to 8.

I have what I deem to be a problem. It is not over-eating, nor gambling. I don’t buy too many clothes for myself, or even collectibles for my home. I can’t stop buying cookbooks. My husband says that it’s perfectly fine– it’s all in the name of research. (Some would call him an enabler, I prefer to think of him as generous and understanding.) The cookbook acquisition has gotten to such a magnitude, that I can hardly keep up. There are always new (to me) books to peruse, forgotten relics waiting to be rediscovered, as well as brand-spanking-new cookbooks with glossy pictures and pages unmarred by sauces and food stains. But it is really those vintage cookbooks, written by mostly unknown authors, with dingy photographs, or no pictures at all, that get my stomach churning and my mind reeling.

Each year when we go to Los Angeles to visit family, I make a special trip to Pasadena to Cookbooks by Janet Jarvits. A small shop with a varied collection, this is the best vintage cookbook store I have ever found. Unassuming, incredibly knowledgeable yet non-threatening Ms. Jarvits, whether she knows it or not has helped me immensely with my two cookbooks, and endlessly fuels my curiosities. If buying cookbooks is my drug, she is one of my pushers.

I had the opportunity to stop by the store in February. When it was laughably cold in New England, her little shop was sunny and bright. I picked up a handful of books that day, and now, all these months later, I’m just getting around to spending some time with them. One book I selected is As American as Apple Pie. It’s a wonderful collection of recipes and variations of classic American recipes. Think of it as greatest hits album for the kitchen.

RyeBiscuitsBookIn the chapter covering biscuits I found a recipe for Campton Place, a hotel in San Francisco’s, Caraway-Rye Biscuits. The recipe sounded delicious– a basic buttermilk biscuit, enriched with rye flour and embellished with caraway seeds. I mixed up a batch over the weekend, and they did not disappoint!

RyeBiscuits1Although this cookbook is 25 years old, with the addition of whole rye flour (I used the dark variety), the recipe tasted new– rich and sustaining. The caraway offered a bite in the texture and a licorice perfume, and the biscuits were like any good biscuit should be– flaky and buttery. I am nothing if not a lazy cook, so I didn’t bother to cut them out in a proper biscuit shape. I simply patted out the dough, and cut it into squares. No scraps left over! These biscuits were delicious straight from the oven and slathered with jam, but they were still very good the next day as well, revived in the oven for a few moments.

RyeBiscuits2 Campton Place Campton Places’s Caraway-Rye Biscuits
adapted slightly from As American as Apple Pie

I altered the original recipe by adding a bit more salt, and less caraway– I find this spice can be too aggressive. I also found that this recipe needed a a bit more buttermilk. Start with 1/2 cup, and see how the dough comes together. You can always add a few tablespoons more if it appears dry.

Makes 8-10 biscuits

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (7 1/2 ounces)
1/2 cup rye flour (2 1/2 ounces)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 teaspoons caraway seeds
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, chilled, and cubed
1/2-3/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Whisk the flours, baking powder and soda, and the salt together. Toss in the caraway seeds. Toss the butter cubes to coat in the flour, and then work them into the flour mixture to create coarse crumbs. Stir in 1/2 cup of buttermilk. Dough should still be relatively dry, yet come together, this may require a few additional tablespoons of buttermilk.

Empty the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Pat the dough into a rectangle, about 3/4 inch thick. Cut the biscuits into squares, and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 12-16 minutes.

April 6th, 2015

Matzo Brei

My weekend was filled with long walks, frigid wind, taking my trike out for the inaugural ride of 2015(!), eating far too many Cadbury mini eggs, and matzo brei. A typical Easter/Passover weekend. My mom converted to Judaism when she married my dad, so growing up, we had a fairly normal, suburban, Jewish home, filled with dreidels and shabbos candles. The only bit of cross-pollination that remained from my mother’s Catholic upbringing was the Easter basket. On Easter morning, my sister and I would wake up to a pastel basket, overflowing with multicolored straw, and egg-shaped chocolates nestled throughout. They were a delight!

And you know what else is a delight, but for different reasons? Matzo brei! It’s one of the many dishes that Jews will eat during the week after Passover (this year it’s right around Easter) when eating anything leavened is forbidden.

MatzoBrei2 Typically, matzo brei is matzo, crushed then softened in hot water, and scrambled in eggs– very simple, and very quick. It can be eaten on the savory side (fry some caramelized onion with the eggs and serve with sour cream), or the sweet (sprinkled with cinnamon-sugar with a side of apple sauce). Some people say that matzo brei is the sort of food that one has to grow up with in order to truly like. It’s true that it doesn’t sound like much– and that’s because it’s not. Like a bowl of rice (another forbidden Passover food), it is perfectly bland, subtle, and could be mistaken for baby food.

The kind of matzo brei that I most prefer, uses the same ingredients, it is how they are handled that differs. I make a sort of pancake from the batter, not the typical hard scramble. The matzo is soft and swollen, and the egg acts as a binder. Fried in oil and butter, the brei gets golden around the edges with a casual chew. You can have this matzo brei either sweet or savory. I had a tired basket of strawberries in the fridge so I made a compote from them. Waste not, want not!

I made matzo brei to celebrate Passover, but this dish one of those meals that’s made year round at my house.

MatzoBrei1Matzo Brei

Depending on appetites, the general rule for matzo brei is one egg and one sheet of matzo per person. Believe it or not, I find those swollen sheets of matzo quite filling.

2 sheets of matzo
2 eggs
large pinch of salt
1 tablespoon flavorless oil, like canola
1 tablespoon butter

Makes 2 servings, 6 pancakes

In a colander, or sieve, crush the matzo into pies about 1 inch square. You want some irregularity in the size. Run the colander under hot water for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until the matzo is softened and swollen. Shake the colander of excess water, gently pressing the matzo.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. Season with the salt, and then add the matzo.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, add the oil, and melt the butter. Spoon in the matzo brei batter, like you would pancakes. Depending on size, the recipe should make 6 pancakes. Cook until golden brown at edges, about 2 minutes. Flip, and continue to cook on the other side until golden brown, about 1 minute.

Remove from pan, and serve with apple sauce, sour cream, or compote.

February 5th, 2015

Sourdough Popovers

Sourdough amazes me, and popovers do too. When they come crashing together it’s a delicious thing to behold.

I am enthralled with sourdough bread–how basically a handful of ingredients: flour, water, and salt, can make a crisp, webby loaf of bread– it gets me every time. I feel like I am truly making something great out of very little. In my research for the the book, I found a lot of sourdoughs that were given a little help with commercial yeast. I understand why. Yeast speeds the process; it insures levity; it can help. But it also seemed like cheating and  I didn’t want my recipe to be a cheat! It was important to me to have a reliable, easy sourdough starter, that used NO commercial yeast– that did it on its own. If homemakers, settlers, and pioneers, could bake sourdough bread without the aid of commercial yeast hundreds of years ago, surely we could do it in 2015!

It took awhile, but I developed a starter that works for the home chef, and it’s been going strong now for over two years. The recipe for the starter is in United States of Bread along with several recipes for loaves, but now that the book’s out, I have begun experimenting more with my starter. There have been waffles (stellar!), and pancakes (to die for!). And last weekend there were these superb popovers.

SourdoughPopoversTypically, popovers aren’t made with any sort of leavening. Made in a hot pan, they display the alchemy of baking by transforming from a runny batter, into an eggy, puffy dream. The sourdough popovers, made with a bit of sourdough starter, is leavened and more substantial than the original, but this resulting popovers is like a whipped muffin. (If that makes any sense!) Still airy, still eggy, slightly sour, with substance from the starter, these popovers only needed a smear of jam and a cup of coffee. Forget Wheaties, this was my breakfast of champions.

This morning treat does behave like a standard popover– they rumple and deflate– so they really should be eaten moments from the oven. I don’t have a popover pan, so mine were made in a muffin tin. If you don’t have a popover pan either, just try to space the popovers out in the tin. This allows for expansion.

Sourdough Popover
from the King Arthur Flour website

1 cup milk (I used whole)
3 large eggs
1/2 cup sourdough starter
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour

Makes about 9 popovers

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place a muffin tin in the oven to preheat as well.

Warm milk slightly, it is fine to do this in the microwave. Combine the milk, eggs, starter and salt. Add the flour and mix. It is fine if lumps in the batter remain; don’t overmix.

Carefully remove the hot pan from the oven. Spray well with cooking spray, or brush with melted butter. Pour batter into the tin, filling the batter almost to the top.

Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 degrees and continue to bake for 15-20 minutes, until popovers are golden brown.

Remove from the pan. You may need to pry the popovers from the tin with an offset spatula. Serve immediately.

December 20th, 2014

Happy Holidays!

The holidays are almost here! Each year I say this, but it is true– I can hardly believe it!

So I never do the gift guides, or even the yearly round ups, but this year I’ll leave you with this, my favorite Christmas song. My dad loved the Little Drummer Boy. It didn’t matter that we were Jewish, come December he would be puffing ba-rump-a-bump-bumps under his breath all month long. I’m pretty sure he loved the Johnny Mathis version, but if you ask me, Bing and Bowie do a marvelous mash-up.

Have a great holiday everyone, see you next year!

November 21st, 2014

Vermont Graham Bread

Bitter cold mornings?

Check.

Changed your the sheets on your bed to flannel?

Check.

Leaves almost completely fallen off the trees and into messy piles of muck?

Check.

Preparing yourself for winter? Oven is being turned on more often?

Check. And check.

Me too. This recipe is for a quickbread from my book. It’s one of those recipes that sort of sneaked up on me, and weaseled its way into my culinary lexicon– one that I find myself baking time and again. Maybe its because it’s dead simple, or perhaps it’s because I usually have all of the ingredients in my pantry, or maybe it’s because it is just delicious!

VermontGrahamBread1This bread is made with Graham flour– a flour that was new to me. I was familiar with Graham crackers (adorned with peanut butter– sign me up!), but I had never baked with the flour. Graham flour is one of those old-fashioned, regional New England flours from the 19th century. Created by Sylvester Graham, a preacher and one of the countries first health nuts, this flour is similar to whole wheat, but it grinds the entire wheat berry at coarser levels. The result is a rich, nutty, and slightly sweet flour.

This recipe hales from Vermont and uses a bit of pure maple syrup. With just a hint of brown sugar, and raisins– for added sweetness and chewiness, it’s dark and sustaining. This is a humble bread, but once released from the pan, and set to cool on a rack, I find myself returning to the kitchen and slicing off piece after thin piece and slathering it with salted butter. It’s one of those simple yet superb recipes, and a very good reason to turn on the oven!

VermontGrahamBread2Vermont Graham Bread
from United States of Bread

Makes 1 loaf

1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 ounces) graham flour
1 cup (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup (2 ounces) brown sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup (21/2 ounces) raisins

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter, or lightly coat a standard loaf pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk the flours, baking soda, nutmeg, and salt together. Set aside. In another medium-size bowl, whisk the brown sugar, maple syrup, egg, and buttermilk together until well blended. All at once, add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, mixing until just combined. Fold in the raisins.

Pour batter into the prepared loaf pan, smoothing the top. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the bread is lightly browned, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then unmold. Bread can be sliced and eaten while still warm.

Note:
Graham flour can be found in health food stores, and some grocery stores. Bob’s Red Mill, as well as Hodgson Mills make great graham flour. If you are having trouble finding it, you can substitute whole wheat flour, though the bread will not have the same nuttiness, or flavor.

October 14th, 2014

United States of Bread is Here!

After months of work, many sacks of flour, pounds of yeast, mishaps and triumphs– my latest book has arrived! United States of Bread has officially hit the shelves!

USofB3
If you follow me on Twitter, maybe you have seen the #USofBread, over the past months. Maybe you thought, “Well, that bread looks delicious.” Or maybe you thought, “Doesn’t that girl eat anything else besides bread?” (Actually, that wouldn’t have been too far from the truth at times. There was A LOT of bread-eating going on at my house.) Well, the hashtag was more than just a symbol. Now you can pick up a copy of the book, and make the loaves for yourself!

USofB2This isn’t your artisan bread cookbook. I don’t teach you how to make European baguettes or batards. United States of Bread recreates the bread-baking tradition of the US. And yes, there is an American tradition of baking bread! This is for the home baker who is interested in making sustaining breads like Minnesota Wild Rice Bread, Amish Dill Bread, and all sorts of sourdough. (There’s a starter recipe in the book.)

USofB1This book has a little bit of everything, from sandwich loaves, to sourdough, sweet breads, to quickbreads. I tried to develop a book for everyone– from the novice baker to the more experienced home cook, from the weekend baker to the cook that only has moments to throw together some cornbread– there’s a recipe to be found!

USofB4
I only hope that you’ll find the recipes intriguing, and delicious– that they become a part of your baking repertoire. Long live carbs, and long live American bread!

September 1st, 2014

Food Writing Course!

I know that it’s short notice, but I’ll be teaching a weekly food writing course, starting this Wednesday evening! The class is at Gateway Community College here in New Haven, and is open to students and non-students the like.

We’ll be reading all the biggies– MFK Fisher, Elizabeth David, James Beard– to name a few, and we’ll be doing a lot a writing too. From expository, recipe writing, restaurant critique, there’s a little bit for everyone. There are a few spots left in the class– so sign up, I’d love to meet you!

(The course is HSP 1249, if you’re having trouble signing up, drop me a note.)

July 18th, 2014

Spaghetti Pasta Salad

It’s the height of summer. That means quite a few things:

Going to the farmers market each week only to find tantalizing produce, not just yarn and honey.
It stays light so much longer.
Pre-dinner cocktails while sitting on the front porch.
Loving and hating the air conditioner.
Dresses! I pity men who can’t wear them all summer long.
Riding my bike around, and not just for exercise!
BBQ! Everything.
Salads, lots of salad.
It being too hot to even think of turning on the oven.

If you’re anything like me, you take the last two mentions very seriously.

SpaghettiPastaSalad

Yes, salad means vegetables, and sometimes fruit. It also means pasta. And not the pasta salad of yore– tri-color fusilli, sliced olives, and “Italian” dressing– but cold spaghetti, toasted bread crumbs, a good amount of parsley, and lots anchovies. (Yes, anchovies. Even if you don’t like these little fishies on their own, they’re a must in this salad!)

There’s not much that traditionally Italian about this salad– except the fact that it’s made with spaghetti. It’s cold, for one thing; or at the very least, room temperature. I rinse the pasta after I boil it– starch is the enemy of pasta salads. But that’s ok; this salad is all about flavors and textures. The flavors should be bold: the briny anchovies, the salty Parmesan cheese, and the freshness of the parsley. The breadcrumbs should be dry and toasted, that way they cling to the pasta, drying it out and giving the salad a nice crunch. This is not a slippery salad.

SpaghettiPastaSalad2

I’ve made this cold spaghetti salad quite a few times already this summer, and there’s not really a recipe. It can be adapted to your own taste. It’s as good the next day, as the day you make it. So go ahead, and play around, but here are the basics:

Spaghetti Pasta Salad

1/2 pound spaghetti
1/3 cup olive oil
a few cloves of garlic, smashed
1/2 can anchovies, minced
red pepper flakes
parsley, minced
grated Parmesan cheese
1/2-3/4 cup toasted fresh breadcrumbs*
salt and pepper

Boil the pasta in  salted water until cooked. Drain well, and rinse well under cold water. Put in a large bowl, and toss in a few tablespoons of olive oil to coat. Set aside.

In a skillet, over medium heat, add the remaining olive oil and a few cloves of garlic. Saute until cloves are beginning to brown, then add the anchovies and the red pepper. Continue to saute until the anchovies melt and begin to muddy the olive oil. Pour mixture over the spaghetti, and toss well.

Add the parsley, cheese, and breadcrumbs, and season with salt and pepper. Check for seasoning. The pasta should be well seasoned, as the flavors will dull slightly in the refrigerator. Salad can be made and refrigerated ahead of time.

* If you don’t have fresh breadcrumbs, panko breadcrumbs are a good substitute. Before, simply toast in a bit of olive oil until golden brown.

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