Friday, March 7, 2014
I think celery is like the Cinderella of the vegetable world; she's doing important work behind the scenes and getting no respect and fewer accolades. Celery has always been associated with a supporting role in cookery. You add a stalk of celery to the soup pot, chop it up and add it to salad, for crunch, stuff it with peanut butter or cheese, for a snack. Yes, there is that persistent diet-food association too. And to add to celery's woes, the iconic chef Thomas Keller banished celery from the stock pot. Apparently he thinks it adds a little "bitter" note to stock. Seldom does celery take a starring role in a dish and that's unfortunate. This creamy, light soup is a prime example of how celery can take the spotlight with ease and grace. As a child I walked home from school for lunch and Campbell's soups were often a feature of those lunches. This celery cream soup bears no resemblance to the canned version of our childhood. This soup is full of gentle celery flavor, smooth and comforting, but not heavy. The garnish provides texture and color to an otherwise plain-looking dish. And for me, the green freshness of celery adds a spring-like note to the menu as we look forward to the end of this seemingly never-ending winter.
Celery Cream Soup
(makes 4 servings)
In a medium, heavy saucepan, over low heat, melt:
2 tablespoons butter
Add to the saucepan:
12 medium celery stalks, peeled and thinly sliced
A heaping tablespoon chopped celery leaves
A generous pinch of kosher salt
Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes.
Add to the soup pot:
3/4 pound Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, halved lengthwise, and thinly sliced
2 cups chicken stock
A sprig of fresh thyme
1 small bay leaf
A pinch more salt, and several grinds pepper
Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat, cover the pot, and simmer until the potatoes and celery are very tender. This will take 20 to 30 minutes. When the vegetables are cooked, remove the thyme sprig and the bay leaf. Carefully transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth. Return the soup to the pot and add:
2/3 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
A small pinch celery seed
Bring the soup up to a simmer and cook until the consistency is as you like it. Season the soup with:
A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Additional salt and pepper, if needed
Pour the soup through a fine sieve and strain, pressing on the solids with a ladle or large spoon. You can store the soup in the refrigerator for up to 2 days at this point. When ready to serve, reheat the soup over medium-low heat, stirring often. In a small skillet melt:
1 tablespoon butter
Add to the skillet:
1 large celery stalk, peeled and thinly sliced
A pinch of kosher salt
Saute the celery in the butter over medium-low heat just until it is tender-crisp and bright green, about 2 to 3 minutes. Roughly chop:
A handful of celery leaves
A small handful of fresh chives
Plate the soup in warm bowls and top with the sauteed celery, chopped celery leaves, and chopped chives. Drizzle a little butter from the skillet over each serving. Enjoy.
(inspired by "Cream Soups and Veloutes", Bon Appetit magazine)
Friday, February 28, 2014
I am going to resist making any mention of the weather and just move on. If you need a little tropical flavor in your life right now, may I suggest this smoothie? It's a sweet and sunny drink, full of fruit flavor and good nutrition. Why not start your morning with this (while you're planning that Spring break getaway to a warm climate)?
(makes 2 servings)
1 cup mango chunks
1 cup pineapple chunks
1/2 large (or 1 small) banana, sliced
1 heaping tablespoon coconut butter*
2 to 3 tablespoons honey, or to taste
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 cup crushed ice
Toasted, shredded coconut, for garnish (optional)
Place all the ingredients in a blender and blend until completely smooth. You may need to scrape down the sides of the container once or twice in the process. Pour the smoothie into glasses and sprinkle the top with the toasted coconut (if using). Enjoy!
* I use Artisana brand organic coconut butter.
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
I was introduced to pimiento cheese, that classic condiment of Southern cuisine, about two years ago. At the time I was completely unfamiliar with this mix of mayonnaise, shredded cheese, and sweet red peppers. But I've come to understand that pimiento cheese is very special to Southerners; it's used as a spread on crackers, a filling for sandwiches, a stuffing for celery sticks, and a topping for burgers. I've seen pimiento cheese as a component of macaroni and cheese, and as a warm dip, served with bread. As with any regional specialty food, pimiento cheese has its variations, but the basic ingredients don't change. Choose the best quality sharp cheddar cheese, jarred pimentos, and your favorite (or homemade) mayonnaise. Some cooks add grated onion, lemon juice, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, and/or honey. A little cayenne or freshly ground black pepper is a good addition too, if you like a little "bite" to your pimiento cheese. Some folks insist that only white cheese be used, and then there is the ultimate addition: Duke's mayonnaise (which apparently has an almost cult-like following in some parts of the South). I was fortunate enough to come by two large jars of Duke's in a recent trip to North Carolina, and I was more than happy to make space for them in my suitcase. So I have been making pimiento cheese for the past few weeks and this is the best version yet. It is adapted from the cookbook of renowned Southern chef Sara Foster, who owns Foster's Market, gourmet take-out stores/cafes in Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. It was from this delightful book that I took the idea of serving the pimiento cheese on toasted cornbread, which seems like a natural combination, if you ask me. A perky celery leaf atop each toast adds a note of fresh green crispness to the rich cheese spread. It's a wonderful snack, and one I will be making a lot more of in the weeks and months to come.
(makes about 2 cups)
2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded sharp White Cheddar cheese
One 4-ounce jar pimiento peppers, drained, patted dry, and chopped
1/4 to 1/2 cup Duke's mayonnaise (or your favorite mayonnaise)
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
A generous pinch of cayenne pepper
A few grinds of fresh, black pepper
Salt, to taste, if necessary
Combine the cheeses and chopped pimientos in a medium bowl with enough mayonnaise to make a thick spread. Add the vinegar, honey, cayenne, and black pepper and stir well to blend. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Cover tightly and refrigerate overnight if possible, before serving with crackers, baguette, or cornbread toasts. The pimiento cheese will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.
To serve as pictured: Slice your favorite cornbread into 1/4-inch by 2-inch pieces. Lay the cornbread pieces on a baking sheet and brush with a little olive oil. Toast in a 400°F oven for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy around the edges. Cool slightly then top each toast with a generous spoonful of pimiento cheese. Garnish with a celery leaf or a sprig of baby arugula.
(Minimally adapted from "Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen: Soulful, Traditional, Seasonal")
Friday, February 14, 2014
I know I'm repeating myself when I say, "the simple things are usually the best". This has become my working theory when it comes to food. So, if you need chocolate, prepare it in a simple way that showcases its remarkable flavor and texture. These little cookies are a classic example of basic French technique: use the best ingredients and treat them with care and attention. Voila! Delicious, meltingly tender, full of chocolate flavor cookies. The perfect treat for someone special today.
(makes about 24 2-inch cookies)
In a small bowl sift together:
140 grams (5 ounces) all-purpose flour
60 grams (2 ounces) Dutch-processed cocoa powder (such as Droste)
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Scant 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
In a medium bowl, with a hand mixer (or in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment), cream together:
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) confectioner's sugar
When this mixture is light in color and fluffy, add, one at a time:
3 large egg yolks
When well blended add:
2 tablespoons dark rum (such as Myer's)
With your mixer on low speed, gradually add the flour mixture to the butter and egg mixture. When evenly mixed, stir in:
56 grams (2 ounces) best quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
The dough will be soft. Gather it together gently and shape into a slightly flattened oval. Wrap tightly with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour or overnight. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°F and line your baking sheets with parchment. On a lightly floured work surface, roll the chocolate dough to a 1/4 to 1/3-inch thickness. Cut cookies in the shape and size you desire. Place them on the prepared sheet, sprinkle with coarse or sanding sugar (if you like) and bake for about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove them from the oven and let sit on the sheet for a minute or two, then transfer them to a rack to cool. Gently press the dough scraps together and continue to cut cookies. If the dough softens, return it to the refrigerator briefly, then carry on. Store the cookies, for several days, in a covered container at room temperature.
Tuesday, February 11, 2014
I think it might have been the tagline on the front of the cookbook. I took it as a challenge, of sorts. "Barbecue, Stir-Fry, Roast, Poach, Stew...EVEN BAKE A CHOCOLATE CHEESECAKE. I'm referring to the newest slow cooker cookbook from the innovative team at America's Test Kitchen. "Slow Cooker Revolution" is full of great recipes, but I was intrigued by the concept of cheesecake in a slow cooker. It seemed like a sound principle: slow, moist heat cooking is just the ticket for a creamy textured cheesecake, with no surface cracks. I didn't bake the chocolate cake; I tweaked the basic recipe just a little and flavored it with hazelnut paste and liqueur, then topped the cake with a crunchy, buttery hazelnut crumble. Perfection! It's a small cake, but there's still enough to make eight cheesecake lovers very happy. As with most cheesecakes, it can be made up to three days ahead of serving, just apply the crumble at the last moment. If you have a slow cooker that's been gathering dust, clean it up and give this a try. You'll be glad you did.
Slow-Cooker Hazelnut Cheesecake with Hazelnut Crumble
(makes one 6-inch cake, to serve 8)
For the Cake:
6 whole graham crackers, crushed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled (plus additional for the pan)
2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 cup hazelnut praline paste (such as Love N'Bake or Trablit brand)
2 tablespoons Frangelico liqueur
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
For the crumble:
2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup finely chopped, blanched hazelnuts
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
A generous pinch of salt
Fill the slow cooker with 1/2-inch water (about 2 cups) and place aluminum foil rack* in the bottom. Pulse the graham crackers in food processor to fine crumbs. Combine the crumbs, melted butter, 1 tablespoon sugar, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt in a bowl until evenly moistened. Transfer the crumbs to a lightly buttered 6-inch springform pan, and press evenly into the pan. I found that I did not need to use all the crumbs (I don't like too thick a crust). Wipe out the food processor bowl. Process the cream cheese, 2/3 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in the now-empty food processor until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add sour cream, eggs, hazelnut paste, liqueur, and vanilla; process until just incorporated, about 15 seconds; do not overmix. Pour the filling into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Set the cheesecake on the prepared rack, cover, and cook until the cake registers 150°F, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours on high. Turn off the slow cooker and let cheesecake sit for 1 hour, still covered. Transfer the cheesecake to a wire rack. Run a small knife around edge of the cake; gently blot away any condensation using paper towels. Let cool in the pan to room temperature, about 1 hour. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 3 hours or up to 3 days. Several hours before you want to serve the cake, prepare the crumble. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a small baking pan. In a small bowl cream together the butter and sugar. Add the chopped hazelnuts, flour, and a pinch of salt. Mix until evenly combined. Spread out on the prepared sheet in an even layer. Bake until golden brown and crispy, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. When cool, break into small crumbly pieces. About 30 minutes before serving, run a small knife around the edge of the cheesecake again, then remove the sides of the pan. Apply an even layer of crumble to the top of the cake (you will not use all of it), and press it down gently. Slide the cake off the pan bottom (if you are able), and onto a serving plate. Serve to your happy family and friends.
* To fashion a foil rack to elevate your cake above the water in the cooker, loosely roll a 24 by 12-inch piece of foil into a 1-inch cylinder. Bend the sides of cylinder in to form an oval that measures 8 inches long by 5 inches wide. After adding water to the slow cooker, place the foil rack in the center, then place the cake pan on top.
(Cake recipe gently adapted from "America's Test Kitchen: Slow Cooker Revolution, Volume 2")
Friday, February 7, 2014
Why is it that when I am eating alone at home I crave noodles? I have written about this before, here. Maybe it's because solo dining requires a certain degree of comfort and pasta is my ultimate comfort food. This dish is a very loose adaptation of a recipe from one of my newest cookbooks: "Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking" by Fuchsia Dunlop. It was my attempt to satisfy a craving for spicy noodles using only the ingredients I had on hand. It is not authentic to the recipe, but I was able to come up with a delicious dish of noodles, vegetables, and a little meat to add some heartiness to the meal. The sauce is light and brothy, with just the right amount of spicy heat. I used dried spaghetti as I didn't have any Chinese wheat noodles and I think that's okay. If you measure out your ingredients and get everything prepped ahead of time, you'll have dinner on the table in about the time it takes to cook the pasta.
Spicy Noodles with Asian Flavors
(makes 2 generous servings)
In a heavy skillet, set over medium heat add:
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
When the oil is hot add to the pan:
4 ounces ground beef (or ground pork)
Stir fry the meat until until all the pink color is gone. Add to the pan:
2 teaspoons Shaoxing wine*
Stir this into the meat and then add:
1 teaspoon hoisin sauce
Continue to stir fry the mixture until it is fragrant. Season the meat mixture with:
1 teaspoon light soy sauce**
A pinch of salt, to taste
Stir the meat and break it up into small morsels. Remove from the heat and set aside. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and season generously with salt. In a small saucepan (or a measuring cup in the microwave) heat:
3/4 cup chicken stock
When the water boils add:
7 ounces dried spaghetti or Chinese wheat noodles, if you have them. While the noodles are cooking stir together in a serving bowl the sauce ingredients:
2 teaspoons light soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 to 4 tablespoons chili oil with its sediment, or to taste (start small and add more to your liking)
4 tablespoons finely sliced green onion tops
When the noodles are almost done, add to the pot:
2 large handfuls of baby spinach leaves or other leafy greens of your choice, sliced.
Let the vegetables blanch briefly, then drain the noodles and vegetables in a colander. Now add the warm stock to the bowl with the other sauce ingredients. Add the pasta (or noodles) and blanched vegetables to the sauce and top with the meat mixture. Scatter additional sliced green onion tops over the dish, if you like. Bring to the table, stir the sauce, noodles, meat, and vegetables together and serve.
*If you are unable to purchase Shaoxing wine at your supermarket, dry sherry makes an acceptable subsitute.
**Light soy sauce is not the same as low-sodium soy sauce. In fact, light soy sauce is saltier than dark, with its own distinctive flavor; the "light" description refers to its color.
(Adapted from "Every Grain of Rice" by Fuchsia Dunlop)
Saturday, February 1, 2014
I've watched the past two weeks as all the food sites fill up with Super Bowl related snacks and meal suggestions: lots of wings, and chili, and savory dips galore. And, as usual, I thought I'd buck the trend and offer a sweet dip. This would be the perfect crowd -pleasing dessert for a Sunday football party. Crunchy hazelnut biscotti (the ultimate dipping cookie) and fresh fruit along with a creamy orange "fondue". The fondue is actually a play on fruit curd, flavored with freshly squeezed orange juice and zest, and a touch of orange liqueur. It's texture is lightened with the addition of condensed milk and it's just the right consistency for dipping. Use a variety of fruit, for both color and texture. You might even roast the pineapple and bananas to intensify the flavors. The cookies are also fortified with orange zest and a little hazelnut liqueur. I know biscotti purists may take me to task for dipping these little gems in anything other than vin santo, but this combo is really good. You can make both the cookies and orange fondue ahead of time and just set them out, with the fruit, when you're ready. A perfect sweet finale to a day of heavy-duty snack foods. Go Seahawks!
(makes about 2 cups)
In a medium, heat-proof bowl combine:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
With a fork, blend the sugar and zest together until the zest is evenly distributed throughout the sugar and the mixture is fragrant. Whisk into the orange sugar:
2 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and continue to whisk until the sugar is completely dissolved, about 1 to 2 minutes. Then whisk in:
1/2 cup freshly-squeezed orange juice (Tangelos and Cara Cara oranges are particularly good here)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice.
Continue to cook, whisking constantly for about 5 minutes. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir the mixture in a figure of eight pattern until it thickens to the consistency of sour cream. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl often as the cooking progresses. The curd will be done when it registers a temperature of 165°F. Transfer the curd to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade and add:
1/2 cup sweetened condensed milk.
Pulse until the mixture is smooth and well blended. Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Add to the slightly cooled fondue mixture:
2 teaspoons Cointreau or similar orange-flavored liqueur
Serve immediately or cool completely over an ice bath and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week.
(adapted from "The Secrets of Baking" by Sherry Yard)
(makes about four dozen cookies)
Preheat the oven to 350°F. On a small baking sheet place:
1/2 cup whole, skinned hazelnuts.
Toast the nuts for 8 to 10 minutes, until lightly golden brown and fragrant. Set aside to cool, then chop into 1/4-inch chunks. In a medium bowl, cream together:
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
When the mixture is light and fluffy add:
2 large eggs
Beat until smooth, then add:
1 1/2 tablespoons Frangelico liqueur
1 teaspoon vanilla paste or extract
In a small bowl whisk together:
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Mix the flour mixture into the butter and egg mixture until just combined. Stir in the chopped hazelnuts. On a lightly floured work surface, form the dough into logs about an inch in diameter and the length of your baking sheet. Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the dough logs about 2 inches apart on the sheet. Lower the oven temperature to 325°F and place the rack in the upper third of the oven. Bake the dough logs for about 25 minutes, or until they are set and lightly browned. Cool the logs on a rack for 5 minutes then transfer them to a cutting board and slice them diagonally into 1/2-inch slices. Lay the biscotti back on the baking sheet and return them to the oven for 5 minutes. Turn them and bake again for another 5 minutes to dry the cookies. Cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature.
(Adapted from "Chez Panisse Desserts" by Lindsey Remolif Shere)