Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Everything But the Kitchen Sink

What happens when you're about to leave town for a few weeks, and when you get back you'll be literally moving the next day to your new apartment?

You use up whatever you've got in the freezer/fridge.

So what happens if what you've got is some coconut butter, a bit of nutella, some frozen cherries, a few very ripe frozen bananas (always great to have on hand when you're hunkering for some banana bread) and some pantry staples?

Uh.  This.

I'm a madwoman.

In the end they made some sweet banana-chocolate bars... they were ok the first day but seal them up in tupperware once they've cooled down and the next day they were moist, perfectly sweet and wonderfully buttery.  Next time I'll add walnuts rather than cherries.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Salsa Romesco

Whenever I'm in Spain in the spring, my family has a good old-fashioned calçotada--several boxes of young onions charred over a roaring fire which eat by peeling off the charred skin, dipping it in romesco sauce, tilting our heads back and going for it.  (We have bibs for the whole affair, don't worry...) While the freshly charred onions are delicious, what I always look forward to most is the fantastic romesco sauce my aunt makes.  In my CSA this week I got leeks and eggplant and thought that they too would go fantastically with romesco sauce, so I thought I'd get to work.

It's actually surprisingly simple, so I more or less can show you step by step what to do.


1/2-1 sweet onion
1 red pepper
6 cherry tomatoes
2 tsp sweet paprika (hungarian paprika is fine, just avoid smoked paprika)
1 dried nyora (this pepper is exceedingly hard to find, unfortunately--if you live in the bay area I found mine at the oxbow market in Napa, CA.  Otherwise, substitute by using 2 tbsp sweet paprika instead)
1/2 cup blanched almonds and hazelnuts, mixed.  (You could also use only one or only the other, but where's the fun in that)
1/2 head of garlic
olive oil
red wine or sherry vinegar

Under a broiler, charr the outsides of the onion, red pepper, and cherry tomatoes.  Turn the red pepper a few times as you go, to get all sides nice and charred.  Took about 45 minutes total.

(This is a basic escalivada, fyi.  In Catalunya, this is a pretty common dish; sometimes with eggplant or asparagus.  Just peel the skins (see below), drizzle with olive oil, and serve--hot or cold.)

When they're ready, take them out and cover them tighly with tinfoil to let them steam for 5-10 minutes.  You know its been enough time if the skin of the red pepper slips off easily.  

Peel the skins off of the red pepper, tomatoes, and onion.  Cut off the ends of the onions, squeeze out the pepper's seeds, and, if you want, squeeze out the tomato seeds.  My aunt does, I didn't. 

(Unless you've got "kitchen hands", you might want to let everything cool a bit first)

While you're waiting for the peppers, tomatoes, and onions to steam themselves, peel some garlic.  Im a fan of the smash and peel method.

Drizzle some olive oil over the peeled garlic before throwing them in the oven.  (If you don't have a garlic roasting ceramic thing, just make a foil pouch for them and throw that in the oven.) 

I put them in for about ten minutes--I just wanted to take away the worst of the bite, but really like raw garlic's zing.  You can (and most do) roast them for 30min to an hour.  If you do, no need to peel them first; you can do that after.)

Your kitchen may be a bit of a mess at this point...

Gather your other ingredients.  That squat little pepper by the garlic?  That's a nyora.  They're sweet peppers, not spicy.

Soak it for 10 minutes or so, until soft (probably good to get it started before the garlic comes out, I just wanted my photos to have continuity.)  I had to impale it to let the air bubbles out so that it wouldn't just float on top.

Grind up some salt with your paprika--or you know, use finer grained salt to begin with.  Blend it all together in a blender until desired texture--I personally wish I'd made it smoother, but my sweetie liked the texture it added to the veggies, so there you have it.  Add vinegar and salt to taste.  Thin the sauce, if you need to, with olive oil.  I like it thick and creamy, so I didn't add any oil past what was on the garlic.  Plus; I figure adding less oil means I can eat more in one go, right?

Makes about, uh.. a cup.  

Tip: Save the other half of the onion, and whatever extra cherry tomatoes you roasted, to try it right away.  Roasted onion and romesco is the closest I've had to calçots and romesco.  

Calçots may look a lot like leeks, but they don't taste like them.  That said, leeks and romesco is also delicious... 

Speak of the devil...  You want to trim these, slice them in half (or quarters if they're big, but these were itty bitty) and soak them for about as long as you can--shaking them a whole bunch along the way.  Leeks trap a lot of soil in them, so you want to get that out.

Aren't these the cutest baby eggplant?  I was taught to always salt my eggplant and leave them for up to an hour.  The salt soaks up the bitterness, I was taught.  You wipe away the salt afterwards (it turns a blue-green, which I like to think is the bitterness itself) and roast them with some olive oil drizzled on top.  In case if you didn't guess, they're already salted at that point...

I start cut side up, covered with foil, roast about an hour, turn over, add the leeks and roast another 30 minutes.  The eggplant will be tender and creamy and the leeks will melt in your mouth.

Top it off with some of that romesco sauce you made and you're good to go.  (We eat it as a "primer plat"--first course, basically.  Second is usually meat; but that's your prerogative.)

Thursday, July 19, 2012


Last Thursday I got the most amazing okra from my CSA box from Feeding Crane Farms.  In the midst of my exhausting bout of prelims (one month of intensive studying while we write three five-hour exams that are ten days apart, which get to determine if we have a summer or not, and then if we stay or the program should we fail the retakes in the fall) I wanted something to distract me from the pain, and decided I'd use this opportunity to make gumbo!

Luckily for me, gumbo was May 2011's daring cooks challenge, so there was a nice play by play instructional recipe ready for me to follow.  I didn't change much from her chicken and andouille sausage recipe; except I accidentally got spicy pork sausages instead so I fried those up seperately, drained the oil, and added them in.  I'm sure it took away some of the authenticity, but it sure was delicious!  Oh, and the spice mix I made was a combination of different creole spice mix recipes, based on what was available to me.

The roux took ages to brown--a good 30 minutes.  Of course, that might be because I realized a little more than halfway through browning the roux that I'd forgotten to prep my vegetables!  I had to turn off the burner, continue whisking until the roux was cool, cut up my vegetables, and heat the roux back up while whisking away once more.

Everything else went swimmingly, however, even though active cooking time was at least an hours worth.  I will say--her note about skimming the fat off wasn't a joke! I got almost a full cup of fat back from the gumbo--and I only made a half recipe (i.e. I started with half a cup of oil).  The rest must have come from the chicken (which I bought whole from the co-op) and sausages.

This is one of those recipes that the moment its done you say "ugh, never again" and then after you've eaten you sigh and say "yeah, definitely making that again" while rubbing your belly.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

a fair trade

 When a friend asked me to make her frosting in exchange for some spectrum organics goodies she'd been sent by the company I agreed whole-heartedly.  Since her request had been rather unspecific, I decided to go with (hollowed out) banana cupcakes and cream cheese frosting.  While she had made clear she'd happily eat icing with a spoon, nutrition degree or not, I figured I'd do my best to help her avoid eating straight butter and sugar.

I was super excited to get going on these--I start teaching baking classes in September and want to dust off any rust that's gathered in the year since I last baked for the cafe, so I've been baking like a fiend lately.

Plus, I'd just purchased a cupcake carrier off craigslist and was aching to use it.

Using fresh cream cheese and eggs, and good quality butter and vanilla, will help elevate these cupcakes from good to great.   I'm lucky enough to get a big discount at my local co-op since I volunteer at their teaching kitchen, which means I can buy top quality and organic everything.  On a budget however, those are the ingredients I'd splurge on for this recipe.

Since each cupcake has been hollowed out and has 2-3tbsp of frosting, I felt it was necessary to put the frosting first in the name.  If you choose not to hollow out the cupcakes you can either save what's left, or just size down the recipe--cream cheese frosting is not a science, you can half or double or any fraction you want with the recipe and you'll be fine.

Cream Cheese Frosting with Banana Cupcakes
I love these cupcakes.  They stay moist for a few days, and are a little salty to offset the frosting.  The frosting itself is not too sweet, nor does it contain too much butter.  It's made with the idea that you'll be eating a whole lot of it in mind.

For the Banana Cupcakes (makes 12):

wet ingredients
3 overripe bananas
1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, room temperature

dry ingredients
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder

directions (for beginners):

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Grease and line (or just grease.. up to you) a 12 cup muffin tin.  I like to get my oven running a good 30 min in advance, at least.  I don't trust ovens to actually be at temp when they say they are, so I rely on oven thermometers and a long preheat time.

Melt butter in a saucepan. (I know some do this in the microwave, I like controlling my butter but its all up to you) and meanwhile mash together your bananas in your largest mixing bowl. In the end, everything will end up in this bowl.  Mix your egg and sugar in with your banana.  Some like to lightly beat their egg first.  Go for it, if you want.  I just don't like cleaning yet more bowls and, since its a single egg and there are sugar granules to help break it up, I don't.  My main concern is just protecting my egg from the warm butter: I don't want my egg to cook at all.

When your butter is almost completely melted, turn the heat off. The melted butter is hot enough that the solid butter will continue melting, which helps your mixture as a whole cool off again more quickly.

Mix dry ingredients together.  None of your dry ingredients should be very clumpy to start with, so just whisking them together is fine.  Mixing dry separately from wet is important; if you don't, you end up with baking soda lumps.  Absolutely gross.

When butter is cool enough to touch, mix in with your wet ingredients.  Add your dry to your wet and fold ingredients together until just mixed.  Do not overmix.  It's not that this recipe is extra sensitive; it's just that overmixing is evil. (If you tend to overmix no matter what, consider using cake flour for baked goods.  It has less gluten which will help you out.)

Spoon your batter into muffin tin.  A quick release ice cream scoop with a 53 or 56mm diameter helps immensely, but is not necessary.

Bake until tops look dry and spring back when touched, and/or a toothpick comes out clean about 18 min. Never go by time alone, it's a good guideline to tell you when to check, but always keep an eye on what you're baking when it's in the last quarter or so of baking.  Humidity, ingredient quality, oven temp, and who knows what else will affect how quickly things bake.

Let your cupcakes cool completely before icing. I let them cool, then tupperware them, then leave them overnight and ice them right before serving.  Tupperware=good;  refrigeration=bad, when it comes to keeping baked goods moist.

Cream Cheese Frosting (generously frosts 12 cupcakes):

1 cup cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup butter, room temperature
1 cup powdered sugar (or more, to taste)
1 tsp vanilla

in a stand mixer (or with a hand mixer if you don't have a stand mixer.  Or by hand using a wooden spoon**) blend cream cheese and butter.   Sift some of the powdered sugar in, blend, sift some more, blend, and so on until all your sugar is incorporated.  Add vanilla, blend.  If your frosting is too thin, add more sugar until desired texture. 

To Assemble:

Using a paring knife, cut cylindrical holes into each cupcake.  Leave enough edge on the tops of each so that your frosting will completely hide your shenanigans. (This should be a surprise after all, right?) 

Grab a plastic shopping bag or ziploc bag and cut one corner about half an inch away from the tip. (Or grab your piping bag with tip already on, if you have a piping bag and tips... I used the ziploc trick.)  

Fold the bag inside out over your hand, and spoon icing into your bag.  Avoid air bubbles as much as possible.  When you have about a cup of icing, twist the bag shut and pipe!  Refill and repeat as needed.

Stuff in your mouth, and let your friends do the same.

** to mix with a wooden spoon, use the flat end of your spoon to "smear" the cream cheese/butter and sugar against the side of the bowl, turning as you go.  This is the by-hand way to cream butter and sugar too, fyi.  It's tiring.

Post 1

I've dabbled in blogging on and off.  For the most part, I found it almost exhausting.  I love reading food blogs, or at least.. skimming them.. but I suppose for the most part I always wonder "Who cares?" about my own kitchen adventures.  That being said, I still bake and cook like a fiend, and still have my trusty DSLR... and now that I've finished my first year of my PhD program (wooo) I have a bit of time.  So why not?

A bit about me: I was a food writer for a while, worked as a baker in an all organic cafe, as a waitress in a chinese restaurant, a brunchy type place, and a steakhouse (where I learnt about my passion for wine).  Most recently I volunteer in a teaching kitchen, and will start giving my own lessons (primarily in baking) starting in September 2012. :)

To start us off, I figured I'd post the tortilla espanola I made yesterday.  No recipe yet: I'm perfecting it for my Spanish cooking class in Sept.  I just hate posts without photos. ;)