I just dug a waist-high path to my grill. The inspiration: these grilled pork and pineapple tacos al pastor. I’m going to try them out in the freezing cold tonight. Wish me luck!
Okay, it’s official. I think I speak for everyone in the Northeast when I say we’re done with winter. Done with snow shoveling. Done with ice dams. Done with the wind and the freezing temperatures. Done with driving thru too-narrow streets and ripping the side-view mirror off my car. Done with arguing with college kids about parking. (This isn’t college math. There are six of you next door who are half my age. Go grab a shovel and dig out your own goddamn spots.) And we haven’t even gotten this weekend’s exciting freezing rain, yet, which will soak into all that snow like a sponge and collapse roofs and flood basements. Yay for arguments over insurance claims!
God, I can’t wait for spring. I’ve already placed my seed order for the school garden in anticipation. I even mapped out the whole rotation plan. Usually there is no plan. None at all. That’s how desperate I am to see some green.
And speaking of healthy food, it’s hard to get back on track with sensible eating during the winter doldrums, but here’s some salad inspiration anyway. You can make the dressing with that big jar of tahini in the back of the fridge that you bought to make hummus that time. This dressing really brightens up a winter salad and seems to make it heartier, which is something you need on these frigid days. Try it with mixed greens, some sliced cucumber, shredded carrots, a little chopped grilled chicken or pile of chicken salad, and some torn-up mint leaves or cilantro. You could even add some cubed avocado or sliced Asian pear.
The original recipe also called for 1 Tbsp. Asian chile oil, which I didn’t have, but I thought the dressing was plenty flavorful (and already had a decent kick) without it. Add back if you see fit.
1/4 cup tahini
3 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp. tamari or soy sauce
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 tsp. chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 tsp. sambal oelek or Sriracha
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine the tahini, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and sambal oelek in the bowl of a food processor. Puree until blended. With the machine on, slowly drizzle in the oil until incorporated. Transfer to a half-pint jar and season with salt and pepper.
I bumped today’s exciting salad post in favor of something sweeter. What can I say, Cupid wasn’t really feeling the greens. He tried to shoot a head of lettuce at my face with his bow, but it bounced right off.
Anyway, it’s snowing again here in Boston. Another day, another blizzard, and I’m going to need something more powerful than love to help me heave all of this snow over the existing 10-foot snow banks. Something that will give me the strength and agility to do so in subzero wind chills while simultaneously dodging all of those dagger-like icicles hanging from the rooflines.
So consider this toffee recipe my form of blizzard insurance. With any luck, it’ll get me out there and back inside in under three hours. That it might also pass for something Valentine-y is purely coincidental.
Sometimes I add 1/2 tsp. of vanilla to the toffee if I want a stronger, more butterscotchy flavor.
1 cup unsalted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup sliced almonds, toasted
Pinch or two of coarse sea salt
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine the butter, sugar, water, and salt. Stir constantly until the butter and sugar melt, and then stir occasionally until a candy thermometer reads 300°F. Remove from the heat and pour the mixture into an ungreased 13x9-inch pan.
Let the toffee sit undisturbed for 3 to 5 minutes until it stiffens a bit (don’t touch it with your fingers—it’s hot; you just want it stiff enough to hold the weight of the chocolate chips—set one on top and see if it sinks). Once the toffee has cooled a bit but still radiates heat, scatter the chocolate chips on top. Let them sit for 5 minutes to melt, and then spread the chocolate evenly over the toffee, all the way to the edges. Scatter the nuts on top, pressing gently to adhere. Sprinkle with sea salt. Let cool completely for several hours.
To remove the toffee from the pan, stab it with a butter knife near the corner to crack it and remove a piece. Continue to break off irregular pieces with your hands or remove the whole slab to a cutting board. Store the pieces in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
I’m putting together our latest family album, and while I was mercilessly eliminating photos, I came across this tutorial I had intended to share last winter. It shows how to make a Danish braid, which is probably the most time-consuming recipe in my cookbook. You make your own Danish pastry, for one thing, but then the process of shaping the dough is really hard to describe without visuals. I did my best to explain it with words, but if you think you might attempt a Danish braid on one of these (many!) snow days, here’s a little something to help you along.
Danish Braid Technique (to supplement the recipe in WINTERSWEET, page 204-7)
First, mix together your dough ingredients into a shaggy ball.
Knead it for a minute until it comes together into a smooth dough. Roll out the dough on a floured surface into a 16-inch (41-cm) square. Spread the softened butter over the bottom half of the dough, leaving a 1-inch (2.5-cm) margin around the edges. Or, if you’re like me and you forget to set your butter out to soften, you can slice the cold butter and arrange the pieces as pictured.
Fold the top half of the dough over the buttered bottom half, and pinch the edges closed.
Now imagine that the dough is a piece of paper. Fold the dough into thirds like a business letter.
Fold the dough into thirds like a business letter again, this time bottom to top. Then wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to relax the gluten.
Roll out the dough to about 12 x 16 inches (30 x 41 cm). Then cut the dough in half so you have two 12 x 8 pieces of dough. Gently transfer each to a separate baking sheet. Spread your cream cheese filling down the middle third of the dough as pictured, and top with your favorite jam.
Using a sharp paring knife, cut a slightly diagonal line from each of the top corners toward the filling, stopping just short of the filling. Continue cutting parallel lines beneath those lines about 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart, until you reach the bottom. Trim off the upper and lower triangles from each side (save them to make little crescent rolls!).
Starting from the top, fold one strip over the filling and gently tuck it underneath. Now take a strip from the other side and fold that one over the filling, criss-crossing the strip from the other side, and tuck the end underneath.
Repeat, alternating sides. Do the same for the second sheet of dough (or try making the other Danish shapes shown here).
Let the braids rise until nearly doubled in bulk. Then brush the pastry (not the filling) with beaten egg and bake 20 to 24 minutes at 375°F (190°C). Remove the Danish from the oven and brush with sugar syrup before letting it cool completely. Once cool, drizzle with icing if desired and serve.
If you look closely, you’ll notice that this isn’t the same braid as the one pictured at the beginning of this post. I’m notorious for eating the thing before I have a chance to take the money shot. But luckily I found another photo from a previous year.
If you attempt it, let me know how it turns out!
My fling started with a salad disguised as dessert (my favorite kind). It had ripe slices of persimmon, creamy burrata cheese, crunchy homemade sesame brittle, and pomegranate seeds over arugula, dressed with a maple-balsamic vinaigrette. It was very tasty (you can find the recipe from Food & Wine here). We've been eating the leftover pomegranate seeds ever since: just plain, with Greek yogurt, and sprinkled over the remaining burrata.
A few words about burrata. I didn’t have a full understanding of what this Italian cheese really was before I bought a container from Maplebrook Farm. I knew it was a soft, mild cheese, one that was vaguely mozzarella-like, but apparently I was confusing it with bocconcini, the little balls of fresh mozzarella. So I was surprised when I opened the container to find one large ball of mozzarella.
When I removed it from the container with a spoon, it seemed to quiver like a water balloon. I was perplexed, but I forged ahead. I placed the cheese on a board and cut right into it, which caused an explosion of cream and runny cheese curds to spray forth all over the counter, running down my kitchen cabinets. Turns out it was a water balloon! Just one made out of cheese and filled with creamy goodness. (If you’re as interested in how they make it as I was, check out the process here).
I learned three things from this experience. One, maybe ease up on the stabbiness when it comes to portioning out burrata (and do it over a shallow bowl to catch all the exploding cheese). Two, that I love burrata. And three, that I love burrata with pomegranate seeds. The tart, juicy pop of the seeds against the soft, milky curds is just wonderful. It would make a totally indulgent Valentine’s Day dessert that’s very fresh and not too sweet.
How to Seed a Pomegranate: If you look at a pomegranate, you’ll notice it has fat ridges that run from pole to pole like thick longitudinal lines. If you cut gently just through the skin down one of those long ridges, and then again down another one of the adjacent ridges, you can pull a wedge of mostly intact seeds out of the fruit. Then you can just loosen the seeds gently with your fingers, pulling out the thin white membranes that enclose them. I store the remaining fruit in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge until I need to cut another wedge. If you need a lot of seeds at once, it’s often more efficient to submerge the wedges in a bowl of water so you can move a little quicker without the seeds squirting juice all over you. Then you can drain off the water and scoop out the seeds.
Wait, where am I? Do I have a blog? Oh yeah!
Sorry about the uncharacteristic absence. It's just that I’ve been very focused on this new book. I can be a little obsessive at times, don’t know if you’ve noticed. Once I get involved in a project, I don’t want to do anything else. But then the kids get hungry, so I have to stop and fix something. And then right when I get going again, my bladder refuses to hold on for just one more second, even though I’ve only been holding it for the past 3 hours, come ON, so then I have to get up. And then everyone’s hungry again. And then the peeing. And then I accidentally fall asleep on the toilet. Those are the highlights anyway.
As far as blog-worthy material, what can I say, I’ve got nothing. I made some excellent clam chowder last night, but I already posted that recipe. Husband made his amazing blueberry pancakes for dinner the night before that, but I’ve posted that recipe, too. Before that, it was chicken noodle soup all week for the little one with the flu. Again, already posted. You know what? Maybe it’s time to revisit some of those favorite recipes, especially because all three go so well with blizzard conditions.
Stay warm and safe, everybody. See you on the other side of the Blizzard of 2015.
Our friend B is from Albuquerque, New Mexico. That means not only does he recognize all of the landmarks in Breaking Bad, but he also makes a mean posole. He makes this spicy pork and hominy stew every year for the holiday caroling party that he and his wife host, and every year they have to tear me away from the crock, even the times when it’s so spicy that my eyes burn and turn bloodshot and I break out into hives. I may look like a meth addict, but, fear not, it’s just a pepper problem. Half of my taste buds say yes, and the other half (along with my entire immune system) say nooooOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!
This is my toned-down gringo version of posole. It has all the authenticity of the traditional dish with none of the pain. I add half of the pepper paste in the beginning of the cooking time. Later, I taste and tailor how much more I add at the end depending on how potent my particular peppers are. Then I serve more pepper paste at the table for people to customize their own bowls. Feel free to increase the peppers even more if you enjoy the sensation of a thousand Africanized bees attacking your face.
Hominy is a type of hard-kernel white or yellow corn that is precooked in an alkaline solution to remove the hull. The resulting kernels swell up to the size of garbanzo beans and they're equally tender. They add a mild, tortilla-like flavor to the stew. You can buy hominy in cans (Goya is one brand) in the ethnic section of the grocery store. You can also buy it frozen or dried. If dried, you will need to soak it overnight and expect a longer cooking time.
8-10 dried New Mexico chiles (look for big bags in the ethnic aisle of the store)
2-4 cups hot water
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2 lb. pork shoulder (with or without bone)
1 large onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
3 cups chicken stock (or two cups plus one cup of beer)
1 bay leaf
1 29-oz. can hominy, strained and rinsed
Salt and black pepper to taste
Diced avocado, fresh cilantro, and sour cream for topping
(Other options: shredded cabbage, sliced radishes)
Place the dried chiles in a large bowl and cover them with hot water. Set a small plate on top to weigh them down if necessary. Let them soak 15-20 minutes until softened.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large Dutch oven. Dry off the pork shoulder with paper towels and season it with plenty of salt and pepper. Brown the pork on all sides over medium-high heat, letting it sit on one side without moving until browned, then repeat on the next side, then the next, etc.
While the pork is browning, remove the peppers from the soaking water (reserve the water). Pull off the stems and remove most of the seeds from the hot peppers. Be careful not to touch your eyes or any other sensitive areas with your hands while working with hot peppers. You only have to learn that lesson once. Add the peppers to a blender and pour in enough of the soaking water to allow the mechanism to puree the mixture smoothly. You want a fluid reddish-brown slurry with no chunks. Pour the pepper mixture into a small bowl and set aside.
Remove the pork from the pot and place it on a large plate. Reduce the heat to medium and immediately add the chopped onion. Sauté until the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the cumin and oregano and stir briefly. Then add the chicken stock (and beer, if you like). Drop in the bay leaf. Stir in about half of the hot pepper paste. Add the pork and its juices back to the pot and increase the heat. Add enough of the reserved pepper soaking water that the cooking liquid comes halfway up the side of the meat. Reserve the rest of the soaking water in case you need to add more later. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low to maintain a low simmer. Cook until tender, turning the meat occasionally, for about 3 hours.
Add the hominy and continue to simmer, uncovered, for another hour or until the pork is practically falling apart. Remove the bay leaf. Transfer the pork to a cutting board and pull it apart into bite-sized chunks. Return the meat to the pot. Taste to determine if it needs more pepper paste. Add as much as you want, reserving some for the table. If the broth is too thick, you can thin it with some of the pepper soaking water. Season with salt and pepper. Serve the stew with the toppings of your choice. I like cilantro, diced avocado, and maybe a bit of sour cream.
[To make this dish in a crockpot, you can brown the meat on the stovetop (or skip that part). When you get to the fourth paragraph, just add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker. Cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions, adding the hominy during the last hour or two of cooking. Pick up at the fifth paragraph where it says: Remove the bay leaf.]
It's Christmas Eve! Also known as the time you finally remember all the people you forgot to buy gifts for!
Wow, that many? You're almost as disorganized as me!
Well, don't fret. And don't even think about going to the mall at this point in the pouring rain. Are you totally out of your mind? That's the single fastest way to lose all of your holiday cheer. Instead, rummage around in your cupboard and find some chocolate, preferably bittersweet. Do you have any dried fruit, like cranberries or apricots? What about nuts? Bacon? Do you have bacon? Of course you do.
Now get cracking on some holiday bark. The process is simple. Melt some chocolate in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. Stir in some mix-ins, reserving some for the top. Spread the mixture thinly on a parchment- or foil-lined pan, and then sprinkle with more goodies and maybe even some sea salt on top. Let the chocolate slab cool and harden in the fridge, then break it into asymmetrical pieces. Put some in little baggies and slap on a few bows. There.
Christmas is served!
Deborah Madison has a great recipe for apricot, pistachio, and cardamom bark I make every year. She also recommends trying it with dried figs and fennel seed, which I'm trying next time. There's the white chocolate, dried cranberry, and almond version you can find in my book on p. 125. Feel free to sub in pistachios for the almonds if you want the whole red and green thing going on. And then there's the new version of chocolate bark I made up this year with candied bacon with hazelnuts.
Bacon in your chocolate? You bet!
Happy holidays, everyone!
Dark Chocolate Bark with Candied Bacon and Hazelnuts
If you don't have any chocolate, you can just make the candied bacon all by itself. It is absolutely delicious, especially dipped in Nutella, which I learned from TeenNiece. Quadruple the amount of bacon and brown sugar in that case.
5 slices high-quality bacon
3-4 Tbsp. light brown sugar
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (35-60% cacao)
1/3 cup blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Sea salt, to taste
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Lined a rimmed sheet pan with foil. Set the bacon on the pan about an inch apart. Sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of brown sugar. Place in the oven for about 10 minutes. Flip the bacon with tongs and sprinkle remaining brown sugar on top. Bake for 5-10 minutes more until the bacon is cooked and taking on some toasty color, but isn't burned (some of the sugar that melts off the bacon may burn on the foil, which won't hurt anything except maybe your pride, but you don't want the bacon itself to burn). Remove the bacon to a plate where it will crisp as it cools. In about 10 minutes, snap the bacon into small pieces.
Line another pan with foil or parchment paper. Bring an inch of water to a simmer in a small pot. Chop the chocolate into small pieces with a sharp knife and slide them into a metal bowl large enough to easily sit on top of the pot of water. Set the bowl over the pot and stir the chocolate until it is completely melted and smooth. Remove the chocolate from the pot and wipe the condensation from the bottom of the bowl with a dishtowel. Stir in a little over half of the bacon and hazelnut fragments. Spread the mixture in a thin layer on the prepared pan. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining bacon and hazelnuts, as well as a few pinches of sea salt. Refrigerate until hard, at least an hour. Break the slab of chocolate into pieces.
Bacon: Chestnut Farms, Hardwick, MA
God, I love those things. I remember pocketing more than one at a time as a kid—a secret, bonus dessert on my way out. You don't really see them much anymore, though locals will note that the Chateau in Waltham still has them, individually wrapped instead of in an open, shallow bowl as in the days of old.
I recently came across a recipe for homemade buttermints in the latest issue of Organic Gardening magazine, and I was all, wait a minute, you can make them yourself? Apparently I was holding on to the childhood notion that they were made by fairies in some mystical realm, that these were something mere mortals could never achieve. Luckily (and dangerously) for me, they are easily achievable, and I had all four ingredients in the house.
The flavor of these buttermints is spot-on, but the texture is a little different than what I remember. Even though the technique involves setting the mints out to dry overnight, mine never got hard and chalky. They tasted like little bits of peppermint frosting that had crisped delicately on the outside, but stayed soft on the inside. They literally melt in your mouth. I guess if you left them out in the open air long enough, they would harden eventually. I tried to do an experiment to see how long it would take for them to harden fully, but I kept eating all the experimental ones. And then all the controls. (My scientific method has some flaws.)
You can tint these whatever hideous colors your heart desires with drops of food coloring, but I like mine the color of butter.
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
4 cups confectioner's sugar
2 Tbsp. heavy cream
1/4 tsp. peppermint extract, plus a few extra drops to taste
Line two large baking sheets with waxed paper. In a large mixing bowl, whip the butter with an electric mixer until creamy. Blend in the confectioner's sugar 1 cup at a time on low, adding the cream and peppermint extract with the last cup of sugar. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, increase the speed, and whip until well mixed. Taste and adjust the flavoring if you like.
Dust the counter with confectioner's sugar. Divide the dough into golf-ball-sized pieces and roll each ball into a long rope about 1/2-inch thick. Use a sharp knife or a bench scraper to cut the rope into small pillows. Transfer the mints to the baking sheets. Let the mints dry in a cool, dry place overnight. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 2 weeks. Makes about 200 mints.
Boy, is time getting away from me these days. I blame the piano. I'm supposed to be holiday shopping and planning the school bake sale on Friday, but instead I'm trying to learn Vince Guaraldi's Christmas repertoire on the piano. Needless to say, things are not going well in any of these departments. *Cue wistful Charlie Brown music played by someone who's not me
So instead, I thought I'd share with you a list of Christmas ideas for the food-lover, the food-lover in question being me, mostly. But perhaps there might be some overlap with you. Could happen. Here are a few awesome gifts one might like to find under (or on) the tree this year:
1. Morel Mushroom Ornaments: I want you all to focus on the sheer awesomeness of finding one or more morel mushrooms hanging on your Christmas tree quite by surprise. Huzzah! It's not even mushroom season! Let's put aside the hefty $16 price tag for a minute and take a look at the detail. They look like actual morels. See? These ornaments are totally blowing my mind right now. What's that, Internet, you don't want any fungus hanging from your Christmas tree? Well, I don't even know what to say to you anymore.
2. Whisk Necklace: I'm not really into jewelry, but the simplicity of this silver whisk on a chain really spoke to me. It also strikes me as handy to always have a tiny whisk on your person because you never know when you might need to whip up a tiny batch of vinaigrette.
3. Pig Shirt: Somebody needs to be wearing this T-shirt right now. Is it you?
4. Pie Box: This is just a good practical gift. I recently got one for my birthday and it enables me to not smash every pie dish I own while transporting my desserts all over creation. Everything is good and protected and stackable. I do wish the box was maybe an inch taller for the deep-dish pies with the domed tops, but that's a modification for Pie Box 2.0.
One last reminder: my book is still awaiting a place on some of your kitchen counters. Don't let another holiday season pass you by without checking it off your list. You can purchase it at Amazon - B&N - and many indie bookstores. Thanks again for your support.
There were some requests for the dessert recipe I made for Thanksgiving, so here it is. It's one of my favorite special occasion desserts of all time, and it also happens to be gluten-free. It comes from Joanne Chang's first cookbook, Flour. I've made changes to the size and assembly of the cake so that it feeds a crowd and avoids pastry bags of any kind. I also serve it in a baking pan so I don't have to decorate the sides. I was way too stressed out by the piano delivery to do any detail work that afternoon (or ever!).
A dacquoise is a French layer cake made with sheets of nut meringue (egg whites mixed with sugar and ground nuts and baked until crisp). This particular version uses almond and hazelnut meringues layered with espresso buttercream and chocolate ganache. It's like a Napoleon but with nuts and chocolate. It's about as fancy as I ever get. The components aren't hard to make, but the timing of the assembly can be tricky. The meringue slabs have to be fully cooled and half of the ganache should be thick enough to mound while the other half should be thin enough to pour fluidly during the crucial window of time when the buttercream has just come together but hasn't yet broken. This is not to scare you away, but merely to warn you not to make this in a situation where a business deal is on the line unless you enjoy high-octane panic attacks.
A note about meringue: egg whites should be completely yolk-free in order for the recipe to work correctly. Also, make sure the bowl and beaters are clean with no hint of grease. Save one of the yolks for the buttercream below, and then submerge the rest in cold water covered in the fridge to make lime or lemon curd within a few days (recipe in WINTERSWEET, see note on page 151). For the nuts, "blanched" means their dark skins have been removed.
3/4 cup blanched whole hazelnuts, divided
1/2 cup blanched whole almonds
1-1/3 cups confectioner's sugar
1/8 tsp. kosher salt
6 egg whites
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 pound semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into thirds
1 Tbsp. instant espresso powder (or 2 Tbsp. instant coffee powder ground fine)
1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 300°F. Find yourself a nice-looking rectangular baking dish for serving and set aside. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper and trace three rectangles several inches smaller than the dimensions of the pan you will be serving it in. For example, if using a standard 9x13-inch pan, measure rectangles 6x10 inches. Make sure the rectangles are spaced at least 2 inches apart as the batter will spread a bit. Turn the parchment sheets over so the pencil is on the underside of the paper.
For the meringue layers, toast 1/2 cup of the hazelnuts in a dry sauté pan over medium heat, tossing frequently, until they turn golden in spots and smell toasty, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add the toasted hazelnuts to the bowl of a food processor to cool. Set the remaining 1/2 cup of untoasted hazelnuts aside in a small bowl for decoration. Repeat the toasting process for all of the almonds. Add those to the hazelnuts in the bowl of the food processor and let cool for a few minutes. Process until the nuts are ground to a rough powder. Do not overprocess or they will turn into nut butter. Transfer the ground nuts to a medium bowl. Sift the confectioner's sugar over the top, add the salt, and stir to combine.
Using a stand mixer with the whip attachment (or a handheld mixer), beat the egg whites on medium speed until they hold soft peaks that droop gently when lifted, about 3 to 4 minutes (longer for a handheld mixer). On medium speed, add the granulated sugar to the whites in three equal additions, mixing for 30 seconds after each addition. When all of the sugar has been incorporated, increase the speed to high and beat for about 15 seconds longer. The meringue should be stiff and glossy. Remove the bowl from the mixer and sprinkle the nut mixture on top. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the nuts into the meringue, depositing the batter from the bottom on the bowl on top, rotating the bowl as you go.
Spread the mixture into rectangular shapes as marked on the parchment paper. Bake for 1-1/2 to 2 hours until the rectangles are firm to the touch. Turn off the oven and let them sit inside the warm oven for about 1 hour more to fully dry. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
When the meringue layers are cool, make the ganache. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, scald the cream over medium-high heat until bubbles start to form around the edge of the cream. Don't walk away or you risk it boiling over. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and let it sit for 1 minute to soften the chips. Slowly whisk the chocolate and cream until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture is smooth. Pour half of the mixture into a small, shallow bowl and set in the refrigerator covered for a half hour or so to thicken while making the buttercream. Leave the rest at room temperature so it remains a pourable consistency.
To make the espresso buttercream, make sure the butter is sitting out at room temperature first. Stir together the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. While the sugar syrup is heating, wash the mixer bowl and whisk attachment. Beat the eggs and egg yolk together on medium speed for 3 to 4 minutes until pale in color. When the sugar syrup comes to a boil, cook without stirring, for 3 to 4 minutes until the temperature reaches 238°F on a candy thermometer. When the syrup is ready, remove from the heat. Turn the mixer speed down to low and slowly drizzle the hot syrup down the sides of the mixer bowl carefully so it doesn't hit the whip and splatter. When all of the syrup has been added, increase the speed to medium and whip for 6 to 8 minutes (again, longer with a handheld mixer) until the mixture is light and fluffy, and the bottom of the bowl is cool to the touch.
This is where things get scary. Turn the mixer speed down to low and add the room-temperature butter to the bowl a few chunks at a time. The mixture will break almost immediately into a disgusting, curdled mess. It will seem ruined. You will be cursing me. But keep mixing and it will come together again, trust me. It always does. Think to yourself, would Joanne Chang let me down? No, she would not. Increase the speed to medium and continue whipping for about 5 minutes until it turns smooth and silky. If it needs a few minutes more, go ahead. Add the espresso powder and salt, and whip until completely combined. If the buttercream should break again later on, I've always been able to get it to come back together again with enthusiastic mixing (sometimes in combination with a cold towel pressed against the bottom of the bowl).
For assembly, peel the cool dacquoise rectangles from the parchment paper. If any are misshapen, you can gently trim them down with a paring knife, but be careful not to shatter them as they're very fragile. Set one rectangle in the center of the chosen serving vessel. Remove the small bowl of ganache from the refrigerator and give it a brief stir to make sure it has thickened enough to mound without running. If not, refrigerate it for another half hour. If so, proceed to spooning a thick layer on top of the dacquoise up to about a half-inch from the edge. Use as much of the ganache as will reasonably fit to create a layer at least a half-inch thick. Press a second layer of dacquoise on top. Do the same with about 2/3 of the espresso buttercream (if it's starting to separate, give it a vigorous mixing before this step). Top the buttercream with the last dacquoise, placing it upside-down so the flat side is on top. Press lightly to adhere. Using a small spatula, spread the remaining buttercream into any gaps between the layers that are visible. Place the cake immediately into the refrigerator to chill for 1 hour.
Check that the ganache at room temperature is still pourable. If not, you can gently whisk it over simmering water just until fluid. Pour the ganache evenly over the cake, letting it drip down the sides. If the sides of your cake are visible, you can cover them with sliced almonds, but otherwise, any imperfections won't be seen. Decorate the top with reserved hazelnuts. Chill until ready to serve. Slice with a sharp knife.
Source: Adapted from Flour by Joanne Chang
I hope everyone had a great long holiday weekend. Above is the 40-pound turkey we had for Thanksgiving. I didn't know turkeys came that big. I only just woke up yesterday from all the tryptophan. Many thanks to the Ms for being the hosts with the mosts.
Now that the holiday shopping season is officially upon us, here are a few local holiday-themed events coming up where I'll be signing books:
Concord Museum, Monday, 12/1, 5:30-7:30pm: That's tonight, folks. The Concord Museum is opening up its gift shop to give you first dibs on their unique selection of gifts, including jewelry, ornaments, books, and accessories. Refreshments will be served, and I'll be signing books and serving samples from WINTERSWEET. Gift-wrapping is included.
Well Within Holiday Sip & Shop, Sunday, 12/7, 7pm: For folks in Newton and the surrounding area, come support local women in business at Well Within's holiday shopping fête. For sale will be massage gift certificates, handmade soaps and candles, Stella & Dot jewelry and accessories, Indian-spiced chocolates, prints by local photographer Rachael DuMoulin, and signed copies of WINTERSWEET by a certain local author. Enjoy lots of tasty treats and raffle prizes, too. Conveniently located near the Newtonville Whole Foods. For more information, click here.
Tower Hill Botanic Garden, Wednesday, 12/10, 6-7:30pm: Worcester peeps, come on out for a pie-making demonstration by you-know-who with a very special guest assistant, my dad. You'll also have the chance to wander around the beautiful indoor conservatories and outdoor winter gardens lit up with 12 miles of lights, as well as do some holiday shopping in their lovely gift shop. If you've never been to Tower Hill, it's amazing in all seasons. The pie-making demo is included with the price of admission. For more information, click here.
Make a dent in your holiday shopping while simultaneously supporting the work of these great local institutions preserving history, art, and horticulture. Thanks!
I was closing up the school garden yesterday, and look what I found. Actual carrots! Remember how I said the deer kept eating the carrot tops all the way down to the ground? Well, I guess they missed a few. Or maybe the deer finally moved on to different pastures.
With yesterday's amazingly warm weather (mid-sixties) and today's projected snow, I finally put all the tools and hoses away, pulled out the signs and stakes, ripped out and composted the dead annuals, and harvested the remaining herbs and veggies.
I planted some of this summer's hardneck garlic cloves and covered them with straw. Hopefully it's not too late for that.
And so now it's time to give thanks: to the school administration and PTO for their support of the garden, to the volunteers and custodians for keeping it growing over the summer, to the kids for always giving me something to smile about, and to the garden itself for teaching me so much.
Here's what I'll be making for tomorrow's feast.
It's essentially a root vegetable casserole with cheddar biscuits on top, but that doesn't even begin to describe how delicious it is. The recipe is here. Below are a few other things that look good for the holiday table:
Star Anise Cranberry Sauce from The Spice Train
Pear and Almond Cream Cheese Pie from Fiddle and Spoon
Shingled Brandy Apple Pie from Licking the Plate
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Every time I get a request to give a lecture or demonstration to promote my cookbook, I die a little inside. It's not that I don't want to talk about my book—I love my book! It just means I have to contend with one of my more troublesome personal demons: my terror of public-speaking.
Somehow I manage to force a smile and say, yes, of course, I’d be happy to stand up in front of dozens of complete strangers and try desperately to win them over with my disputable charms. Then I try to plot a way to be out of the country that day. It never works out.
During the past year, certain patterns have emerged in terms of how I prepare for my execution these types of events. Here’s the basic low-down:
1. STAY OUT OF THE WOODS
A month before the dreaded talk, I start limiting my trips to the woods so I don’t end up with poison ivy all over my face again. (Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, WTF? Fool me thrice, well, I haven’t thought up a suitable punishment for myself yet, so let’s hope that doesn’t happen.) While it would definitely be a unique character-building experience to give a presentation with my face cracking open and oozing mysterious liquids, this is not exactly a recipe for booming cookbook sales.
2. WRITE MY SPEECH
A week or so before the event, I start typing up the whole talk word for word. Notes are probably a better practice, but I’ve found that I need to have the whole script in my hand like a safety blanket just in case my mind goes totally blank. Which it can and will. In that case, I need a full sentence to fall back on, and I never know which sentence I’m going to need. Best to have them all at the ready just in case. With enough practice, I don’t need to refer to the script much at all, but I still need to have it in my hand to keep the panic at bay. (I also have notes in my phone in case I lose my script.)
3. FIND SUITABLE CLOTHING
Several days beforehand, I make sure I have a complete outfit ready and try it on. I don’t dress up very often, so this is harder than it sounds. I’m always missing something obvious, like shoes, and I need time to make a hasty, frantic shopping trip. Normally I don’t give a crap about what I’m wearing (hello, jeans that I’ve worn three days in a row), but if I look like an idiot, I’m going to feel like an idiot. And I don’t want to feel like an idiot right out of the gate.
For several days, I practice my talk in front of a mirror to make sure my written words flow naturally when spoken. They never do. I rewrite sentences and entire sections as needed and try not to panic. Then I time myself to make sure the talk fits within the expected parameters. People have suggested that I practice my talks in front of a few supportive friends. I don’t do that. The only thing more horrifying to me than getting up and speaking in front of a bunch of strangers is getting up and speaking in front of people I know.
The day before the event, I go to the gym. I plan a hard workout, but no so hard that I’m incapacitated the next day. Just enough to exhaust me to the point where I don’t have enough energy to rile myself up into a manic frenzy.
I make sure I have a printout of the directions to the venue in my purse. I usually use my phone’s navigation system to get there, but never underestimate the many ways your phone can betray you, including running out of charge halfway there when you forgot to bring the cord. Punctuality is not my strong suit, but in this case, I make an exception.
The night before the event, I make sure to get a good night’s sleep. I am a rare breed of person in that I can fall asleep under almost any circumstance. My Circadian rhythms are so deeply ingrained, even abject fear can’t interrupt them. This may be the one thing I have going for me. I also check my clock about 25 times to be sure the alarm is set to a.m., not p.m.
8. POWER POSE
The morning of the talk, I take a shower, eat breakfast, check the traffic, get dressed, and then strike a Power Pose. You can learn more about this concept here, but basically it involves standing in a Wonder Woman-like stance: hands on hips, feet shoulder length apart, head high. The idea is that if you look confident and powerful, you eventually start to feel that way, too. Sounds kooky, I know, but whatever will keep me from vomiting all over myself is fine by me. (Wearing my Wonder Woman underroos under my presentation outfit also helps.)
Once I get the car all packed up with what I need (cases of books, business cards, speech, baked good samples, napkins, toothpicks, rubber gloves, boxes of cooking equipment, signs, pens, water, phone, directions, SPEECH), it’s time to fill up the gas tank and hit the road. Once I’m on the highway, I turn on my music LOUD. Then I start singing. Actually, it’s more like shouting than singing. It’s shout-singing. I don't shout-sing loud enough to actually lose my voice, but loud enough to release a lot of the psychological pressure I'm feeling while also getting some practice projecting. I don’t have a very strong voice normally so this works well to get my vocal chords properly primed. I’m sure it looks completely ridiculous to any passengers riding by who might happen to notice me. I’ve seen kids with their hands and faces pressed against the back windows of their cars, necks craned in my direction. Nothing to do but wave.
10. BATHROOM BREAK
Ideally, I’ve gotten to my destination with plenty of time to spare so that I can chat “leisurely” with my host and set things up “calmly,” all while mentally trying to talk myself out of a nervous breakdown. During this period, I visit the bathroom a ridiculous number of times. No, I’m not snorting cocaine in there. Anxiety renders my bladder unable to hold even a milliliter of water. And yet anxiety also makes me incredibly thirsty. See 11.
11. GET WATER
Water is not only a refreshing thirst-quencher, but also a way to pause during a talk to catch my breath, gather my thoughts, and generally get a grip if nerves are getting the best of me. Maybe you might prefer coffee, or Scotch, but water is my drink of choice. A few sips here and there have saved me. Not too much, though. See 10.
12. REVIEW NOTES
By now, I’ve already exhausted how much time I can hide in the bathroom, and subsequently I’m standing at the makeshift dais as people are filtering in for the talk. Sure, I have my script, I’m looking at it, I might even be seeing some of the words, but really what I’m doing is trying to breath calmly, smile at people once in a while to assure the audience and myself that it will all be over soon, but not so wide that they think I’m a serial killer in a dress. Then the host will indicate we’re ready to start and that’s where the adrenaline kicks in and I don’t remember anything else that happens after that.
Needless to say, after all this hand-wringing and preparation, I'm grateful when people actually buy my book!
This Anglo-Indian beef stir-fry is a good dish to know: a quick sauté of shaved sirloin and sliced onions flavored with apple cider vinegar and turmeric. I like to serve it over rice with a side of aloo gobi (Indian-spiced cauliflower and potatoes). I have it on good authority that this stir-fry is also good with leftover, reheated Five Guys fries. (Never mind who told me, a journalist never reveals her sources.)
This recipe is an especially good use for grass-fed steak. I love my meat CSA, but I've had a tough time adapting to grass-fed steak, I'll be honest. The flavor is great and I know pasture is better for the cows, but the texture of the meat can be so chewy sometimes. It instantly activates my TMJ causing horrible popping and grinding noises to emanate from my face like some kind of rock tumbler wearing away at the joint's protective cartilage and polishing my jaw bones to a smooth, painful shine. Such is my commitment to sustainable meat.
But when you shave beef very thinly across the bias, there's not enough muscle depth to tense up appreciably. And then if you marinate those slices in something acidic, like vinegar, that helps break down the muscle fibers further. The result is tender, tasty meat in less than 20 minutes. It's a meal my whole family loves.
Other tricks for tenderizing super-lean grass-fed beef:
This recipe evolved as a fusion between Indian and British colonial influences. Though I tend to serve the meat over rice, it's more traditionally eaten with crispy potato wedges and ketchup.
1 pound beef sirloin or other tender cut of beef, sliced very thinly against grain
1 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tsp. salt
½ tsp. turmeric
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
1½ Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
Cayenne pepper to taste
In a shallow bowl, rub the beef slices with the vinegar, salt, and turmeric. Set aside to marinate while preparing the other ingredients.
Heat the oil in a large skillet until hot. Fry the onion and ginger until slightly softened, about 4 minutes. Add the cayenne and then the marinated beef. Stir-fry over high heat until cooked but still tender, about 3 to 5 minutes.
Source: Adapted from 5 Spices, 50 Dishes by Ruta Kahate
Parsnip lovers rejoice! My recipe for maple-parsnip cake is in the November 2014 issue of Parents magazine. It's on newsstands now if you're interested in checking it out (picture p. 136, recipe p. 174). What's that you say, you don't like parsnips and especially not in cake? Don't be ridiculous. It tastes just like carrot cake. It's perfect for the Thanksgiving holiday table and kids can do all the decorating.
Speaking of holiday tables, I'll be at the historic Rotch-Jones-Duff House & Garden Museum in New Bedford this Saturday 11/15 at 11:30am to talk about my cookbook. It's part of a larger exhibit on entertaining and holiday tablescapes. You can walk around the mansion and check out the festive displays to get some ideas for your holiday table. I, for one, will be taking notes. I don't exactly have a flair for decorating. We're lucky if we get the forks and knives on the correct side of the plate around here. But I'll be talking about seasonal, low-stress baking for the holidays and winter in general. Afterwards, there's a luncheon and the caterer will be serving a dessert from the cookbook. Probably one that's parsnip-free. Last I heard, apples were involved. Reservations are required for this event. The cost is $40 for museum admission, author talk, and luncheon. Books will be available for purchase and signing. Click here for more information.
Hope to see some folks there!
Talk about dramatic. I mean, it's just a bunch of Brussels sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, blue cheese, walnuts, herbs, and some kind of weirdo healthy looking whole grain also known as farro. What's not to like?
The kids have suggested that I just copy and paste all of the above ingredients into this next paragraph to save time. They don't like any of it. Or so they say.
But you have to give credit where credit is due—they did eat it. The mountain of Halloween candy is very compelling and easily visible from the kitchen table.
Last I checked, we're all still alive.
This is the kind of dish you either love or hate. You know who you are.
1 cup farro
1 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
1 cup sliced shiitake mushrooms
2 oz. walnut halves
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1 Tbsp. minced shallot
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar (or balsamic)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Boil the farro in salted water for 15 to 20 minutes until tender but still al dente (this may take longer for some varieties of farro). Drain and set aside in a large bowl.
Meanwhile, roast the Brussels sprouts and shiitakes in a little olive oil, salt, and pepper, stirring every ten minutes or so. I keep them on two different sides of the pan, taking the mushrooms out after about 20 minutes and letting the Brussels sprouts go a little longer until they're done, 10-25 minutes more depending on their size. Add the mushrooms and Brussels sprouts to the bowl of farro.
Stir in the walnuts, herbs, and blue cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk the shallot, vinegar, and oil together and fold into the salad. Taste and add more salt as needed. Don't be stingy with the salt. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Brussels sprouts: Wilson Farms, Lexington, MA
Herbs: School garden, Waltham, MA
Cheese: Great Hill Blue, Marion, MA
Shallot: Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham, MA
Here's my advice: stay inside and make something warm, sweet, and cozy. If that sounds good, click on over to Baking a Moment where Allie featured my recipe for apple walnut bread pudding with cinnamon-cider sauce from a book you may have heard of. It's just the thing for a day like today: not too hard to throw together, and it makes the house smell amazing. I'd also like to thank Kylie at Portland's The Baking Bird for featuring WINTERSWEET in her Fall 2014 Cookbook Preview. Go check out these awesome bloggers and get some recipe ideas while you're there.
Local folks, take note, I'll be at the Waltham Farmer's Market this Saturday 11/8 signing books and giving out free samples from 9:30 am to 2 pm. It's the last outdoor market of the season, so be sure to stock up on local storage vegetables and apples. The market has moved this year from its usual location at Moody St. and Main to 119 School St. There's parking in the back. Hope to see you there!
(The apples pictured above are, from left to right, Cox's Orange Pippin, Rhode Island Greening, and Ida Red from Autumn Hills Orchard in Groton, MA.)
I received a huge quantity of quinces a few weeks ago from the Quince Lady (who I wrote about in my cookbook). This was great news because homemade quince paste is one of my most favorite things to eat in the whole wide world. I'm always raving about it to anyone who will listen (proof: my gushing quince segment on NPR's All Things Considered).
After cooking up a new batch of unbelievably good quince paste, I was casting about trying to decide what to do with the remaining quinces. I settled on a tarte tatin, a French fruit tart traditionally made with apples and cooked upside-down in a skillet. After baking, you flip it over to reveal an open-faced pie with the crust on the bottom and glossy, caramelized fruit on top.
These particular ornamental quinces are extremely tart, and require vast amounts of sugar you can't even imagine. Mountains of sugar. So I went ahead and cooked everything down in a cast iron skillet, letting it simmer low and slow until the fruits took on a rosy tint which eventually deepened to the color of black cherries. I even made my own puff pastry for the occasion, laying it on top, tucking in the edges, and baking it until golden-brown with the juices bubbling thickly around the sides.
When it cooled down enough, I flipped it onto a plate. It was beautiful. I took a few pictures and then I cut a small piece from the edge. But the first bite was terrible. It tasted strangely bitter and metallic. I used the same proportions of sugar to fruit as I had for the quince paste, and yet the result was radically different. It should taste good, I insisted, so I kept tasting. And tasting. But it never got any better. Something was wrong. I threw it all in the trash.
I was disappointed and perplexed, but that's how experiments go sometimes. Hours later when I walked into the bathroom, I froze when I saw my reflection. My teeth were blue. You know how sometimes when you're at a party with red wine, you'll notice that some people's teeth and lips are a little purply. It was like that, only five times worse. I dropped whatever I was holding right onto the floor. Without breaking eye contact with my hideous reflection—lips peeled back and frozen into a skeletal grimace—I fumbled around for my toothbrush and toothpaste, praying this wasn't a permanent condition. It wasn't just a couple of teeth, it was ALL of my teeth, top and bottom. It reminded me of the time my sister attempted to dye her dark brown hair blond in junior high and it turned out alien-green, requiring an emergency trip to the hair salon.
Luckily, thanks to the magic of baking soda and/or my frantic brushing, it all came off. Later on, when I was washing the dishes, I noticed that the "pre-seasoned coating" on my newish cast iron pan had corroded away on the bottom and partway up the sides of the pan. Normally, I prefer to season my cast iron with years of bacon fat and love, but I needed that size pan on that particular day and all the store had was one with some kind of shiny coating. I bought it against my better judgment. My hypothesis is that the acidity of the quinces caused the coating to dissolve right off the pan and into my tart. And presumably also into my digestive tract (ain't nothing gonna be sticking in there for a while, I can tell you that).
No wonder it tasted so godawful!
Now I look at that photo of my pie with entirely different eyes. As Husband remarked, it looks kinda creepy. Like it's covered in assorted blood clots and small organs. Husband watches too much Walking Dead, but, nevertheless, that's exactly what it tasted like. Platelets. Vampires, take note.
So, no, I won't be sharing any recipes today. I'll stick to quince paste, thank you very much. If you want a bloody pie, blue teeth, and a non-stick colon for Halloween, you'll just have to go about it some other way.
This year's school garden saw a mix of success and failure. Many things thrived. The herbs flourished. The sungold tomatoes produced well. The nasturtiums blossomed all summer long. We had at least five pumpkins, though a couple were found smashed open. There were a wide variety of plants that we successfully started from seed. But it soon became clear that at least one deer family made the garden its primary food source for the summer. Here's what I learned.
Things Deer Love
Apple trees: leaves and bark
Cherry trees: leaves and bark (and fruit)
Strawberry plants: everything but the stems
Swiss chard: ditto
Green beans: ditto (with a strong preference for haricot verts)
Sweet potato leaves
Melon plant leaves
Pumpkin plant leaves
FYI, it's hard for a plant to grow without leaves.
Things Deer Don't Seem to Care For
Tomato plants, thank god
Herbs of any kind
The biggest tragedy was the plight of the apple trees. I had dug several deep holes and planted the rootstock, then lugged five gallon buckets of water over to their location every week all summer long because the hose didn't reach. They seemed to be thriving. Then I went to water them one day and found that all the leaves were stripped off and a lot of the bark. I strung up strong-smelling dryer sheets to dissuade the deer, changing the scent every few weeks to throw them off. A couple of leaves grew back, spotty and discolored, but then the deer came back and ate those, too. Both trees promptly died. It was heart-breaking after all that work.
Now I understand what I'm dealing with. I have to somehow learn to coexist with these eating machines. I have a few ideas, starting with this hoop-like structure with poultry netting that I built for what will be next year's greens bed.
Any other ideas are most welcome!
We get lots of tomatillos in our farmshare in the fall, and salsa verde is what I always make with them. I'll branch out eventually, but in the meantime, the salsa itself is very versatile. You can eat it with tortilla chips as a snack, you can make a tortilla salad, you can serve it over roasted or pan-fried fish, you can slow-cook a pork shoulder in it, or you can make enchiladas. The kids won't come near a tomatillo with a ten-foot pole, but somehow they manage to eat their weight in chicken enchiladas. Go figure.
Make the salsa verde the day before so dinner comes together more quickly. If you have neither tomatillos nor time, you can substitute jarred salsa verde instead.
1-1½ lbs. tomatillos (about two pints)
1-2 chiles, like serranos or jalapeños
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 Tbsp. chopped cilantro
Lime juice, to taste
½ tsp. kosher salt, or to taste
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1½ pounds chicken thighs
½ cup water
10-12 corn tortillas
½ cup shredded Cheddar cheese or Monterey Jack
Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Remove the husks from the tomatillos and rinse off the sticky resin in warm water. Cut the tomatillos in half and place them cut-side down in a baking dish along with the whole chiles. Roast until soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Let cool slightly so you can handle them comfortably. Remove the stems from the peppers and transfer them and the tomatillos to a blender or food processor. Add the onion, cilantro, lime juice, and salt. Puree until smooth. Add a little water if necessary to keep everything moving. (At this point, you can cover and refrigerate until ready to use.)
In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until hot and shimmering. Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and then brown the chicken on both sides in two batches. Remove the chicken to a plate and pour the salsa verde into the hot pan, stirring and loosening up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Stir in 1/2 cup of water. Add the chicken back to the pan, bring to a simmer, cover with a lid, and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through and tender, about 15 minutes for boneless chicken breasts, a little longer for chicken on the bone. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the chicken to a plate. Shred the chicken into bite-sized pieces and remove the bones, if any. Stir in a little salsa verde to flavor and moisten the meat. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary.
To assemble, spoon a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish. Wrap the stack of corn tortillas in a damp paper towel and gently heat them in the microwave for a minute or two until warm and pliable. One at a time, spoon a line of chicken down the center of a tortilla, fold the sides around the filling, and place seam-side-down in the baking dish. Continue until you run out of ingredients or space (any leftover chicken filling can be used in burritos for lunches). Spread the remaining salsa verde over the top, being careful to cover every square inch of the tortillas so they won't be dry. Sprinkle with shredded cheese. Bake 10 to 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and the enchiladas are heated through. Serve with sour cream and a salad of your choice.
Remember how much I hated black walnuts, the wild relatives of regular English walnuts? And how I couldn't imagine anyone putting such a strong, weird flavor into dessert?
Well, look what I did: I turned them into dessert!
Don't blame me, blame the library sale. Last weekend, I grabbed my newly acquired copy of The Art of Pennsylvania Dutch Cooking, opened it up, and this was the first thing I saw:
I had planned to make dinner, but instead I made cake. I mean, just look at that recipe headnote. A more enthusiastic endorsement I can't imagine (especially considering that all the other desserts in the book sounded a lot more delicious).
My family was away on an overnight, so there was no one around to stop me from stirring a bunch of funky nuts into an otherwise perfectly acceptable cake batter. The recipe called for baking the cake in two layers and frosting the whole thing with boiled icing. The cynic in me was still convinced that this concept couldn't possibly work for a nut that tastes like the inside of a toolbox, so it was just a question of how far I wanted to take this little adventure. Not as far as frosting, apparently. Instead, I baked the cake in a loaf pan figuring if things turned out badly, I could always try to pass it off as some kind of (disgusting) savory nut bread.
I was very skeptical, my friends. Verrrry skeptical. But you know what? It's actually really good. I've been eating this cake for breakfast all week.
Here's a cool mushroom I stumbled across last week: a lion's mane or bear's head tooth mushroom (Hericium americanum), a choice edible according to the books. I did not sample it as Husband was away on business and therefore unavailable to drive me to the ER should I have any sort of dramatic allergic reaction.
However, I did take home this little hen of the woods.
It's not the prettiest specimen I've ever found, but it was delicious nonetheless. Also, it was a manageable size so I didn't have to spend forever cleaning it.
Some other mushrooms I found:
A little gem-studded puffball.
Black trumpets. I don't even know how I saw these among all the leaf litter, but there they were, growing out of the moss right underneath my feet on the trail. Most of them looked partially desiccated and were loaded with grit. They're now fully dehydrating as we speak. I'm thinking maybe when I soak them to use for soup or risotto, I can pour off the flavorful liquid, leaving all the sediment behind.
Here are some remnants of a lobster mushroom. Have you ever seen these? They're bright reddish-orange on the outside, creamy white on the inside, like a lobster (hence the name). What's actually happening is that a type of parasitic mold (Hypomyces lactifluorum) infects a russula or lactarius mushroom, which gives it that unique color and improves the flavor of the host. For more information on this mushroom and its edibility, read this.
And, finally, a lovely chicken mushroom. It reminds me of a flamenco dress, with its cascading, brightly colored ruffles. Despite this being a delicious and popular edible, I learned from last year's chicken mushroom that my heart races for 24 to 36 hours after eating it, so I really ought to stay away. Allergies to wild mushrooms are very common, so, when sampling something new, always start with just a little and wait 24 hours to see how you react.
Disclaimer: I am not a mushroom expert. I'm just a passionate amateur. Do not use me as your primary source. Do not eat a whole bunch of mushrooms just because they kinda look like one of my photos. And, if you do, do not forward me your hospital bills. Buy some mushroom books and join a local mushrooming club so you can get some hands-on experience with experts in your area. Then enjoy the woods!
We recently went camping at Cape Cod's Nickerson State Park. The weather was unbelievably gorgeous, an extension of the flawless weather we had all summer: warm, dry, sunny. Such streaks make me feel like we're going to pay come winter. Think Pompeii, but with snow.
Meanwhile, back in paradise, Husband enjoyed fishing in the nearby pond, where he caught a pickerel and a rainbow trout.
Husband always throws the fish back after the obligatory Kodak moment, and they immediately dart away. But the trout was having issues. His hook had been stubbornly lodged and it was difficult to remove. I'll spare you the details, but he wasn't going to make it despite Husband's heroic attempts to revive him, stopping just short of mouth-to-mouth.
But we were camping, after all. I waited a few seconds out of respect before I brought up the concept of dinner. My kind-hearted husband looked mildly disgusted, but, I mean, the fish was already dead. I can't think of any more appropriate camping food than local trout. Sure, I'd just driven to the local fish market and bought a couple of swordfish steaks and a pound of mussels for the grill, but, you know, free trout!
I carried the fish back to the campsite in a bucket. I cleaned and gutted the fish, removing the gills and the blood line along the backbone, and then stuffed the cavity with lemon slices and herbs. Then we grilled it whole over the campfire. It took a little time to remove all the bones in the dark with my miner's headlamp, but the meat was mild and tasty, and went nicely with a green salad.
1. It's apple-picking season—get thee to an orchard!! and
2. Time to get your copy of WINTERSWEET down from the highest shelf and start making baked caramel apples, ginger apple cake, and apple walnut bread pudding with cinnamon-cider sauce.
Contrary to the title, my cookbook isn't just for the winter. It's for the fall, too, starting with apples and gradually including pears, cranberries, pumpkins, squash, and all those gnarly root vegetables people don't know what to do with. If you're just joining us and you'd like your own copy, here are some local farms and orchards that have apples AND a stack of signed cookbooks. So you can have your apple cake and eat it too:
Carver Hill Orchard, 101 Brookside Ave., Stow: The orchard is open for pick-your-own apples, and their cider is out of this world. I've been going here for years, and I've always walked away with a smile on my face. They have cider doughnuts, too. Tell Cindy I said hi.
Bolton Spring Farm, 149 Main St. (Rt. 117), Bolton: Pick your own apples and then grab anything else you need at the quaint country store.
Marble Hill Farm, 29 Great Rd. (Rt. 117), Stow: Fruits, veggies, flowers, and all manner of pies are available at this cute little farmstand along Rt. 117. Kids will enjoy the goats, sheep, and alpacas right behind it.
Verrill Farm, 11 Wheeler Rd., Concord: Same deal. Shop. Drop. Repeat.
Moody St. Deli, 468 Moody St., Waltham: OK, this isn't a farm and they don't have apples, but they do have pastured pork lard for pie-making. Go grab yourself a Cuban sandwich and some provisions for the week (cheese, olives, soup, insanely delicious sausages, etc.) It's worth the trip, my friends, even if you don't need another damned copy of my book!
I recently acquired some tiny little tart tins. I wouldn't have pegged myself for a tiny little tart tin kind of girl, but I do have a weakness for pie-like things. And a weakness for raspberries. I wanted something to showcase the fresh, plump berries, something not too terribly difficult. This is what I came up with: fresh raspberries with vanilla mascarpone cream in a Biscoff cookie crust.
If you're not familiar with Biscoff cookies, they're a type of Belgian biscuit called speculoos. They taste like fancy graham crackers with a hint of gingersnap, but just a hint. You can find them in the snobby section of the cookie aisle. You know where I'm talking about, with the imported Scotch shortbread and Italian wafer cookies. Pepperidge Farm is never too far away. I use Biscoff a lot and they happen to make a great crumb crust.
I will warn you, trying to get a cookie crumb crust out of a tiny little tart tin in one piece can be tricky. Forget the butter, the ones slathered in oil work best. Also, they should be completely cool. It's easier to spoon the filling into the tart shells when they're still in the pan. Otherwise, the shell might crumble right in your hand. But the problem with pre-filling the shells is that when you try to remove the tarts from the tins, gently squeezing the sides and shaking them upside-down, you inevitably end up with some crumbs in your filling. I don't know how to avoid that. I just removed them with a toothpick and covered the rest with raspberries. This is why I could never work in a restaurant. I'm just not that picky about the presentation. (Also, I hate being screamed at.)
But, hey, fussiness aside, these tasted great. Like the kind of dessert you can feel good about.
Can't find Biscoff biscuits? Or don't care to find them? Sub in graham crackers or thin chocolate wafer cookies instead.
8.8 oz. package Biscoff biscuits
5 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
8 oz. mascarpone
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract or paste
1 pint raspberries
Vegetable oil, for greasing tins
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Set the tart tins on a sheet pan. Oil very well (I swirl the oil in one tin so it gets in all the crevices, then dump the oil into the next tin and repeat).
Crush the Biscoff biscuits in a food processer or blender into fine crumbs. Mix in the melted butter. One at a time, fill the tins almost to the top with buttered cookie crumbs. Firmly press the crumbs up against the sides flush with the top edge all the way around (use one thumb to press the crumbs against the side of the tin, one thumb along the top to keep them contained and flush with the top). Then press the crumbs along the bottom. Place the whole sheet pan in the oven and bake the crusts for 10 minutes until dry and fragrant. Remove the pan from the oven and let the crusts cool on a rack until completely cool.
Meanwhile, for the filling, whip the mascarpone briefly with an electric mixer in a medium bowl to loosen. Add the heavy cream, confectioner's sugar, and vanilla. Mix on medium-low speed for 1 to 2 minutes until well combined and thick enough to hold its shape. Set aside.
Carefully fill the cooled crusts with the mascarpone cream. Gently remove the tarts from the tins and set on the pan. Remove any crumbs with a toothpick, then arrange the raspberries on top. Chill until ready to serve. Makes about 8.
The other day, my eldest son asked me to teach him how to cook. Come again, I said? He repeated that he wanted to learn how to cook.
My first thought, of course, was drugs. My god, he's only been in middle school for two weeks and already they've recognized his knack for science and dragged him into some kind of peer pressure underground meth lab type of situation. My eyes must have gone all big and scary because he slowly backed over to the refrigerator, opened the door, and pointed to its stacked contents.
Oh, wait. He means food.
In order to understand my reaction, you need only take a quick glimpse into my childhood where you would find me pretty much anywhere else but in the kitchen. Did I want to help peel the carrots, shuck the corn, wash the potatoes? No, I did not. At the first sound of pans clanging, I was halfway across the neighborhood. It wasn't until late high school and into college that I realized, hey, wait a minute, who's going to feed me when I turn 18?
Now I have kids of my own. Ideally, I would have been teaching them how to cook all along so they don't end up in the same situation. Just make it part of the ole routine. And I did do that to some extent when they were younger, supervising the usual baking projects and such. But as the kids got older, homework and activities and, yes, their earned hour of screen time coincided with my dinner prep. They weren't clamoring to help and I wasn't going to force it. Let kids be kids while they still can, I thought. Plus, I enjoy cooking alone. It's my me time. What about all those hours that the kids are in school, you ask? Isn't that my me time, too? Well, aren't we cheeky today, Internet. Pipe down or I won't share this recipe.
I taught the 11YO how to make scrambled eggs over the summer. I'm not a morning person and this was a skill that was going to work out well for everyone. Now he makes scrambled eggs with cheese pretty much every weekend. Dinner is more of a commitment, though, and this was the first time he expressed interest in helping out. I was very excited. I was also afraid he'd change his mind.
Quick, to the stove! Let's make some shrimp!
The 11YO can eat his weight in shrimp. As luck would have it, shrimp is also very easy to cook, mere minutes. If you can make scrambled eggs, you can make shrimp. I made the first batch and he watched and helped. He did the second batch by himself while I fried the tortillas on the burner next to him. The 8YO hovered nearby offering to add pepper to anything that needed it. We already had some corn and bean salad left over from the night before. That just left the lime crema, a quick combination of sour cream, lime zest, lime juice, salt, and a couple of drops of honey.
This meal is absolutely delicious. I eat the tostada with my hands, breaking off shards of crispy tortilla and devouring everything that comes with it. The kids like everything separately, shrimp in a pile on the plate, crispy tortilla in hand like the world's biggest chip. My camera didn't pick up on the golden tones of my fried tortillas (jerk), but you want them to be golden brown, puffed, and crispy. Even if you don't have the patience to fry tortillas, the shrimp and the lime crema together are not to be missed.
Shrimp Tostadas with Lime Crema
We made 2 pounds of shrimp for this recipe because we love shrimp. The recipe below is for a more virtuous serving size. Adjust as you see fit.
3/4 cup sour cream
1 medium lime, zested and juiced
1/2 tsp. honey
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil, plus 1 Tbsp. for shrimp
4 to 8 corn tortillas (I prefer local Cinco de Mayo brand)
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. cumin
1 large avocado, cubed
Chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and black pepper to taste
In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, lime zest, lime juice, honey, and salt. Set aside.
Line a plate with paper towels. In a small frying pan, heat 2 Tbsp. of oil. When shimmering hot, fry the corn tortillas, one at a time, until crispy, golden, and puffed, about two minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. of oil in a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, sprinkle the shrimp with paprika, cumin, cayenne, salt, and black pepper. Add the seasoned shrimp to the hot pan and sauté until the shrimp have coiled and turned from gray to pink, about 4 minutes. Remove from the heat.
To serve, place a tortilla on a plate, slather with lime crema, top with shrimp and avocado, and sprinkle with chopped cilantro. Serve with corn and bean salad and additional lime crema on the side. Dig in.
Back before kids, we had a favorite Thai place in Watertown. It's gone now, but the memory of all those beautiful curries in red, yellow, orange, and green still lingers. (Also lingering is the memory of having all that spare time.) (And money.)
We had lots of late summer vegetables at our disposal last week, so I decided to try my hand at making a homemade Thai curry. The kids' spiciness tolerance has been getting higher and higher. I was pretty sure they could handle it. Plus, it's a good way to stretch a pair of chicken breasts. The trick is to cut things up so they all cook at the same rate. Dense carrots should be sliced small and thin while porous summer squash should be cut larger and thicker. It's a bit of trial and error at first, but you figure it out eventually.
This recipe got many thumbs up from the family, especially Husband. The 11YO, who always prefers his rice plain, finally agreed to try the curry on top of the rice. He ended up loving the flavor of the rice with the sauce soaked in. (Then he ate a second bowl of rice, plain and unadulterated. Don't mess with the kid's routine.)
This recipe gives you spiciness in the medium-low to medium-high range. Adjust the amount of curry paste as you prefer. Keep in mind that different brands may vary. Start conservatively—you can always add more later. Much like tomato paste, any leftover curry paste can be frozen in tablespoons-sized blobs in a ziploc bag for another day.
1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
2-3 Tbsp. red Thai curry paste (I prefer Maesri brand in the little cans)
2 medium onions, halved through the root end, cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges
2 medium carrots, sliced thinly
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch pieces (see this video for a cool way to cut)
1 medium red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, shaved into thin 1-1/2-inch pieces
1 14-oz. can coconut milk (I prefer Thai Kitchen Organic)
1/2 cup water
2 Tbsp. fish sauce
1 Tbsp. light brown sugar
6 kaffir lime leaves (optional)
1 Tbsp. fresh Thai or regular basil, torn into small pieces
Juice of 1/2 lime
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oil in a large skillet or saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering hot. Add the curry paste and stir for about 20 seconds until fragrant. Add the onions, carrots, zucchini, and pepper, and stir for a minute. Add the chicken and stir for a minute more. Stir in the coconut milk, water, fish sauce, brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and lime leaves, if using. Bring to a simmer and then cover, reduce the heat to medium-low, and cook until the chicken is cooked and the vegetables are tender, 7 to 10 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the basil and lime juice. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Remove the lime leaves. Serve with jasmine rice.
Note: If you hate fish sauce, you can leave it out, but then omit the sugar, too.
Source: Inspired by Ivy Manning and Fine Cooking
Now that school is back in session, it's challenging to return to the usual state of structure and restraint. But it's very necessary, both for the belly and the budget.
We're still getting tons of cucumbers in our farmshare, so here's a nice way to use them. Fresh and flavorful, this tangy salad goes well with grilled meats and various end-of-summer pastas like this one.
Dill Cucumber Salad
I used to salt the cucumbers ahead of time to extract some of the water, but now I don't bother. The liquid they give off tempers the bite of the vinegar.
2 large cucumbers
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Slice the cucumbers very, very thinly. You can use a mandoline, but if you don't own one, cut them as thin as you can with a sharp knife. Slice the onion thinly, too, and put the vegetables in a medium bowl. Sprinkle generously with salt. Add the rice vinegar, chopped dill, sesame seeds (if using), a pinch of red pepper flakes, and ground black pepper to taste. Toss well and refrigerate until ready to serve, stirring occasionally.
Cucumbers, onion, dill: Waltham Fields Community Farm, Waltham, MA
On the second day of our Cape Cod vacation, a note was deposited on our windshield. It informed us that the beach we were walking to—the beach we've always walked to—is a private neighborhood association beach and we're not allowed to use it. The neighborhood stops at our rental house. We're also not allowed to walk down the dirt road in that direction.
It's true that there's a sign on the weathered split-rail fence that says the area towards the beach is private. The neighborhood both before and after the sign is modest and quiet with shingled Capes tucked in with scrubby oaks and beach plum shrubs, houses becoming more stacked and cantilevered as you approach the shore. Over the past decade, we've rented a house within that boundary as well as our current one just outside it. We've always walked the same five-minute route to the beach out of habit. There are no boundary markers on the beach and we've never had a problem. The sign seemed more like an attempt to keep people straight off of 6A from treating the little neighborhood like a public parking lot. Surely it didn't matter if a couple of kids and their parents flip-flopped their way in that direction, buckets and shovels in hand. The note indicated otherwise.
I'm nothing if not a rule-follower, so we lugged all our stuff in the opposite direction of the ocean, as per the notice, and then hung a left to get to the officially sanctioned beach associated with our property. It took twice as long, the whole time muttering stuff under my breath:
Think they're too good for us.
Don't want our footsteps sullying their dirt road.
They think they can own the beach. YOU CAN'T OWN A BEACH!!
Actually, they can, interrupted Husband, who will always put a technicality ahead of marital harmony. Why do you think waterfront property is so expensive?
Yeah, well, do they own the air hovering over the beach? Do they own the wind???
I smiled as I imagined fanning the smoke from our grill over the fence in that direction come suppertime. (Real mature, Tammy. Maybe this is why they don't want you there.)
Deeded beach rights means they own the land all the way up to the water line, he continued.
God, he can be so infuriating sometimes! I envisioned myself standing exactly at the water's edge, back to the ocean, water lapping my heels, directly in front of whomever put that note on our car as they tried to enjoy their now-obstructed view. Just standing there. Staring quietly. For hours.
If only I had the stamina for revenge.
I was so busy being indignant that I almost missed all the beautiful beach roses growing along the side of the road on this new route. Scores of rose hips, too, brilliant red- and orange-colored fruits the size of squat radishes swelling from thorny stems among the splayed, rosy blossoms. I've been wanting to make rose hip jelly for years, but never had a plentiful source. Maybe this would be the proverbial lemonade?
We emerged from the path to take in the new coastal view. We were surprised to discover that it was the exact same beach. The other path was literally a stone's throw away, and I don't even have a very good arm. All that extra walking to get to the same place? It basically brought us to the other side of the family that had camped out by the original path.
Really? Is this what things have come to? Making a big goddamned deal about petty rules that amount to nothing? Who has that kind of time? (Says the girl who guards her parking spot like a vigilante.)
Anyway, whatever, we needed the exercise. All those vacation doughnuts weren't going to work themselves off, so I took that opportunity to ask around about the rose hips (I had already reached my quota of windshield admonishments for the week). One guy said he used to own property along the path and all the houses on it were rentals. Probably nobody would mind if I took a few rose hips. So I did. A few stuffed in a pocket here, a few more tucked into the beach bag there. By the end of the trip, I had a small sack filled with the fruits while making no dent in the supply whatsoever.
When we got home, I made two sweet little jars of rose hip jam, and that has made all the difference.
(For the basic technique and ratios, go here.)