Wednesday, October 29, 2014

squash toasts with ricotta and cider vinegar

squash toasts with ricotta and cider vinegar

Lest you operate under the idea that when I go in the kitchen to work on a new recipe, adorable forest creatures gather around, bringing me my whisks and measuring cups, tiny birds whisper in my ear all the right seasoning notes and then, when I snap my last photo, my team of minions file silently in to wash the dishes while I go out on the deck to ponder my next free-form food essay, the single, completely unexciting reason I am late to share a new recipe this week is because I was chasing an exasperating salted peanut butter caramel-flavored ghost. Five rounds in, I have concluded that while there are no bad salted peanut butter caramels, the one I want isn’t yet within my grasp and it was time to take a break. One cannot live on peanut butter, cream, butter and brown sugar alone, after all, fun as it was for a few days there.

what you'll need + a new non-crooked label for me
peeling the squash

And so I shifted focus to the kind of simple dinner I’d love to eat before or after Friday’s candy deluge, a seasonal, cozy and hearty entry in one of my favorite food categories: meals masquerading as toasts. But don’t be deceived by the name; these are no simple, wan crostini. A winter squash of your choice is roasted in the oven while on the stove, you cook an onion with cider vinegar and maple syrup until it’s soft and jammy. You use a fork to half-mash this tangy confit together with the roasted squash, a pile it on bread you’ve toasted in olive oil and spread with ricotta or soft goat cheese. Don’t forget the mint on top; it makes something already good unquestionably perfect.

sliced squash

Continued after the jump »

Thursday, October 23, 2014

cauliflower cheese

cauliflower cheese

What, you’ve never had cauliflower cheese before? Why, it’s right up there on the American Heart Association’s recommended diet, above the kale and below the oat bran. Okay, well, maybe just the cauliflower is. I realize this dish may sound strange if you’ve never heard of it. The first time I saw it on a menu in the UK last fall, I thought a word was missing, perhaps “with” or “and.” I mean, you cannot make cheese out of cauliflower or vice-versa, or at least I hope not.* And then I tried it, bubbling and brown in a small ramekin aside my roast** at a tiny Inn in the middle of nowhere that looks like something you’d see in a Bridget Jones Diary (basically where I learned everything I knew about the UK before I got there, well, that and Morrissey songs) and I stopped talking. I stopped thinking. My heart may or may not have stopped beating for a moment, though I’m sure it was love, not fibrillations. How could it be anything but, when cauliflower florets are draped with a sharp cheddar cheese sauce spiked with mustard and a bit of cayenne and then baked in the oven until bronzed and, wait, what were we talking about again?

cauliflower, spice, s/p, butter, milk, cheese
chopped florets

This is a British dish, if the sharp cheddar, mustard powder, cayenne and charmed name didn’t give it away. I realize that British food has long been a punching bag for other supposedly superior world cuisines, but I found this to be anything but the case. Even if I had, the awesome names of national dishes — toad in the holes, bubble and squeaks, spotted dicks, singing hinnies, jam roly-polys and doorstop sandwiches — would have more than compensated for any failures in the flavor department.

cook until firm-tender

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Monday, October 20, 2014

homemade harissa

homemade harissa

One of my secret food shames is that I don’t love spicy foods as much as would probably make me cool these days. I’ve got no Thai chile-eating bravado, no Sichuan peppercorn count to throw around, and I never even once in college went to one of those Buffalo wings places where they make you sign a waiver (such as the delightfully named, late Cluck U Chicken near Rutgers University) and lived to brag about it, the way others might boast about how much they bench press or how fast they run a mile (nope, nothing to swagger about there either). My ideal hot sauce can’t be found among my husband’s collection of Tapatio, Cholula and Sriracha, but in this Mild Sauce for Hot People, one of the few little orange bottles that I feel really understands my appreciation of heat in food, but not so much that it overwhelms everything. I accept that this makes me culinarily a wuss.

the chiles I used
boiling water to soften dried chiles

Yet I adore harissa, a Northwest African chile pepper paste with red peppers and spices and herbs such as garlic, coriander, caraway. Of course, when a condiment is used everywhere from Tunisia and Libya to Algeria and Morocco, you’re bound to find as many versions of it as there likely are people who make it, so there are recipes with cumin, lemon juice or even smoked chiles. There’s no one correct way to make it.

a very roasted red pepper

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Thursday, October 16, 2014

carrot cake with cider and olive oil

carrot cake with cider and olive oil

Not 10 seconds after I hit “publish” on Tuesday’s fall-toush salad, pretty much out of the clear blue sky, wherever it might be hiding, I simultaneously began craving carrot cake, feeling vaguely annoyed that we didn’t have any around (because I haven’t made it in six years, maybe?) and more pressingly for the breadth of this site, why I didn’t have what I’d consider a go-to recipe for the kind of hearty, craggy thud of a carrot cake loaf I want more of in my life. Sure, there’s a carrot cake cupcake/layer cake in the archives, but it’s a featherweight, for swirls of cream cheese frosting and birthday candle. I wanted breakfast/afternoon snack carrot cake, the kind that comes in thick slices and toasts well with salted butter. In my mind, they’re different. And my mind, as you can gather, ponders these things a lot.

what you'll need
flour, spices and less baking powder than you'd expect

So, I conferred with my husband — I don’t want to shock you, but I am not always the motivated, enthusiastic person and quite often just a little “yeah, please make it!” from the spouse or kid will trigger me into putting vague cooking notions into action — and he thought it was a great idea but he requested “none of that raisin/nuts/pineapple stuff in it.” Except, uh, he didn’t say “stuff.” Now, I know this might crush those of you who love a busy, cluttered carrot cake most of all, but I don’t think you’ll miss them here.

carrot cake + cream cheese spread

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Monday, October 13, 2014

fall-toush salad

fall-toush salad with delicata and brussels

This probably makes no sense. The classic Levantine fattoush salad that I’ve mercilessly punned upon is the epitome of summer: tomatoes, cucumbers, scallions, mint, parsley, garlic and lemon with pita chips that both do and do not soak up the dressing, in the best of ways. It’s bright, crunchy and the absolutely ideal thing to eat on a hot day. But at least on this coast, we’re done with beach days for a while. We’re done (or were supposed to be before today’s confusion) with open-toed shoes, permanently open windows, and going out without a jacket and not regretting it. The tomatoes are waning, the heavy orange vegetables and dark leafy greens are creeping in.

what you'll need + a bunch of things I forgot to take out
trimmed and halved brussels

A fall-toush salad is like your summer fattoush put on a thick sweater over a plaid shirt and went on a hay ride drinking hot apple cider and came back mooning over how the forest floor is like a giant mural. A fall-toush salad keeps the brighter parts of the summer version — the lemon, the scallions (well, I forgot them, but you shouldn’t), parsley, mint, garlic and pita chips — but stirs them over warm roasted squash and brussels sprouts. A fall-toush salad accepts that it’s going to be cold out for the foreseeable future and that your salads must adjust accordingly, even yours truly cannot.

pretty easy to remove delicata seeds

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