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

Continued after the jump »

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

Continued after the jump »

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

Continued after the jump »

Thursday, October 9, 2014

better chocolate babka

new chocolate babkas + impatient kindergartener feet

Inadvertently, this has become Festivus week on Smitten Kitchen, wherein I air my grievances at past recipes and exhibit what I hope can be passed off as “feats of strength” in reformulating them for modern times. Still, nobody could more surprised than I am that of all the recipes in the archives, it’s Martha Stewart’s decadent chocolate babkas from seven years ago that have ended up in this queue, because at the time we found them beyond reproach: rich, buttery, crumbly and intensely chocolaty. They were precisely what we’d remembered getting from the store growing up, but better, I mean, I’d hope they’d be. Clocking in at 3/4 pound of semisweet chocolate and almost a cup of butter per loaf, the recipe in fact uses triple this (2.25 pounds of chocolate! 1.25 pounds of butter!) for three loaves. And not unlike the chicken pot pies, this, along with the messy, complicated prep, became the problem. Despite repeated requests from our families every holiday, I’ve probably only made it once since, if that. It’s all too much.

the dough, after overnighting in the fridge
rolling out chilled dough is easier

This high holiday season, however, I decided to audition a different chocolate babka — the stunning, twisty, glossy chocolate krantz cakes that I imagine have tempted anyone that’s opened Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook. Although I was curious, I knew there was no way they could be as good. How could they be, what with only 2 1/4 ounces of dark chocolate and just over 1/2 cup of butter per loaf? It was going to taste abstemious, and wrong. Abstemious chocolate babka is wrong, wrong on a moral-ethical level, as far as I’m concerned.

melted chocolate to make paste

Continued after the jump »

Monday, October 6, 2014

better chicken pot pies

better chicken pot pies

There are over 900 recipes in this site’s archives, [which is completely nuts, but also conveniently gives me an answer to the ever-present "what do you do all day?" question besides my usual, "mess around on Instagram?"] and while I’m overwhelmingly quite fond of all of them, there are ones that nag at me not necessarily because they don’t work but because they’re not, in hindsight, the “best in category” I once found them to be. Among these are the chicken pot pies I made from Ina Garten’s beloved recipe six years ago, and somewhere, my friend Ang is gasping because these are, to date, her favorite thing I’ve ever made for dinner. But I always thought they could have been better for several persnickety reasons.

making the flaky pastry lids
chilled dough, quartered

First, instead of braising the chicken in that delicious veloué sauce you’re making, Ina has us roast chicken breast until they’re fully cooked, cool them, dice them and then add them to the sauce. But why? I asked Ina, but my book didn’t answer. That’s not the only extra step. Vegetables such as carrots, peas and those persnickety pearl onions are each blanched for two minutes in water before being added to the pot pie base, which baffled me even then. Why not just cook them in that finger-licking stew, too, and let them drink up all that awesomeness? My third quibble with the recipe is that for four servings of pot pie, the soup part alone uses 12 tablespoons (that’s 3/4 cup or 170 grams; it does not include the additional cup of butter used for the four pastry lids) of butter, and guys, I think it’s been fairly well established, perhaps even 900 times, my fondness for butter, but this is just … I cannot. When I created my own anything-but-abstemious pot pie recipe a few years ago for my cookbook, my filling only need 3 1/2 tablespoons butter for four portions to give you a nice rich sauce. Finally, I’d found that the sauce didn’t thicken well but assumed I’d done something wrong. A scroll through the comments that have arrived since indicates that it’s not just me.

browning the chicken parts

Continued after the jump »