March, 2008 Archive

Monday, March 31, 2008

vegetarian cassoulet

vegetarian cassoulet

Here’s a typical Deb story for you: Still making my way through my awesome bean sampler from Rancho Gordo, I decided to conquer the flageolet beans next–they’re the ones that look like miniature white kidney beans, about half of which have the prettiest pale green hue. Since they’re often used in cassoulet, but I find traditional cassoulet to be way too heavy and fatty for my tastes, I started scheming my way to a delicious vegetarian version, keeping the mirepoix (onions, carrots and celery), thyme, tomato, garlic, etc. but nixing the duck let confit, pork fat and garlic sausages. I looked at half a dozen recipes, taking notes, keeping this, skipping that, and when I told my fellow cooking geek my plan, she said, “oh, you mean like the Vegetarian Cassoulet from the March Gourmet?”

flageolet, driedflageolet a-drainingmise, mise misechunky mirepoix

Right, er. So, someone is behind on reading her food magazines again, isn’t she? So Gourmet’s vegetarian cassoulet it was! However, at this point I had such a firm idea of what I thought it should be, I made a few adjustments, swapping the water with stock, adding tomato paste (and I would add a can of tomatoes next time), cutting the vegetables smaller than the recipe suggests and then… well, then I did this:

all of a sudden

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

swiss easter rice tart

swiss easter rice tart

I have what some might consider an unhealthy interest in celebrating religious holidays that have nothing to do with my own, yet the fixation is more of a cultural than a devotional one. Growing up in a one-religion household, you miss out on certain foods. In the same way that I’m sure a lot of people who had never tried hamantaschen or latkes before have had their curiosity piqued by mentions of them, I am itching to try one of those yule logs with marzipan mushrooms or one of those mega-hams people bake for Easter, something not one even one of my most bacon-loving Jewish friends has ever tried. I strive to break down culinary cultural barriers! Or, I just like pork. Anyhow

falling rice

The New York Times ran an article last Wednesday about Easter baking that is more traditional than, say, egg-shaped pastel cakes or bunny cookies, and I was captivated by something called a Swiss Easter Rice Tart, with a custard base, ground almonds and lemon zest. It wasn’t just me; within 12 hours of the recipe’s publication, both my mother and a friend had drooled over it to me, imploring me to make it but my only response was “when the heck would I have an excuse to bake an Easter tart?” I mean, between the “Easter” in the name and the article’s note that it is “served only at Easter” (emphasis mine) it seemed like it would be pretty hard to pretend its something I normally bake, just because it’s the second-to-last Sunday in March or something.

boiled rice

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

chicken with almonds and green olives

chicken with almonds and green olives

March is a confusing month for me. It seems sunnier out, there are fluke 50 and–gasp!–52 degree days and then there is this “first day of spring” that shows up on my calendar but does precisely nothing to thaw my cold fingertips. I’m sick to death of all of my winter clothes but if I am dumb enough to go out in new short or half-sleeve tops, I shiver all day.

almonds, bread crumbs, garlic

The produce isn’t much better. The peas, rhubarb and other spring goodies either haven’t appeared yet or have made a sub-par showing just when I am 100-thousand percent winter squash-ed and brussels sprout-ed out. Worse yet, even though it remains light out at 6:30 p.m., I still crave rich, heavy braises.

But digging through my recipe files a couple weeks ago, I found gold: an old article from the New York Times magazine that really gets this–in fact, it was published three years ago this week. The chicken recipe enclosed is warm enough to make the 40-degree day more bearable but with lighter, brighter ingredients than traditional braises.

almonds, bread crumbs, garlic

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

hamantaschen

hamantaschen

Sure, we’re a couple days late on these this year, but I couldn’t let Purim weekend (see how I added two days to the holiday there? Brilliant) pass without one more chapter in my annual attempt to make hamantaschen that suit my fancy. Was I more successful this year than last? Only slightly. But this has in no way made them less enjoyable.

mega-taschen
hamantaschen, unbaked

Living in New York City, I sometimes forget that the rest of the world isn’t aware of Jewish holidays and foods the way they are here, where babka and challah are bakery staples and admirable efforts at hamantaschen are available year round at diners and coffee shops. So for a quick review, hamantaschen are three-cornered cookies typically filled with jams or a poppy seed paste and eaten during the Jewish holiday of Purim. Their shape is modeled after the three-corner hat purported to be worn by the holiday’s villain, Haman. I always think of the holiday as kind of a Jewish Mardi Gras, replete with carnivals, costumes and a good amount of libations–a fun reprieve from the fall’s more somber High Holidays.

jam gems

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

caramel walnut upside down banana cake

caramel walnut upside down banana cake

Oh, look what I went and did now. Really, I must be stopped–this is out of control. One afternoon I saw a recipe for Caramel Walnut Upside-Down Banana Cake in Gourmet and it was one of those moments when you pause and repeat all of the words to yourself slowly, trying to imagine how someone managed to fit all of these glorious elements into one 8-inch pan (they didn’t, but more on that later)–kind of like the Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake of two weeks ago. It immediately went on my Cook This list. The next day, I casually picked up the ingredients for the cake, just in case an opportunity presented itself where a Caramel Walnut Upside-Down Banana Cake’s services would be called upon. (Hey, these things happen when you run the Smitten Kitchen.) But then it never did and by the end of the weekend, the bananas, they were calling to me and the cake and a few hours later, here we were:

caramel walnut upside down banana cake

Those bananas get me every time. I have an affection for bananas that most sane people reject–call it freckle empathy–and having them around but trying not to a) eat or b) bake jacked-up banana bread with them is torture. To put it another way: I feel like the chimpanzee in this video and the bananas? They never win.

caramel walnut lidbanana cake batterbanana cakecaramel walnut upside down banana cake

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