January, 2010 Archive

Sunday, January 17, 2010

tomato sauce with onion and butter

tomato sauce with butter and onion

I could no longer resist this sauce, and frankly, I don’t know why I even tried to: food bloggers obsess over it, and they’re not a bad lot to base a recipe selection upon. Adam of Amateur Gourmet fell for it five years ago. Molly at Orangette raved about it over two years ago, with a bonus approval marking from Luisa at Wednesday Chef. Then Rachel Eats fawned over it too, and Rachel, you see, she lives in Rome right now — I want to be in Rome right now — Rome, where you can get authentic, perfect tomato sauce a zillion places every single day. And yet she stayed in and made this one. That sealed the deal.

tomatoes + onion + butter
telephone cord pasta

So what is it with this sauce that it moves people to essays over it, tossing about exclamations like “brilliant!” and “va-va-voom” and promises that “something almost magical happens”? Is it garlic, a slip of red pepper flakes, a glug of red wine or a base of mulched carrots, onion and celery, as so many of us swear by in our best sauce efforts? Is it a spoonful of tomato paste or a pinch of sugar? Is it the best olive oil money can buy? It is none of these things, not a single one: It is butter. And an halved onion, cooked slowly as the sauce plops and glurps on the stove, then discarded when it is done.

love these tomatoes

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

cranberry syrup (and an intensely almond cake)

cranberry syrup, almond cake

Almond cake, schmalmond cake… Can we just talk about this syrup? I got briefly and over-enthusiastically into making fruit syrups this summer when this September arrival forced me into a mocktail kinda lifestyle. I had quickly dismissed all of those new grown-up sodas everywhere; they were either too sweet or their so-called “natural” nature was a theory easily poked holes in upon a cursory glance at the ingredient label. Wouldn’t it be easier to just make my own fruit syrups and stir them into a glass of seltzer? I did alright with a rhubarb and a mango syrup, but they were really nothing to write home, er, I mean to you all, about. It took me a while to get back to the drawing board.

cranberries from the freezermostly defrosted cranberrieschoppy choppysugarsugar, starting to meltbubbling syrup

I understand that homemade fruit syrups probably don’t sound particularly exciting from the outset, but do consider all of the things that you can do with them: beyond the aforementioned homemade sodas, imagine splashing it in some champagne, if you’re fancy, or building a cocktail around it. You can swirl it into your morning yogurt or splash it over your oatmeal. It would be a tasty swap for maple syrup over pancakes, if maple syrup isn’t your thing (but if it is not, who are you?) or an accent to a bowl of vanilla ice cream. Or, as this cranberry syrup did a couple nights ago, it makes a easy, delicious dessert sauce for the kind of cake that needs some contrast.

almond pastespringforms, batter-ed upalmond cakes, baked and coolingalmond cake, toasted almonds, powdered

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

black bean soup + toasted cumin seed crema

black bean soup with toasted cumin cream

So, I told you about the brisket. Or, the way we talk about it, thhhuuuuh brisssssket, it’s deliciousness making our syllables stretch out melodramatically. We pulled it into tacos with slaw and pickled onions and it was a great end to a great year. But I bet I know what you’ve been wondering since then, “But no appetizer?” Well, let thie question vex your brain no longer: we had soup. (Jacob, however, got into the margaritas. Again.)

dried black beans
red onions

My friend Jocelyn made a wonderful black bean soup and she topped it with a toasted cumin seed crema and I just about died, the crema was so good. I mean, the soup was delicious but the crema was one of those toppings that was in lock-step with the soup: the richest, creamist, smokiest accent to a spicy, hearty soup. Since I’ve been slow cooker obsessed since that very day, I vowed to make a version entirely in my new BFF, and to top it with that toasted cumin seed cream. Frankly, the soup is just an excuse to get to it.

onions, beans, peppers and garlic

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Saturday, January 9, 2010

poppy seed lemon cake

poppy seed lemon cake

A whopping eight years ago, I joined a friend and her family for an afternoon at the then newly-opened Neue Galerie, which seriously, you should check out some time when you’re in my city. (Look at me, playing tourist guide!) The early 20th century German and Austrian art is fantastic but even more wonderful is the Cafe Sabarsky within which models itself after a turn-of-the-century Viennese cafe. But really, I don’t want to talk about the Kadinskys or the Kavalierspitz today, I want to talk about this cake. That I had there that day. That I have not shut up about since.

sevenfivethreeone

I wasn’t even the one who ordered it. Eight years ago, things called “lemon poppy seed cake” were ubiquitous, and largely nothing to write home about. I never understood what the poppy seeds were doing there, all sparse like occasional punctuations, adding… visual interest? It was generally unclear. They were lemon cakes, and not even great ones, with speckles. But this cake. THIS CAKE. (Sorry, it makes me shouty.) First its appearance: Poppy seeds clustered so densely, the cake was nearly black. I’d never seen anything like it — so intriguing, so ominous! And its texture: It managed to be one of the lightest cakes I’d ever eaten, without the blandness that’s all-too-common in angel food, chiffon and other “airy” confections. And the flavor: It tasted like lemon-scented butter, without the acidity typical in lemon cakes. This was about the perfume of the lemon, not the juice. And the poppy seeds! Did you know that poppy seeds actually do have a flavor — a slight nuttiness — should you allow enough of them in that they can actually speak up?

poppy aplentyzest, not juiceegg yolks, whipped ever-so-lightspeckled batter

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

barley risotto with beans and greens

barley risotto with beans and greens

So here’s a little eating-out confession: When we go out to restaurants, no matter how old-school posh or hot-new-It-chef-on-a-grungy-block, I rarely find myself moved to exclamation points over a piece of steak or a pasta dish; instead, it most of my ooh-ing and aah-ing is formed over the earnest piles of beans and grains and greens that form a bed for the main attraction. I’m always applauding the way a chef managed to get such flavorful beans, grains and even unloved greens, cooked so perfectly that I clean them out long before I stick my fork into the duck breast. I guess what I am trying to say is: A lot of people cook steak well. Making kale and wheat germ taste like nirvana itself is what really blows my mind.

pearled barley
red nightfall beans

It’s also, sadly, the place where the gap between what I pay others to cook and what I whip up at home is the greatest. I miss those sauces — those puddles of concentrated buttery rich brothy flavor! I want to splash in them! — I miss all of the in between spaces on my plate. I vow to conquer that this year. Bring on the puddles!

sad, old parmesan

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