Thursday, November 6, 2014

sticky toffee pudding

date cake with toffee sauce 3

Prior to last month, I had spent exactly zero minutes of my life thinking about date cake, craving date cake or noting the absence of date cake in my life and/or site archives. Clearly, this was a misstep on my part, but I’d always assumed they were exceedingly sticky sweet, and also, well warm. I should just stop right here rather than confessing the latest entry in How Weird Are Deb’s Food Tastes?, I know I should, but that’s never stopped me before so here goes: I’m not very into warm, quivery desserts. Like soufflés. And oozy chocolate cakes. I basically don’t understand how I survived the 90s either. I understand if this means you cannot speak to me anymore.

dates dates dates
chopped dates

But all of this changed at a party, when, to be honest, it was getting late and I was tired from being roused awake before 6 that morning by a unnamed Kindergartener and mentally calculating how long it would take to get home in a cab vs. two subway lines and I was not craving dessert or cake in the least but I had a bite and all of this mental noise stopped, which is to say it was nothing short of a miracle, even if it hadn’t been spectacular. But it was that, too.

soaked chopped dates definitely look gross

Continued after the jump »

Monday, November 3, 2014

smoked whitefish dip with horseradish

smoked

And now for something completely different: a new entry in the much-neglected seafood category on this site. I know this didn’t get past most of you, that is how not-so-secretly fish-averse I am. Sure, I’ve come around to mussels, to oysters (but only with the iciest champagne, please; I’m fancy); I’ve been known to make some limited advances in the areas of shrimp, lobster, halibut and tuna. But for the most part, my seafood appreciation level is pitifully low. Lest you think that I delight in this — proudly flaunt my “FISH-FREE KITCHEN” apron as if it were some sort of culinary triumph — the truth is that it feels like a failure. It bothers me. I fight it. I do not always win.

smoked whitefish from russ & daughters
skinned, boned smoked whitefish

But every so often, something sounds so wonderful, it pierces through all of my apprehension, which is exactly what happened when this recipe showed up in my Tasting Table email a few weeks ago. The recipe is like a tag cloud populated with every ingredient I cannot say no to: sour cream, Worcestershire, horseradish, Creole mustard (which I picked up just to see if we’d like it, and oh, we very much do), smoked paprika, celery, scallions, cayenne, lemon juice. And then, as if I hadn’t already fallen in love, the chef (Chris Shepherd, of Underbelly in Houston, inspired by Donald Link and Ryan Prewitt’s smoked-tuna dip at Pêche in New Orleans) serves it on Saltine crackers, something I haven’t had in my kitchen in too many years. It’s deliciously low-brow and high-brow and wait, we totally forgot to discuss the fish, didn’t we?

what you'll need

Continued after the jump »

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

Continued after the jump »

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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