Monday, June 16, 2014

valerie’s french chocolate cake

valerie's french chocolate cake

My friend Valerie makes one chocolate cake. No, I don’t mean one chocolate cake for school birthday cupcakes and one for grown-up dinner parties, one for wedding cakes and one for really decadent layer cakes, one for roulades and one for a Thursday afternoon, just because. I mean just one recipe. She serves it plain to guests after dinner, she makes it when she hears it’s your birthday and she stacks, and coats it hypercolored frosting and studs it with superheroes for her kids’ birthdays.

what you'll need
melted chocolate and butter

It’s incredibly simple, just butter (she’s French, so bien sûr), dark chocolate, sugar, flour, a bit of baking powder and her secret ingredient: water. A spoonful or two here and another there creates a decadent crumb you won’t read about in any cookbook. Sure, you could use milk or maybe replace a spoonful with some kirsch but she does not so I do not. The whole thing, save some hand-whisked egg yolks and machine-whipped egg whites (which gives it an airy lift and almost crackly meringue of a lid), is mixed in the pot where you melt the chocolate. It bakes in 30 minutes, which is convenient when your afternoon is rerouted, and tastes amazing. And I bet she regrets ever giving me the recipe.

stir the flour right in

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Monday, June 9, 2014

pasta and fried zucchini salad

ottolenghi's pasta and fried zucchini salad

Every time I make an Ottolenghi recipe, I become convinced that he has finally lost his mind. Really, turmeric, black sesame seeds and parmesan together? Three tablespoons of fresh oregano? A full half-cup of tahini? And as my anxiety grows — you see, I, too, understand the bubble of time, ingredients and trust that we invest into new recipes, which, when popped, leads to the kind of frustration that can only be righted with a scalding review — I wonder if this will be it, the day I finally make an Ottolenghi recipe that’s just plain off. And, without fail, we sit down to something so spectacular in a way I hadn’t even considered before, I’m in awe of his talent and relieved that I ignored every instinct not to follow his recipe faithfully.

pasta, buffalo mozzarella, vinegar, oil, zucchini, lemon, capers, parsley, basil
strozzapreti

This was no different. It looks like a basic pesto pasta, doesn’t it? But it’s not really. Sure, there’s basil and olive oil. But it lacks the other ingredients of pesto genovese — garlic, toasted pignoli and parmesan. Instead, basil is blended with flat-leaf parsley, and the zest of a whole lemon, tablespoons of capers and torn chunks of fresh mozzarella are stirred in. The star of the show is three zucchini, cut into thin discs, fried until golden and then soaked in a bit of red wine vinegar to make something that’s neither crisp nor chip-like nor pickled but more intruiguing than all three. And then there’s the edamame, yes, the soybeans popular in East Asian dishes, here in a pasta-pesto combo. I couldn’t do it! It was too strange to me and I became bent on securing fresh shelling peas, which I think would be fantastic here, only to leave the Greenmarket in a pout (likely because I was still carrying 10+ pounds of things I hadn’t intended to buy, as always) because they’re not in yet.

zucchini in thin slices

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

coconut brown butter cookies

coconut brown butter cookies

I realize that most people don’t go to the City Bakery or their green Birdbath outlets for coconut cookies. They come in droves to load up on the legendary chocolate chip cookies, pretzel croissants or even the alien-looking baker’s muffin. The coconut cookie — an almost monotone golden brown that resembles a million other cookies on earth — just doesn’t inspire the same kind of fervor. But I think it should. If you’re familiar with the place, you could probably have guessed that Maury Rubin, the owner/chief baker of the chain — he who bakes caramel, almonds and fresh cranberries together in a way that you will never want to go without again — wasn’t going to put just any coconut cookie in his bakery case. Yet, to actually bite into one is still astonishing: how did they get all of that butter in there? Or in short: goodbye boring macaroons, forever!

flaked coconut, you'll need a lot
this dough

As should be abundantly evident by now, I’m a bit obsessed with them, and finally decided in January that I was going to reverse engineer them or fail wildly trying. And oh, how wildly I failed, first auditioning a straightforward drop cookie with sweetened flaked coconut that was not even close. Then I decided to fiddle with all of my favorite baking vices: brown butter! sea salt! homemade vanilla extract! But I was still miles from the bakery case dream. And then, two weeks ago, I fell down the most wonderful internet rabbit hole, which began with these Blue Sky Bran Muffins, followed by a comment Patty which directed the curious to Maury Rubin demonstrating his Corn Muffins with Pear and Candied Ginger on Martha Stewart’s TV show, with an embedded video segment that I watched until the end, at which point my reward was revealed in the following 17 words: “After the break, I’ll be back with Maury to make a recipe for the perfect coconut cookie.”

browned butter, ready to chillbrowned butter, fully chilled

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Monday, June 2, 2014

nancy’s chopped salad

nancy's chopped salad

When it comes to meal salads, I feel pretty much everything you need to know is summed up by one of my favorite commercials of all time, which assures you that no matter what’s in your bowl (deep-fried taco shell, ground beef, guacamole, sour cream and cheese), as long as it vaguely resembles a salad, it must be good for you. ["Is it healthy? Of course it is! It's a salad, isn't it?"]

what you'll need
chopping garlic, oregano and salt

I bring it up today because we’ve fallen madly in love with a salad that I’m not sure we’re eating for any of the earnest reasons that one usually eats a salad — a desire for leafy greens, fresh vegetables or to be enviable in a swimsuit. Nope, I’m pretty sure this is the best salad ever because it tastes exactly like an Italian sub, minus that all-too-frequently lackluster bread. Which totally makes it healthy.

whisky, whisky

Continued after the jump »

Thursday, May 29, 2014

carrot salad with tahini and crisped chickpeas

carrot salad with lemon and tahini

I have been gushing in the margins about David Lebovitz’s carrot salad (pardon! salade de carottes râpées) since I made it for the first time four years ago. It’s exquisite in its simplicity, just lemon juice, olive oil, a pinch of sugar, some salt, pepper, and rough-chopped parsley, all applied in that old-fashioned taste-as-you-go method that basically guarantees it will be perfectly seasoned when you’re done. (You do this with everything you cook, right? Yeah, I forget too.) And this week, as the carrots are towered high at markets, was the week I finally wanted to give it its due. But then I started thinking about that carrot soup we talked about in the early days of 2013, which we finished with a lemony-tahini swirl and topped with cumin and sea salt roasted chickpeas and how fantastically filling it was, a real meal in a bowl, and decided we needed a fresh spring-summer spin on it.

salt and cumin-toasted chickpeas
a pound of carrots

I have zero regrets. While no carrot salad could or should replace the perfection of the French classic, this is equally deserving of a place in the annals, right alongside this harissa, feta and mint stunner a lovely person sent me four years ago. Zinging with lemon, nutty with tahini, flecked with parsley, topped with almost smoky roasted chickpeas and then some chopped salted pistachios, I don’t think I’ve ever had a bowl of grated carrots with so much complexity, so much to consider.

lemon tahini dressing

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