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almond cake with orange flower water

Most people are watching the Super Bowl as I type. But instead of making chili and guacamole this evening, I threw a brunch this morning. Well before Beyonce rocked the halftime show and a blackout darkened the field (Oreos anyone?), four lovely ladies knocked on my door, arms full of food.

It all started in November with crowd-sourcing recipe site Food52, their second cookbook, and a give-away. I saw an announcement that the first forty people to sign up to host potlucks celebrating the book would receive free books and some other goodies. With a guest list of cooking friends in mind, I offered up my home to other Boston-area Food52-ers and secured the freebies. Four months later, we met and we ate.

Jenn walked in first with a blue Le Creuset pot of roasted carrot soup that we set on the stove to reheat. Megan, a friend of mine from high school, showed up with a bottle of Veuve and an apology for not being able to prepare a dish. (Full time job plus working husband plus two boys? No apology necessary, Megan.) Jenn chopped up some thyme in the kitchen while I reached around her to grab silverware and dishes and glasses that Megan set out on the table. We started in on the cheese and pears.

I pulled an almond orange cake out of the oven, clipped broccoli trees for roasting, and whisked together a smoked paprika vinaigrette.

Another knock on the door, and I took coats from Christine who had driven down from Portland and her friend Elizabeth. Christine brought the nibbles – chevre devils and blue cheese savouries – and her own contribution to the cookbook – decadent salted pumpkin caramels. Elizabeth presented a pan bagnat – salade Nicoise in sandwich form.

I lit a fire and we filled our plates, sitting around my coffee table and chatting. Cheers to new friends.

almond cake with orange flower water

So, the game just ended. Let’s celebrate with cake. Let’s mourn with cake. Let’s all eat cake.

Almond cake with orange flower water

Adapted from Food 52’s second cookbook, this is a pretty classic yogurt cake, enriched with almond meal and soaked in an orange flower syrup. I made my own almond meal by pulsing almonds in a food processor. I skipped the syrup and instead added orange zest to the cake batter and replaced the vanilla with orange flower water. I used 2% Greek yogurt because it was what I had, but next time I’ll use full fat because the cake didn’t rise as much as I thought it would and was a bit crumbly. I also think I topped the batter with too many sliced almonds, weighing the cake down. No worries, I’ll be making the cake again. 

Makes one 9×5-inch loaf pan.

- 2 large eggs

- 1 C 2% plain yogurt (original recipe called for full fat)

- 1 C sugar

- 1/3 C vegetable oil

- 1 t orange flower (blossom) water

- 1 orange for zest

- 1/8 t salt

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/2 baking soda

- 1 C flour

- 1 C almond meal

- 1/3 C sliced almonds

Prep. Heat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan. I cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of the pan to make it easier to lift out the cake.

Whisk. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, yogurt, sugar, oil, orange flower water, and orange zest.

Fold. Switch to a spatula. Mix in the salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the flours gradually to the wet ingredients, folding until just combined.

Sprinkle. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the sliced almonds evenly over the top.

Bake. Bake for 50 minutes (the original recipe recommends 40 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Today I have a special treat for you.

I spoke with Michael Leviton, chef and owner of Lumière and Area Four, last weekend in anticipation of tonight’s fourth annual Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen event.

BBK is just what it sounds like: local chefs, Jewish or not, reinterpreting Jewish culinary traditions. Past years have featured duck pastrami sandwiches and a towering croquembouche of cream puffs covered in caramel, a nod to the sticky, honey-soaked teiglach dessert served on Rosh Hashanah. While neither pork nor shellfish will make an appearance, the event is not strictly kosher.

Leviton is no stranger to turning traditional food on its head. For the past two years, he has hosted Passover seders, and just a month ago he initiated at Lumière Chinese food and a movie on Christmas Eve, an institution in many Jewish households, including his own (and mine). Does he have plans to celebrate other Jewish holiday at the restaurant? “Not really. I think [Passover and Christmas] are sort of the biggies. I think those are also the best tie in with non-Jewish things as well. Our seder is very inclusive and very interfaith. Obviously Chinese food and a movie is on Christmas Eve and the rest of that menu has latkes and some Christmas-y food – it really runs the gamut.” As a rule of thumb for how he develops these menus and dishes, Leviton explains, “From my standpoint, what I do with [these meals] is because of the training I’ve had. It’s not just enough to have the technical training, but you have to combine that with a cultural understanding of food and where it comes from.”

That technical training and cultural understanding began in high school when Leviton  worked in several delis in Newton, MA, though at that point, Leviton muses, “I thought I would never want to do this.” But the energy of the kitchen lured him back in: “I took some time off from college and had a desk job, but found that I really couldn’t sit still. So I took a job in a kitchen. I was a prep cook in a Souper Salad…Then I cooked the next few summers and as soon as I graduated, I left for San Francisco where I was very fortunate to meet the right people very early on.”

Leviton’s early mentors read like a who’s who of the restaurant world with chef after chef referring him to others who could help him hone his craft. I suspect playing “chef geography” in such a tight-knit community might be just as entertaining as “Jewish geography.” Leviton’s first restaurant job was with Joyce Goldstein at the now-closed Square One restaurant. A prolific cookbook author (I have Cucina Ebraica and Saffron Shores), it’s not surprising that Leviton characterizes his time working with Goldstein as “a very formative experience.” He then left for France where he picked up “a level of attention to detail and finesse” and returned to San Francisco to work with recent French transplant,  Alain Rodelli. A few years later, Rondelli introduced Leviton to Daniel Boulud, helping him land a job at Le Cirque in New York. Then a few years later, Rondelli asked him to fly back to San Francisco as sous chef of his new eponymous restaurant.

After shuttling from coast to coast, Leviton returned to New England in the mid-90s, first as Executive Chef at Upstairs at the Pudding (now Upstairs on the Square) and then opening Lumière in 1999 and the more casual Area Four less than two years ago.

On keeping with the BBK theme, I asked Leviton whether his own grandmothers influenced his cooking. Leviton chuckled. “Not at all. One I can’t ever really remember cooking and then the other one was not a particularly good cook. She cooked the crap out of everything. My dad will talk about his maternal grandmother being a very good cook. And that’s sort of about it. I was fortunate enough growing up because my mom wrote a low cholesterol kosher cookbook. So I was exposed to a lot of cooking, not all of it stuff you’d necessarily want to eat, but I was exposed to the idea of cooking and the process throughout my childhood…My kids like to cook a little bit, but my [10-year old] daughter will definitely work the front of the house. She’s a pro.”

Though his family is Ashkenazi, hailing from “the lands of potatoes and cabbage,” Leviton explains, “my palate definitely runs more towards Sephardic. And especially around Passover, we become Sephardic for a week. Then we eat rice. Also, the  flavors are so much more exciting.”

This mix of Ashkenazi and Sephardic cultures is reflected in Lumière’s seder courses. “I don’t know if you’ve seen the seder menu,” Leviton says, “but even there we’re trying to take some ideas from a variety of different cultures in the context of Jewish. It’s always trying to look at it through a slightly different lens, take a look at these classic ideas and re-frame them a little bit. We make a Persian  charoset recipe which I love because it’s not apples and cinnamon. It’s dates and almonds and raisins and orange and a pinch of cayenne. It’s a completely different palette of flavors. What I loved about it is if you think about where this holiday comes from initially, it’s from a desert climate. It’s from the Middle East and you have to figure they were celebrating their own foods back then. They weren’t using cinnamon and apples and walnuts. It was dates and almonds and things like that and to me, it made a lot more sense. We still make my Aunt Sharon’s charoset, but the one that everyone eats is the Persian one.”

As in years past, Leviton and Area Four pastry chef Katie Kimball will prepare a dessert for BBK. With Purim less than a month away, Leviton and Kimball are planning to make tri-cornered hamantashen cookies with sweet sesame filling and sesame candy on top, a break from the traditional poppy seed “mun” filling. Last year, they used that mun filling to make their own version of oreos.  And the year before that were alcoholic milkshakes. No doubt, the lines at their station will be snaking around the room.

Thanks so much, Michael. I can’t wait to meet you and Katie tonight and sample your creations!

Maple-Mustard Glazed Smoked Sable with Beets and Horseradish Vinaigrette

Michael Leviton’s Maple-Mustard Glazed Smoked Sable with Beets and Horseradish Vinaigrette (works well on chicken too)

Leviton explains, “I developed this recipe a number of years ago for something that I did for Myra Kraft’s. I took the idea of gefilte fish and turned it on its ear. For me, the best part of gefilte fish is the beets and horseradish. So we did a beet tartare with a horseradish vinaigrette and then a maple mustard glazed sable.”

I made a few adaptions to the recipe, replacing difficult-to-find smoked sable with smoked haddock. I served the fish atop a pile of baby arugula. I also changed the order of the ingredients slightly to reflect the order in which I made each component. Any modifications I made I have italicized.

The maple mustard marinade is quite intense, more mustard than maple with a good amount of spice (I used Maille brand mustard). I used the leftovers for boneless skinless chicken breasts that I cooked in a pan on the stovetop – incredible! I think this would work with a mild white fish as well. 

Serves 4 as an appetizer

For the seasoned white wine vinegar (you can skip if you have Japanese seasoned rice wine vinegar in your pantry)

- 1 cup white wine vinegar

- 1 cup sugar

- 2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the beets

- 4 small red beets – tops removed

- 4 tablespoons seasoned white wine vinegar (recipe above) - I used a Japanese seasoned rice wine vinegar

- 4 tablespoons water

For the fish

- 4 two ounce pieces of smoked sable (the more cube-like, the better) – I was only able to find a half-pound of smoked haddock

- 2 ounces maple syrup - make sure to use the richer Grade B

- 7 tablespoons Dijon mustard - I used a blend of regular and whole seed (“moutarde a l’ancienne”) Dijon

- 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar

- 1 tablespoon canola oil

For the vinaigrette

- ¼ cup seasoned white wine vinegar

- ¼ extra virgin olive oil

- Freshly grated (or prepared) horseradish – I grated fresh horseradish root with a lemon zester and added a tablespoon (I like things spicy)

- 1 tablespoon minced chives

Preheat the oven to 450ºF.

Season the vinegar. Combine the white wine vinegar, sugar and salt in a non-reactive pan and heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. Cool to room temperature.

Roast. Wash the beets and place on a 12 inch by 12 inch square of aluminum foil. Fold up the sides and pour in the water and vinegar. Seal the top by folding over the edges of the foil. Place the foil package in a sauté pan (I placed my foil packet on a cookie sheet) and bake in the oven for about 1 hour or until easily pierced with the tip of a knife. (If your beets are larger, they may take up to 90 minutes to roast.)  Remove the beets from the foil package and, when cool enough to handle, peel. 

Puree. Coarsely chop the beets and puree in a food processor. The puree will not get very smooth. This is not a problem. Remove the puree from the processor and reserve.

Marinate. Combine the maple syrup, mustard and sherry vinegar and whisk well. Place the smoked sable in the glaze and let marinate for about 10 minutes.

Glaze. Heat a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the canola oil and then the smoked sable portions (excess glaze removed). Cook for about one minute or until the glaze caramelizes. Flip the fish over and cook for another minute or so, until the sable is warmed through.

Whisk. To make the vinaigrette, combine the seasoned vinegar and extra virgin olive oil in a mixing bowl and whisk well. Add the horseradish to taste, Right before service, add the chives and mix well.

Assemble. Meanwhile, heat the beet puree in a small sauté or sauce pan. Add the chives to the vinaigrette. Place a spoonful of the puree in the center of each of four plates. Top with the sable and drizzle the vinaigrette around.

an office office

Happy 2013!

It’s been such a long time. I’ve missed this space. I’ve missed you guys. I’m back from Peru and have so much to tell you about the trip.

But first, some exciting news. I started a new job!

Maybe you prepare for a new role by self-reflecting and setting goals for success, researching the company and industry, honing skills that might need, well, honing. I did all those things, but I spent my last days of freedom figuring out how I was going to transition from a home office to an office office: I chose my first-week outfits.

And then I decided to mix and match in the kitchen too. I prepped food over the weekend so that, morning or evening, I could open my fridge and pantry like a closet, easing the scramble to pack lunch or throw together dinner. There were greens and herbs to clean, vegetables to roast, dressings and sauces to whisk, meats and grains to cook, nuts to toast.

A few rules of thumb. The vegetables last a few days, so don’t make too much. Dressings are usually good for two weeks unless they contain fresh herbs. Sauces, meat, and grains are easy to freeze, and toasted nuts stay fresh in a jar for at least a month, so make a lot and squirrel them away.

I started week one with butternut squash, using farro that I made a while back and froze.

Tomorrow is a tabouli-like bulgur salad. More on that later, but, right now the big question is … what shall I wear?

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Butternut squash and farro salad with pepitas and ricotta salata

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen. Farro, wheat berries, freekeh, barley, brown rice, quinoa – use whatever grains you have around. (Yes, I know quinoa is a seed.)  I roasted the squash at a slightly higher temperature and used scallions instead of red onions. Don’t skip the pumpkin seeds, and definitely don’t skip toasting them.  The crunch is worth it. 

While you’re at it, make extra squash (keeps in the refrigerator for a few days), farro (freeze for a few weeks), and pepitas (store in a jar for a few weeks).

Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 for lunch 

- 2 medium butternut squash (about 2 pounds)

- 4-5 T olive oil, divided

- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

- 1/2 C dried farro (or wheat berries, freekeh, barley, etc.)

- 1 T sherry vinegar (or white wine vinegar)

- 1 T water

- 1/2 t salt

- 1/2 t granulated sugar

- 2 scallions

- 1/3 C pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

- 3 oz ricotta salata or another salty cheese (about 3/4  C crumbled) – a dry feta would work well too

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Roast. Cut the butternut squash between the bulb and neck to make peeling easier. Spoon out the seeds. Cut the squash into pieces about 3/4-inch all around. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the squash out in one layer. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast until pieces are browned and tender, about 30 – 40 minutes. Shake the pan once or twice during roasting.

Simmer. While the squash is roasting, make the wheat berries (or other grains or quinoa) according to the package directions and drain. If you have one, use a pressure cooker! Otherwise, this “beyond rice” guide  from the January 2013 Cook’s Illustrated is really helpful. Let the drained grains cool a bit.

Whisk. While the squash is roasting and the grains are simmering, prepare the dressing. Whisk in a small bowl or jar the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar. There will not be a lot of liquid. Thinly slice the scallions and add them to the dressing. There will be more scallion than dressing. Let the scallions mellow in the brine for at least 10 minutes.

Toast. In a small pan, toast the pepitas over medium heat, about 5 minutes. Shake the pan a few times while toasting. The seeds will color slightly, puff up, and some will even pop. Once the pepitas are ready, mix with a teaspoon of olive oil and sprinkle with salt.

Mix. In a large bowl, mix together the squash, grains, scallions and brine. Toss. Crumble half the cheese over the salad and add half the pepitas and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss again. Before serving, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and pepitas.

I’m off to Peru, friends, Peru!

I’ll be gone for a while, so it’s going to be a bit quiet around her until after the new year.

The past few months, I’ve been preparing like I’ve never prepared before. I booked my flights six months in advance. Hotels? Check. Machu Picchu? Check. Altitude medication? Check. Cooking class? Check.

I bought hiking boots two weeks ago and have been breaking them in at the gym. Which is miraculous for two reasons – first, I’ve been wearing hiking boots and second, I’ve been going to the gym.

My bedroom is covered with piles of clothing, organized into sections. There’s the wedding section (congrats, Veronica and Brian!) and the city section (Lima! Cusco! markets!) and the swimming section (pools! beaches!) and the hiking section (one of the seven wonders of the world!).

As I finish packing, I want to wish you a great last few days of 2012 and a fabulous 2013 to come. I’ll catch up with you on the other side.

***

PS I’ve been reading about Peruvian food – turns out there’s a lot more than cebiche with yams and pisco sours. Some call Peruvian cuisine the next big thing. Over a decade ago, the New York Times wrote about the melting pot that is Peruvian food, and years before that, Nobu Matsuhisa brought Japanese food with Peruvian flair to the US. Peru’s recent return to the culinary spotlight may be due to Ferran Adrià’s launching in Barcelona next month his newest venture, Patku, a restaurant dedicated to the fusion of Peruvian and Japanese ingredients and techniques referred to as Nikkei gastronomy.

Famous chefs and fancy restaurants aside, where should I eat in Lima? Cusco? What should I try? Let me know, and I’ll report back soon. 

and, lo

Welcome to the second and final installment of celebrate Hanukkah without frying (or, at least without frying in your own kitchen).

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Someone asked me yesterday which extra virgin olive oil I used for the cake, and, lo, I had forgotten to mention it in my post.

Whoopsies.

For the recipes (yes, recipes – today we get ice cream), I used a delicate Israeli oil from Havat Philip in the Negev. A more universally easy-to-find oil that would work great in these recipes is Unio, a Spanish extra virgin made from Arbequina olives with a low 0.2% acidity). It has a slightly more assertive flavor without too much kick, an olive oil that really tastes like olives.

The two other extra virgins that I mentioned buying in the grocery store felt too peppery for sweets. The first, Olympic, is made from Kalamata olives with a slightly bitterness and a peppery finish. Some people describe peppery oils as one-, two-, or three-cough oils. This one is a two-cough. The Italian, Di Molfetta Frantoiani, is very mild at first but has a real kick at the end – it’s a three-cougher. I’m saving these two for salad dressing and bread dipping.

olive oil ice cream with balsamic caramel sauce, above

olive oil ice cream with balsamic caramel sauce, side

Olive oil ice cream

This recipe is from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table. Making ice cream does require a lot of pots, bowls, spoons, and whisks, but you don’t need an ice cream maker. Instead, freeze the custard in a shallow pan for a few hours and periodically give it a whir with an immersion blender. For other tips on making ice cream by hand, check out what David Lebovitz, ice cream aficionado, has to say on the subject.

Makes 3-4 cups

- 2 C whole milk

- 1 C heavy cream

- 5 large eggs for yolks only

- 1/2 C white sugar

- pinch salt, preferably fleur de sel

-  1/2 C fruity extra virgin olive oil

- 2 t vanilla

Prep. Fill a large bowl with ice and water, and keep in the refrigerator. Set a strainer over a slightly smaller heatproof bowl (you’ll be pouring the cooked custard through the strainer). If you have a candy thermometer, this is a great time to get it out.  If you don’t have one, that’s OK too.

Boil. Bring the milk and cream to a slow boil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan. Once you see some bubbling around the edges, turn the heat down to medium and follow the “cook” step below.

Whisk. While the milk and cream are heating, whisk the yolks and sugar in a large bowl until very well blended and just slightly thickened. I did this by hand. Keep whisking and slowly drizzle in 1/3 of the hot liquid – you want to do this very slowly to avoid cooking the eggs. (In case some of the eggs do get cooked, you’ll strain them out later, so all is not lost.) I placed the bowl on a towel to keep it from wiggling around while I whisked with one hand and poured with the other. Once the eggs have acclimatized to the heat, you can pour the rest of the liquid in more quickly. Add the salt and whisk to incorporate.

Cook. If you have one, clip the thermometer to the side of the saucepan and pour the mix back in. Cook the custard over medium heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or silicone spatula, and making sure to get into corners of the pan. Stir until the custard thickens slightly and coats the back of the spoon: run your finger down the back of the spoon – if the custard does not run back into the track your finger leaves behind, it is ready. If you have a thermometer, it should reach 170°F but no more than 180°F.

Strain. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and pour the custard through the strainer into the bowl. Throw out whatever remains in the strainer.

Whisk again. Add the olive oil and vanilla and whisk vigorously.

Chill. Remember that large bowl of ice water you put in the fridge? Take it out and set the bowl of custard over the ice, making sure that no water overflows into the custard. Put the bowls in the fridge and stir the custard every half hour or so until the mix is cold (about 2 hours).

Freeze. If you have an ice cream maker, churn according to the manufacturer’s directions. If not, pour the chilled mix into a large bowl and place in the freezer (you might need to clear out some room first). It will begin to freeze from the edges. After 45 minutes, remove the bowl from the freezer and mix it with a whisk or use an immersion blender to break everything up. Repeat this every 30 minutes. It will take about two to three hours to full freeze.

Serve. Take the ice cream out of the freezer ten minutes before you plan to serve it to allow it to soften.

***

Salted balsamic caramel sauce

Of course, what goes great with olive oil ice cream? Balsamic caramel! I added two tablespoons of balsamic vinegar to a basic caramel sauce recipe from Simply Recipes. Make sure to use a large saucepan, at least 2 quarts, because when you add the butter and cream the mix will bubble vigorously and foam up to the top of the pan.

Makes about 1 cup

- 1 C sugar

- 6 T butter

- 1/2 C milk or cream (I used whole milk for a thinner sauce)

- 2 T balsamic vinegar

- large pinch salt, preferably fleur de sel

Prep. Before you get started, you should get the ingredients measured out because you don’t want to fuss with things while you have hot sugar bubbling on the stove, threatening to burn.

Melt. Over medium-high heat in a heavy large saucepan (2 quarts or larger), heat the sugar. Once it starts to melt, whisk it until all the sugar has melted, comes to a boil, and turns amber. Then add the butter and continue to whisk until all the butter has melted.

Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble. Once all of the butter is mixed in, take the pan off the heat. Slowly pour the cream into the pan, continuing to whisk. This is when the mix will bubble and foam to the top of the pan, so be careful. Whisk until the caramel sauce is smooth, and then add in the balsamic and salt.

Cool. Pour into a glass jar to cool at room temperature.

Happy Hanukkah, folks. Have you had your latkes yet? Your sufganiyot?

If so, let’s try something different. Cake!

Olive oil Cointreau cake. cooling

At the Hazon Food Conference last week, my friend Leah taught a cooking class on fried Hanukkah foods from around the world. We made perashki kartoskagi (Bukharian potato turnovers) with tamat (fresh tomato sauce) and frittele de riso (Italian rice fritters). I helped man the fry station — you should have seen me trying to figure out how to use an industrial oven. We staved off the fire alarm for a full twenty minutes.

Later in the day, Leah and I sat next to each other on a food writers panel, sharing the stage with Liz Reuven, Liz Traison, and Mary MacVean from the LA Times. As we waited for the audience to trickle in, Leah whispered to me “we’re going to smell like fried for the next few days.”

I still smell like fried.

This year, I left the latkes to the experts, opting to cook and bake with olive oil rather than fry with it. Faced with which extra virgin olive oil to buy, one that would really shine in the recipe, I stood in the store for almost half an hour. I had no idea how to decide between the different varieties.

So I guessed and came home with two different bottles – a Greek one for authenticity and a well-known Italian one just in case – and set up a tasting, throwing an Israeli one from my cabinet into the mix. The Greek was too peppery, the Italian too mild, the Israeli just right.

And then I researched how to choose a good extra virgin olive oil. It’s actually much more complicated than I thought, and there is significant fraud in the industry*. The gist? That “extra virgin olive oil” you just put in your cart might not be extra virgin, and in fact might not even be olive oil at all.

In this  month’s article for the Jerusalem Post, I shared some tips on how to find a good extra virgin olive oil. Here are some of the main points:

Certification symbols are a good starting point. They indicate that an oil was properly made, for example demonstrating adherence to national or state olive oil association standards or conveying Protected Destination of Origin (“PDO,” or “DOP” in Italian) status confirmed by quality control committees overseeing production processes.  Or course, just like kosher certification agencies, the symbol is only as reliable as the organization behind it.

Second, providing notation of acidity level is another positive, even better if the acidity is well below the 0.8% standard.

Further, good olive oils report the processing or pressing and best-before dates.

Finally, always choose a dark bottle over a clear one, as light exposure causes oil to go rancid. There are several online sources listing reputable, high-quality extra virgin olive oils (links below), including some sold in mainstream grocery stores.

Once you’ve hit upon your favorite oil, you’re ready to get cooking.

Olive oil Cointreau cake, from above

Olive oil Cointreau cake, from the side

Check out Tom Mueller‘s recently published Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, discussed on NPR here, in which he explores corruption within the olive oil industry, spurred by his 2007 New Yorker article. Thanks Molly and Sara for turning me on to this guy!)

***

A few fun holiday links I think you’ll enjoy.

Traditional vs innovative latkes? Two chefs duel. I think the wrong one won.

A conversation with Max and Eli Sussman, co-authors of This is a Cookbook, including the recipe that Eli made in the video.

An electronic advent calendar with holiday cookies behind each door? Why yes! No peeking, guys, no peeking.

Olive oil Cointreau cake, sliced

Olive oil orange cake

This recipe is adapted from Food & Wine magazine and I think it is one of the best cakes I have ever made with its moist crumb, crackly top, and aflash of citrus to complement the fruity extra virgin. You can use any orange liqueur you’d like – I chose Cointreau. Or you can go the lemon route and use limoncello (replacing the orange zest with lemon and the orange blossom water with vanilla).  For a non-dairy option, substitute full fat, unflavored almond or soy milk.

The original recipe had a hefty 1 ¾ cup sugar which I reduced to 1 ¼ cup – the cake is still quite sweet. The recipe also called for a 10-inch round cake pan which I didn’t have, so I used a 9-inch round instead. The batter filled the 2-inch high pan about ¾ of the way up and rose a lot during baking, reaching the top of the pan at the edges and at least an additional inch above that in the middle. If it looks like your pan won’t be big enough for all of the batter, leave some out and make a few cupcakes.

Makes 8-10 servings                                                                                                                 

- 3 large eggs

- 1 ¼  C sugar

- 1 C extra-virgin olive oil

- 1 C whole milk

- 1 t orange blossom water or vanilla

- 1 orange for zest, about 2 t (then, eat the orange)

- ¼ C Cointreau or other orange liqueur

- 3 C flour

- 1  ½ t salt

- ½  t baking soda

- 1 t baking powder

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Cut a piece of parchment to fit into the bottom of a 9- or 10-inch round cake pan.

Mix. In a bowl (I use a stand mixer), whisk the eggs and sugar together until thick and yellow, 2-3 minutes. Add the oil, milk, orange blossom water, zest, and liqueur. Continue to whisk until everything is mixed. Add the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder and use a spatula to fold in the dry ingredients until just combined.

Bake. Fit the cake pan with the parchment, and lightly grease the sides. Pour the batter in the pan and bake for 1 hour or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean. (This actually took 65 minutes in my oven.)

Cool. Let the cake cool in the pan, about 30 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan and then invert the cake over a rack, peeling off the parchment. Let the cake cool completely, about 2 hours.

Hey there! Today we’re having soup.

tomato couscous soup

It’s a simple tomato soup thickened with couscous, spiked with spices, dolloped with yogurt.

I’m going to level with you – the first bowl didn’t wow me. It was too thin. The couscous seemed like an afterthought. The cumin and thyme competed with one another. So I left the pot on the counter to cool and went out to work on breaking in my new hiking boots (Machu Picchu, here I come!).

But a few hours later, I stuck a spoon in the now cold soup to see if maybe I had missed something. Wow! While it sat, the couscous did its thing. As it absorbed the liquid, it thickened the broth, it united the spices.

I should have known it would all come together. Yotam Ottolenghi wrote the recipe.

And, no, I didn’t forget that it’s the fourth night of Hanukkah. I have two brand new recipes for you to open as you light candles five and six. Here’s a hint – neither of them is fried. (If, however, you can’t wait and do want to fry, check out last year’s sufganiyot.)

Tomato couscous soup

Adapted from Yotam Ottolengi’s Plenty. I replaced the semolina with  cooked couscous because I had some left over after making a tagine. If you don’t want to make couscous separately, I suspect that you can add uncooked couscous during the last ten minutes of cooking (which is how the recipe directs you to add semolina). 

Makes about 3 quarts

- 1 1/2 C cooked couscous (about 3/4 C uncooked)

- 1 medium onion

- 2 stalks celery

- 3 T olive oil

- 1 T cumin

- 2 t coriander

- 1 t thyme

- 1 1/2 t sweet paprika

- 2 T tomato paste

- 1 28-oz canned whole peeled tomatoes

- salt and pepper

- 7 C water

- 1 1/2 t sugar

- 1 lemon for juice

- Greek yogurt (optional)

Make couscous. I’ve had good luck with this method, or just follow the directions on the package. Or add uncooked couscous later.

Chop. Finely chop the onion and celery.

Sauté. Heat the olive oil in a medium pot (I used a 4-quart). Add the onion and celery, and sauté over medium heat until the onion is golden and soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in spices and tomato paste until incorporated.

Crush. Crush the tomatoes between your fingers into bite sized pieces and add to the pot. Stir and season with salt and pepper.

Simmer. Add the water and sugar and bring to a boil. Then turn the heat down and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes. Stir in the cooked (or uncooked) couscous and simmer for another 10 minutes. Cover the pot at this point if you opted for the uncooked couscous. The couscous will absorb some of the liquid, so don’t worry if it starts out looking thin. If the soup gets too thick (more likely if you added uncooked couscous), add water until you get the right consistency.

Serve. Squeeze in the lemon juice and taste for salt and pepper again (I found the soup needed quite a bit of salt). Ladle into bowls and spoon some Greek yogurt on top. Sprinkle with cumin.

I’m still savoring the New Yorker December 3, 2012 food issue, nursing it like a café au lait in a bowl so large you get to warm up both hands as you lift it to your lips. The issue itself is comforting, inviting, lingering-inducing. You may have caught a glimpse of it sprawling across my table next to my salad earlier this week.

Jim Lahey's  no-knead bread

The article that’s on my mind now is one about young French female CEO Apollonia Poilâne, her business, her traditions, and her bread. Of course, it’s not really her bread, but her family’s bread, a legacy started eighty years ago in Paris by her grandfather Pierre Poilâne and their first eponymous bakery. And, one might argue that it’s not really her family’s bread, but France’s bread. Poilâne‘s signature miche, a 4-pound round loaf with a mild sourdough flavor, is often sold by the half, sliced in long tranches for tartines (open-faced sandwiches). In fact, the term pain Poilâne has become synonymous with sandwich bread (like the British term Hoover for vacuum).

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, the process: first rise, 15-minute rest, second rise, out of the oven

Apollonia Poilâne has several ideas about the eating of bread, including:

  1. Bread should not steal the quality of the meal.
  2. I don’t believe in making bread at home.
  3. It’s terribly wrong to eat bread while it’s still cooling.

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, getting ready to slice

And yet, I broke every single one of those rules last week when I made Jim Lahey’s game-changing bread recipe.  After two prior failed attempts, I was inspired to try baking this bread one more time after reading Tamar Adler‘s “How to Have Balance” chapter in which she says “Bread can be the thing you’re eating, not a prelude to the meal, or an afterthought.” 

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, the first slice

And so I planned a meal in which the bread was the centerpiece, placed squarely in the middle of the plate with just a few adornments. Butter, honey, Chevrot, olive oil, salt.

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, a few tranches

When we took the bread out of the oven, flipping it from the pot to the cutting board, we leaned in to hear the murmuring of the crust – microscopic cracks forming as the bread cooled and contracted. In Appolonia’s words, ça chante, it sings. We couldn’t wait for the bread to cool, and as we made the first cuts, the steam filled our noses, the rich scent of … bread, but really the feeling of home. We tore the first naked slice in half, chewing it, thoughtfully, entranced.

Jim Lahey's no-knead bread, the aftermath

Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread

There are two very similar versions of the recipe – the one on the Sullivan Street Bakery site and the one that Mark Bittman published in the New York Times. I added a little extra yeast and salt – next time I’d add more salt. While there is very little work that goes into making the bread, it does require a lot of time, so you do need to plan in advance. The whole process from start to finish – mixing, two rises, baking – takes 15 – 21 hours. I like to start the dough the afternoon before, give it an 18-hour first rise, and then bake the bread around 11 am in time for lunch. If you want to cut down on time, check out this video that recommends adding red wine vinegar (!) to the mix.

Here are a few lessons that I learned along the way.

Make sure you have a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. I use a Le Creuset cocotte (French oven). The standard black knob that comes with the pot can’t sustain the high heat required; either replace it with a stainless one or remove the knob and fill the hole with some aluminum foil. The first time I made the bread, I used a covered tagine whose loose-fitting top not only let the steam out, but cracked when I removed it from the oven.

Don’t fuss with the dough. Refrain from peeking at it, lifting the plastic, kneading, or poking too much to check its rise. I put the bowl on top of the refrigerator to help me resist temptation.

The most difficult part of the whole recipe is transferring the dough into the hot pot. You want to do this quickly so you can cover the pot and get it back into the oven as fast as possible. I found that this was easiest when I placed the tea towel holding the dough on a cookie sheet so that I could let the dough tumble into the pot.

Makes one 1½-pound loaf.

- 3 cups all-purpose (or bread) flour, more for dusting

-1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

- 2 t salt

- 1 5/8 C warm water

- Cornmeal (or wheat bran)

Stir. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add water, and use your hands to stir everything around until blended. The dough will be very wet and sticky and will look shaggy – messy and scruffy and unkempt.

Rise. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. The dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles.

Rest. Lightly flour your counter and roll the dough out on it in a jiggly mass. Sprinkle the dough with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap (right on the counter) and let it rest for 15 minutes.

Rise again. Using just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape the dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with cornmeal (or flour or wheat bran). Put the dough seam side down on the towel and dust with more cornmeal (or flour or wheat bran). Cover the dough with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, the  dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. I placed the dough and towels on a cookie sheet and placed the whole thing on top of my refrigerator.

Heat. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat the oven to 450ºF. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex, or ceramic) in oven as it heats. If you’re not sure which of your pots to use, go with the larger one – the bread is beautiful when it’s shaped free form.

Transfer. When the dough is ready, grab your oven mitts and carefully remove the pot from oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn the dough over into the pot, seam side up. There will be some cornmeal on what is now the top. It will look like a mess, but that’s OK. Shake the pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes.

Bake. Cover with lid and bake for 30 minutes, and then remove the lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is browned.

Cool. Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes. The cooler the bread, the easier it will be to cut. If you can wait that long.

hands down

Hi there. Just a quick hello and a recipe today.

Last week, I promised you bread. Um, here’s some salad.

kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata

It looks a little like this salad. And, well, this salad too.

I made it for a friend’s birthday and after we ate dessert as our first course (hey, it’s a birthday!) it was, hands down, everyone’s favorite dish. More on that dinner and that first course cake soon. But for now, again and from a different angle, here’s some salad.

kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata

Kale and pear salad with pomegranate gremolata

This salad is based on an arugula and watercress salad in last month’s Food & Wine.  It’s a great combination of bitter, sweet, and sour. And a great combination of textures – the crisp juicy pears, the pop of the pomegranate arils, the chewy kale. Make sure to toss the greens with half the vinaigrette about 30 minutes before serving so that it will start to wilt and absorb the flavors. You probably will have some leftover vinaigrette. 

Gremolata is an herb mix, usually lemon zest, garlic, and parsley, and traditionally sprinkled over osso bucco. The zest and parsley give any dish a really bright flavor; I like  how Food Lover’s Companion puts it: It’s sprinkled over … dishes to add a fresh sprightly flavor. Sprightly, yeah, that nails it. If you don’t want to dirty another bowl, feel free to sprinkle the gremolata ingredients over the salad after you’ve dressed the greens rather than mixing everything separately. Next time, I’ll peel and segment the oranges and add them to the salad too.

- 2 larges bunch kale (approximately 1 1/2 pounds or 6 C shredded and loosely packed) – I tried this with dinosaur and curly kale, and preferred the slightly tougher curly variety

- 3 Bosc pears

- Pomegranate vinaigrette (recipe below)

- Pomegranate gremolata (recipe below)

Slice. Fold each kale leaf in half and cut away the stems. Working in batches of several leaves, stack the leaves in a pile, roll them like a cigar, and slice the leaves crosswise into thin ribbons. Cut the pear into bite-sized pieces. 

Assemble. Scoop the kale into a large bowl and add half the dressing. Toss the leaves and let them sit for a half-hour. Right before serving, sprinkle with the pears and gremolata. Drizzle with more dressing to taste.

***

Pomegranate molasses vinaigrette

- 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil

- 2 T pomegranate molasses

- 2 T apple cider vinegar

- 1 T honey

- 1 T Dijon mustard

- salt and pepper

Whisk or shake. In a bowl or jar, add all the ingredients and whisk or shake to emulsify. Add salt and pepper to taste.

***

Pomegranate gremolata

- 1 pomegranate for 3/4 C arils/seeds

- about 20 stems flat-leaf (Italian) parsley

- 1 shallot

- 1 orange for zest

Seed. Remove the arils/seeds from the pomegranate. I usually cut the pomegranate in half and tap the skin with a wooden spoon over a bowl of water (the seeds sink and any white pith floats to the top) but if you want to get every last seed, check out these detailed instructions.

Chop. Finely chop the parsley leaves. Mince the shallot.

Mix. In a small bowl, mix together the pomegranate seeds, parsley, and shallot. Zest the orange into the bowl and toss again.

November 30

It’s the last day of November, which means it’s the last day of NaBloPoMo. Let’s take a quick look back at the month.

There were twenty-six blog posts. Seven sweets. Three salads. Three soups. Four other assorted vegetables. I bought a pressure cooker and am still trying to figure out how to use it. I got raw kale to finally work for me. I tortured you with the study of words and the study of microbes. I gushed about two inspiring chefs*. I traveled to Philadelphia and thought about The Netherlands and Miami.

Writing every day has been invigorating. More food has come out of my kitchen in the past month that any other month ever. Many nights I couldn’t fall asleep because I was too excited about what I wanted to write the next day. And some days it was a struggle. I let you in. And you, probably for the first time, got a glimpse of how I was feeling.

To top it all off, today I made bread. There’s a little more to that story, but for now, just a picture.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It’s been quite a month. Thanks for joining me for the ride. See you in December.

* For more on Ottolenghi, check out Jane Kramer‘s article in this week’s New Yorker (December 3, 2012). You can’t access the full article unless you’re a subscriber, but I’d actually argue that this issue — the food issue — is worth the price of the entire subscription. Good reading, folks. Good reading.

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