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Archive for November, 2014

open all hours

I woke up to a white sky this morning and, while it will no doubt further complicate my travel plans above and beyond the usual pre-holiday Manhattan exodus traffic, I just love the first snow of the season. I trekked through the light storm, one that fluctuated between gentle flakes and stinging hail, to Adeena‘s place to pick up peanut butter brownies to support Sharsheret‘s annual Pies for Prevention sale. (Check out this post for a bit more about the pie sale, Adeena’s mom Steffi, and a recipe for pumpkin cranberry bread.)

I felt a little sheepish showing up in Adeena’s apartment where nearly every surface was covered with pumpkin or pecan or chocolate chip pie having just outed myself as a pie hater. But I brought a piece of cake as a peace offering.

The cake is an Italian olive oil cake strewn with shredded pumpkin (or in this case, kabocha squash) and studded with toasted cashews. I recently transferred from Union Square Cafe to Marta — the newest restaurant in our family and inspired by the uber-thin crust Roman pizza — and was editing our menu a few weeks ago when I noticed a new dolci item: torta di zucca. I snagged a slice, downed it a few bites, and started to plot a way to get the (parve!) recipe.

Plotting wasn’t really necessary as all I had to do was ask our head baker, Chef Pat Clark. We chatted for a bit in the prep kitchen while he stirred a huge pot of marmalade over a low flame, and then he emailed me the directions he wrote out for his team.

all manner of pumpkin

I spent a day tweaking the recipe, converting the gram measurements to cups, trying a few different winter squashes, testing different-sized pans, and tracking oven time like a hawk. By evening, I had reproduced the torta in my own kitchen.

The torta bakes up tall and proud. Due to its long time in the oven, the edges are thick and golden brown — a crust that pie wishes it had. The cake interior has a tight crumb punctuated by delicate squash ribbons and cashew nubbins. Its top is slick with a burst of citrus. Day two cake can stand on its own, but throw a slice in the toaster and smear it with a little butter or marmalade for a real breakfast treat. The freezer is kind to this cake, so, please, double the recipe. Or triple it.

Marta's torta di zucca

Now, earlier this month after a particularly bad day, I was speaking to my aunt Leslie, the one who always hosts Thanksgiving. Sessie is a great listener and had some helpful advice and when I thanked her, she said, “call me any time. As Bubbie used to say, ‘open all hours.’”

As I walked home from Adeena’s today, ducking beneath the shelter of scaffolding wherever I could and ticking off a mental packing list, that refrain kept interrupting my thoughts. Open all hours.

So, as we approach Thanksgiving and we get together with people we love, people we like, people we like a little less, people who drive us crazy, people we’re crazy for, I consider myself blessed to have a handful of people in my life who are open all hours for me. They live in my neighborhood and downtown, have moved away or have been far away for years, reside in the US and out. Luckily, they understand when I only bring three-quarters of a cake to dinner.

Marta's torta di zucca

Here are a few more stories of Thanksgivings past

2013: Cornbread apple stuffing

2012: Applesauce (with our without cranberries)

2011: Pumpkin cranberry bread

2010: Chocolate chip pound cake and wild mushroom soup

And now, the recipe.

Marta's torta di zucca

Marta’s Torta di Zucca (Roasted Pumpkin and Cashew Olive Oil Cake)

Adapted from Marta’s Torta di Zucca by Chef Pat Clark.

I tested this cake with kobucha squash and butternut squash, and both worked well. A 1 ½ pound gourd has about 1 pound of usable squash which, shredded, yields 2 ¼ very tightly packed cups. Use what every squash you like, just make sure to watch carefully while it roasts so that it doesn’t burn. You can substitute any nut for the cashews – I think almonds or pecans would work nicely. While Clark’s original recipe called for hand-grating the squash, I used my food processor which yielded slightly thicker pieces of squash.

The bake time for this cake is quite long and will vary depending on your oven and the type of pan that you use. I used a 9-inch round springform pan with high sides and the total bake time was one hour and ten minutes. For the first 30 minutes or so, cover the pan with aluminum foil that you’ve poked holes in – this will allow the cake to bake without letting the top burn. The holes prevent the cake from steaming.

The cake will indeed soak up all of the lemon-orange glaze, just keep at it. 

Serves 8 to 10

For the cake

– 1 ½ lb kobucha squash (or 1 lb pre-peeled and cut butternut squash)

– ¾ C cashews

– 2 ½ C all-purpose flour, plus extra for preparing the pan

– 1 t baking powder

– ½ t baking soda

– 1 ½ t kosher salt

– 3 large eggs

– 1 ¾ C white sugar

– 1 C less 1 T extra-virgin olive oil

– 2 t vanilla extract

For the citrus glaze

– ½ C orange juice

– ¼ C lemon juice

– ¼ C sugar

– ¾ C confectioner’s sugar

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Grate. Cut the squash into quarters. Remove the stringy bits and seeds. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer of your squash. Grate the squash using the large holes on a box grater or a food processor.

Dry. Spread the grated squash out on a baking tray and flash in the oven for 8-10 minutes to remove excess moisture from the squash (a little color is okay, but don’t let the squash burn).

Toast. Turn the oven down to 350° F. Toast the cashews for about 5 minutes until just slightly browned. Allow the nuts to cool and then coarsely chop.

Spray and dust. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan with high sides by lightly spraying with oil. Dust the greased pan with flour, covering all surfaces and tapping out the excess flour.

Sift. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Mix. With a stand mixer on medium to medium-high, paddle together the eggs, sugar, olive oil, and vanilla until light and creamy. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.

Mix, more gently this time. Add the dry ingredients all at once. Mix on low until just together. Use a rubber spatula and scrape down the mixing bowl again. Add the squash and toasted nuts all at once, mixing on low until just incorporated. Don’t overmix.

Bake. Poke a few holes in a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover your cake. Lightly tent the top of the cake, leaving room so it won’t touch the surface of the cake as it rises. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil tent, rotate cake, and bake for 35-45 more minutes. Toothpick test the dead center to make sure your cake is fully baked.

Whisk. While the cake is baking, whisk together the citrus glaze ingredients and leave on top of the stove to fully dissolve sugar. Whisk again prior to use.

Brush. Cool for 15-20 minutes and de-pan onto a cooling rack. Immediately use a pastry brush to coat the top and sides with glaze, making sure to use all the glaze. You will think it’s too much, but it’s not. Allow the cake to completely cool before cutting.

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I never expected to publish this chili.

Vegetarian chili

It’s the clear-out-the-cupboard no-recipe recipe I’ve been making for years. You know the kind. Its starts like any soup or stew with the holy carrot-celery-onion mirepoix trinity softening and slumping in a slick of oil. The vegetables dance with a handful of spices, swim in a tomato sea, and cozy up to some beans. A sprinkle of cheese and you’re ready to face the cold.

Back when I was just starting to cook, I was pretty timid with my chili: the spices came pre-mixed in a seasoning envelope. Gaining confidence, I started to doctor the mix. A little extra chili powder. A sprinkle of coriander. Ooooh, red pepper flakes.

Pretty soon I did away with the mix altogether. There were failures, one so spicy it left me crying but, too stubborn to throw away the batch, I ate the whole pot, tears and all. There were success. But most of all, there were decent versions, good enough for sustenance and warmth against a winter’s day, but nothing particularly remarkable. With each batch, I dutifully jotted down my steps, my ingredients, my quantities. And then that sheet of paper sat on my desk or my coffee table or my kitchen counter, eventually drowning under a pile of other recipes that were more likely to make it onto the blog.

But this year, just as the November air grew brisk and I switched over my closet, I happened upon a spice combination that made this memorable enough that I wanted to remember it. The scribbled notes stayed at the top of the pile. And then I made it exactly the same way a week later. There are three different heats – chipotle in adobo sauce, cayenne, and hot paprika – that build on one another. With a nod towards the Middle East I added sumac, which gives the chili a sourness to counteract the sweetness of the tomatoes. While we’re on the topic of tomatoes, don’t skip the tomato paste. Its concentrated flavor adds a meaty, or dare I say umami, quality to the chili, especially if you add it early on with all the spices and allow it to cook for a few minutes before adding the liquid ingredients.

Two hours later (most of the time is simmering), you have a simple, but perfectly simple dinner. And lunch. And lunch again. And dinner the next night.

Vegetarian two-bean chili

The starting point for this chili was a recipe from Whole Foods. It’s worth it to buy a whole can of chipotles in adobo sauce – chop up the whole can and then freeze in ice cube trays whatever you have left over. I do the same with tomato paste. I like to serve this chili over brown rice or whatever grain I have in my pantry (these days I’m into freekeh), and to top it with aged cheddar. This recipe makes a lot of chili, but it freezes really nicely. 

Makes approximately 12 cups

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium yellow onion, chopped

2 large carrot, chopped

3 stalk celery, chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 T finely chopped chipotles in adobo sauce

2 T tomato paste

2 t ground cumin

1 t chili powder (I used cayenne)

1 t hot paprika

1 t sumac

1 1/2 t salt

1 can (28-ounce) diced tomatoes, with their liquid

2 cans (15.5-ounce each) red kidney beans, drained

2 cans (15.5-ounce each) black beans, drained

Stir. Heat the oil until shimmering in a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook until soft, stirring, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for 2 more minutes, being careful not to let the garlic  burn. Add tomato paste, chipotle, spices, and salt and stir to blend, cooking for another few minutes.

Simmer. Quickly pour in the tomatoes and then one tomato can of water. Using a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits and pieces stuck to the bottom of the pot. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add beans and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. If the chili gets too thick, add some extra water and cover the pot.

Serve. Serve over rice or another grain (I used freekeh) and top with shredded aged cheddar.

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to share

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I am a very, very lucky girl. Remember when I spent a day with Dorie Greenspan? Well, I met up with her again and then I wrote about it for The Forward.

See, she just published a cookbook, Baking Chez Moi, and kicked off  her book tour at the 92nd Street Y where we were able to gab for a bit before she climbed onto a tall stool (she’s quite petite, so it was a bit of a climb) and chatted with Julia Moskin from the New York Times in front of a packed room.

Dressed in a royal blue tunic with black leggings and ballet flats, her bright scarf draped loosely around her neck, Dorie greeted me with one of her fabulously warm hugs.

Here are a few of my favorite Dorie-isms.

Dorie defined quality in baking as “ingredients and the care with which you make things.”

When asked whether she believes in such a thing as a “white thumb” for pastry, she responded with a resounding no. “My father couldn’t even find the kitchen and my mother made shopping lists instead of dinner. [Dorie’s father owned a supermarket in Brooklyn, and her mother would organized her grocery list by aisle]. Baking is like playing piano. At first you just make noise. But you work on it every day and you see yourself getting better. I taught myself to bake from books, learned that it takes desire to do it.”

On baking versus cooking: “I love baking. I always return to it when I’m stressed out. It’s the process, the ingredients, getting dirty, everything under my nails. I love the magic of it… You cook for yourself and other people, but when you bake, you don’t bake for yourself, you bake to share. You bake for love and for people you love.”

Reflecting on her entertaining style, Dorie said,  “I’m a higgledy piggledy, loosey goosey cook at home and I think that’s how you should be!” She likes to invite people over on the spur of the moment, and even on New Year’s Eve, she rarely finalizes a menu until the day before.

I found this wildly reassuring and, when a friend told me she’d be in town visiting, I offered up chez moi for a spur-of-the-moment potluck lunch with a couple of our friends. Though my Manhattan apartment is small, can feel cramped when my hair frizzes up, and never seems tidy enough for company, I decided to make one of Dorie’s treats to share. I baked a batch of fruit-and-nut croquants, adding a handful of chocolate chips to these mandelbread-like cookies for good measure. One friend brought wine and challah. Another made meatballs. I tossed together a few small salads. We whiled away the cold rainy afternoon, catching up, sipping tea and nibbling on croquants.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquets

I’ve copied from Baking Chez Moi Dorie’s recipe for Fruit and Nut Croquants, but have a few notes of my own. First, I skipped all of the optional flavors, so no almond extract, orange zest, nutmeg, or cloves. I made two batches and forgot to sprinkle the second pair of loaves with sugar – no biggie. I couldn’t resist a little chocolate, so for the 8 ounces of fruit and nut mixture, I used 4 ounces whole almonds, 2 ounces dried tart cherries, and 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chips.

Dorie Greenspan’s fruit and nut croquants

The word croquant can be both an adjective and a noun. As an adjective, it’s easy: It means “crunchy.” As a noun, it can be confusing: It usually refers to a cookie, but there are bunches of cookies that carry the appellation and, depending on who’s making them and where, the cookies can vary in size, shape, flavor and degree of croquant-ness. Say croquant, and most French cookie lovers think of the ones from the south of France, which are usually studded with whole almonds and flavored with orange-flower water

However, the croquants that really caught my attention came from a small bakery in Lyon. The Lyonnaise cookies weren’t flavored with orange-flower water — in fact, I didn’t detect any flavoring at all — and in addition to lots of almonds, they had other nuts and dried fruits. They looked similar to biscotti or mandelbrot, the Eastern European version of the double-baked sweet, and while they were called croquant, they didn’t quite live up to their name (or their nickname: casse-dents, which means “tooth breakers”) — they were crunchy on the outside and just a little softer and chewier on the inside.

I’ve flavored these with vanilla, but if a whiff of orange-flower water appeals to you, go ahead and add it. When I’ve got oranges in the house or, better yet, tangerines or clementines, I add some grated zest whether I’m using vanilla or orange-flower water, or a combination of both. As for the nuts and dried fruits, I leave their selection up to you, although I think you should go heavier on the nuts than the fruit. For sure you should have whole almonds (preferably with their skins on), but you can also use cashews, walnuts, (skinned) hazelnuts, macadamias or pistachios. Similarly, while I often add golden raisins, there’s no reason not to consider dried cherries, pieces of dried apricots or even slim wedges of dried figs.

Makes about 30 cookies

2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg white, at room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon pure almond extract (optional)
Finely grated zest of 1 tangerine or orange (optional)
¾ cup (150 grams) sugar
2 cups (272 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Pinch of ground cloves (optional)
8 ounces (227 grams) dried fruits and whole nuts (see above)
Sugar, for sprinkling

1) Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

2) Put the eggs and egg white in a liquid measuring cup, add the vanilla and the almond extract, if you’re using it, and beat the eggs lightly with a fork, just until they’re foamy.

3) If you’re using grated zest, put it in the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large bowl in which you can use a hand mixer. Add the sugar and, using your fingertips, rub the sugar and zest together until the sugar is moist and fragrant (or just add the sugar to the bowl). Add the flour, baking powder, salt and spices, if you’re using them. Fit the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, set the bowl on the stand and turn the mixer to low, just to blend the ingredients. If you’re using a hand mixer, just use a whisk to combine the ingredients.

4) With the mixer on low, steadily pour in the eggs. Once the dough starts to come together, add the dried fruits and nuts and keep mixing until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl. You’ll probably have dry ingredients in the bottom of the bowl; use a flexible spatula to stir them into the sticky dough.

5) Spoon half the dough onto the lined baking sheet a few inches away from one of the long sides, and use your fingers and the spatula to cajole the dough into a log that’s 10 to 12 inches long and 2 to 2½ inches wide. The log will be rectangular, not domed, and pretty rough and ragged. Shape a second log with the remaining dough on the other side of the baking sheet. Leave space between the logs — they will spread as they bake. Sprinkle the logs with sugar.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquants

6) Bake the logs for 45 to 50 minutes, or until browned and firm to the touch. (If you want the croquants to be softer and chewier, bake them for 40 minutes.) Place each log on a cutting board, wait 5 minutes and then, using a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion, cut into slices about ½-inch thick. Transfer the slices to a rack and allow them to cool to room temperature.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquants

Serving: It’s hard to resist dunking these cookies, so don’t. They’re great with coffee, tea, red wine or dessert wine.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquets

Storing: Moisture and crunch don’t mix, so find a dry place for these; a cookie jar, tin or storage tub works well, but because they’re meant to be hard, I just keep them in an uncovered bowl or basket. Yes, they get firmer, but I’m fine with that. If your cookies lose their crunch, heat them in a 350˚ F oven for about 10 minutes.

Dorie Greenspan's fruit and nut croquets

 

 

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