Saturday, September 24, 2011

Fall is here! (Well, more or less.)

I am so ready to say goodbye to subway station saunas, sidewalks that feel like rotisseries and sweaty bangs plastered to my forehead - and say hello to piles of crisp apples at the greenmarket, hot spiced cider with bourbon and finally getting to wear my favorite cozy gray sweater. Oh, and soup!

Like this rich, spicy corn and crab bisque, which made quick work of a ton of CSA ingredients. A bunch of onions, five ears of corn, two banana peppers, one large yellow pepper and two big cloves of garlic went into the bubbling pot of soup - and if I wasn't living with a confirmed cilantro-hater, I might have put some of our cilantro in, too.

The bisque is seriously awesome - with two cups of cream and another two of whole milk, it's definitely not health food, but it is warm and spicy and lovely - exactly what you want to come home to after a cool, rainy day. I made a few changes to the recipe for convenience - substituting chicken stock for fish stock and leaving out the crab boil and Worcestershire sauce. I also added sliced grape tomato for garnish, because while this soup tastes great, it is decidedly un-photogenic and I hoped that a garnish might distract from that. (Did it work?!)

This next photo should be a little easier on the eyes:

Hello, gorgeous! That right there is a white chocolate and raspberry cake I made for a colleague's fortieth-work-anniversary party. As usual, I was besieged by one problem after another while baking this cake - I realized (too late) the recipe I had called for three eight-inch cake pans, while I only had two nine-inch ones; one cake baked up severely lopsided; the top layer of cake basically turned into crumbs when I tried to place in on top of the buttercream-and-jam-filled layers. In the end, though, it tasted brilliant and wound up looking pretty beautiful. The French buttercream frosting was flavored with framboise (for the layers) and melted white chocolate (for the outer frosting) and layered with raspberry jam from the greenmarket. Um... yes, please.

I only rarely have the time, patience or occasion for such elaborate baking, though - which is why I'm glad for recipes like this plum crostada.

It's so easy, especially with a pre-made pie crust. (I dig Trader Joe's, since it comes in a nice flat round instead of pre-tucked into a pie plate.) Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Take about a pound of ripe plums - these are Italian prune plums - and slice them into quarters. Toss with 1/4 c. sugar, a teaspoon of vanilla and a light sprinkle of cinnamon. Lay your pie crust out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and heap the plums into the middle, leaving a two inch border of crust. Fold your crust upwards over the plums, pleating as necessary, then sprinkle crust and plums with sugar and pop your crostada into the oven. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until crust is golden brown and fruit looks cooked. Serve warm or cool, by itself or with some softly whipped cream.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Antipasto Salad

"What's for dinner tonight?" Ed asked this morning.

"Well, we've got that eggplant and all of those tomatoes to use," I said, "and that jar of artichokes and some leftover salami, so I thought I'd make an antipasto salad."

"JUST a SALAD?" he asked incredulously. "No meat?!"

"I said salami!" I protested. Ed looked dubious, nevertheless.

But when he saw tonight's salad piled up on his plate, he was like, "Oh. Actually that looks kind of great."

And it really was kind of great - crispy fried eggplant, soft mild mozzarella cheese, roasted red peppers, chunks of salami, artichoke hearts and super ripe tomatoes, drenched in balsamic vinegar, salt and freshly ground pepper. I wanted one last awesome salad-for-dinner before the fall arrives for real, in all of its slow-cooker stews and warm applesauce glory - and with eggplant, peppers and tomato, this salad is an awesome way to put September produce to work.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The last few weeks haven't been the best in my kitchen; a week of vacation was followed by a week of post-vacation stress and a giant hurricane. Of course, in preparation for said hurricane, I cranked up the temperature in my fridge and freezer in the hopes that if we lost power, things would stay cool for longer. I didn't anticipate the fact that this would freeze everything in my refrigerator, turning a pound of crisp, gorgeous green beans and juicy red peppers into limp, icy garbage. Sad trombone!

I do have some odds and ends to show you, though.

First up... the inaugural edition of Kathryn Brings Lunch to Work!

This is an heirloom tomato salad with mozzarella, a few slices of salami and some quick pickled onions, which are so great on salad. (Or hot dogs. Or anything, really.) To quick pickle onions, I use David Lebovitz's recipe as a guide and whatever seasonings I have on hand. This time I added bay leaf, peppercorns and some red pepper flakes. Yum!

Next up on the decks we have a carrot soup with greek yogurt and bacon-sea salt croutons from Bien Cuit.

I didn't really follow a recipe for this, which ultimately was a mistake. The soup came out thin and not very flavorful. I'd boiled a bunch of carrots in what was probably too much chicken broth with half an onion and a few cloves of garlic, then pureed it and swirled in greek yogurt. Not such a success. Next time, I'll follow an actual recipe, and I'll probably add a stronger flavor like ginger to give the soup some punch. The carrot-crouton combination, though, is a keeper. (And man, are those croutons good!)

Hurricane preparation kit, Cooking Inside the Box style. Netflix, bottled water... and a delicious swiss chard and wheatberry salad. I've been obsessed with wheatberries lately - they're one of the tastiest whole grains out there, chewy and nutty and great warm or cold - and I thought this salad would be hearty enough to stand up to a few hours sans refrigeration. Even though our power never went out, it was still a good hearty dinner for a rainy evening.

For this particular salad, I cooked down a bunch of swiss chard with a bit of onion and some olive oil, then added in two cups of cooked wheatberries, a handful of toasted pine nuts, nearly a cup of golden raisins, more olive oil, balsamic and salt and pepper. I also made another wheatberry salad last week with sauteed baby zucchini, walnuts, mint and goat cheese. Both salads were definitely keepers!

For dinner tonight, I made this corn spoonbread with my four (!!!) ears of CSA corn. I followed this recipe from Real Simple, which turned out good, but not exactly what I'd expected. I think I was looking for something a little bit sweeter - I might add a little bit of sugar next time, and leave out the thyme. It was pretty good anyway, especially alongside roasted chicken with homemade gravy and an easy salad of grape tomatoes and balsamic vinegar.

Finally, my most successful chocolate cake to date:

Two of my closest friends, B. of Sparrows & Spatulas and her husband Matt, are moving across the country, so a few of our friends decided to throw them a going away party. We did it potluck-style, all the better to show off the culinary stylings of some of our very, very talented friends. (Homemade spanakopita? Corn and basil salad? The best jerk chicken I've ever had outside of Peppa's? Yes please!) My contribution was this cake - devil's food cake soaked with salted caramel, layered with whipped chocolate ganache and frosted with a classic French buttercream.

Baking doesn't come naturally to me, but I really love my sweets, and I'd like to get to a point in my life where I make most of my own sugary treats. (Face it, as much as I love to cook, I'm less inclined to whip up a batch of cupcakes on a Wednesday night than I am to just run to the bodega for some Hostess ones.) The dangerous part of learning how to make, of course, is having the delicious results of one's lessons sitting around in one's refrigerator, tempting one out of bed in the middle of the night for just-one-more-sliver. So a party was a perfect excuse to drag out the massive Baking by James Peterson and make something rich, chocolatey and lovely. (NB to anyone using this cookbook: the professional buttercream recipe calls for 1 1/4 lbs. of butter, then tells you that this amounts to 1 1/2 cups of butter. That is not true. The recipe requires 1 1/4 pounds of butter, though if you - like me - err on the side of less butter and only add 1 1/2 cups, your frosting will be runny but fine.)

So we all gathered on our colleague's beautiful penthouse terrace, and we ate each other's food and we had a little wine, and we watched the children play and we watched the setting sun, and we said goodbye to our amazing, wonderful friends. Of course, it isn't really goodbye - it's really more like, in the immortal words of Nelson Muntz, "smell ya later." We know they'll be back to visit! How do I know?

Because, come on. No one can resist another slice of this cake!