Friday, April 10, 2015

Chocolate Macarons



A few years back, I was having a drink with a bunch of writers here in town. And one woman (whose work I admired, but whom I had never met) walked in with her two little kids, and plopped them down at a nearby table with a clatter of crayons. And then she explained how she was late because, well, she'd jumped out of bed earlier to deal with some household emergency, slipped on a sheet, and cracked a rib against a bedpost. And by cracked, I mean fractured. So here she was, trussed up, tending to her kids, sipping a glass of wine. Oh, and her husband was traveling, and not slated to return to the country until later that night. How was she even here, we wondered? How was she even upright? She waved away our concerns. "I kinda feel like I can do anything right now," she laughed. "I'm just running on fumes." And, likely, painkillers.

I've had a spate of those weeks as well recently. Wherein you produce story after story, jump at the feast-or-famine freelance chance to do some background reporting/recording for another radio program, field an unanticipated spate of calls for a separate project (more soon), and, oh yeah, get ready to host a dozen people for Passover. Lordy. Fumes indeed.

Thankfully the madness is mostly over. Stories were filed, floors were scrubbed, food cooked and folding chairs purchased. After a few weeks of overworked insomnia (which involved a 5 am bathroom cleaning one Saturday morning), I even slept in. Exhaaaaaale.

And part of the secret to my success lay in these cookies. I knew that my schedule was about to explode, and in the pre-madness weeks, I did what prep I could. And thankfully, these cookies freeze beautifully.

I have long been a fan of the delicate cookie plate as a Passover dessert, mostly because we're full of the meal (and it allows me to supply saucers instead of proper dessert place, which is generally all that's left in circulation at that point in the evening). Yes, these particular cookies are a wee bit fussy. But they're delicious, all chocolate and almonds and air. Also, sometimes a bit of fuss is nice — especially when you can get it out of the way before the madness begins.


Chocolate Macarons

adapted from David Lebovitz's The Sweet Life in Paris
yields ~18 finished cookies (I doubled the recipe for a crowd)

If you're making this for Passover, you can omit the corn syrup, and make sure you have kosher-for-Passover powdered sugar (most of them have cornstarch). Also you can swap out a dairy-free cream and margarine for the butter, and end up with a dairy-free dessert.

Batter:
1 cup (100 grams) powdered sugar
½ cup almond flour (50 grams)
3 tablespoons (25 grams) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
2 large egg whites, at room temperature
5 tablespoons (65 grams) granulated sugar

Ganache:
½ cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons light corn syrup (optional)
4 ounces (120 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (15 grams) butter, cut into small pieces


Preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit. Stack two cookie sheets together, and line the top one with parchment paper (this isn't necessary, but in my experience gives you the best results). Prep three stacks of cookie sheets — if you don't have enough, just lay out three sheets of parchment paper.

Sift or grind together the powdered sugar, almond flour, and cocoa powder. Set aside.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, beat the egg whites, gradually and then increasing the speed to high, until they begin to rise and hold their shape. While whipping, sprinkle in the granulated sugar, and continue beating a few more minutes until you form stiff peaks.

Carefully fold the dry ingredients into the beaten egg whites with a flexible rubber spatula. Continue to mix until it becomes a batter that will pour off of your spatula in a thick-yet-pourable (not plop-able) stream — the party line in macaron-making is going for something that "flows like magma". You want it so that when the batter pours down it will hold its shape for a few seconds, but then gradually slump down into the remaining batter. Yes, you will be deflating things. But that's okay. Think about the fact you're going to pipe cookies that you want to hold their shape somewhat, but not maintain the peak from where you piped them.

When the mixture has reached this stage, transfer it into a pastry bag, or plastic bag (if the latter, then snip off a corner). Pipe one-inch circles onto your parchment paper, with about an inch between them (I just aim for as small as I possibly can). Repeat with remaining batter and sheets.

When the cookies are all piped, rap the baking sheet against the counter once or twice to pop air bubbles (if you have free range sheets of cookies, you can lift up the parchment by both sides, and then drop it from a height of a few inches). Bake about 12-15 minutes, until the cookies are set just enough on the bottom where you can almost peel one off. Remove, let set on the sheet a few minutes, and then remove the cookies to a cooling rack. Repeat with remaining cookies — if you're recycling cookie pans, let them cool slightly between batches. And don't worry about the cookies sitting out on the counter awaiting their turn in the oven — some recipes actually recommend that.

When the cookies are baked and cooled, heat the cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan. When the cream just begins to boil at the edges, remove from heat, and add the chopped chocolate. Let sit one minute, then stir until smooth. Stir in the pieces of butter. Let cool until it becomes thick-yet-still spreadable (I kept trying to speed this up in the fridge, then missing my window and needing to microwave it — seriously like 3 times). When the ganache is ready, take a spoon or knife or small spatula, and place a small spoonful of ganache on the flat bottom of a cookie. Find a similarly sized cookie (if yours, like mine, um, vary a bit), and sandwich them together. Let age a day before eating, or store in the freezer for a few weeks.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Fresh Pasta in Lemon Cream Sauce with Seared Scallops



Sometimes I make meals that transform humble, dare-I-say-cheap ingredients into something fancier. Roasting some carrots and dressing them up with sauce and garnish, or elevating potatoes with a pile of North African spices. All delicious. And then there are meals on the flip side — where I take fancy, indulgent, special occasion ingredients. And do almost nothing to them, and just let their simple deliciousness shine through. Like I did the other night.

I recently had a friend over for dinner, and did that lovely fake math wherein you decide well, since we're not eating out as we'd initially planned, I'm still actually saving money by buying these fancy ingredients, right? Perhaps you are familiar with these batshit calculations? Anyways, in this case, it involved a leisurely walk down pick up some fresh-made pasta, and a tub of creme fraiche. Then some scallops — which, admittedly are terrifyingly expensive, but luckily you only need a few per person for a transcendent meal. And this was transcendent.

This is one of those meals that's more about shopping than cooking. After we enjoyed a delicious salad (butter lettuce, leftover roasted cauliflower, kumquats and feta), I ducked back in the kitchen to pull this together in just minutes. The scallops seared, the pasta boiled, and a plop of creme fraiche, lemon, and arugula hit the pan. That's it. I took a hasty cellphone pic, and we ate in amazement.


Fresh Pasta in Lemon Cream Sauce with Seared Scallops

inspired by the pasta dish in Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte, but tweaked beyond recognition
serves 2

~6 large fresh scallops
high-heat oil, like grapeseed
1 pound
1 cup creme fraiche
zest and juice of a meyer lemon
a few handfuls arugula, washed and torn into bite-sized pieces

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and bring a large skillet to a screaming high heat. Set the scallops out to dry (I just set them out on a plate lined with a piece of a brown paper bag).

When your pan is very hot, pour in a bit of oil to slick the surface, and place in the scallops. Sear for a few minutes, until they develop a nice crust, then flip and sear on the other side. Remove from the pan, and set aside. Salt.

Place the pasta in the boiling water, and cook until done. Drain (I like to pour some of the pasta water into the serving plates to warm them, as this dish is best warm). Turn the scallop pan back on, and add the creme fraiche and lemon juice/zest. Stir to mix everything together (including that delicious flavor from the pan), then stir in the arugula and pasta, and toss everything together until the arugula is just wilted. Salt to taste. Drain your serving plates if you filled them with pasta water, then fill with pasta, and top with scallops. Serve. Moan. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Cookie-Style Hamantaschen


For the past several years, I've been making hamantaschen — jam-filled Purim pastries — with a cream cheese crust. It's tangy, delicious, and creates something that's almost like a flaky little triangular tart. But the hamantaschen I grew up with weren't like tarts. They were like cookies. And I kinda wanted something like that.


These hamantaschen are indeed cookie-like — if you fancy deliciously buttery cookies. The dough is basically like a sweet butter cookie, all fat and flour and sugar and egg yolks. For a wee bit of fun, I added a touch of orange zest, to offset the sweet jam, and a bit of rye flour, for that Patisserie-by-way-of-Poland edge.

The end result isn't particularly dressed-up or fancy. No sweet cheese filling, no mashed-up international triangular turns, no need to fuss and freeze. Just butter, flour, and the jams I made myself back in the sunny late fall days, sent right from the counter to the oven (and then to my mouth). And right now, it feels perfect.


Cookie-Style Hamantaschen
 
adapted from Joan Nathan in the New York Times
yields ~ 3 dozen small cookies

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, warmed to room temperature
zest of 1 orange
2 egg yolks
1 cup powdered sugar
hefty pinch salt
1 cup rye flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

jam

Place the butter, orange zest, and egg yolks in a food processor. Pulse to mix, then add the powdered sugar, until well blended. Add the salt and flours, processing (and scraping down as needed) until the mixture just comes together. Turn out onto a square of waxed paper or plastic, shape into a chubby disk, wrap well, and refrigerate for a few hours (or overnight).

When you're ready to bake, preheat your oven to 350° Fahrenheit, and line a few cookie sheets with parchment paper. Take the dough from the refrigerator, and unwrap onto a lightly floured countertop.

Roll out the dough until it's somewhere between 1/8-inch and 1/4-inch thick. Using a cookie cutter or a glass dipped in flour, cut out rounds (I favor smallish cookies, ~2 1/4-inch (also because that's the size cutter I have)). Place a dollop of jam (about a teaspoon) in the center of each round, and fold the sides around to create a triangle (after doing a few, you'll get a sense of how much jam you can fit). Mush any dough scraps back together, and repeat.

Bake the cookies until lightly browned, ~10-12 minutes. Let cool, transferring to a rack if they seem like they're too brown on the bottoms. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Grain Bowl with Barley, Mustard Greens, Chickpeas and Tahini



I often speak disparagingly of my old favorite of "hippie dinner." Some whole grain, steamed or sauteed vegetables, maybe a bit of tofu, and tahini. It's a healthy standard, sure, but it also pegs you as a dated, stubbornly unstylish old hippie. And then I happened upon a few articles, in the space of a week, that made me realize I was branding it all wrong. It wasn't hippie dinner, see —it was a grain bowl! My cooking is so au courant.

Thus rebranded, my quinoa-tofu-broccoli grain bowl seemed due for a bit of an update. Or, to be honest, I was thinking that I should try to put a dent in the enormous vat of barley that seems to have landed in my pantry. And then there were the mustard greens I had bought because they were just so pretty, but I didn't have much of a destination for (as my initial suggestion of "mustards pizza?" was roundly dismissed for the bad idea it so clearly was). And so, revamped hippie dinner! Excuse me, I mean, grain bowl.

As with hippie dinner of the so-dated past, grain bowls can really be anything. I had the aforementioned greens and barley, and some leftover chickpeas I'd simmered up a few days prior for whatever. I made up a standard tahini, but also tossed in some ground turmeric and freshly grated ginger (which both added a bit of flavor that stood up to the bitter blanched mustards, as well as some psychological witch doctor immunity against whatever late-winter illnesses seem to be circulating out there), and topped everything with a few random fresh herbs. Being trendy turns out to be delicious. I had no idea.


Grain Bowl with Barley, Mustard Greens, Chickpeas and Tahini

yields 2 servings

Ginger-Turmeric Tahini Sauce:
1/3 cup tahini paste
juice of 1/2 lemon or lime
1 clove garlic, pressed or grated
1-inch piece of ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
pinch each sugar and salt

Grain Bowl:
1 bunch mustard greens, washed and torn/chopped into bite-sized pieces
2 cups cooked barley (I favor cooking mine like pasta in big pot of boiling water, as I'm less likely to scorch it)
~ 3/4 cup cooked chickpeas (warm to at least room temperature if they're coming out of the fridge)
handful of fresh herbs, if you've got (I had some scallions and cilantro)

To make the Tahini: mix together the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, turmeric, sugar and salt. Add a splash of water, and mix, adding more water (or, if it seems like it needs more bite, lemon juice) until you reach a thick-yet-pourable consistency. Set aside.

Bring a kettle of water to a boil while you wash and chop the mustard greens. Place the greens in a large heat-proof bowl, then pour the water over them. Let sit for a few minutes to soften, then drain (this both cooks the greens and leaches out some of the bitterness, and has the added benefit of making it harder to overcook).

While the greens are blanching, assemble your bowls. Divide the barley between two bowls, then top with the chickpeas. Add the blanched and drained mustard greens, top with a healthy dollop of tahini sauce, then sprinkle on the fresh herbs.

Friday, February 06, 2015

Almost-Flourless Chocolate Cake



There are a lot of times when grown-up life is hard. When decisions and bills pile up, when you feel like you deserve some sort of trophy for managing to actually get through your days — hanging laundry and braving post office lines and fighting with your health insurance and meeting deadlines and oh dear god why is that light on the car blinking? The times when you wonder why nobody told you things would be like this.

But thankfully, there are the other times. When your life is exactly like a childhood dream.  Where you get to live with your best friend, or take a stroll in the middle of the day because it's sunny out and you just want to. And make a dense, amazing chocolate cake just because.

Well, actually because I had leftover whipping cream. See, totally responsible grown-up.

But this cake. It's so good! And it's so much better the second day! This is a rich, chocolate-butter-eggs-sugar bite of perfection. And while I could easily inhale a terrifying amount, just a slim slice of this cake is surprisingly satisfying. Especially when you have another slim slice with your mid-afternoon coffee. And possibly another slim slice for breakfast. Because what is adulthood for, if not for that?


Almost-Flourless Chocolate Cake

adapted from I Want Chocolate by Trish Deseine, as adapted by Orangette
yields an 8-inch round cake

7 ounces dark chocolate, roughly chopped
7 ounces unsalted butter, cut into pats
1 1/3 cup (250 grams) granulated sugar
5 large eggs
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
barely-sweetened whipped cream, for serving

Preheat the oven to 375° Fahrenheit, and butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Line the base of the pan with parchment, and butter the parchment too.

Set a bowl above a pot of simmering water, to create a double boiler. Place the chocolate and butter in the bowl, and let melt, stirring occasionally. When melted, stir in the chocolate, and set aside to cool for a few minutes. Then add the eggs, one by one, stirring well after each addition, and then add the flour.

Pour batter into the buttered cake pan and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until most of the cake is somewhat set, and only the center jiggles. Remove to a rack, and let cool (the cake will fall, which is fine). To serve, run a knife along the edge, turn upside-down onto a plate, peel the paper off the bottom, then flip right side up onto another plate. Serve in small slices, with whipped cream.

Like brownies, this cake is much, much better the second day (store in the refrigerator, but let come to room temperature before eating).

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Roasted Carrots with Tahini, Parsley and Pomegranate



I am in a sporadically meeting book club. And my preparation seems to be somewhat sporadic as well. Some months I read the allotted portion long in advance, mulling over themes and reflecting on resonances. And I prepare for the potluck portion as well, thumbing through recipes that may be arguably thematically linked to the subject material (paella for Don Quixote!), or pulling out a dish I've had pinned for months, or leisurely strolling through the market to find the peak-of-the-season produce for inspiration. And then there are the other times.

So yeah, this past meet-up I didn't quite finish reading the book. Well, to be fair, I didn't quite like it (Memoirs of Hadrian is not making any of my top-five lists). So there was that. So, in possibly related news, when it came time for the potluck contribution, I didn't quite rally. In fact, I didn't think about it at all until that morning. And then it was that afternoon. And it was raining. And thus, Iron Pantry Chef rides again!

This game, for those of you not intimately familiar with my kitchen ecolect, is a recurring favorite — subtitled "what can be made for dinner without leaving the house?" The end result is always thrifty, often inventive, and, every now and then, even tasty. And oh, this one was tasty. And although my single, blurry, low-light phone pic doesn't do it justice, it was also beautiful.

This recipe is befitting a last-minute pantry meal — cheap, humble, and composed of the usual suspects knocking around your pantry and crisper (especially if you spend your winter obsessed with pomegranates, and got a bit too eager when tahini was on sale at the grocery overstock store). But despite this on-hand familiarity, the results feel fresh and surprising. The buttery-soft roasted carrots are enlivened by the unexpectedly herb-spiked tahini, and the pomegranate adds a bright pop of sour-sweetness (in addition to just being so very pretty). It's tempting to see the moral of this story as the benefits/rationalization of lack of preparation, but that has bit me in the butt far too many times for me to push for that takeaway. Let's just say it's a damned fine dish, and the fact that it can be easily whipped up on the fly is just gravy.

Roasted Carrots with Tahini, Parsley and Pomegranate

adapted from Blogging Over Thyme
yields one potluck-worthy large salad

~15 carrots, peeled
olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/3 cup tahini paste
1 clove garlic, pressed
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup chopped cilantro or parsley leaves, plus a handful for garnishing
arils from 1/2 a pomegranate

Preheat the oven to 400° Fahrenheit.

While the oven is preheating, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the carrots, and boil until tender-firm, ~10 minutes. Drain, and toss on a rimmed baking sheet with a bit of olive oil to coat, and the cumin seeds and a sprinkling of salt. Roast until fully soft and beginning to brown, another half hour or so. Remove and let cool to room temperature.

While the carrots are roasting, prepare the tahini sauce. In a blender, or in a small bowl with a whisk or fork, blend together the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and a good pinch of salt. It will get a bit pasty. Add water, bit by bit, until it thins out to a thick-yet-pourable consistency. Taste, and add more lemon juice or salt if needed. Stir in fresh herbs. Set aside.

To serve, place the carrots on a platter, and top with a puddle of the tahini (if you don't need all of it, reserve any remaining for your salads or hippie dinners). Top with a tumble parsley or cilantro leaves, and the pomegranate arils, and serve.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

North African Oven Fries



Were we talking about comfort food? Well, the conversation cannot conclude until we mention potatoes. I mean really — who are we kidding here?

Oven-baked fries are something I seem to rediscover every few years. Buttery yellow potatoes, oil and heat and a mess of salt — instant deliciousness. And, you know, vaguely healthier than deep frying. Inspired by a sadly-no-longer-updated Algerian-American blog, I gave these potatoes a bit of a North African spin. They're tossed with a savory dose of cumin and paprika, and then given a bit of harissa for heat (optional, yet delicious). And then, after they roast up into soft, starchy, crisp-edged warmth, they're tossed with a bright hit of lemon juice, fresh herbs, and raw garlic (which gets just barely tempered by the hot potatoes). Pair with a pile of steamed greens, and it's a perfect dinner. Even the day after (apologies for my wan pictures), they make a fine lunch.

And if you're looking to learn a bit more about North Africa, I recently produced a story about the Berber New Year. I had only the most passing knowledge of the Berbers a few weeks ago, but had the good fortune to be able to dig into their history and culture, and how it all wraps up in a NYE blowout. In mid-January. You can listen over at NPR.


North African Oven Fries

adapted from 64 Square Foot Kitchen
serves ~3-4, especially  paired with a nice green vegetable

2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
~3 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons harissa, or your favorite hot sauce (optional)
6 large waxy potatoes (or more smaller ones), scrubbed but not peeled
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced

Preheat the oven at 400° Fahrenheit.

While the oven is preheating, mix the paprka, cumin, olive oil and harissa together in a large bowl. Peel the potatoes, and slice into wedges or fries, and add them to the bowl. Toss to coat the potato wedges with the oil and seasoning, and a generous sprinkle of salt.


Spread the potatoes on a baking sheet in a single layer, and bake until golden brown and crisp on the outside, about 25-30 minutes (depending upon how thick you've cut them), turning once.

While the potatoes are cooking, place the cilantro, lemon juice, and garlic in a bowl (you can re-use the same bowl you used earlier). When the potatoes are baked, tip them into the bowl, and toss to coat. The hot potatoes will temper the garlic, and everything should smell amazing. Taste, add additional salt or harissa as needed, and serve.