Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tuesday with Rose, Mark, and James

Usually about this time, we're mulling over the results of our entry for Tuesdays with Dorie. This weekend, however, the cake baking clashed with Passover. So instead of baking with Dorie, Lee did a little baking with Rose (Levy Beranbaum, that is).

With a recipe from The Bread Bible, Lee made a batch of fresh matzot for our Saturday seder. He also cooked a beef brisket in the Mark Bittman style. And Jen tackled her first ever potato gratin using James Peterson's Essentials of Cooking as a guide.

We'll be back to Dorie next week with a peanut butter torte, as chosen by Ugg Smell Food.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Matzo Crack

matzo crack
Originally uploaded by Ricestein
Lee cribbed this one from David Lebovitz's blog (see: here), and it is completely addictive. Lee has a terrific sweet tooth, but pregnant Jen prefers her snacks savory. And yet, the salty-sweet combination (caramel, bittersweet chocolate, sea salt, and toasted almonds) hooked us both.

Matzo, you have won our hearts.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

TWD: Carrot Cake!

Success! Well, mostly. This week's TWD challenge, by Amanda of Slow Like Honey, was for Bill's Big Carrot Cake. I'd been intrigued by this one since I first brought home Dorie Greenspan's book. I love a big, beautiful cake and I've never made a carrot cake at home, although it's one of my favorites.

We baked the three-layer cake in 9-inch rounds, as suggested by the recipe. I checked the oven temperature with an oven thermometer to ensure that the heat was right. I left the cakes in the oven, undisturbed, until it was time to check for doneness. And still, the cakes sank. Just a few mm right in the center, but when we stacked them three-high, the sink was more apparent. This also happened with my 1-2-3-4 cake! What gives?

The taste, however, was extraordinary. We omitted the coconut (I can't stand it) and used walnuts and golden raisins as filler alongside the carrots. With the cream cheese frosting, the final product was delicate and moist and very rich. We served it to friends with homemade vanilla ice cream and iced coffee (this is Tucson, after all). More photos here.

I can't wait to make one of these for my mother's birthday. Carrot cake is her favorite, and this may be the best balance of richness/tenderness I've ever tasted in one.

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Matzo Brei Pancakes

Every year, Lee's dad makes a delicious scrambled egg and matzo dish called matzo brei. I had it for the first/only time during our first Passover together in 2006.

This morning, I decided to try my hand at making matzo brei for Lee. While looking for a recipe, I began reading about all of the different matzo brei variations on Mark Bittman's blog. It seems that matzo brei is like stuffing/dressing: every family has their own way of doing it, and people are fiercely loyal to the matzo brei of their youth.

In light of this, I decided not to emulate Bill's splendid recipe (especially without him here to guide me!), instead trying something totally new. Lucky for me, Lee is always on board for experimentation.

One of the comments on Bittman's blog seemed intriguing, and I decided to adapt that gentleman's recipe. Thanks, Bruce Kleinman!

Start by breaking three sheets of matzo into 1/4" to 1/2" pieces. Pile your matzo into a colander and rinse them under hot water for five seconds. Squeeze out the excess water.

In a mixing bowl, combine two eggs, 2 tablespoons of milk, and a pinch of kosher salt. Add the matzos to the egg mixture.

Heat up a large cast iron skillet with 2 tablespoons of butter (I know! but you'll need it). When the foam starts to subside, drop spoonsful of the matzo/egg mixture into the pan, forming dollar-sized pancakes. Go ahead and smush them a little with the spatula while they're cooking: that will help them hold together. After a minute or so, flip your matzocakes. Transfer the finished product to a plate and eat with a drizzle of maple syrup.

This recipe made eight small pancakes, a good serving for two (or three, if you add some fruit alongside). They taste rather like French toast, but with a distinctive matzo flavor. You could add some finely diced shallot or green onion and eat them as a savory dish, too, but I liked them sweet. We might make these again before the week is out.

Happy Passover!

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Homemade Vanilla

The last time Lee and I ran out of vanilla extract, we decided to try making our own, rather than buy another bottle. The results were fantastic; the effort minimal. Here's how we did it.

Take one vanilla bean. Slice it open and scrape the seeds into a bottle (we used a 10-oz tonic bottle). Add the bean, too. Fill the bottle most of the way with a high-quality vodka (we used Tito's) and top off with a little dark rum (we used a 1 oz. sampler bottle of Mount Gay). The liquid will still be pretty clear, at that point.

The extract needs two months to work its magic. Every week, give the bottle a little shake; otherwise, just leave it be. At the end of two months, the liquid will be a beautiful amber-brown and you will have on your hands a bottle of very high quality vanilla.


Monday, April 14, 2008

TWD: Marshmallows

Lee and I have joined an online baking club, where we'll be cooking our way through Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan. This week's recipe, chosen by Judy's Gross Eats, was for marshmallows.

It's very interesting to join a club like this: the recipes are chosen by a different club member each week, and it's liberating to have someone else select which recipe we have to try. I've been wanting to practice my baking skills more, and this is a great way to do it. 

I'll confess that I don't know if I ever would have made homemade marshmallows if not for this TWD challenge (although Lee has been curious about them; he's more of the candy guy around here), and I certainly wouldn't have tried them in April, where (in Tucson) hot chocolate season is over. But I'm definitely glad I did; it was good candy practice and we had pretty successful results.

Lee, as I mentioned, is the main candy maker around here, and he is the one who made these; I just helped. But since he's out of town, I'll write on our behalf.

The recipe was pretty simple: basically, a meringue with gelatin and flavoring. We whipped some egg whites and added the sugar syrup and gelatin. At this point, they smelled disgusting, slightly meaty (gelatin). But with addition of our homemade vanilla, voila! The mixture was transformed into the sweet-smelling marshmallows we know and love.

Next, we poured them into a lined, cornstarch-dusted baking sheet and let them rest for three hours. Getting them out was definitely the trickiest part. They looked like perfect little marshmallows on the top, but the undersides were a little chewed up from being scraped from the pan. Also, our pan might have been a bit too large, because they looked more like little duvets than little pillows. 

But they tasted like fresh, melt-in-your mouth vanilla marshmallows. I think we'll be making this again, with a few adjustments to the lining method/pan size, come winter.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cake Friday: Olive Oil & Rosemary Cake with Orange Confit

We've had the Babbo cookbook since it was released and for six years it has moved with us. That's three states and probably a dozen apartments. But have we cooked from it? I'm embarrassed to say no. We've been making a serious effort to either use or retire the cookbooks we've collected, so last week, we dusted off Babbo and quickly found the Olive Oil & Rosemary cake. It was love at first sight: a sweet and savory pound cake with six ingredients. The only item we needed to buy was the fresh rosemary and it was on.

The cake was incredibly simple to make, and the end result was moist and flavorful. It was dessert-like but not too sweet (which had its down side: we each ate two slices). We apologize, Mr. Batali. More recipes from Babbo will be made soon.

To accompany the cake, Lee made orange confit from a recipe we found on an old NYT Minimalist video. Here's how it works:

Take four whole oranges and blanch them in a dutch oven of water for 30 seconds. Dump the water and do the same thing again. Then quarter the oranges and put them in the pot with two cups of sugar and enough fresh water to cover. Keep the whole thing at a low simmer (just a stray bubble here and there) for eight hours. You might need to add a little extra water from time to time, to keep the oranges covered. When eight hours is up, you can take the oranges out and let them rest, covered and at room temperature, overnight. The next day, arrange the oranges in the bottom of the dutch oven with two cups of sugar and enough water to cover (again). Keep it at a simmer for eight hours (again). Let them rest over night. The third day: orange slices, sugar, water, simmer. The oranges are quite delicate by the end. They're soft enough to cut and eat with a fork (rind and all); the flavor is kind of related to that of marmalade, albeit with a fuller orange flavor.

We're definitely making this one again.

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Friday, April 11, 2008

Lemon & Asparagus Risotto

This lemon and asparagus risotto, from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Cooking, was like springtime in a bowl. The only ingredients are rice, one lemon (zest and juice), 1/2 c dry white wine, chicken stock, a finely minced small onion and a couple tablespoons of butter.

Even Lee, who has lukewarm feelings about asparagus (at best) loved it! I think it would also be delightful with fresh peas. Alice Waters also suggested a pancetta and potato version, which would be nice for brunch.

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Cake Friday and news.

A Year in the Kitchen has been quiet lately; my apologies. We have been busy with a new project around here... Jen is pregnant! We are expecting our tiny sous chef on September 27.

For the past couple of months, cooking has been limited, to say the least. This is mostly due to morning sickness. Jen hasn't had many cravings (potatoes, icy-cold foods and some chocolate, but that isn't too unusual) but has many aversions: namely chicken and fish. Now that we're safely into trimester two and the nausea has subsided, we're back in the kitchen baking up treats and trying new vegetarian dishes.

To celebrate, we've instituted a new tradition: Cake Friday! We kicked things off last week with 1-2-3-4 Cake, a classic yellow cake from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food. It was relatively easy to make and delicious--very moist, very rich. We used farmers' market fresh eggs and homemade vanilla. We also used her recipe for buttercream frosting, adding in a little bittersweet chocolate at the end. Yum!

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