Category Archives: simple

Amigthalota (Flourless Almond Cookies)

I found it difficult not to pick them up by the stems as if they were real pears, resulting in several sad almond pears on the ground. But of course, I ate them anyway.

I have a bunch of almond flour in my cupboard leftover from my last flirtation with low-carb eating.* So this recipe published recently in the Miami Herald caught my attention. Just five ingredients—almond flour, powdered sugar, lemon zest, egg whites, and almond extract. Decorative clove “stems” optional.

like pears in the snow, which makes no sense, but is kind of pretty anyway They’re similar to marzipan, but not as sweet. Only 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar in the recipe goes into the cookies, and even a generous coating will only use another 1/2 cup, so most of the 2 1/2 cups called for is just for storing them. I’m not totally sure what the point of that is. I guess it might prevent them from absorbing moisture, although an air-tight container would probably suffice, especially if you eat them quickly.

The powdered sugar might detract a little bit from the pear resemblance, but it covers the cracks that appear during baking and I’m not sure they’d be quite sweet enough for me without it. If you generally like your sweets sweeter, you might want to double the amount of sugar in the dough. If that makes it too dry to work with, just add a little water. I suspect you could probably replace the egg whites with water if you wanted to make them vegan. There are other recipes that call for orange flower water and no eggs. I imagine you could use cinnamon and a dash of cayenne in place of the lemon zest for a spiced version.

But I’m also pretty pleased with what you get by following recipe as written—crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, not overly sweet, and kind of adorable.

before baking after baking

*In the short term, low-carb diets tend to perform better for both weight loss and health indicators like blood lipids than low-fat or calorie-restriction diets, but in most long-term controlled studies low-carb doesn’t do much (if any) better. As with most diet research, it’s hard to tell if the long-term failure is because most people stop following the diet or if weight regain happens even when people stick to the diet. If the former, it’s unclear if that’s primarily a psychological issue (will-power is a limited resource) or if there are physiological reasons (e.g. decreased leptin levels depress metabolism and increase appetite). Or both. Anyhow, I’m not interested in losing weight (or it might be more accurate to say I am interested in not being interested in losing weight), but many low carb adherents also claim to experience improved well-being, mental clarity, etc. so I was sufficiently intrigued to try it few times. Mostly it seems to make me slightly lethargic and depressed, so I never last longer than a couple of months.

Recipe: Amigthalota (Flourless Almond Cookies)
from the Miami Herald, who adapted it from The Complete Middle East Cookbook by Tess Mallos (Tuttle, original recipe called for 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, so I probably used more; can reduce or eliminate if desired1999)

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups ground almonds
  • 2 1/2 cups powdered sugar (only about 1 cup really necessary)
  • 2 egg whites
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 drops almond extract
  • 25-30 whole cloves (optional)

Method:

1. Whisk together the ground almonds and 1/2 cup sugar. Beat the egg whites until slightly frothy and stir them into the almond-sugar mixture. Add the lemon zest and almond extract and stir until it forms a firm dough.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lightly coat your hands with oil or butter, pinch off walnut-sized pieces of dough and roll them between your palms to form smooth balls. Or, if desired, mold into a pear shape and stick a clove in the top.

3. Bake about 20 minutes, until set and lightly browned. If they look like they’re browning too quickly, cover them with another sheet of parchment paper.

4. While still warm, dip or roll the cookies in some of the remaining powered sugar and then let cool. Store in an airtight container, sprinkled with the rest of the powdered sugar (probably optional).

although pears seem to be traditional, I'm sure other shapes would also work; it's not quite as malleable as marzipan, but almost.

Taffy Apple Cream Dip

I really only took like one picture of the table after everything was finished, so many of these are just zoomed-in parts of the full spread. Not the best angle--you can't even see how prettily Brian arranged all the peaches.

I really should have put a toothpick in that bowl with a flag on it explaining what it was because now and then when I’d stop by the table and drag a wedge of peach or a few blueberries skewered on a toothpick through it, someone would look at me, horrified, and say something like, “Blueberries with hummus? Really?” No, not really, but in retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised that people didn’t immediately recognize it, even if the plates of fruit surrounding it were meant to be a clue.

“Taffy apple dip” (aka “caramel apple dip”) is usually just a combination of softened cream cheese, brown sugar, and vanilla. The first time I had it was at a pumpkin carving party last autumn. My friend Sara brought it, and said it was something her mother had made every autumn for years. As soon as I tasted it, I understood why. The molasses in the brown sugar has many of the same flavor compounds as caramelized sugar, and combined with the vanilla and buttery cream cheese, it evokes toffee or milk caramels.Michigan blueberries are so great right now, this is kind of gilding the lily. But what tasting gilding. It’s the perfect accompaniment for  crisp, tart apples, and so much simpler to make and eat than a whole apple on a stick dipped in caramel.

I knew I wanted to serve fruit at the party, but somehow just cutting up fruit didn’t seem festive enough. Since it’s not quite apple season—although I did find some honeycrisps at the farmer’s market—and the real stars of the late summer in Michigan are peaches and blueberries, I thought I needed to tweak it a little bit. I just wasn’t sure softer fruits would hold up to the original recipe. So I decided to combine it with some whipped cream. And just to be sure the cream wouldn’t start to melt or weep, I stabilized it with some cornstarch and powdered sugar, following Rose Levy Beranbaum’s instructions in The Cake Bible.

The resulting dip was exactly what I was looking for— rich, but light, like a caramelly cream cheese cloud. It was sort of reminiscent of marshmallow fluff, but not quite as sticky and way more delicious. I think the fat in the cream cheese also helped further stabilize the cream because even after three days in the refrigerator, the leftovers stayed perfectly light and creamy and didn’t seep any whey at all. So you could totally make this 24-48 hours before serving, and you could probably even skip the stabilizing step. Also, I bet it would make an amazing cake filling or icing, especially for a spice cake. 

Recipe: Taffy Apple Cream (adapted from Sara J. and Rose Levy Beranbaum)

  • 8 oz cream cheese at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 T. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 2 T. powdered sugar
  • 1 t. cornstarch
  • pinch of cinnamon (optional)

1. Refrigerate your mixing bowl and whisk attachment(s).

2. Combine the powdered sugar and cornstarch in a small saucepan. Gradually add 1/4 cup of the heavy cream, stirring constantly until all the lumps are dissolved and the mixture is completely smooth.

3. Cook the mixture over low heat until it simmers, and keep cooking it for 30 seconds to a minute at that temperature until it thickens to about the consistency of corn syrup.

4. Scrape the mixture into a small bowl and let it cool to room temperature.

5. Once the mixture is cool, beat the cream in the chilled bowl just until it’s just thickened enough that the tines of the beater leave distinct trails. 

6. Add the cooled cornstarch mixture, beating constantly if possible or in several small additions, beating well after each addition. Continue beating just until stiff peaks form when the beaters are raised. Do not overbeat.

7. In a separate bowl, beat the cream cheese until it’s smooth and creamy, and then add the brown sugar and vanilla and beat until the sugar is dissolved. stabilized whipped cream and traditional whipped-cream-less taffy apple dip waiting to be merged

8. Gently fold the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture just until combined.

CSA 2010 Files: Kale Chips, Chard Chips, Kohlrabi Top Chips

Green Chip Trifecta, clockwise from the bottom left: kale, kolhrabi greens, chard Another victory in the war against greens fatigue

Every week, we get more and more non-leafy vegetables in our subscription share from Needle Lane Farms—now we’re getting cucumbers and string beans and lots of summer squash along with things like cabbage and fennel that might be technically leafy vegetables but aren’t in the interchangeable-cooking-greens category. However, we still get at least one bunch of cooking greens every week too. Left to my own devices, I would probably buy non-spinach cooking greens once or twice a year. And after 9 straight weeks of eating cooking greens every week, I kind of hit a wall. It turns out there’s only so much kale I can take, even if it’s cooked in bacon fat or a cheese-infused béchamel.

And then, I remembered the kale “chips” that I started seeing on blogs last winter. They all alleged that if  you just toss kale with some oil and coarse salt and maybe some vinegar, and then you bake it, it crisps up and becomes crunchy and delicious. It sounded a little too good to be true. After trying it, I’m declaring it half-true.

before baking after about 12 minutes in the oven

Greens treated this way do get crisp—you could easily crumble them to dust if you wanted to—and they taste mostly like the oil and salt you coat them with. But they do still have a lingering bitterness, which could be either a positive or a negative depending on your palate. I like them enough to eat them, and if I had a bowl within arms’ reach, I’d probably snack on them idly until they were gone. I might even pick at the crumbles at the bottom of the bowl. Brian, who is not generally a fan of kale, has eaten them willingly and says they seem like something he’d expect Japanese people to like, probably because they’re a bit reminiscent of dried seaweed. In general, I feel like this a good thing to do with cooking greens if you’re sick of eating them wilted and dressed or stuffed into every frittata or soup or casserole you make, but you’re compelled for some reason to keep eating them anyway.

However, they’re not so good that I’d encourage anyone to run out and buy some greens just to try it. I definitely wouldn’t expect kids to enjoy them, and if you really just don’t like the taste of kale, this probably won’t redeem it for you. 

Working on the assumption that most cooking greens are basically interchangeable, I also tried it with a bunch of kohlrabi greens and a bunch of rainbow chard, and indeed, they all turn out pretty much the same. The kohlrabi tops are a little more bitter and retain a tiny bit more chew, and the chard is a little more delicate, but I wouldn’t want to have to distinguish between the three in a blind taste test. In the future, I’ll try adding a little vinegar or lemon juice or zest along with the oil to counteract/complement the bitterness, and perhaps some chili powder or garlic powder and nutritional yeast or msg. This actually seems like a perfect nootch vehicle and I’m annoyed with myself that I didn’t think of that sooner.

Since this counts as a “win” (if not a complete trouncing), I think the official record for Me vs. Greens is 9-1-0 in my favor. I’m counting one mediocre batch of bacon kale as a “tie.” Ten more weeks to go.

not to imply that I'm looking forward to the CSA being done; I'm really enjoying it, and one of the main reasons I joined was to be forced to eat vegetables I wouldn't otherwise eat. I'm just...done with kale for a while. if we get more next week, I'll probably blanche it and freeze it.

Recipe: Kale Chips (originally from Dan Barber on Bon Appetit, via about a million other food blogs many of which are listed on Kalyn’s Kitchen)

clockwise from the bottom right: a bag full of kohlrabi greens, a bunch of kale, and a bunch of rainbow chardIngredients:

  • 1 bunch cooking greens (kale, chard, kohlrabi tops, etc)
  • 1-2 T. olive oil
  • 1-2 t. coarse or flaked salt (I used kosher)
  • 1t.-1 T. vinegar or lemon juice (optional)
  • chili powder, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, msg, or other spices (optional)

Method:

1. Pre-heat the oven to 300F and line several baking sheets with foil.

2. Strip the greens off their stems—I do this by holding the stem in one hand, and making a circle just below where the leaf starts with the thumb and index finger of my other hand and pulling up. The leaf naturally breaks off right about where the stem gets small enough to eat.

3. Tear the leaves into pieces, roughly 2”-3”.  kohlrabi greens and chard on deck, waiting for the kale to get out of the oven

4. Rinse and dry well. I dunked them in a big bowl of water, spun them in a salad spinner, and then sort of patted them down and scrunched them a few times with a paper towel.

5. Sprinkle with olive oil, salt and the vinegar and spices if using. Toss to coat.

6. Spread in a single layer on the prepared baking sheets.

7. Bake for 15-25 minutes, or until very crisp and just browning in the thinnest spots. 15-18 minutes was about right for the kale and chard in my oven, and the kohlrabi greens took about 20 minutes.

The CSA 2010 Files: Kohlrabi and Summer Squash with Almonds

I can't get over how pretty the kohrabi we've been getting is, even though they'e been a little woodier than would be totally ideal

Needle Lane gave us our first summer squash of the season last week, and I decided to try the simple sauté with sliced almonds that the Amateur Gourmet had raved about, originally from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from a restaurant called Red Cat. More of an idea than a recipe: toast some sliced almonds in a pan and then add some summer squash cut into very thin pieces and cook for no more than a minute. I like toasted almonds and tender-crisp zucchini well enough, but it probably wouldn’t have gotten my attention if Deb from SK hadn’t called it “My Favorite Side Dish.” Anytime someone lays a superlative down like that, especially for something that doesn’t involve garlic, cheese, or bacon, I’m intrigued.

I used about 2 oz. almonds for the amount of vegetable shown above

I fussed with it a bit—I added garlic because I reflexively chopped some while I was heating the fat in the pan, and I added a kohlrabi bulb diced into matchsticks and steamed for a few minutes in the microwave because I felt like I needed to use that up at the same time. I didn’t cut the squash into matchsticks because I don’t have a mandoline and didn’t want to take the time. But I could still kind of see where Deb was coming from. It was simultaneously exactly what I should have expected from sautéed almonds and summer squash, and somehow better than I could have expected. I won’t go as far as “favorite side dish” but it is a delicious and dead simple way to use the squash that’s just about to become so excessive that some people have  designated August 8 official Sneak Some Zucchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Night.

The kohlrabi is definitely optional—it added a little cabbagey bite, but I don’t melted butter--foam still subsiding, milk solids beginning to brownthink I would have missed it. I used butter instead of olive oil and let it brown a little, by accident not by design. It may have enhanced the nuttiness. Or maybe what puts Deb’s version over the top is the whatever olive flavor survives the cooking process intact. My suspicion is that any kind of fat will work and that it would be a waste of really expensive olive oil, but expectations probably come into play here: if you want to use a pricey oil and you think you can taste the difference, then you will.

Conversely, the browned butter and almonds might have been a lovely way to finish steamed kohlrabi matchsticks on their own. The kohlrabi greens are edible, too. I threw some in cupboard-clearing bean soup, and they worked just like spinach but a little chewier. The ones from this bulb are still sitting in the fridge, waiting to be cooked in some bacon fat or baked until crisp like kale chips.

Recipe: Kohlrabi and Summer Squash with Almonds

  • 2 small-medium summer squash
  • 1-3 oz. sliced almonds
  • 1 T. butter or olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 medium-large kohlrabi bulb (optional)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (optional)

1. Remove the leaves from the kohlrabi (if using), and peel away the tough outer layer. Dice into matchsticks, place in a bowl with 2-3 T. water and cook on high for 3-4 minutes or until tender. Alternatively, boil/steam the matchsticks in a small saucepan.

I halve the bulb, cut it into thin slices, and then cut the slices into thin strips. not a perfect matchstick, but close enough ready to steam in the microwave

2. Heat the butter or oil in a large pan. Mince the garlic, if using, and add the almonds and garlic to the fat.

3. While the almonds are toasting—or before, if you’re a stickler about having your mise en place—slice the squash into thin pieces. Matchsticks if you want to, or little half-moons like I did. You want them to be thin enough to just cook through in about a minute in the pan.

4. When the almonds are turning brown, add the squash. Toss gently to coat in the fat. After about a minute, remove from the heat.

served alongside brined and broiled shrimp with drawn garlic-butter; a perfect summer meal

Apple-Berry Crumble with Pouring Custard: Baking with neglected, non-baking apples

for reasons that may suggest themselves to you, in the U.S. pouring custard is more commonly known by the French name "Creme Anglaise" even though that just means "English cream," which, as you'd expect, the English have a perfectly good English name for

I’m apparently sort of an expert at letting fruit go bad—not meaning rotten, just completely unappetizing when raw. With pears, that’s easy to do because they’re usually harvested when they’re mature but still green and you have to babysit their ripening. Not all fruits are like that—citrus fruits and most melons and berries are as sweet as they’re ever going to be when they’re harvested. But pears are climacteric ripeners, which means they store some of their sugars as starch and even after you pick them and they can’t suck any more sugar out of the tree, they will get sweeter as their enzymes will break some of those starches into sugars. However, they also contain enzymes that weaken their cell walls, so you have to catch them at just the perfect moment when they’re optimally sweet but haven’t yet turned to mush. Depending on when they were picked and how fast the different enzymes are working, there might not even be a perfect moment—they might dissolve structurally before getting very sweet.

You can sort of control the ripening of climacteric fruits a little by storing them in paper bags with something that emits ethylene gas, like a banana. That’s basically a DIY version of the synthetic industrial process used to ripen almost all tomatoes destined for grocery stores and lots of bananas and pears too. And according to the wikipedia article on ethylene, the ancient Chinese used to ripen pears by storing them in closed rooms and burning incense, presumably containing ethylene or something like it. But this is what I’m talking about with the babysitting—they demand attention and inspire elaborate ritual.

I’m working on ways to turn this into a superhero costume for next Halloween.Apples are significantly less fussy even though they’re also technically climacteric ripeners. They’re usually sweet enough to eat when they’re harvested and best when crisp and they’ll stay that way for weeks in cold storage. It takes a special dedication to fruit neglect to let perfectly lovely apples get so mealy and bruised and wrinkled that they can’t be enjoyed raw. Given how many great uses there are for cooked apples, that wouldn’t seem like much of a problem, but the kinds of apples I like to eat are not the kind of apples I’d normally choose to cook with. So over the last few months, I had gradually relegated nearly 3 lbs of Galas, Honeycrisps, and Red Delicious apples to what I began to think of as the Forgotten Apple Drawer, all of them totally unsuited to either eating or baking.

I could have made a sort of lackluster applesauce and just hidden it in some muffins or a quick bread, but I got to thinking that the main difference between tart baking apples and sweeter eating apples is acid. Perhaps, I thought, I could make something tasty and apple-centric even with suboptimal apples just by adding a little extra lemon juice. And perhaps some tart berries. And then, in the spirit of the kind of laziness and inattention that leads to having a refrigerator drawer full of 3 lbs of neglected apples, I decided to make the simplest of apple desserts: a crumble. Crumbles are in the same baked-fruit-with-topping genus as cobblers and crisps, but is its own species…I guess meaning it can’t reproduce with any of the others.

I know the terms vary by region and tradition, but as I understand them, a cobbler is topped with a layer of biscuit dough dropped on by spoonfuls that bake into something that might resemble a cobblestone road, a crisp is topped with a thin layer of a rich streusel or butter crumb topping, and a crumble is has a thicker crumb topping that usually includes oatmeal. Put a rolled pastry crust on top either in pieces or with some holes poked in it so the juices can seep through and it’s a pandowdy; use buttered bread crumbs and brown sugar and it’s a brown betty. I’m sure there are others, too. The beautiful thing about all of them is that you don’t really need a recipe—you just fill a baking dish most of the way with fruit, top it with whatever combination of sugar and fat you can throw together—starch optional—and bake it until the fruit is done and the topping is brown. 

April 2010 Part I 008I actually had too many neglected apples for the large souffle dish I decided to use, so I threw about 1 lb of the cut pieces in a saucepan pot with a cinnamon stick, 1 T. brown sugar, and some water and simmered them until they were tender, adding more water now and then to prevent them from burning. I’ll probably use them sometime soon as a filling for buckwheat crepes, possibly with some homemade ricotta, as I’ve been meaning to try that.

For the crumble, since it’s not quite berry season, I used a dried berry mix I had picked up at Trader Joe’s with the intent of using it for polenta porridge. Normally when I bake with dried berries, I soak them in some juice or liquor first, but this time I didn’t bother. I just threw them in the dish with the peeled and diced apples, sprinkled them with a few tablespoons of sugar and the juice and zest of a lemon. And then I looked up a few recipes for crisps and crumbles and used those as general guidelines for the topping.

While it was in the oven, smelling lovely, I decided it what would truly compensate for any deficiencies on the part of the apples was something like ice cream. You can make ice cream without an ice cream maker if you break up the ice crystals by hand periodically, but that is kind of a pain. Given that what I wanted was a sweet, creamy substance to pool all around the hot apple crumble the way ice cream does as it melts, the freezing seemed like an unnecessary intermediary stop. If what you want is melted ice cream, why freeze it in the first place, right? So I made a simple pouring custard, which is the sort of thing you can turn into ice cream if you want to, but is a great dessert sauce on its own.

And it worked. Utterly redeemed. Tart and applicious with the occasional pop of berry and the rich perfume of the vanilla bean custard. You’d never know it started off as a drawer full of wrinkled, bruised Galas and Honeycrisps.

any ideas for turning my fruit neglecting powers into a superpower costume for next Halloween?

Recipe: Apple-Berry Crumblethey call it the "golden berry blend" as it also contains golden raisins (adapted from Joy of Baking)

Filling:

  • 4-7 apples or enough to fill a large baking dish (I used ~1 1/2 lbs, peeled and cored)
  • 1/2 cup dried tart berries (cherries, cranberries, blueberries, raspberries, or a combination)
  • 3 T. sugar
  • zest and juice of one medium lemon

Topping:

  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 t. ground nutmeg
  • pinch of salt
  • 7 T. butter, cut into 1/4” pieces
  • 1/3 cup rolled oats

1. Butter the baking dish and preheat the oven to 375F.

2. Peel and core the apples and cut into 1/2”-1” pieces. Toss in baking dish with sugar, lemon juice, and lemon zest.

3. Throw all the topping ingredients in a food processor and give it a few pulses to just combine. Or, whisk everything but the butter together and then cut in the butter with a pastry cutter or two crisscrossing knives until the it’s crumbly and the largest pieces of butter are the size of small peas.

 topping mixture a few pulses later

4. Sprinkle topping over fruit evenly.

5. Bake for 30 minutes to an hour, or until you can see the juices bubbling under the topping and the top is golden brown.

ready to go in the oven just out of the oven--juices bubbling at the edges, topping golden brown

Recipe: Pouring Custard (adapted from Food & Wine and Joy of Baking)

  • 4 or 5 egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups milk, half and half, or whipping cream
  • 1 vanilla bean or 2 t. vanilla extract

1. Place a mesh strainer in metal bowl set inside another bowl filled with ice water. When the custard is ready, you will want to stop the cooking process immediately and strain out any clumps, so it’s good to have this ready before you even start.

the second bowl doesn't need to be metal. doesn't even need to be a bowl--a stock pot or 9x13 baking pan would work just as well for the icewater Curdling Stops Here!

2. Whisk the egg yolks with the sugar until they begin to aerate—they should become a pale, lemony color (I know some sad battery hen eggs start that way but even those should lighten a little) and will increase slightly in volume.

I separate the whites directly into freezer-safe storage, always forget how many whites there are, and eventually have a vaguely nerve-wreaking meringue or angel-food cake experiment where I don't really know if I'm following the recipe. a smarter person would label the tupperware to tell her future self how many egg whites there are. paler an increased in volume

3. Put the milk in a saucepan, scrape the vanilla bean seeds into the milk, and heat just until steaming and there are little bubbles around the edges of the pan (about 5 min over medium heat). Turn off the burner—you don’t have to immediately remove it from the heat, you just don’t want it to get any hotter for the moment.

4. Temper the yolks by adding about half of the hot milk to them in a thin stream while whisking constantly. Another pair of hands or a stand mixer might be useful for this part. I managed by whisking with one hand while using the other to slowly adding milk with a soup ladle and focusing very, very intently on being ambidextrous. Basically what you’re doing in this step is warming the eggs gently so they cook without scrambling, so the key is to keep them moving as they come into contact with the hot milk.For obvious reasons, I have no pictures of this process in action. 

here's the set up after I've added about half of the milk

4. Pour the tempered egg mixture into the pot with the remaining milk, whisking constantly.

5. Turn the heat back on low or medium and cook for 5-7 minutes, whisking constantly, until the mixture just begins to thicken. You want it to be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon—but that’s not very thick, it will not be like a starch-thickened pudding or baked custard. As soon as it begins to thicken, pull it off the heat, still whisking constantly and immediately strain into the cold bowl to stop it from cooking any more. If using vanilla extract (or another extract or liqueur), add it now.

If it starts to look curdled you still have a minute to save it. Pull it from the heat immediately, whisking vigorously and immediately strain it into the cold bowl.

 no matter how vigorous your whisking, there will always be a few clumps it will thicken a little more as it cools, but will definitely still be a sauce, not something like a starch-thickened pudding

Tofu Clafoutis with Spiced Plums

or should I say "tofutis"? 

I discovered clafoutis a few years ago while looking for dessert ideas for Iron Chef IV: Battle Chickpea. The floofy name is a little misleading—it’s nothing fancy or elaborate, just a sweetened batter of egg, milk, and flour poured over a few handfuls of fruit and baked. I suspect only the reason that the French name has survived (although sometimes Anglophone menus and recipes drop the silent “s”) is that it doesn’t really have an exact analog in English. It’s somewhere between a custard and a cake, but usually has more flour than the former and more egg than the latter. The closest thing I’ve had is the puffy “Dutch oven pancake” or pannekoek sometimes filled with spiced apples. I’ve also seen it described as a “crustless pie” or “batter pudding.”

and given that it's substantially tofu and fruit and chick peas, you can totally justify eating it for breakfastClafoutis differs from pannekoek in that fruit isn’t just an optional addition, it’s the raison d’etre, the star of the show. The traditional version that hails from the Limousin region of France calls for un-pitted cherries, which supposedly impart a distinctive almond-like flavor, probably due to the same chemical found in peach and apricot pits, the source of “natural” almond flavor. They also all contain trace amounts of cyanide, which is Eric Schlosser’s primary example of why “natural” flavors are not necessarily superior—especially in terms of health—to “artificial ones.” According to wikipedia, the name “clafoutis” actually derives from the Occitan verb “clafir, meaning to fill’ (implied: ‘the batter with cherries’).” Apparently in France, when fruits other than cherries are used, it’s called a “flaugnarde” (which comes from an Old French word that means “soft”). But I’m sticking with “clafoutis” 1) because it’s more common in English regardless of the fruit involved, 2) because the etymology isn’t specific to cherries anyhow so as long as you’re filling it with something it’s no less clafir-ed and, 3) because if anything sounds more egregiously French than clafoutis, it’s flaugnarde.

Savvy readers may be wondering what any of this has to do with chick peas, perhaps imagining some sort of horrible pancake studded with whole chickpeas. The reigning Iron Chef I was competing against did actually make a dessert that basically consisted of a chocolate custard studded with whole chickpeas, so maybe that’s not so crazy. But I doubt he’s done that again since the competition. Also, he lost.

I'm not going to write all three variations every time, but of course chick peas also go by the name "garbanzo beans" and the flour is often sold as "gram flour" What I made—and liked enough to make again—was a clafoutis recipe that substitutes silken tofu and some chickpea flour for the eggs. I got the idea from the now-sadly-defunct blog Hezbollah Tofu, which was devoted to veganizing recipes by Anthony Bourdain to spite him for various incendiary slurs he’s made about vegans and vegetarians (the title is a reference to the quote from Kitchen Confidential: “Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn.”). Sadly, I didn’t save that recipe and none of the other, similar versions I found used chickpea flour, which was the genius of the Hezbollah Tofu version, and not just because it was the secret ingredient I had to use. Chickpea flour is awesome—it’s the basis of the gorgeous crepes called socca or farinata and an addictive crispy-creamy pan-fried polenta-type stuff called panelle. In this recipe, it adds color, flavor and protein to help make up for the absent eggs.

But using the basic proportions in the other recipes and substituting chickpea flour for the regular flour and then throwing in 1/4 cup regular flour when I remembered that there was something preventing the original from being gluten-free, I managed to reconstruct something similar. I’ve never made or tasted an egg-based clafoutis, so I can’t vouch for its verisimilitude. I suspect that the batter is grainier and the final product less fluffy. It does have a faint soya-like nuttiness/bitterness. However, it’s still pretty delicious.  The fruit and flavor extracts mask the tofu flavor pretty well and the texture seems pretty much exactly like the descriptions of traditional clafoutis—thick and custardy, but with more structural integrity than most custards. A bit like French toast or bread pudding or a crust-less quiche.

they were pretty. i was taken in.You can use any kind of tree fruit or berry, although if the fruit is very firm or under-ripe you might want to cook it a little first. For the Iron Chef battle, I used Bosc pears, peeled, halved, and poached in white wine until just fork-tender. If you want to make the traditional version but don’t relish the idea of spitting cherry pits out of your dessert or pitting a bunch of cherries, you could use thawed frozen cherries and a little almond extract (either synthetic or cyanide-laced). For this version, my inspiration for was a bunch of little plums I had purchased, which turned out to be sort of unpleasant to eat raw. They were sort of bland and sour and instead of getting sweeter over time, they just started to develop mold spots and become grainy. I figured cooking them would be one way to add some sweetness and coax a little more flavor out of them.

I found a recipe for spiced plums roasted in orange juice and adapted that basic technique using white wine and a few different spices. The result was gorgeous—richly perfumed with the wine and a vanilla bean and just a hint of nutmeg and cinnamon. After spooning the plums out of the wine, I reduced the remaining liquid to syrup, which was way more plummy than the plums themselves and I’ve been drizzling that over the clafoutis before serving it. I know every recipe for every tofu-based dessert ever makes this claim, and it’s only sometimes true, but for real: you will not believe this dessert is made substantially from tofu.

they turned more golden as they roasted, and the sauce turned pink, like it leached that pigment out  "rustic" I think is the word 

Recipe: Tofu Clafoutis (adapted from Vegan Visitor and Nom! Nom! Nom! Blog

Fills one 10” pie pan and three 4-oz baking dishes; can be halved for a thinner clafoutis tofu and sugar in the food processor

  • one package silken tofu
  • 1/3 cup white sugar
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 cups milk (soy, nut, dairy, whatever)
  • 1 cup garbanzo bean flour (chickpea flour or gram flour) (I may reduce this to 3/4 cup next time since I remembered belatedly that there was also regular flour and it was a little firmer than it needed to be)
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour + more for coating baking dish
  • 2 t. baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 t. vanilla or almond extract
  • 1 1/2-2 cups fruit (whole berries or cut up apples or pears)
  • cooking spray, shortening, lard, or butter for greasing baking dish
  • powdered sugar for dusting

1. Preheat oven to 415F. Grease and flour the baking dish(es).

2. Place the fruit in the prepared baking dish. 

3. In a blender or food processor, blend the tofu and sugar until smooth.

4. Add 1 cup of milk and the remaining ingredients and blend until smooth. Then add the remaining cup of milk and blend.

fruit in the pie panbatter clafir-ed with plums!

5. Pour the batter over the fruit and place in the oven.

6. Bake for 15 minutes at 415 and then reduce the oven temperature to 350 and bake another 20-30 minutes or until the top is beginning to brown and the center only wiggles slightly when you shake the pan.

7. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, dust with powdered sugar, and serve. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream or crème fraiche if desired.

poofed

Recipe: Spiced Plums enameled cast iron works well for this because you can transfer it directly to the stovetop, but any oven-safe dish will do(adapted from AllRecipes)

  • a dozen or so small plums, or half-dozen larger ones 
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 3/4-1 cup white wine
  • one vanilla bean (or 1 t. vanilla extract)
  • zest of one small lemon or orange
  • dash of ground nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom, and/or cayenne

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Halve and pit the plums and place them cut-side up in an oven-safe pot or baking dish.

2. Sprinkle the sugar over them evenly and add the wine.

I use the back of a knife to scrape the seeds outand put the bean in a jar full of sugar to make vanilla sugar, which is great for homemade hot cocoa

3. Cut the vanilla bean in half and scrape the seeds into the pot (save bean for another use). Grate the citrus zest, nutmeg and cinnamon directly into the pot or add pre-ground spices.

  microplanes are so awesome. I don't even remember how I zested lemons before I had one.this nutmeg was whole when I started, so that's about how much I used.

4. Bake for 20-40 minutes or until the plums are the desired texture—less time if you want them to retain their structure, more if you want to turn them into something like a compote or sauce. If desired, you can remove the plums and boil the liquid to reduce it further.

these would be great on their own with ice cream or creme anglaise or in a cobbler, too  I reduced it until it was thick enough that a path remained for a few seconds when I dragged a spoon through it

Alain’s Winter Squash Soup with Homemade Croutons

both garnishes totally optional; croutons obviously also good for other applications, and yeah, i know: clean those plates!  

How I discovered squash soup…twice

The first time I had butternut squash soup—at a restaurant outside of DC c. 2001—it was a minor revelation. Up until that point, I’d only had winter squash in sweet things, mostly custardy pies and spiced quick breads or snack cakes. Even after eating the whole bowl, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I liked it, but I definitely liked the idea of it.

penguin dude back there still needs a name. I'm thinking "Geoffrey"I found a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone that involves roasting the whole butternut squash, halved and with the seeds scooped out, along with a whole head of garlic and a couple of onions wrapped in foil, until all the vegetables are tender and slightly caramelized and then pureeing them with just enough broth to make the mixture smooth. That still sounds incredible to me—roasted garlic! caramelized onion! no squash peeling required! But honestly, I never really liked the soup it produced. It was okay, I guess, but I never really wanted to eat very much of it. I’d usually make a fresh loaf of bread to go along with it and that also sounded like the perfect combination, but once I’d consumed as much of the soup as the bread could absorb, I never really wanted to finish the bowl.

So Alain’s soup was another revelation. It was the starter course at an annual Thanksgiving-season dinner party/potluck where the hosts make so much amazing food that everything the guests bring is basically unnecessary and redundant, but it’s all so damn good that the only reasonable course of action is to eat yourself into a Coma of Delicious Regret. And I knew this—I had just watched John pan-fry these giant mashed potato dumplings filled with pulled pork until they were golden and crisp on the outside and Niki had just brought a big pot full of slow-braised red cabbage down from her apartment on the 2nd floor and they had also made all the classic holiday fare—a glistening turkey and fresh cranberry relish perfumed with orange zest and this gravy that involves simmering a whole lemon in the turkey’s juices, which gets served in a teapot because gravy boats aren’t big enough (and which actually had to be refilled before people came back for seconds because everyone just wanted to pour it over everything on their plates). And then there was everything the dozen or so guests had brought on top of that. But I couldn’t help myself—I had a second helping of the soup. 

just after stirring the milk inIt is somehow both velvety rich and ethereally light. Even though I’ve been making it all winter and Brian knows exactly what’s in it, the recent rutabaga incident has made him sort of suspicious, so last night after he tasted a spoonful, he immediately asked how much butter I’d put in it. When I said “None,” he looked more suspicious and said, “Okay, how much oil?”

None. The only fat in the soup is what’s in the milk and the stock—so you could, using a fat-free broth or bouillon and fat-free milk, make it without any fat at all. Alain says that the best milk to use is soy milk, both because the slight nuttiness is a welcome complement to the squash and it makes the soup creamy but even more ethereal. I usually use regular milk because that’s what I have on hand and it’s also delicious. If you wanted something more substantial or decadent-tasting, you could substitute cream or half and half. The only other ingredients are squash, salt and pepper.

And it’s really easy. You do have to peel the squash, but as it turns out, that’s not any more difficult than scooping the flesh out of the peel once it’s cooked—at least for butternut, peeling acorn squash is kind of a pain. To make the peeling easier, you can cut the squash in half and steam it in the microwave it for a couple of minutes with a little bit of water and then let it cool until you can just pull the tough rind away.

garlic, parmesan, and berb croutons

A Swan Song for Stale Bread

I learned to make croutons when I worked at a Baker’s Square during one of my summer breaks in college. Serving house-made croutons wasn’t restaurant policy or anything; we did stock packaged croutons provided by the company and used those some of the time. But we’d also save all the ends of the bread we used for sandwiches and whenever we had a little extra time, we’d make them into croutons. It’s still my go-to recipe for stale bread when I have it, and the croutons it makes are so much better than store-bought croutons that I occasionally pick up a discounted day-old loaf from the store just for the purpose of crouton-making. 

This hardly merits the name “recipe”—it’s more a list of general guidelines: cube the bread, add some fat and flavor, bake until crisp and lightly browned. I always use at least one kind of dried and powdered allium (garlic, onion, and/or shallot), something umami-rich (parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast, and/or msg), and some herbs (usually parsley, thyme, rosemary and/or dill). Paprika or pimentón and buttermilk powder also make nice additions. If you want “Ranch” flavored croutons, use buttermilk powder, garlic powder, minced green onion, dill, and msg. Bake in a hot oven (400-450F) for 12-20 minutes, stirring midway through and rotating the pans to promote even browning.

Recipe: Alain’s Winter Squash Soup peeled

  • 1 1/2-2 lbs winter squash (butternut, acorn, sugar pumpkin, carnival, etc.)
  • 4 cups water or broth (I usually eyeball this by filling the pot to just below the steamer)
  • 1 cup milk (soy recommended, but anything goes)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a pinch of ground sage, nutmeg, or cinnamon (optional)
  • diced green onion to garnish (optional)

1. Heat the water or broth in a large pot while you peel and cube the squash. I put a steamer tray in the pot—that’s not necessary, but I think it makes it easier to get it out to puree it.

halved, mid-way through seed removal and diced into ~1" cubes

2. Steam or boil the squash for 15-25 minutes or until very tender—you should be able to pierce the flesh with a fork without any resistance.

Feb 2010 II 083Feb 2010 II 085

3. Remove the solids to a blender or food processor and puree, adding broth as necessary to make it blend smoothly.

Feb 2010 II 086 Feb 2010 II 090

4. Return to the pot. You could strain it if you wanted to, but that’s kind of a pain and if the squash is tender enough and you blend it well enough, it should be completely silky without straining.

5. Return to a gentle simmer, cover, and let cook another 15-20 minutes. While not strictly necessary, this seems to make the flavor richer, sweeter, and somehow…deeper.

6. Stir in the milk, remove from heat, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Recipe: Croutons sometimes the loaves are as cheap ast $.50, which makes these So Much Cheaper than store-bought croutons. the ketchup bottle was a temporary olive oil container that failed because it seemed to sort of...seep? it was really oily and gross to the touch.

  • ~6 cups stale bread, cut into 1/2”-1” cubes (that’s about how much one big loaf yields, obviously  sometimes you’ll have less—I usually just eyeball everything anyway but the following amounts offer some general guidelines)
  • 4 T. liquid fat—oil or melted lard or clarified butter
  • 2 t. salt—I don’t use kosher for this because, like with popcorn, you want finer grains that get better distributed and stick better
  • 1 t. ground pepper
  • 2 t. garlic powder or onion powder
  • 1 T. dried parsley
  • 1 t. thyme, rosemary, dill, or a combination
  • 3 T. finely grated parmesan cheese and/or 2 T. nutritional yeast flakes and/or 1 t. msg
  • 1 t. paprika or pimentón (optional)
  • 2 T. buttermilk powder (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 400F and line two baking sheets with foil. Spray foil lightly with cooking spray if seasoneddesired—that will help prevent the croutons from sticking to it.

2. Drizzle bread cubes with oil and toss to coat lightly.

3. Add the seasonings and toss to coat evenly. Spread on the prepared sheets in a single layer.

4. Bake for 15-20 minutes. After 7 or 8 minutes, remove the pans and stir the croutons and rotate the pans so the croutons get evenly toasted and browned.

5. Let cool completely before placing in an airtight container, like a zip-top bag. Will keep almost indefinitely, but best within 4-6 weeks.

 before bakingafter baking

Sourdough-risen No-knead Pizza Dough

with a spicy tomato sauce, bacon, cherry tomatoes, sauteed onions, and fontina cheese

Homemade Bread When There’s No Time to Make Bread

One of the perks of being in graduate school is that I basically work from home most days, so if I want to take a break in the middle of the afternoon to knead bagel dough until there’s enough gluten to make a baker’s windowpane, I usually can. But I know that’s a luxury not everyone has, and sometimes even I can’t seem to fit all that kneading in. As much as I might like to live by some sort of mantra like, “If I’m too busy to knead bread for 15 minutes, I’m too busy,” sometimes, like it or not, busy just happens.  

Ezekiel, just after being refreshed with 1 c. bread flour and 1 c. water, already bubblingHowever, I also have this yeast creature named Ezekiel, and if I don’t bake with him at least once every  two weeks (and preferably every week—keeps him more active), he will eventually suffocate in his own excrement. That may be one of the biggest deterrents for people who might otherwise be interested in creating and maintaining their own starters—even if you’re an avid baker, a sourdough starter represents a kind of commitment. Whether or not you’re type to get emotionally invested in your fermenting flour paste, the whole endeavor is likely to seem like a waste of time and food if you’re just going to end up killing the stupid thing in a month or two anyhow.

However, thanks to the no-knead method popularized by Jim Lahey of Sullivan Bakery and Mark Bittman of the NYTimes, the inevitability of weeks when you will be too busy to knead a loaf of bread shouldn’t stop anyone from having a starter. Honestly, no-knead bread is probably the only reason Ezekiel is still alive. There are some culinary justifications for the no-knead method too—if you don’t have to knead a dough, it can be stickier and that increased moisture content is one way of producing a crackling “artisan bread” crust. Also, the long, slow rise produces the big pockets of air and uneven crumb people have come to expect and desire from “rustic” breads like ciabatta. But the best part by far is being able to make homemade bread with about as much time and effort as it takes to boil an egg.*

I’ll post my sourdough-risen adaptation of the classic crusty Dutch Oven-baked boule everyone loves eventually. But I think the best testament to the versatility and ease of the no-knead method is no-knead pizza.

The Four Keys to Great Pizza Crust

1) Gluten 

Pizza is even more reliant on gluten than most yeast breads. Without a lot of gluten, the crust will tear before you can stretch it thin enough to be a crust instead of something more like focaccia. can be rolled thinner for a true thin crust, but then it won't get those big fat bubbles, which I loveLots of gluten is also what makes pizza crusts chewier than normal bread—usually, you want something closer in texture to a bagel than sandwich bread. Normally, you produce gluten by kneading the dough for a long time, but the no-knead method uses a very long rise instead, which facilitates gluten production without any effort on your part. Time basically does the kneading for you.

However, you do need to use a high-protein flour to give time the raw material to work with. If you substitute all-purpose flour, the crust will probably tear when you try to shape it. If you don’t want to buy bread flour because you’re afraid you’ll never 5 lbs of it, but you do have access to a “natural foods” store, you can use vital wheat gluten to increase the protein content of regular or low-gluten flour—whisk 1 T. vital wheat gluten per cup of all-purpose flour or 2 T. per cup of whole wheat or cake flour into the dry ingredients before combining them with the wet ingredients.

2) Olive Oil

The traditional no-knead dough recipe contains no fat at all, like a baguette dough, but pizza dough usually contains at least a little fat both for suppleness and for flavor. So instead of using Jim Lahey’s recipe for no-knead pizza dough, I use the “Olive Oil Dough Master Version” from the book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, adapted to work with my 100% hydration sourdough starter (a 1:1 combination of flour and water by volume). Any kind of oil will work, but I think my favorite thing about this dough is that you can smell and taste the olive oil in the final product. 

3) Refrigeration

can be used just like the refrigerated dough you can buy at the storeMost pizzerias refrigerate their crusts for a minimum of 24 hours. The cold slows the yeast activity  down and enables even more gluten development and a lot of flavor development, which is largely due to the yeast byproducts. You can bake the crust without refrigerating it, and it will turn out okay; however, it will be way better after at least one and up to ten days in the refrigerator. While that might be a bummer for instant gratification-seekers, it actually makes this a super convenient meal. You can throw the dough together one day and then after the long rise, divide it into individual pizza-sized amounts and store them in separate ziptop bags in the refrigerator for use basically anytime in the next two weeks.

Then, whenever you want pizza, all you have to do is roll it out, top it, and bake it. Even if you grate the cheese by hand and the toppings you want to use take some prep work—like cooking bacon and sautéing some sliced onion in the rendered fat or chopping up a pear or bell pepper—you can do that in the time it takes the oven to preheat. Baking only takes 15 minutes, and if you’re of the mind that pizza alone isn’t a complete and balanced meal, you can use that to throw together a salad or cut up and steam a head of broccoli. If you use already-prepped toppings like shredded cheese, canned artichokes, and pre-sliced olives or chopped up leftovers, the whole process takes less than 20 minutes of active time. Either way, your pizza will be done in less time than it takes to get delivery.

4) Hot Oven & Stone

While the exact temperature may vary by oven, which you’ll only figure out by experimenting, you can narrow your search to 400F+. A super-hot oven is what makes the yeast go crazy, producing those great big bubbles and crisping the top of the crust. For a crisp bottom crust, you need a preheated surface—ideally a baking tile or pizza stone, but a preheated baking sheet is better than nothing.

For my oven, 15 minutes at 500F is perfect—I get a soggy crust at both 450 or 550. You’d think it would just get crisper as the oven gets hotter (or at least I did), but when I tried it at 550F, after 12 or so minutes the top was starting to burn and the bottom wasn’t totally crisp, and got softer and limper as it cooled. At 450, the bottom would begin to burn by the time the cheese on top melted and despite that, never got totally crisp.

As I’ve mentioned before, you don’t have to drop $40 on something specifically marketed as a baking tile or pizza stone at Williams-Sonoma, you can use any unglazed quarry tile that will fit in your oven, which should be available at most home improvement stores for a couple of dollars (Alton Brown claims they cost $0.99 in the 2007 Good Eats episode “Flat is Beautiful” and katie k at the Fresh Loaf recommends asking for “saltillo tiles” which ran about $1.50 in Southern California in 2006).

1 pizza serves 2-3; we usually eat 2/3 for dinner and leave the last two pieces out for a snack later that night. on rare occasions, they survive and become breakfast the bubbles inevitably collapse a little once you cut the pie

Recipe: Sourdough-risen No-Knead Pizza Dough (makes 2 12”-14” pizzas)

(adapted from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day; for the instant yeast version, see Steamy Kitchen)

  • 2 c. refreshed starter
  • 2 t. kosher salt
  • 2 t. sugar
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 1/4 cups bread flour (may substitute some or all whole wheat flour, but add 2 T. vital wheat gluten per cup)
  • parchment paper or cornmeal and additional flour for dusting baking sheet

1. Whisk the olive oil into the refreshed starter, and then add the rest of the ingredients (aside from the parchment paper and cornmeal) and stir just until combined—about 1 min.

2. Cover and let rise 8-20 hours or until the dough is more than doubled in size and there are fat bubbles on the surface.

ingredients just combined into a dough--it will be sticky about 12 hours later. also an illustration of why if i cooked more during the day, my photos would be so much nicer

3. Divide the dough into two balls. Stretch the surface of each one and pinch the edges together and then roll it around on a smooth surface to form round balls with taut surfaces. Pour some olive oil into two zip-top bags (I usually use the 1 qt. size) and spread it around a little or spray a little cooking spray into them and tuck one ball into each bag. You could also just store the whole thing in one gallon-sized bag and pull off a grapefruit-sized hunk when you want to bake, but I find the one ball, one bag method to be a little more convenient.

how dirty does "smooth, taut balls" sound? oiled bags

4. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours or up to 10 days. Alternatively, shape and bake now.

5. Remove dough from cold storage 30 min-1 hr before rolling it out to let it warm up a little. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 500F with a baking tile placed on a middle rack or a baking sheet on the lowest rack possible—or even on the floor of the oven. you can also stretch it with your hands and toss it in the air. I am not that cool.

6. Roll the dough to approximately 1/4” thickness for a chewy, bubbly crust. For a true thin crust, roll it as thin as you can make it—until you can almost begin to see light through it. The best way to create a mostly even circle is to flatten the dough into a round and then roll from the center to the top edge and then turn the circle 90 degrees and repeat—roll, turn, roll, turn, roll turn, etc. always rolling in the same direction, straight from the middle of the circle towards 12 o’clock. 

7. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a lightly floured towel (I usually cut open the ziptop bag and use that as the oil will keep it from sticking). Let rise for 20-30 minutes while the oven finishes preheating and you finish prepping any ingredients.

8. Top as desired. Alton Brown insists that less is more. I think it’s your damn pizza and you should do whatever you want with it. Some combinations I especially like:

With no sauce, just brushed with olive oil:

  • sautéed shallots and shitake mushrooms with fontina
  • firm pears and blue cheese (with or without bacon and/or arugula)
  • lots of fresh herbs, garlic and a hard cheese like asiago

With tomato sauce:

  • eggs (either scrambled or just broken, whole, onto the pizza so they cook over easy in the oven) with peas and ham or bacon (fake bacon works just about as well) with pressed mozarella or monterey jack
  • artichoke hearts, sliced olives, and asiago
  • salad shrimp, diced green onions, blanched asparagus tips, and a hard, sharp cheese like parmeggiano-regiano grated coarsely or peeled in strips with a vegetable peeler
  • fresh tomato and garlic with slices of fresh mozzarella (basil optional)
  • leftover meatloaf with onion and sharp cheddar

With an herb or arugula pesto:

  • sautéed bell peppers and onions with pepperjack cheese
  • fresh tomato and mozzarella (a repeat, but it’s a classic)

and bacon, sauteed onions, cherry tomatoes, and fontina wasn't half bad either 

9. Bake for 10-15 min. or until cheese is melted and crust is golden-brown.

*Why this is the standard metric of simplicity, I don’t know. I mean, I had to look up how to boil an egg not that long ago. And anytime you have to drain something and then shock it in ice water, that’s probably at a level of complexity belied by the way “boiling an egg” is invoked. I mean, have you seen The Worst Cooks in America? How many of them would know how to boil an egg? I mean, I’m sure they could put an egg in boiling water—but how many of them would know when to pull it out and how to prevent that unappetizing grey outer layer of yolk from developing? Clearly a cliché from another era.

Polenta with Cinnamon-Orange Prune Compote

I decided "Pruney Polenta Porridge" was a little too Precious

The Michigan weather gods have been teasing us with a premature Spring, which is glorious in the way that 50-degree sun can only be north of the 40th parallel. But I know it’s not going to last. Californians might be able to look forward to the first asparagus this month and fresh peas not long after, but here the only things “in season” for months to come are kale and cabbage and trucked-in citrus. So here’s one of my favorite winter porridges, adapted from World’s Healthiest Foods. The polenta offers a nice change of pace from oats and simmering the prunes in orange juice and cinnamon until the sugars begin to caramelize makes a tart, spiced topping that’s both sunny and comforting on cold winter mornings, which I’m sure we still have a few of to look forward to.

And no, before noon, I do not grate my own cinnamon. Don't let that stop you, though. It’s remarkably quick and easy to throw together, largely thanks to the instant polenta. I just toss the prunes, orange juice, and cinnamon in a small saucepan set on high heat and a minute or two after I’m done microwaving the polenta, the compote is ready. If you’re more ambitious than I usually am before noon, you could use regular polenta. Russ Parson wrote recently about a stir-and-bake method method that supposedly produces the “deep, toasted corn flavor of a true long-stirred polenta” without the long-stirring. But instant polenta is a far cry better than instant oatmeal, and for a simple, hot breakfast cereal, it does well enough for me.

The recipe is also endlessly adaptable—you can use different juices, spices, fruits, and/or nuts. The original recipe includes apricots, and I throw them in when I have them on hand. I love  cardamom and almonds in place of the cinnamon and walnuts. Dried blueberries and cherries with nutmeg would probably also be great. Milk of any kind—cow, soy, almond, coconut—can be used instead of the water to make a richer polenta. If you were really hurting for summer, you could make a tropical version by doing one or more of the following: cooking the polenta in coconut milk, topping it with pieces of dried mango and papaya simmered in guava juice with allspice and a piece of fresh (or pinch of powdered) ginger, sprinkling it with shredded coconut and macadamia nuts.

But this is how I usually do it:

Recipe: Polenta with Cinnamon-Orange Prune Compote

  • 4 T. instant polenta
  • 1 cup water
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 5-6 prunes
  • generous pinch ground cinnamon
  • small handful of chopped walnuts
  • 1 T. honey (optional)

    a little blurry from the steam

1. In a saucepan, heat the orange juice, prunes, cinnamon, and honey over medium-high heat.

2. Combine the polenta, water, and salt in a bowl and microwave on high for 30-second intervals, stirring in between, until thickened (about 2 minutes).

3. When the juice has reduced to a sauce and is beginning to caramelize and the prunes are softened, pour it over the cooked polenta.

4. Scatter walnuts over the top.

April still can't come soon enough

Cheddar-garlic Biscuits: In Defense of Garlic Powder

Lobster not included 

I have been carefully trained to look upon garlic powder with great disdain.

S.J. Sebellin-Ross

At the third Ann Arbor Ignite last Thursday, the audience cheered and applauded when the last speaker exhorted us to use fresh garlic instead of dried or powdered (about 41:40 here). And sure, in a recipe like the bolognese he was describing, I’d probably use fresh garlic, too, but that’s hardly a reason to cheer. The crowd’s reaction instead seemed symptomatic of the emblematic status fresh garlic has achieved. Its superiority has become one of the central commandments of the “food revolution,” and no wonder, it hits all the right notes: seems more “natural” and more “authentic,” supposedly better-tasting, and possibly healthier (although, as that site notes, it’s possible to dehydrate garlic without deactivating the enzymes with therapeutic value, which cooking can destroy). It also has the added bonus of a built-in villain in the form of its dehydrated, powdered counterpart, which for many people is associated with the industrial food system, bland mid-century midwestern cooking, and laziness.if you're afraid of losing foodie cred, click on the picture for instructions on how to make your own powdered garlic (assuming you have a dehydrator) from The Deliberate Agrarian

But aside from being slightly more convenient for busy or novice cooks, garlic powder really works better for numerous applications—it dissolves in dips and gravies, it keeps dry rubs dry, and it can be sprinkled to taste on popcorn or pizza or whisked into the dry ingredients of any bread recipe. Instead of thinking of it as a bad substitute for the fresh stuff, I prefer to think of it as a pedestrian version of the powders made by bleeding-edge chefs like Alinea’s Grant Achatz and WD-50’s Wylie Dufresne. Sure, they often taste different than the non-powdered versions, but they open up a whole array of different uses. Of course, you could make biscuits with a garlic-infused fat or stud the dough with chunks of raw or roasted garlic, but neither of those options is going to give you the same intensity of flavor or evenness of distribution as garlic powder. And these biscuits definitely challenge the notion that powdered garlic can’t be delicious.

Most recipes for cheddargarlic biscuits, even Paula Deen’s, simply suggest adding garlic powder and grated cheddar to a baking mix like Bisquick. That would probably be pretty good too, but I don’t have enough uses for Bisquick to keep it around (especially given that rumors about toxic molds developing in expired pancake and biscuit mixes turn out to be true, if somewhat overblown). So instead, I added garlic powder and grated cheddar to the recipe I use for rich, buttery biscuits. The recipe has a higher proportion of fat : flour than most baking powder biscuit recipes, so it makes biscuits that are rich enough to eat plain (and too rich to make a very good vehicle for gravy or butter). Whatever fat you use, it must be solid so chunks of it will remain in the dough. Those chunks melt during baking to create the flaky layers. Lard or shortening work slightly better than butter or margarine because they don’t contain water. However, butter is delicious, so I used half butter and half lard. If you don’t eat butter or lard, margarine or vegetable oil shortening should work equally well (although if you’re avoiding trans-fats, you should stick to ones composed largely of palm oil or produced by fractionation).

Recipe: Cheddar-garlic Biscuitsfats cut into pieces before chilling

  • 1/2 cup solid fat—I used 4 T. butter and 4 T. lard
  • 9 oz. all-purpose or cake flour (about 2 cups)—I used bread flour with 2 T. replaced by cornstarch
  • 2 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1/2 t. baking soda
  • 1 t. kosher salt
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 1 1/2 t. powdered garlic
  • 1 T. dried parsley and/or chives (optional)
  • 4 oz. grated sharp cheddar (about 1 cup)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk (or regular milk soured with 1 T. lemon juice)
  • extra flour for dusting
  • extra milk for brushing biscuit tops

1. Preheat the oven to 500F. Cut the fat into pieces and chill while you prep the remaining ingredients.

2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, garlic, and herbs if using.

3. Toss the chilled pieces of fat with the flour and and combine them with a pastry cutter, crisscrossing knives, a food processor, or your bare hands—just don’t melt the bits of fat. You want the largest pieces of fat to be about the size of small peas.

Criss-crossing knives = less dishwashing even if it takes a little longer than the food processor. My hands tend to be too warm for the bare hands method. Just a minute or two later: big chunks of fat remaining, but fat relatively well distributed throughout the flour

4. Mix in the grated cheddar and the buttermilk or milk. Stir just until most of the flour is moistened—you don’t want gluten to form so the goal is to handle the dough as little as possible once you’ve combined the wet and dry ingredients.

the sharper the cutter, the less it will squish the edges, which can prevent rising brushing with milk isn't strictly necessary, but it does promote nice browning

5. Dust a table or countertop with flour, dump the dough onto it and press or knead together just enough to form a dough. Flatten the dough to between 1/2” and 1” thick and cut desired shapes—if you don’t have a biscuit cutter, a glass or empty jar will work, or you can just cut the dough into squares or triangles.

6. Place on an baking sheet (ungreased) and brush the tops with buttermilk. Place in preheated oven, and reduce the oven temperature to 450F and bake for 7 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet and bake another 5-7 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden brown.

neglected, sprouting rutabega in the background warm, garlicky, cheese-studded biscuits. kind of hard to beat.