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Pear Upside-Down Almond Cake (Gluten-Free)

Apr 9 2012

an attempt at a spiral a ring with smaller pieces in the middle

All upside-down cakes are essentially the same: you start by lining the pan with sugar and pieces of fruit. The batter goes on top, and after it’s baked and cooled, you hold your breath and turn it over. If it doesn’t stick to the pan or fall apart, the fruit on the bottom of the pan, which will have caramelized in the oven, should form a beautiful topping. No additional assembly or decoration necessary.

Pineapple is the American favorite, often with maraschino cherries tucked into the center of the rings. The French classic tarte tatin usually uses apples. I found myself with a glut of overripe pears again, so I thought I’d give those a try. I also wanted to keep it celiac-friendly, so I was delighted to find this recipe which uses ground almonds in place of any grain flours.From the original recipe at Epicurious

Flourless almond cake is apparently a specialty of several regions in Spain—I found it attributed to Galicia (in the northwest corner), Majorca (an island in the Mediterranean off the southeast coast), and Navarre (which borders France). It was likely created by Jews as a Passover dessert, as it’s free of both dairy and flour; the only ingredients are almonds, eggs, sugar, lemon zest, and (sometimes) cinnamon. Pastry shops near the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia now sell it year-round, dusted with powdered sugar except for a Santiago cross stenciled in the center. At cafes and restaurants on Majorca, home to over 4 million almond trees, the same cake is served with a scoop of dairy-free almond ice cream, which is described as being so light and pure in flavor it’s almost more like a sorbet. In Navarre, it’s typically topped with apricot jam.

Although the pears break with Spanish tradition, I think they complement the recipe well. They add a welcome bit of additional sweetness without overwhelming the delicate combination of almond, lemon, and cinnamon. The caramel also adds moisture and richness, without which it might seem a bit plain. And if you’re not keeping kosher, a generous helping of cream whipped with vanilla or an orange liqueur is a fine substitute for the ice cream.

Only a 1/4 cup of caramel for each cake, but the pear juices also caramelize and seep into the cake; also, a recipe that doubles with no problems Read more »

Chocolate Stout Cupcakes with Irish Whiskey Buttercream, St. Patrick’s Day, and Racism

Mar 14 2012

A most astonishing thing
Seventy years have I lived;

(Hurrah for the flowers of Spring
For Spring is here again.)
                                  -WB Yeats

Apparently I only make cupcakes with booze in them.

A Missed Opportunity…

car bomb ingredients; kaluha has been dropped from most people's version. image from Sgt Mac's BarA friend sent me this recipe and actually offered to pay me to make it (as if that would be necessary). Even though I didn’t take him up on the cash, the offer somehow short-circuited my typical urge to tweak. I felt like I was “on assignment,” so it wasn’t until I was dusting the tops with cocoa powder and watching the caramel sauce cool that I realized I’d missed an opportunity to make another cocktail in cupcake form. If only I’d thought of it sooner, I could have come up with some kind of Irish Cream element, and these could have been Car Bomb Cupcakes.

An Irish Cream fudge or custard filling? Or maybe I could have added Bailey’s to the frosting along with the whisky, so the topping would mimic the shot traditionally dropped into the Guinness. Of course I would not have been the first person to come up with this idea.

…to Offend Someone?

Maybe it’s better that I didn’t go that route, though. Apparently some people find the “car bomb” name offensive because it seems to celebrate the violent tactics used by the IRA. The Connecticut bartender who claims to have invented the drink initially called his Bailey’s, Kaluha, and Jameson shot the “Grandfather” in honor of the “many grandfathers in Irish history.” It became known as the “IRA” because of the way Bailey’s bubbles up when you add whisky to it.* From there, it was a short conceptual leap to “car bomb” when he dropped it in a glass of Guinness on St. Patrick’s day in 1979.

No longer available, unclear if that's due to complaints or not. I’m sure Charles B. Oat meant no disrespect, he was just celebrating the holiday commemorating the death of the sainted Catholic Bishop who supposedly converted many Irish pagans by using shamrocks to illustrate the holy trinity the way most Americans do: with copious amounts of alcohol. Of course, that upsets some people, too, as seen in the recent controversy over American Apparel’s St. Patrick’s Day-themed merchandise, including shirts reading: “Kiss Me, I’m Drunk. Or Irish. Or Whatever.”   

The lack of malice doesn’t automatically exonerate American Apparel or the many people who will spend this Saturday drinking too many car bombs or green Budweiser. But I think the people who claim that American St. Patrick’s day celebrations perpetuate a hurtful “Drunken Paddy” stereotype or otherwise show disrespect for Irish people might be mistaken about how “Irish” anyone really thinks green beer and “car bombs” are. Sure, contemporary St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are inevitably mired in the complex history of racial politics and European imperialism. The fact that lots of Americans are really over-eager to identify with the one (now-) white ethnic group they know of that experienced overt racism and colonization is kind of bizarre and yet totally understandable. But the idea that it’s racist seems to imply that the widespread practice of wearing green while participating in an otherwise-unextraordinary early Spring bacchanalia actually bears some relationship to how people really think about or act towards Irish people.

The American Apparel shirt doesn’t mock Irish people so much as it mocks people who pretend to be Irish once a year while drinking until they do something stupid. It’s only offensive if you think there really is something characteristically Irish about drinking to excess. Similarly, the name “car bomb” is only offensive if you think there really is something uniquely Irish about vehicle-borne explosives or dropping Baileys in Guinness and chugging it before it curdles. I think the “Irishness” being performed and celebrated on March 17 bears about as much relation to Irishness as eating at Olive Garden has to Italianness. The American enthusiasm for consuming vast quantities of beer and breadsticks in the name of celebrating an ethnic heritage—whether their own or someone else’s—seems pretty innocent to me.**

Disclaimer: the lepruchan on the bottle is not meant to represent all Irish people or all people named Steve who have nieces and/or nephews, nor to imply that all Irish people or Uncles Steve wear green suits habitually or drink or even *like* Stout beer brewed in the style associated with Ireland, although it's not exclusive to Ireland, nor should it imply that they like any other kind of beer or alcholic beverages much, or at least not any more than anyone else does. Back to the subject of cupcakes after the jump…

*Does this actually happen? Why would whisky added to a liqueur that’s basically just a blend of cream and whisky with a few other flavorings bubble?

**On the other hand, I also tend to think that if someone tells you something you’re doing offends them, you should probably consider stopping it. I’m looking at you, University of Illinois fans who won’t let go of the Chief. On the other other hand, if there’s a clear and obvious distinction between offensive practices that perpetuate racial or ethnic stereotypes and hurt people’s feelings and inoffensive ones that benignly reference or perhaps even positively celebrate invented identities and traditions, I don’t know what it is. Read more »

Sourdough-risen Cheesy Garlic Monkey Bread

Feb 15 2012

the pieces in the middle don't pull apart quite as easily in the savory version because the cheese and herbs bake in more easily than sugar

This is loosely adapted from my friend Linda’s recipe for sourdough-risen cinnamon rolls. When she sent it to me, she mentioned that she’s been using it to make monkey bread because it has a higher goo: dough ratio than the rolls. With that in mind, I’m not sure I’ll ever make the roll version.

What’s With the Silly Name?

For the uninitiated, monkey bread is a pull-apart loaf usually made by pinching off pieces of dough and rolling them in something or other—often butter and cinnamon-sugar, or sometimes a caramel sauce. Raisins and pecans optional. Whatever the coating, you toss all the balls in a pan and as they rise and bake, they come together into a coherent whole. However, the coating prevents them from becoming a completely solid mass, so you can pull the pieces off by hand. You could also slice it, and then you’ll get pieces that are marbled with the coating. But I’ve never seen it served that way. As far as I’m concerned, the entire raison d’etre of monkey bread is how the form seems to dictate the method of consumption: the bubbly exterior practically begs you to tear pieces off, each one coated in flavor.

There are apparently a few theories on the origin of the “monkey bread” name. According to the Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink (via the Food Timeline), some people claim that it’s named after the monkey puzzle tree (Arucaria araucana). Based on pictures of the tree, that seems plausible—although I’m not sure if the name would have been a reference to the bark, which has deep irregular ridges that do kind of resemble lumps of dough baked together, or because of the interwoven pattern of scale-like leaves, or because of its spherical cones, which might resemble the balls of dough.

monkey puzzle bark monkey puzzle leaves monkey puzzle cones

Former First Lady Nancy Reagan offered another explanation when she provided the recipe to the kitchen staff to prepare for holiday visitors to the White House in 1982: “'Because when you make it, you have to monkey around with it.”

The third possibility is that it’s a reference to the way people consume the bread, not how you prepare it. . From a 2003 New York Times article that accompanied a reprint of Nancy Reagan’s recipe: “Since monkeys are known for gleefully pulling at, well, everything, it makes sense that an audience-participation loaf should be called monkey bread. Formed of balls of dough and baked in a ring mold, monkey bread emerges as golden puffs that are irresistible to both hand and eye. The idea is that you pick it apart like a bunch of . . . that it's more fun than a barrel of. . . . You get the idea.”

just out of the oven the first piece snagged

  More fun than a barrel of garlic-covered monkeys! Read more »

Is Paula Deen’s Food Less Healthy? Intrepid NYTimes Journalist Finds Out!

Feb 2 2012

Or not really, but publishes the article anyway!

Glenn Collins of the NYTimes asks:

After the hue and cry following Paula Deen’s announcement that she has Type 2 diabetes and would become a paid spokeswoman for a drug company, a question nags: Is the food that emerges from her kitchen really less healthy than the cuisine from other restaurants?

So he had a meal from Deen’s restaurant (fried chicken, collard greens, and macaroni and cheese, which he calls “reasonably sized”) and a dish from an Italian restaurant in Greenwich Village (sausage and peppers with polenta, which he calls “hardly cuisine minceur”) sent to Certified Laboratories in Plainview, NY for nutritional analysis.

image  imageimage

On the one hand, he seems to realize how pointless this is, admitting that the comparison was “unscientific and arbitrary.” Turns out the fried chicken meal has more than 2x as many calories and grams of fat, but less than a third as much “sugar” (unclear what that measures—sucrose? glucose? fructose? lactose? all of the above?) of the sausage and polenta. No word on total carbs. Is there a lesson to be drawn from this “subjective test,” he asks? (Which is also wrong: the problem is not that it’s “subjective”—the nutritional analysis is objective, all right. The problem is that it’s completely meaningless because he made no attempt to control any of the variables.)

Well, lovers of both Deen and Frankies are hereby advised to consider moderation and not look to Ms. Deen for enlightenment.

Many things about this article confuse me. Why not compare a meal from Lady & Sons to a comparable meal at another restaurant: i.e. find another fried chicken, mac & chs, and collard greens plate? Why not do an analysis of the nutritional breakdown of several of her recipes compared to other people’s versions? Or try to figure out the average nutritional content of a Lady & Sons meal and compare it to FDA recommendations? All of those methods would still have limitations, but at least you’d be comparing oranges and oranges.

I think the most head-scratching word in the entire article is the “hereby” in the above quote.

What information presented here makes the case for moderation—and moderation in what? The sausage and polenta dish has 347 calories and 15 grams of fat, which is probably less of both of those things than I eat for breakfast most days. And Deen’s fried chicken dinner comes in at only 830 calories, which is less than most of Subway’s $5 Footlongs (tuna salad on 9-grain wheat without cheese or extra sauce has a total of 930 calories; turkey breast on Italian with regular mayonnaise and no cheese has 860 calories; the meatball marinara on Italian Herbs & Cheese with no extra cheese or sauce has 1050). Neither of them seem particularly excessive to me; in fact, I’m pretty sure eating just the polenta dish for dinner would leave me feeling hungry. Perhaps Frankie’s is the kind of place where most people order multiple courses?

Has anyone has ever turned to Paula Deen for medical or nutritional advice? As even she noted when she made the announcement that she has Type 2 Diabetes on the Today Show, she’s a cook, not a doctor. I’m not impressed with her decision to use her diagnosis as an opportunity to profit by acting as a spokesperson for pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, who make the diabetes drug Victoza she claims to be taking. Fortunately, based on some preliminary reactions, most ad executives and consumers aren't loving it either. And I’m really not sure what information in this article is supposed to have any bearing on Deen as a source of “enlightenment.” Actually, she might actually be able to provide some great insight about building a food brand, being dissed by Anthony Bourdain, partnering with ethically suspect corporations, getting them to donate food to charity, and mugging terrifyingly for the camera.

image image image  image

At least the article refrains from blaming Deen for her diabetes, the way so many others have in the wake of her announcement. As if anyone knows how she eats on a day to day basis anyhow or the relationship between diet, weight, and diabetes was simple and universally agreed-upon. But I understand the tendency to moralize about health. In some ways, this article is much more mysterious. If you’re going to go to the trouble and cost of having nutritional analysis done to try to figure out if Paula Deen’s food is really “worse” than anyone else’s, why not do it in a way that would actually enable you to reach something approximating a conclusion?

Garlic Naan: Smoke Yourself Out of Your Kitchen, Deliciously

Jan 9 2012

hey, January is a great time for your annual smoke detector test, right?

Naan Without a Tandoor

As I’ve written about before, the closest I’ve gotten to recreating the kind of bubbly, poufy flatbread you get at Indian restaurants is by cooking it on cast iron preheated on the stovetop as hot as it will possibly go. That gives you the charred surface and pale, pillowy edges. Oven baking turns the same dough into pita—too done all over, but not blackened anywhere.

The downside is that if you get your cast iron hot enough to cook naan and then brush it with ghee or oil, which you must do to prevent the dough from sticking, you’re going to generate a lot of smoke. So unless you have a miraculous kitchen fan or really like eating in smoky rooms, you might want to save this for a potluck or dinner party that someone else is hosting.

It’s pretty quick once you get cooking, especially if you have a griddle or two pots so you can cook two pieces at a time. The thirty seconds each piece takes to cook on one side is just long enough to roll out the next piece. In less than ten minutes, you can have the whole batch done and be out the door. And hopefully by the time you get home, the smoke will have cleared.

Pouf! Read more »

New Year’s Eve 2012

Jan 3 2012

Happy last year of the Mayan calendar! Here’s how I welcomed it: 

punch and jello shots just barely visible in the upper left corner

How the spread looked around 8pm

not pictured: meatballs, hummus, and quinoa-blackeyed pea bundles, all of which were delicious, but none of which I made so I can't tell you/link you to the recipe

Cheese Balls Three Ways: Cheddar-Cranberry, Roquefort-Shallot-Walnut, and Herbed Goat Cheese
Sourdough-risen Baguette
Sourdough-risen No-Knead Bread
Crudités
Bacon-wrapped Dates stuffed with Parmeggiano & Almonds
Deviled Eggs with Caviar
Shrimp Cocktail
Cheddar-Ale Gougères
Mini Crab Cakes with Cilantro-Lime Ailoi 
Candied Cranberries
Dulce de Leche Crisps
Chocolate-covered Strawberries
Champagne Jell-O Shots with Raspberries
Dark Chocolate Truffles rolled in Coconut or Spiced Nut Crumble
Spiced Nuts
Admiral’s Punch

Mostly crudites and cheese balls left.

How it looked around 2am

Everything linked above was a repeat. New things I would make again: the mini-crab cakes, the champagne Jell-O shots, and the cheddar-ale gougères. All three were easy, delicious, and gone by the end of the night. Things I probably won’t make again: the dulce de leche crisps, which were kind of boring—neither sweet nor salty enough to be interesting, the truffles, because the nut butter made them a little grainy, and the cocktail sauce, which was exactly like cocktail sauce out of a bottle so why bother? Nothing else exceeded or fell short of expectations. Cheese balls are cheese balls. Caviar deviled eggs are caviar deviled eggs. Details on all of it after the jump. Read more »