Saturday, September 13, 2014

Not-So-Scrumptious Strawberry Cupcakes

These cupcakes look delicious, don't they?

overly sweet cupcakes of dismay

I used a recipe I'd been wanting to try for a year and a half--something about adapting Grandma's strawberry jello cupcakes to the healthy(er) modern age. I made the cupcakes, made the frosting, and even spread a layer of chocolate ganache between cake and frosting. What could be more delectable than a strawberry cupcake topped with chocolate and more strawberry? A whole lot of things, apparently! The topping was much too sweet, the ganache was lumpy, and the cake was a flavorless, dense calorie bomb. Even the Crumpet falls sometimes.

Smoky Poblano Mac and Cheese

A potluck was coming up. What to do? I like providing a veggie-filled option, but not too healthy. There's nothing worse than lugging home a barely touched vat of tofu surprise. At Whole Foods, I spied a gleaming heap of poblano peppers grown at my favorite pick-your-own orchard, Homestead Farm. "Oooooh!" I thought. I then poked around online and found this recipe. For more flavor magic, I upped the poblano content and added smoked pepper jack. The end result smelled like bacon on a skillet, with a garlic-infused roux and crunchy topping. I doubled the recipe and it was nearly gone, but with just enough leftovers for lunch the next day. Huzzah!


 serves 6-8 

Ingredients


3 poblano chiles
8 oz whole wheat elbow pasta
2 Tbsp butter
4 cloves garlic
2 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1 tsp mustard powder
1/2 tsp cayenne powder
1/2 tsp ground cumin
zest of one lime
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups grated sharp cheddar
2 cups grated smoked pepper jack (or a smoked cheddar/pepper jack blend)
1 cup panko or breadcrumbs
cilantro for garnish (optional)

Process

 

Set a pot of salted water to boiling and cook your pasta until it's al dente. Drain and set aside.

Set the oven to 425.

Lightly oil a baking sheet. Core the poblanos and place them on the sheet.

Roast for 15-20 minutes, or until peppers start to blister and soften. Flip them halfway through the process.

Remove peppers from oven. Most recipes advise you to peel the skin, but why? It's healthy, it does no harm, and you won't even know it's there. Allow your peppers to cool with dignity!

Lower the oven to 375.

As peppers are roasting, melt butter in a saucepan over low heat. Use a garlic press to drizzle in the garlic. All of a sudden, your kitchen smells like hot garlic bread. Give the butter and garlic a minute to develop amity, then whisk in the flour. A golden-brown roux will form, at which point you whisk in the milk. Allow another two minutes for the flavors to meld and the sauce to thicken, whisking now and then.

Chop the cooled poblanos.

Remove pan from heat. Add mustard, cayenne, cumin, lime zest, salt, and ample ground pepper. Scoop in the poblanos. Stir.

Add 1 cup sharp cheddar and 1 cup pepper jack to the sauce, stirring so that the cheese melts. If cheese refuses to melt, heat the pan on low heat until it submits.

In a bowl, combine pasta and sauce. Pour into a baking pan or skillet.

Cover with the remainder of the cheese. Shake the panko evenly on top.

Bake for 25 minutes, then broil for 5. Remove from oven when sauce is bubbling and top is golden-brown.

Sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Let cool 5 minutes, then serve.

Notes


  • When I made this, I scraped two ears of fresh corn into the sauce in a misguided bid to up the veggie content. Don't do this! The corn added a sweet note that has no place in this dish.
  • The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup of cilantro in the sauce. I forgot to add this, and so it became the garnish. I tried leftovers with cilantro mixed in, and actually prefer the mac without it. The peppers stand out more, and the flavor seems deeper and less Tex-Mex.
  • I used a block of white cheddar for the sauce, and block of sharp orange Tillamook for the topping, giving the crust that lusted-after cheddary appearance. 
  • Spice level: if you were eating the poblanos raw, they would be moderately spicy. The roasting gives this dish a gentle heat, but not the kick in the pants you might imagine. If you want a hotter mac, slice a fresh jalapeno into the sauce and up the cayenne content. I love smoked paprika (pimentón), but was afraid to add any for fear that it would throw the flavors out of whack. If you want to try some, I suggest sprinkling it on top after pulling the pan from the oven.
  • Don't forget the lime zest! This ingredient is what gives this mac its je ne sais quoi and was the reason I tried this recipe. 

Verdict



Who doesn't love mac and cheese? Who doesn't love a smoky, mysterious potluck dish? 5 stars!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Oatmeal-Raisin Shortbread

I saw a recipe for raisin shortbread and couldn't resist packing in some oats. With an egg wash, this is a nutritious source of protein and fiber as well as a delicious breakfast cookie. If you use fancy, pasture-raised butter and a certified humane egg, you'll feel GREAT as you dig into these bars.


makes 18 biscotti-length or 36 short bars

Ingredients

 

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cups quick oats
pinch salt
1 to 1 1/2 cups raisins
egg, beaten


Process


Preheat oven to 350.

I like to do this kind of thing by hand, but you can use a mixer.

Blend butter, sugar, and vanilla. If you do this with your hands, you'll get a bonus: smooth, buffed hands! It's like a pre-cookie spa treatment. The recipients of your cookies will get some extra protein in the form of dead skin cells.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, oats, and salt. You may sift the flour, but I'm skeptical that this accomplishes much. Add the raisins. Fluff with your hands until raisins are coated with flour.

Combine wet and dry ingredients until just mixed, with no streaks.

Obtain a 9 x 13 pan.

Pat the batter into the pan until even. Run a fork along the top of the batter for crackly texture.

I refrigerated the pan for 30 minutes, then used a spatula to cut bars into the dough. You can do this at this point or after the shortbread is baked. I was afraid the oats would make the bars too crumbly after the shortbread was in its final form.

Using a pastry brush, apply the egg wash. If you hate waste as much as I do and use the whole egg, you'll end up with puddles of albumen on your shortbread. Do this at your peril!

Bake the shortbread for about 30 minutes. I baked it until it started to brown on top, but I would have preferred a gooier texture and a more pallid surface.

Let the pan cool on a rack. Cut into bars if you haven't already done so, and remove these from the pan.



Notes


  • These would be great with rum or rum extract instead of vanilla.
  • If you want to go for a strong rum flavor, soak the raisins in half a cup of rum for a day or so. The oats won't know what hit them!
  • I would like to experiment with a thicker bar and might use a 9 x 9 baking pan next time.

Verdict


These snacks are the perfect blend of virtue and luxury.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Pie

This pie offers a spicy chocolate filling in a gingersnap crust with a cinnamon whipped-cream topping. I tweaked the recipe from Serious Eats to create a dessert that warms the palate, making you feel as if you're gliding down the Silk Road on a magic carpet.

one 9.5-inch pie

Ingredients


Crust

 

2 1/2 to 3 cups gingersnaps (I used Trader Joe's triple gingersnaps)
6 Tbsp melted butter
dash ground ginger
dash cinnamon
dash cayenne pepper

 

Filling

 

12 oz dark chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
dash ground ginger
dash cinnamon
dash cayenne pepper
pinch salt

 

Topping

 

1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch red pepper flakes
dark chocolate bar for shaving

 

Process


Crust


Preheat the oven to 350.

Obtain a 9.5-inch pie pan. If you're going for a 10-inch, you may want to increase the quantity of gingersnaps to 3.5 cups. If you're going smaller, this is your lucky day!

Pulverize the gingersnaps in a food processor. You should have about 2 cups' worth of crumbs (2.5 for a 10-inch pan).

Pour the crumbs into a bowl, then add the melted butter and spices. Toss with your hands until you have a delightful and uniform mound of cookie fluff. Try not to accidentally tip the bowl into your mouth.

Pat the mixture into your pie pan, forming a crust around the bottom and edges. If it seems too thick, you may remove some of the crumbs and spoon them into your maw. Just like cereal!

Bake the crust for 10 minutes, or until it begins to brown. Set it aside to cool. It should achieve room temperature before you pour in the filling, but no one will suffer if you can't wait that long. It helps to pop it in the refrigerator after a minute or so.

Filling


Pour the chocolate chips into a large heatproof bowl.

Warm the heavy cream in a saucepan until it is just boiling. Pour over the chocolate and let stand for about one minute. You may stir. The chocolate chips will ribbon out into gooey strands that embrace one another before chocolate and cream become one.

To help unify the ingredients, gently whisk them until the mixture is smooth and glossy. If it's a little grainy, no one will suffer.

Add the egg. I like to crack the egg into a separate container first to make sure there are no bits of shell. If you do this, muddle the egg with a fork a bit and add to the chocolate.

Pour in the vanilla.

Add spices and salt.

Pour into pie crust and bake for 25 minutes. The filling should be slightly wobbly in the center.

Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.


Topping


Pour cream into a mixer. Add the sugar and cinnamon.

Whip until soft peaks form. I'm not sure what this means, so I usually over-whip and get tough hillocks of cream. No one will suffer.

Mound the topping over the cooled filling. What will happen if your filling isn't that cool? Not much. Sprinkle red pepper flakes on top and decorate your pie with chocolate shavings. I use a Swiss peeler that some guy sold me at the Eastern Market, but the large blades on your grater will do in a pinch.




Notes

 

  • Serious Eats' recipe called for a little more than half the chocolate used here. Try a slice and imagine it with half the chocolate missing! Too sad to contemplate.
  • I would love to try a chipotle version of this. The Hot Chocolatier, a gourmet chocolate shop in Chattanooga, sells a chipotle truffle (The Hottie) that I'd love to re-create in pie form.
  • This pie is wonderfully smooth. The cream and egg make it softer than a ganache, but firmer than a pudding. It's hard to beat when edged with a crunchy layer of snaps.
  • I served this after a meal comprising strawberry-spinach salad with smoky bleu cheese, chili, and cornbread. It stands up to assertive courses and would dominate skimpy ones.
  • As you savor the first bite, take a moment to thank the conquistadors, mercenaries, and shady characters who plundered exotic lands to make the ingredients accessible to all.

Verdict


5 stars. This one is hard to beat.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Slow-Roasted Garlicky Green Tomatoes

I had some leftover green tomatoes from the green tomato pie with buttermilk-cornmeal crust and did not know what to do. Batter them up and fry them? Too greasy and reminiscent of Donne. Then I stumbled on this Gardening in the Mitten site. Yeow! I added some garlic to the tomatoes and then took some extra steps, as you'll see below. The slow-roasting gentles the puckery taste, giving the unripe fruits a deep, earthy flavor and a buttery mouthfeel. Red pepper adds some heat, and the garlic provides an Old World aroma, your kitchen transforming into a garden tended by Botticelli's goddesses.



Ingredients



a few green tomatoes (the unripe variety, not the heirloom kind)
a few cloves of garlic, peeled (two or three for every tomato)
splash or two of olive oil
salt
pepper
red pepper flakes

Process

Preheat your oven to 250. 

Line a baking pan with foil. Chop the tomatoes and lay on the foil. Add the garlic.

Drizzle olive oil on top. Grind salt and pepper, then add a dash or two of red pepper flakes.

Curve the foil so that it surrounds the tomatoes and prevents leakage. 

Roast for two hours.

For a delicious lunch, try the following:


Toast a sesame bagel. Lay both halves on a plate.

Layer the bagel halves with sharp cheddar.

Sprinkle with red pepper flakes.

Top with roasted green tomatoes.

Chop some radicchio as a side salad.


 Notes

 

  • I used only two tomatoes, but you can use any number. Adjust proportions of other ingredients accordingly.
  • This really does take two hours for optimal effect, so start at 10:00 if you want your lunch by noon!
  • This would be a great pasta topping with more red pepper flakes and parmesan. 
  • It might not hurt to zest a lemon on the tomatoes before roasting.

Verdict


Until now, I was scared of green tomatoes. Now, I'll look for them every August.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Green Tomato Pie with Buttermilk-Cornmeal Crust

Inspired by Nothing in the House's green tomato pie, I decided to bake a pie featuring the unripe fruit, but savory instead of sweet. Being from the Bronx, I know next to nothing about green tomatoes and their properties, but I threw together a heap of my favorite ingredients, and the end result was smashing. A flaky, tender crust with a hint of grit gives way to a forkful of the season's bounty. I bought most of my ingredients at the Silver Spring farmer's market, and it was worth the airiness in my wallet to put this on the table.


Ingredients

 

Crust

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornmeal
pinch salt
2 sticks butter
3/4-1 cup buttermilk


Filling

 

4-5 medium green tomatoes (the unripe kind, not the heirloom kind--they should be as hard and sour as a third-grade teacher coming back from vacation)
1 package veggie bacon
4 ears corn (or half a bag frozen, preferably Trader Joe's blackened kernels)
1/2 red pepper, diced
1/2 green pepper, diced
1/2 onion, diced
1 garlic clove
3 scallions, sliced
handful basil leaves, chopped fine
2 Tbsp cornstarch
pinch or two salt
generous amount ground pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
squeeze lemon
1/2 tsp honey
1 cup sharp cheddar, grated


Process

 

You'll probably want to alternate between the crust part of the instructions and the filling part. You can also make the dough ahead of time and freeze or refrigerate it. If you freeze, let it thaw for a few hours in the refrigerator before attempting to roll. You can also make the filling ahead of time and refrigerate.


Crust


Obtain a 10-inch pie pan. Set aside.

Cut the butter into cubes. Put in a bowl and place in the freezer until frozen--about 20 to 30 minutes.

Pour flour, cornmeal, and salt into a food processor. Pulse to aerate. (The lazy chef's way of sifting.)

When butter is frozen, pulse with the flours until the butter is in pea-sized chunks. It won't take a lot of pulsing. Even if you overdo it and the mixture turns into a sandy powder, let's face it, it will still be pie crust.

Pour everything into a bowl. Add buttermilk a little at a time and work it in with your hands until the dough just sticks together in a ragged clump. (I estimated the amount above, but use your best judgment.)

Form dough into two balls, wrap tightly in plastic, and place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to an hour. Now you can start the filling!

Filling halfway there? It's time to roll the crust. Here is my no-fail, easy-if-you-have-all-the-components method.

Tear off two large sheets of parchment paper or wax paper.

Lay the first sheet on a silicon pie mat or your countertop.

Place one of the rounds of dough on the sheet. Place the other sheet on top.

Using a rolling pin (I prefer the French kind), roll out the dough, turning the mat or the sheet of paper as you go so that it flattens into an even circle (who are we kidding--a geometrically unclassifiable surface that looks vaguely round if you take off your glasses).

When the dough seems roughly the size and flatness needed to serve as a bottom crust, peel from the paper and place in the pie pan, trimming, adding, and crimping as needed. Prick some holes on the bottom and sides with a fork.

Place the pan in the freezer for 20-30 minutes. 

You have the filling all ready to go?

Don't reach for your iPhone just yet! You still have the other round of dough.

Repeat the steps above, chortling gleefully this time, as the dough won't have to labor like its more industrious twin to line a baking dish. It need only be dropped from above to form the perfect covering for your filling.

When the dough seems flat enough and the circumference long enough to form a top crust, take the bottom crust out of the freezer. Heap with filling, then top with top crust. Prick holes in the top crust with a fork.


Follow the instructions below for baking.

 

Filling


Preheat the oven to 425.

Put a little oil in a pan. Sear the veggie bacon. Remove from heat.

Thinly slice tomatoes and place in a large bowl. Add salt and toss.

Tear veggie bacon into pieces and toss with tomatoes.

Scrape the kernels off the ears of corn (or pour in frozen corn) and add to the tomato mixture.

Mix in red pepper, green pepper, and onions.

Crush in garlic.

Add scallions and basil.

Add cornstarch and toss until consistency is uniform.

Add ground pepper and red pepper flakes. Squeeze in lemon and massage in the bit of honey.

Grate in the cheese (I did this right into the bowl--the measurement above is an approximation).

Toss everything together with your hands. Add more of anything that seems underrepresented.

Once you've assembled your pie as described above, place it in the oven.

Bake at 425 for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 350 and bake another 40-50 minutes, until crust is golden-brown and edges are fizzing.

You may want to cover the crust with aluminum foil after the first 5 minutes, taking the foil off 10 minutes from the end.

Set pie on a rack to cool. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.

I bet this pie tastes good cold.



Notes

 

  • I completely winged this recipe, and suggest that you do the same. For the filling, use whatever you like, in whatever quantities. The green tomatoes provide a backdrop for anything pungent, spicy, savory, crunchy, or herbal.
  • I actually used green olives instead of green pepper and onions, but tasting the pie a few times convinced me that green pepper and onions would have been the better call. This pie is so glorious, though, that olives won't exactly leave you crying in your beer.
  • If you want, you can chop up some rosemary and add it to the pie dough. You can also use dried herbs.
  • Gruyere would be good in lieu of cheddar.
  • I used veggie bacon because I'm a vegetarian. Salty protein from a vegetable: modern life is delicious.
  • I did not add a lot of basil for fear of overpowering the pie. You can experiment with more, or try other herbs such as marjoram or oregano.
  • This recipe is for a 10-inch pie. For a 9-inch pie, your crust could have 2 heaping cups flour, 1/3 cup cornmeal, 15 Tbsp butter, and 1/2 cup buttermilk. Maybe subtract a tomato.

 

Verdict


5 stars. One of my favorite recipes yet and a summer keeper.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Rosy Blackberry Cobbler


Packed with summer-fresh berries, sliced peach, and rhubarb, this cobbler features a silky buttermilk topping. Two lemons' worth of zest marries happily with the fruits, transporting you to a sun-dappled orchard in which you romp through brambles, mouth stained with purple. I made this cobbler after a berry-picking expedition at Homestead Farm in Poolesville, Maryland.

 

Ingredients

 

1 stick butter
2 lemons

4 cups blackberries
2 peaches, thinly sliced
2-3 stalks rhubarb, sliced
3/4 cup sugar
dusting of grated nutmeg
dash or two of cinnamon
dash of ground ginger
3 Tbsp cornstarch

2 1/2 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar
dash or two of cinnamon
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 cups buttermilk


Process


Preheat the oven at 350.

Get out a 9 x 13 baking pan. No need to grease!

Melt the stick of butter in a small saucepan. When mostly melted, with one thin rectangle bobbing in its golden bath, remove from heat. The rectangle will vanish into its hot tub.

zest both lemons, producing a tinselly heap. Cut one of the lemons in half.

Toss fruit into a large bowl. Add the sugar, nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and cornstarch. Toss with hands to combine. It's going to be glorious! Add half the lemon zest and half the melted butter. Toss some more. Oh yes!

Pour the fruit into the baking pan, spreading it so that it's even.

In another bowl, combine the flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Add the other half of the lemon zest. Pour in the butter and buttermilk and fold into the flour. Batter will be slightly lumpy. No overmixing!

Spread the batter over the fruit. In typical Toppled Chef style, I scooped and spread it with my bare hands. It worked out pretty well.

Bake for 45-55 minutes, until fruit is bubbling and top is golden brown.

Pull out and let cool on a wire rack. I'd eat this the next day for breakfast, but you can always serve hot with a scoop of ice cream.


Notes

 

  • For the flour, I used 1 cup white and 1 1/2 cups white wheat, with a healthy shaking of flax, which is why you see speckles in the photo. You don't have to be this granola. However, any combination of flours should work. The butter and the buttermilk will ensure a tender crust.
  • Likewise, you can use any combination of fruits. I happen to love the earthy blackberries jazzed with rubescent stalk fruit and mellowed with peach, but blueberry-strawberry-nectarine would be just as good.
  • What kind of cobbler is this? It isn't a cakey cobbler, where the dough rises through the fruit, but the topping isn't quite a biscuit topping, as it's too runny to form mounds. It's more of a lazy fruit pie with a biscuity slump on top. This works for the Tipsy Crumpet!
  • Note that the knife test doesn't work to test doneness. I pulled the cobbler out of the oven after 30 minutes because the knife came out clean. The next morning, my heart sank as I spooned out a wad of fruit clumped with undercooked batter. It was edible, but I had to put the cobbler back into the oven for another HOUR to get it to an acceptable level of non-rawness. This did the trick, in case the same kitchen pratfall occurs to you.
  • Some people like a sugary cobbler. Not I! The 1 1/2 cups of sugar in this recipe go toe-to-toe with the double whammy of lemon zest and a heap of rhubarb. If you like your dessert to feel more like a slap on the face, this is the one for you.
  • This makes a delightful Sunday breakfast.

Verdict

 


4 stars. Quite good, if you like your cobbler topped with a tender crust and filled with the textures, scents, and colors of summer.