Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blistered Green Beans with Harissa and Toasted Almonds

Do you like green beans? Like them skillet-blackened and served with a vibrant Middle-Eastern chili paste? Then you will love this recipe. I adapted it from Bon Appétit's version, which calls for chilis you can't find in the northeast in winter. I used my cast-iron Lodge, and it's never been put to better use than in creating this tantalizing side dish.


serves 4-6

Ingredients

 

1 red bell pepper
3 dried red chilis (I used chiles de árbol, or bird's beak chilis)
3 garlic cloves, minced 
1 tsp kosher salt, plus more for seasoning 
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided 
juice from one lemon
1/4 tsp ground coriander 
1/4 tsp ground cumin
freshly ground black pepper 
2 pounds green beans, ends trimmed 
1/4 cup unsalted almonds


Process

 

Preheat your oven to 425.

Stem and de-seed your red bell pepper. Chop into big pieces, lightly oil the pieces, then put them on a baking tray and into the oven. They will need about 20 minutes to char and soften. Flip once or twice.

Stem and seed your dried chilis (retain seeds of one or more if you want extra heat, but be careful--bird's beak chili seeds will not exactly glide soothingly down your esophagus).

Set a small pot of water to boil. Set your skillet on high heat and toast the chilis. Remove when they are browned on both sides--about 3-4 minutes.

Immerse the chilis in the boiling water. Let them soak for 15 minutes, then put them on the tray with the bell pepper pieces.

Place your almonds on the hot skillet. Toast for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, let cool, and chop.

This is a good time to trim those beans.

When the bell pepper pieces look soft and are beginning to wrinkle, with beautiful char marks on both sides, remove pan from oven.

While the peppers are cooling, throw together the garlic, salt, 1 Tbsp olive oil, lemon, cumin, and coriander. You can use a small blender or a mortar and pestle to mush the ingredients together. I used the latter implement.

Chop the bird's beak chilis and the bell pepper finely. Add them to the rest of the mixture and pulverize until you have a chunky sauce (or frantically pound with a potato masher, as I did when our blender proved useless and the mortar and pestle did not seem up to the task). You can add a little water if it helps. Add the almonds at this point.

Set your skillet on high heat again. Place your trimmed beans in a bowl and toss with 2 Tbsp oil, salt, and pepper.

Throw half the beans onto the skillet. It will take about 10 minutes for them to soften to a succulent yet firm state. Stir occasionally, letting the beans char all around.  When they appear done, throw them on the baking sheet and into the still-warm oven.

Pour your next batch onto the skillet.

When beans are finished, put them back in the bowl and toss with the harissa. Serve hot.

Notes


  • I tried this dish both hot and cold and it was better hot.
  • The heat level is mild to moderate without the seeds. Next time, I think I would keep the seeds of one chili for more fire.
  • All recipes tell you to remove the skin from roasted bell peppers. I reject this. It's healthy, delicious, and in no way a threat to the sauciness of the harissa. Leave the skin on, says I.
  • I love the beans al dente, putting up resistance like a prize fighter who doesn't want to go down. If you prefer a more tractable bean, blanch the beans in boiling water for 3-4 minutes and then plunge into ice water before putting them in the skillet.
  • The effect of the burning-hot, heavy cast iron is key to the success of this dish. If you lack a skillet, go buy one! But while you're waiting, you can make this on a grill or broil the beans for a similar effect.


Verdict


Side dish win! I would definitely make this again.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Blackberry Pie

I usually don't post recipes that I've taken from other sources without having modified them at all. But I adore Isa Chandra Moskowitz and and Terry Hope Romero and their vegan baking wizardry, and I want to share the recipe for this pie, which tastes like a tart mouthful of summer. Two lemons plus blackberry liqueur plus a pailful of berries make for an outstanding rustic dessert. Bring on a scoop of organic vanilla ice cream and you'll be flying off the porch swing.


serves 8

Ingredients

 

Crust

 

2 1/2 cups flour
pinch salt
3 Tbsp sugar
8 Tbsp cold Earth Balance
8 Tbsp cold shortening
6 Tbsp ice water
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

 

Filling

 

6 heaping cups blackberries
zest of 2 lemons
3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (about two lemons' worth)
2/3 cup sugar
3 Tbsp blackberry brandy or Chambord
3 Tbsp cornstarch
pinch cinnamon

 

Process

 

Crust

 

Sift flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.

Mix in sugar.

Add 4 Tbsp each of Earth Balance and shortening, crumbling them into the flour with your hands until the flour gets pebbly.

Add the rest of the Earth Balance and shortening. Your flour should be VERY pebbly.

Mix the ice water and vinegar and drizzle it into the flour, massaging it in as you go. Add more water if you need to, but do so slowly so as to avoid the dreaded soggy crust.

Divide the dough into two equal rounds. Press the rounds into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate them until you're ready to use them, or freeze them if you're going to take a day or so to make your pie.

 

Filling 

 

Preheat oven to 425.

In a large bowl, toss together berries, lemon zest, lemon juice, sugar, brandy or Chambord, cornstarch, and cinnamon. Easy!

Roll out pie crust to fit a 9-inch pie plate. I do this by placing the dough between two large sheets of parchment paper and rolling it out in all directions until it's flat and thin. I then take a leap of faith that it will be large enough for the pie plate and feverishly mush it flatter if it isn't.

Heap filling into bottom crust.

Roll out the top crust and place on top, pinching sides into place and poking top with a fork.

Note that this is vegan dough, and so extremely soft, with no gluten whatsoever. The recipe calls for cutting it into strips so as to create a lattice filling: yeah right! This is for braver souls than I. My crust was a ragged heap of disparate scraps, but they bonded in the baking process, making for an almost-normal-looking crust (see above).

Bake for 20 minutes, then lower heat to 350 and bake for another 30-35 minutes, until golden-brown and bubbly. Cool on a wire rack for at least half an hour before digging in.


Notes


  • The filling can't be beat. I'm a huge fan of citrus in desserts, and the blend of tart and sweet, with a hint of liqueur, somehow makes for the archetypal blackberry experience.
  • The crust is not bad for a vegan crust. It's sandy and flavorful; however, it gets soggy relatively quickly. If you're planning to keep the pie around for a few days and don't care whether or not it's vegan, use these ingredients, as found in this whiskey apple pie recipe: 2 cups flour, pinch salt, 15 tablespoons cold butter (almost 2 sticks) and 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp cold water. I've had great success with this yummy, flaky crust.
  • I highly recommend all of the dessert books put out by Isa Chandra and Terry Hope. Their cookie and cupcake books produce to-die-for desserts every time. I've only just started using their pie book, but this recipe seems a harbinger of good things to come.

Verdict


4 stars; would be 5 with a butter crust (but at least use pasture-raised butter).

Madagascar Hot Chocolate Cookies

I had purchased a cinnamon-chili pepper chocolate bar from Madécasse, my favorite Brooklyn-based Madagascar chocolate purveyor, and wanted to make some cookies for a party. What I craved were brownie-rich cookies with a velvety texture and spicy chocolate chunks. I made what seemed like a lot, yet they disappeared with a quickness. Every so often, I bake cookies and proclaim them the "best I've ever made." This was one such time.


makes around 28 cookies

Ingredients

 

1 stick butter
1 bar 80% chocolate
1 bar 71% chocolate
1 bar Madécasse cinnamon & chili pepper chocolate
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups white sugar
1 cup flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch salt

Process


Preheat oven to 325. Line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a double boiler or pan-within-a-pan-of-boiling-water, melt the butter and the broken-up bar of 80% chocolate. Toss in two squares of the 71% chocolate. When you see only a few lumps, remove the pan from the heat. Allow the lumps to gently become one with the chocolate-butter broth, stirring occasionally.

Chop the Madécasse and four to six squares of the 71% chocolate, depending on how chocolatey you want to go. I like to chop fine rows in the chocolate, and then turn them 90 degrees and chop again so as to produce small chunks.

In a bowl, beat the eggs. Add sugar and vanilla extract and mix until uniform.

Pour in the cooled chocolate mixture and combine.

In a separate bowl, sift flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix these together, then gently fold into the wet ingredients.

Add chocolate chunks and fold them into the batter.

Refrigerate the batter for 30 minutes.

Using your fingers, scoop the batter onto your baking sheets in 1 1/2-inch rounds. You can also use a scoop, but where's the fun in that?

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Cookies will be very soft and gooey, yet will "bounce back" when poked.

Cool on a wire rack.

Notes


  • This finicky combo of chocolates produces a deep, bittersweet taste. Of course, you can go with a different blend of chocolates, as long as they equal 9 to 10 ounces.
  • If you lack spicy chocolate, simply add cinnamon, ginger, and a dash of cayenne to the batter.
  • I used bourbon barrel-aged Madagascar vanilla from Kentucky. So yummy!
  • Refrigerating the batter causes it to spread more slowly in the oven, resulting in a thicker, gooier cookie. But these cookies taste just as good spread thin. You'll just have to bake them for less time.
  • I needed three baking sheets' worth of cookies, but I put them in the oven in two installments. I've found that more than two baking sheets' worth of cookies lengthens the baking time and negatively affects the results.

Verdict


These might have to take 5.5 stars.


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! 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.