Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Plum Cardamom Crumble Squares

I have a bit of a problem. I seem to accrete jars of jam. I can't help it. I don't have compulsive-jam-buying disorder or anything; people gift them to me, homemade-style. I also make jam myself at a rate which far exceeds my jam-eating capabilities (which happens to be rather low). Few activities feel more satisfyingly domestic goddess-ish than lining up a dozen warm jars of freshly canned preserves, listening to the 'shluurrp' as the lids seal themselves down, one by one. Gazing upon their jewel-like colors induces daydreams of 'larders' and 'simpler times' where 'homesteaders' had to 'put things by' in order to last through the 'lean winter.'

But somehow winter never feels quite 'lean' enough to merit eating last year's fruit stewed in copious amounts of sugar and left to sit on the shelf for half a year. Jars that turn out well are swiftly given away in a flurry of 'Look-what-I-made!' excitement, probably to folks like me who fail to eat them, until they turn a dingy grey as revenge for 2 years of neglect.

Jars that turn out less-than-spectacularly end up hanging around our kitchen for years, as well. There was that batch of orange rhubarb marmalade, which tasted great, but the green of the 'barb and orange of the, er, oranges turned an unappetizing shade of brown. Or the time I ordered a case of red plums with the intention of making dozens of jars to give as Christmas gifts, only to bite into one and find it totally flavorless. Oh well, I thought, nothing a little (aka truckload) of sugar can't fix! Only it didn't. Then I let the pot burn slightly. Three years later, I can't seem to admit defeat. Surely someday I'll bake that apple tart that needs glazing, right?

On the other hand, take my talented sister-in-law, Sheila. She's got two kids, a cat, a garden, a successful art career, and she still manages to make the most delectable, sweet-tart, chunky plum jam, which she gifts to her lucky family, stylishly jarred and wrapped, every Christmas. The first time I tasted this jam, two winters ago, I very nearly swooned. I didn't know jam could taste so fresh and bright. We received another jar last winter, but not until this past weekend did I realize how time had flown, jam-free, so quickly, as we brought home yet another to join the fray.

So when Jay started kvetching (another problem) about the abundance of unopened jam jars, I began thinking of ways to use it up. Here's a list that I've come up with:

-jam bars of many varieties
-on toast, scones, crumpets, english muffins
-in plain yogurt
-'jam bag pudding' (which sounds oddly intruiguing)
-thumbprint cookies
-filled doughnuts
-swirled into coffeecake
-to fill muffins or cupcakes
-sandwiched between buttery cookies or macarons
-strained and stirred into buttercream to top cupcakes or fill cookies
-jam crostata
-slathered between layers of cake or a crepe gateau
-baked into gateau basque or pithiviers
-dolloped on pancakes (ricotta!) or folded into crepes (buckwheat!)
-used to glaze fruit tarts, or be the bottom layer of a fruit tart, such as apple
-rolled up in croissant dough, danish dough or puff pastry for turnovers
-to fill blintzes
-folded into whipped cream and rolled into a roulade cake

How do you like to use jam?

I decided to bake jam bars, since there are few things I love more than buttery streusel, and jam bars consist of mostly that, with a layer of Sheila's tart, plum jam to add flavor and textural contrast. (Without the jam, it would basically be sbrisolona, which actually isn't such a bad thing.)

These are stupid easy to prepare: just whizz all the ingredients together in the food processor (excepting the jam), press most of it into a pan, spread the jam over, crumble the rest of the mixture on top, and bake. I based these on a recipe from Williams Sonoma Baking, but swapped the cinnamon for cardamom, which I love with plums, added salt (it called for none, but surely the best part about jam bars is the addictive salty-sweetness?!), changed some other things around, and ended up with a delectable little snack, one fewer jar of jam on the counter, and a quiet boyfriend (for now).

While craving (another) snack this afternoon I opened up this year's jar of Sheila's delectable plum jam and put a scoop into some plain, whole-milk yogurt. The bright, sweet-tart flavor transported me to Corralitos, picking a plum off Jay's mom's tree and biting into its luscious flesh, still warm from the sun. Seriously. This jar won't be getting baked into anything.

Plum Cardamom Crumble Squares

Makes twelve 2" bars

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 stick (4 ounces, 1/2 cup) cold, unsalted butter, diced
1 cup plum (or other slightly tart) jam

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350º. Butter an 8" square baking pan, or line it with a sling of parchment paper.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, oats, sugar, salt and cardamom. Pulse a few times to combine. Scatter the butter over and pulse about 20 times, until the mixture begins to clump together.

Remove 1 cup of the mixture and set aside. Press the remaining mixture firmly into the pan, building up a 1/2 inch lip on all sides. Spread the jam evenly over the bottom, then sprinkle the 1 cup crumb mixture over the top. Pat down lightly.

Bake the bars until golden on top, about 45 minutes. Let cool completely, then cut into 12 bars.

The bars are crispest the day they are baked, but will keep for several days in an airtight container at room temperature.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Rice and Eggs; a Fairly Sensible Breakfast

There are a lot of places in the world I haven't traveled to; like, most of them. Being terrified of flying doesn't help matters. My earliest memory is of running along the beach in Hawaii when I was three; I've been around the states a bit, including, unfortunately, Texas; Jay and I roadtripped up to British Columbia last fall; I spent a year living in Bologna, Italy, during my junior year at UCSC, which had been preceeded by the obligatory, drunken, post-high-school romp through western Europe. But that's about it.

That doesn't mean I don't want to travel; au contraire, there are oodles of places I'm dying to visit. I'm just waiting for the right drugs (and the right sugar daddy.) Most of the places I would like to see fascinate me with either their politics (Sweden), music (Brazil), language (Japan), or food (Thailand).

At the risk of sounding like a bigoted ignoramus, China holds none of those interests for me (please wisen me up, china-lovers!) The language sounds akin to a keening animal (sorry, keening animals), the politics scare me (what little I know of them), the music doesn't do it for me, and most of the 'Chinese food' I've had seemed cheap and greasy.

Enter Eliza's, the best Chinese restaurant I'd ever been to, located a 10-minute walk away from our Potrero Hill apartment. In a disturbing trend here on the hill (and many other places as well, I reckon) the owners of the building jacked up the rent so high they forced this excellent restaurant, which had been an extremely successful staple here on the hill for 16 years, to close. Thankfully, their Pacific Heights location is still open, but we have yet to make the trek. (It's certainly closer than going to China, however.)

Mine and Jay's ritual, when returning from any trip, was to head straight to Eliza's for bowls of heavenly hot and sour soup, an order of Buddha's Delight, and heaps of brown rice. A lunch special would set you back no more than $6, and included a steaming bowl of soup, a plate piled high with the dish of your choice, and two gargantuan mounds of rice.Eliza's food was always fresh and vibrant tasting, packed with colorful vegetables coated in a light nap of translucent sauce. The owner, Jan, would come to Farley's Coffee everyday when I worked there as a barista. We treated her like a celebrity, comping her drinks, and in exchange she would often sit down with us at our table and force-feed us beers and sake shots until we could barely stagger home.

Yes, that is all well and good, but would you please get on with the eggs and rice? I'm sure you're thinking.

Certainly. One day Jay was pestering me to use up all the extra rice we had brought home from our most recent Eliza's excursion. I considered making rice pudding, but the rice had a bit of savory-ness from canoodling with the erstwhile Kung Pao Veggie Tofu. So I looked up 'rice' in Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and found 'rice and eggs.' She described what an easy and honest breakfast it made, but when I saw the outrageous amount of butter and cheese the recipe called for, I was truly convinced.

All of this is to say that making rice and eggs is a brilliant way to reconstitute leftover rice. It makes a comforting, nutritious breakfast and disguises eggs, which can seem unpalatable first thing in the morning (or afternoon, in my case) in a muddle of starchy, cheesy, buttery loveliness (which somehow always seems palatable).

Top with any seasonal vegetables, salsa, pesto, or condiments; my favorite being cilantro pesto, chunks of ripe avocado, extra cheese and some sauerkraut (which Jay makes; we put it on almost everything.) Cherry tomatoes make an excellent addition when in season.

Use any rice you like: short, medium or long-grain, brown, white, black, red, or even a wild rice blend. Brown, red and black rices may take more water, and the cooking time will be roughly double.

Rice and Eggs

Makes 3-4 servings

1 cup uncooked rice, rinsed
2 cups water
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon butter, in small pieces
1 cup shredded melty cheese, such as jack, cheddar and/or goat gouda
toppings of your choice (see below)

Place the rice, water and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a bare simmer, cover and steam until the rice is tender and all the water has been absorbed, about 20 minutes. Let stand off the heat 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Break the eggs into a bowl and beat with 1/4 teaspoon salt until well combined. Pour the eggs over the rice and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. The eggs may cook from residual heat; if they are not done to your liking, turn the heat on low and continue to stir gently until they are set. Stir in the butter, then the cheese.

Topping suggestions:

avocado or guacamole
sour cream
cilantro, basil, mint or parsley
shredded red or green cabbage
tomatoes or cherry tomatoes
slivered red onion or scallions
cilantro or basil pesto
sauerkraut or escabeche

Friday, January 22, 2010

Apple-Huckleberry Pie, with Sourdough Pate Brisee

Voulez-vous fraisage avec moi?

This is what my pie dough whispered discreetly in my ear as I worked its buttery bits into the flour mixture last night. Pourquoi pas? I thought.

The fraisage method, in which portions of dough are scraped along the work surface under the heel of your hand, smears the butter into long, thin sheets, much like puff pastry dough, but without the time consuming folding, rolling and chilling. In the oven, the water in the butter evaporates into steam, which raises the sheet of dough above into a distinct layer. This creates a strata of shatteringly thin layers of buttery dough, which add up to the most tender and lovely crust; just the thing in which to encase thinly sliced apples and tiny huckleberries tossed with vanilla sugar, lemon zest and nutmeg.

You can fraisage any pie dough, so long as both parties consent. (Kidding.) That is, so long as you leave ample butter chunks and don't make the dough overly moist. Feel free to use your favorite pie dough recipe, or, if you have extra sourdough starter handy, make the sourdough pate brisee, below. The starter adds not a sour flavor, but the enhanced 'old dough' taste that great hearth breads contain. The acids in the starter contribute tenderness, and the glutens enhance the flake factor. I like to use a combination of all purpose flour, for glutinous sheets of dough that separate into distinct flakes, and whole spelt flour, for pillowy tenderness and the nutty taste of the bran and germ still present in the flour. You can use all white flour, or substitute whole wheat pastry flour for the spelt.

Fruit pie makes a homey, satisfying dessert (or breakfast - heck, it's mostly fruit, right?) with relatively little effort. Here are a few tips to ensure luscious results:

1) Great pie begins with great dough. Like baking bread, this requires doing it a few times to get a feel for just what makes a flaky, tender crust. How much to cut in the butter, how much liquid to add, whether to be fancy and give the dough a fold as for a laminated dough, or use the fraisage method. Really though, anything with loads of butter in it is not going to taste bad, so don't be scared, it will be ok. Each time I make pie dough I seem to learn something new. (I know you know to use great fruit, too; I will not insult your integrity with a condescending lecture, nor will I mention supermarket apples with the inept surname 'delicious.)'

2) Taste your fruit and sweeten accordingly. Once the pie is baked, there is no going back. I used 3/4 cup of sugar in this one, but found it lacking slightly in sweetness. (I think 1 cup would have been just right, as I've written in the recipe below.)

3) Start out with a hot oven, then reduce the temperature. This cooks the dough with a blast of heat, then allows the filling to finish baking slowly, ensuring a crisp crust and cooked through interior. Baking the pie in the lower third of the oven lets the bottom brown adequately without burning the upper crust.

4) Don't underbake. If you use firm baking apples, like Grannies or Pink Ladies, the pie can take quite a bit of baking. As long as the crust doesn't burn, you can keep going until the juices have been bubbling furiously for 10 or 15 minutes.

5) For neat slices, let the pie cool completely before cutting into it. This takes at least 2 hours, but the pie keeps beautifully for a couple days, at room temperature. Think of the filling as jam, which needs to set in order to transform from a runny liquid into a thick, firm mass. (If you don't care, though, by all means, eat the pie hot.)

6) Have some ice cream handy, preferably vanilla, to nestle into a slice of warm pie. Whipped cream will do, but you may feel a bit deprived of the a la mode experience if eating your pie warm.

Huckleberries freeze well and make a satisfying addition to winter desserts, when you may be feeling neglected and underprivileged due to the lack of fresh fruit in your life. They add a deep woodsy flavor, some tang and texture, and turn the filling a gorgeous magenta. If you don't have huckles, you can find 'wild blueberries' in the freezer section of certain schmancy grocery stores. Blackberries go equally well with apples, as do fresh cranberries.

Of course I'm looking forward to trying this in the summer, with fresh peaches instead of apples. Now I'm feeling deprived again. Better have another slice of pie.

Apple-Huckleberry Pie

Makes one 10" pie, 10-12 servings

Sourdough Pate Brisee

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat or whole spelt flour (or use all AP)
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
8 ounces (2 sticks, 1 cup) very cold unsalted butter, in 1/2" dice
about 8 ounces (about 1 cup) liquid sourdough starter

In a large bowl, combine the flours, salt and sugar. Add the butter and rub with your fingertips until the mixture looks like gravel, with some butter worked in and some 1/4" chunks remaining. Gradually add the starter, folding the mixture with a spoon or your hands until it just starts to come together into large clumps.

Turn the dough out onto a surface, floured lightly if the dough is at all sticky. Divide roughly into 8 portions. Fraisage the dough: using the heel of your hand, scrape a portion of dough across the surface. Repeat with the remaining dough. Gather the dough into 2 equal balls. Flatten into discs and wrap in plastic. Chill for at least 30 minutes, and up to a few days. (Or freeze for up to a couple months. Defrost before proceeding.)

Remove one disc from the fridge. If it is very firm, you may need to let it soften at room temp for 15 minutes or so. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 14" round. Fit into the pie pan leaving a slight overhang. Roll out the second disc to a 12" round. Place on a piece of parchment and slide onto a rimless baking sheet. Chill both while you prepare the pie filling.

Apple-Huckleberry Pie Filling

3 pounds apples, such as pink ladies, peeled, cored, halved and thinly sliced
2 cups fresh or frozen huckleberries
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 cup sugar
seeds of 1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, added to the apples)
2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
good grating fresh nutmeg
1 tablespoon milk or cream, for brushing the dough
1 tablespoon sugar, for sprinkling

Position a rack in the lowest level of the oven and preheat to 500º. If you have a baking stone, set it on the rack.

In a very large bowl, toss together the apple slices, huckles, and lemon zest and juice. In a separate bowl, combine the sugar and vanilla bean seeds. Rub the seeds into the sugar to distribute evenly. Add the flour, salt and nutmeg and mix to combine. Add the sugar mixture to the apple mixture and toss to combine.

Turn the apples and their juices into the pie crust. Lay the second round of dough on top. Use a pair of scissors to trim the overhangs flush with the pan. Flute. (Or, if you have an inch or so of overhang, you can tuck the dough under itself and flute.)

Brush the top crust with the cream and sprinkle with the sugar. With the tip of a paring knife, mark the center of the pie, then cut 8 slits in the top.

Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven, on the baking stone if you have one. Turn the oven down to 425º. Bake the pie for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temp to 350º and bake for another 35-45 minutes, until the crust is deep golden and the juices bubble up vigorously, for a total baking time of 55-65 minutes.

Remove the pie to a cooling rack and let cool completely, at least 2 hours, at room temperature. The pie keeps at room temperature for a couple days; put it in the fridge after that. Serve with whipped cream, or warmed with ice cream.

Cilantro and Pepita Pesto

Aside from a certain shredded wheat neurosis (in which said block of cereal had to be thoroughly decimated and submerged in milk before I would touch it) I was never a particularly picky eater. At age 7, I became obsessed with sushi and declared it my favorite food. I ate fairly heartily, usually finishing the comestibles on my plate without a fuss. I didn't love vegetables, but I would eat them as necessary. (Oh, except when I didn't feel like it. Then I would ask to be excused outside, where I would toss my greens off of the deck and into the bushes below.)

One day, a pickier eater than I stayed for dinner. My dad had lovingly made fresh basil pesto to serve over salmon, and I was all set to dig in when this friend began caterwauling. Apparently pesto was disgusting, I'd just never realized it before. My dad, a bit bewildered, resignedly got up to make something more kid friendly for the two of us that night.

I got over my pesto-phobia pretty quickly; like, right after my friend went home. And it's a good thing, since Jay makes the best pesto ever. We have jars of it rotating through the fridge all summer long to smear on sandwiches, eggs, and pasta. In the winter we sometimes use other herbs, such as marjoram, parsley, arugula or cilantro. Pesto is a handy way to use up a bunch of herbs which you may have purchased, say, to garnish a pumpkin and black bean soup that you meant to blog about, but never got around to snapping a photo of before it disappeared. And now you're stuck with a huge bunch of the stuff which your thrifty boyfriend keeps heckling you about. Don't fret, just puree it with some garlic, olive oil, parmesan and pumpkin seeds, and voila! A vivid green condiment to brighten up your winter meals.

Cilantro pesto adds a bright note to any dish, and goes especially well with mexican-type foods such as migas, or swirled into a bowl of soup. I wouldn't waste it on any picky eaters, though.

Cilantro and Pepita Pesto

Makes about 1 cup

1 large bunch cilantro, rinsed thoroughly, dried and roughly chopped
1/2 cup raw pepitas (green pumpkin seeds)
1 medium clove garlic
1/4 cup grated parmesan
1/4 teaspoon salt
about 1/2 cup olive oil or vegetable oil (such as sunflower)

Place the pepitas and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the cilantro, parmesan and salt and process until fairly smooth. With the food processor running, gradually pour in enough oil to make a thickly spreadable paste.

Store in an airtight jar in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Somewhat Fussy Pumpkin Tart

Here in San Francisco, summer often begins in September and ends in November. Yes, you read that correctly. Summer. That's of course not counting the teaser heatwave we have every February in which we put on sundresses and drink mimosas out on the sidewalk, rejoicing the end of winter. Before another six months of gloom set in and dispel this myth.

So anyway, along comes October with its winter squash and sweet potatoes and apples, and there you are at the beach, gorging on juicy peaches and heirloom tomatoes. You think, Apples? What are you doing here? And you know they're gravensteins and your boyfriend's mom's tree is practically buckling under the weight of them, but instead you eat raspberries from the farm stand down the road. Finally it gets a bit chilly mid-November, the plums and strawberries peter out, and before you know it, you've missed the miniscule Pumpkin Dessert Window.

The Pumpkin Dessert Window lasts from the first chilly day of fall (usually about one week before Thanksgiving), through Thanksgiving. It's not that pumpkins aren't around anymore, in fact you've even got a can/jar or two of puree in your cupboard/refrigerator which you never got to. It's just not pumpkin dessert season anymore. You know it, everyone around you knows it, even your CSA, which continues to send you butternuts and acorns every week, knows it.

So you make a pumpkin tart in January, feeling a little like a fourth-grader dancing to Vanilla Ice in your school talent show when all the cool kids know it's 'so last year'. And it's a good one (the tart, that is, not the Vanilla Ice song. Or your dance, for that matter). It's Cook's Illustrated's new recipe (at least it was two falls ago) in which you cook pumpkin and sweet potato purees on the stove to condense them, whisk in eggs, milk, cream, sugar and a touch of spices. You bake it in a sweet tart shell, and eat it with maple-sweetened whipped cream.

But for some reason, it's not quite the same as it would have been on that first brisk week of fall, when the leaves on the ginkgo trees turn fluorescent yellow and you wear a scarf not only because it looks good but because you will freeze your ass off it you don't. Maybe it's the newly planted strawberry and fava bean starts in the community garden down the street hinting that spring is on its way. Or that wearing a scarf (and longjohns, legwarmers, sweater, jacket, hat and gloves) no longer seems like a fun novelty but a cumbersome burden. Or that you find yourself gazing with increasing nostalgia at the unworn capris/flip-flops taking up space in your closet/shoe tree.

I may have to make this tart again during the Pumpkin Dessert Window of 2010 to give it a fair trial. Not that my ambivalence as to whether it deserves the title of 'great pie' or 'greatest pie' has stopped half of it from disappearing in one day, mind you. In fact, I think I'll have another slice right now, just to refresh my memory.

This tart is meant to be lightly spiced, but I found the fresh ginger a bit too assertive. Next time, I want to try heating the dairy with vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks, coins of fresh ginger and freshly grated nutmeg, steeping the mixture for half an hour to infuse it with the flavors of the spices. Also, this recipe calls for sweet potato as well as pumpkin to create a denser texture, but you could just as easily use a dense-fleshed winter squash, such as kabocha or hokkaido, in place of both. If your squash is dense enough, you can probably skip the cooking-on-the-stove step, which is kind of a pain. Finally, I think the tart could be less sweet, using only 3/4 cup of sweetener instead of 1 full cup, and the the salt could be reduced to 3/4 teaspoon.

Somewhat Fussy Pumpkin Tart

Makes 1 hefty 10" tart, about 10 servings

Update: I finally made the perfect pumpkin pie! Get the recipe here.

Sweet Tart Dough

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Dorie Greenspan

Makes one rather thick 10" crust, or (probably) two thinnish 8" crusts

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat or whole spelt flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
9 tablespoons (4 1/2 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" cubes
1 egg, lightly beaten

In a food processor, pulse together the dries to combine. Scatter the butter chunks over the top, and pulse several times until the butter is somewhat incorporated, with some pea-sized butter lumps remaining. Pulse as you add the egg a little at a time, then continue to pulse (does that sound dirty, or is it me?) until the dough comes together in large clumps. Don't overmix.

Turn the dough out and press into a ball. You can either flatten it into a disk, chill it for half an hour or so, then roll it out and so on. Or you can lazily press the unchilled dough into the pan, working it outwards and up the sides, making it as even as possible. Try to maintain the crumbly texture of the dough, this will make for a tender crust. Dock the dough all over with the tines of a fork.

Chill the tart shell for half an hour, then freeze for at least 20 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375º. Place the tart pan on a rimmed baking sheet. Place a sheet of parchment paper in the shell, then fill with pie weights (or clean pennies, or dry beans), pressing the weights into the corners of the crust. Trim the edges of the paper so they don't burn in the oven. Tip: I store my pie weights in a cheesecloth bag which I place directly on the parchment. This makes them easy to move around.

Place the baking sheet on the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for about 15 minutes, until the sides are set and the bottom looks relatively dry when you remove the weights and parchment. Remove the weights and parchment, and continue baking the crust another 10 minutes or so, until the bottom just begins to brown.

Creamy Pumpkin Tart Filling

Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Makes enough to fill one 10 or 11" tart shell, or one 9" pie

2 medium sweet potatoes
1 cup winter squash puree or canned pumpkin
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
3 large eggs
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon brandy or bourbon (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork, place on a baking sheet and roast in the oven until very soft, about 1 hour. Let cool, scoop out the flesh and puree smooth. You should have a scant 2 cups.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the sweet potato, pumpkin, sugar, maple syrup, spices and salt. Puree smooth. Transfer to a medium saucepan and cook at a sputtering simmer over medium heat, stirring frequently, for 15-20 minutes. The mixture should be thick and shiny. Remove from the heat.

In the food processor, whiz together the dairy, eggs, yolks, vanilla and booze until combined. Gradually whisk the dairy mixture into the pumpkin mixture. Strain the whole deal through a fine mesh sieve. Give it a last whisk, and pour into the warm, parbaked tart shell. (If you have extra custard, pour into ramekins and bake once you've reduced the oven temp to 300º).

Place the tart, still on the baking sheet, in the 400º oven. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temp to 300º. Bake until the edges of the tart are slightly puffed and set and the center wobbles like jell-o when you jiggle it, 20-35 minutes. It should not be soupy. An instant read thermometer should register 175º when inserted in the center.

Remove the tart and let cool at room temperature 2-3 hours. The tart is still baking from residual heat, so don't try to chill it in the fridge, or it will not set properly.

Serve cold or at room temperature, with a dollop of maple sweetened whipped cream, and a grating of fresh nutmeg, if desired.

Oven Roasted Potatoes and Parsnips

Making delicious roasted potatoes is so easy, there is really no excuse for the pale, bland, flaccid wedges you often find when brunching out. The roots are simply cut, tossed with olive oil and salt, and ignored in the oven for an hour until they develop a crunchy crust and soft interior.

The last time I made these, I had some parsnips leftover from a soup recipe, and threw them in with the potatoes. The result surprised me. Roasted parsnips taste incredibly sweet with a uniquely earthy bite, adding a welcome change from the usual spud suspects (spudspects?). I usually add some fresh rosemary needles and whole cloves of garlic to the mix, but this time I tossed in a bit of curry powder and smoked paprika instead. The spices, staining the roots a warm golden color, melded together to form a deliciously enigmatic seasoning, making them the perfect accompaniment to any number of dishes, from poached eggs to ratatouille to spinach and goat cheese souffle to any meat or fish dish. Serve with a dollop of creme fraiche, sauce gribiche, romesco, or whole milk yogurt flavored with mashed garlic, mint and cilantro.

Don't leave these cooling on the rack for too long, or you may be surprised when these roots mysteriously disappear, one by one, off the baking sheet without ever making it to the table...

Oven Roasted Potatoes and Parsnips

Makes 4-6 servings

2 pounds yellow potatoes, cut into 1" chunks
2 pounds parsnips, peeled, cut into 3/4" chunks
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat the oven to 400º with a rack in the lower-center.

Toss all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Turn out onto a rimmed baking sheet and spread in an even layer. Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the bottoms form a golden brown crust. Use a thin, metal spatula to flip the wedges. Continue roasting until the potatoes and parsnips are golden and crusty all over and soft on the inside, another 30 minutes or so.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pumpkin Challah


Here are some snippets from my life illustrating my shocking lack of religious observance:
At the age of 10, I got out of going to Hebrew school by telling my mom I didn't believe in god. (She practically plotzed.)
At a memorable Channuka gathering, the two tan, blonde-haired, blue eyed guests became 'Team Goyim' and took charge of the latkes when my meshugener sister and I tried, and failed, to fry them in olive oil. (Those mentches - I'm telling you, they're mishpucha.)
Said sister and I got a serious kvetching at when we sang Jesus songs at Passover.
I gave Channuka gifts to no one this year. Bupkes. I know what you're thinking: oy, what a shonda!

Making this challah was the Jewish-ist thing I've done in some time. However, since in observing the sabbath I am forbidden from doing any work, i.e. blog posting from Friday through Saturday evening (ahem) I couldn't dazzle you with my devotion on Friday like I meant to, but I assure you, these photos were shot on the sabbath, in the daytime, when I was still allowed to press the camera's button myself, rather than having to pay some shegetz to do it for me.

'Course, I couldn't be satisfied to bake a regular challah; I had the chutzpah to go and futz with it. I had a can of pumpkin puree leftover from the (goyisha) holidays and remembered a baker friend describing the pumpkin brioche she used to make at Liberty Cafe. So I thought, why not pumpkin challah?

I always loved the sweet, buttery taste of challah, its fine crumb, and the way fresh bread pulls apart as you tear into it. My favorite recipe, and one I used to bake at the not-jewish Petite Patisserie every Friday (I'm still not exactly sure why, but I enjoyed it nonetheless), comes from a favorite book, not-jewish Williams Sonoma Baking. The loaves taste exactly like the challah of my slightly-jewish childhood, in the good old days before my mother became a raw-foodist (She now claims that grains give her colds.) I used that recipe as a springboard, replacing some of the water with pumpkin, and tweaking the other ingredients accordingly. The pumpkin puree gives the bread a lovely golden hue, while contributing moisture and natural sweetness. A six-stranded braid gives the bread its traditional look, and a double brushing of eggwash lends a crusty, lacquered finish. Here's a helpful video demonstrating how to braid a six-stranded challah.

Slices of this loaf make a heavenly nosh toasted and schmeared with butter and salt. It is also an excellent vehicle for melty cheese (but really, what isn't?) Or picture pumpkin challah dunked in eggy batter, fried into french toast, and drizzled with maple syrup.

I guarantee, you won't deem it 'dreck.'

P.S. You can also use this dough to make delicious Pumpkin Cinnamon Buns. 

Pumpkin Challah

Makes 1 large loaf
Total time: about 4-5 hours

This recipe makes a loaf with sturdy slices for toast or sandwiches. For a softer loaf, increase the butter to 4 ounces, and the sugar to 1/2 cup. 

Update 11/2014: Here are a few more recent process shots on instagram: 1, 2, 3. And a recipe for pumpkin challah french toast.

1 tablespoon rapid-rise yeast (or 5 teaspoons active dry, or 3 tablespoons fresh)
1/2 cup luke-warm water
1 cup (8 oz.) pumpkin puree
3 eggs, plus 1 for brushing the bread
3 oz. (6 tablespoons) butter, melted and cooled
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt
about 5 cups all purpose or bread flour
optional: 1 tablespoon poppy or sesame seeds, for sprinkling

In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast, water, pumpkin, eggs, butter, sugar and salt. (If using rapid rise yeast, sprinkle the yeast over the water and let stand 10 minutes before adding the other ingredients.) Stir in the flour a cup at a time, until a shaggy dough forms. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and the surface, until the dough feels smooth and springy. Place in a lightly oiled bowl or container, cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press out the air bubbles. Divide the dough into 6 equal portions (they will weigh about 8 ounces each). Tuck the edges under to form loose rounds. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a large plastic bag and let them rest for 10 minutes to relax the glutens and make them easier to shape. Roll them into approximately 14-inch ropes. Connect the ropes at the far end, with the loose ends closest to you. Number the strands 1-6.

A) Bring strand 6 over strand 1. Strand 5 is now the new strand 6, and the old 6 is the new 1.
B) Begin to braid the dough in the following pattern:
2 over 6
1 over 3
5 over 1
6 over 4
C) Repeat this pattern until you have used up all the dough.
D) Pinch the ends together, and tuck them under the loaf.

Whew! Now lift the loaf onto a parchmented baking sheet, put the whole thing in a large plastic bag, and let rise for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400º with a shelf on the lowest rack. Brush the loaf with the beaten egg, and let rise another 15 minutes in the bag. Brush the loaf a second time, return to the bag, and let rise another 15 minutes or so. The bread should be roughly doubled in size, and should hold the indentation of your finger when pressed lightly. (Optionally sprinkle the top with poppy or sesame seeds.)

Place the loaf in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 325º and bake for another 20 minutes. Rotate the loaf, and bake another 15 or 20 minutes, for a total baking time of 45-50 minutes. The bread should be a rich brown, sound hollow when thumped on the underside, and an instant read thermometer should register at least 195º when inserted in the center.

Remove the pan from the oven and let the bread cool completely, 1-2 hours, before enjoying.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Baked Pumpkin Mac and Cheese with Kale and Cauliflower

Update 12/10/13: Along with the original bacony version, this pumpkin mac and cheese packed with winter vegetables is one of my favorite dishes. I've made it many times throughout the years. I always want this dish a bit more saucy, so I'm planning to give it a proper re-post sometime soon using 2 cups of milk, and 1 cup of goat cheese in place of the ricotta. But for now, here are some updated photographs. Cheers!

I know it's barely been two months since I posted about Baked Mac and Cheese with roasted squash, collards, bacon and sage, but I just made this dish again the other night, only with a few changes. I won't say it was 'better,' since I omitted the bacon and that would be just impossible, but it was pretty spectacular. As I have been eating it for just about every meal for the past three days, it seemed unfair not to share the variation.

The brilliant thing about this recipe is that the roux which traditionally thickens the creamy sauce is replaced by roasted winter squash. You can roast the squash ahead of time and store it in the fridge to ease the prep on the day you plan to make the dish.

I actually followed the original recipe, one I clipped from Martha Stewart many years ago, more closely this time, using the ricotta cheese, vegetable stock and pinch of nutmeg originally called for, but this time I added blanched kale and cauliflower which get cooked in the same water used for the pasta – easy, peasy. 

The pasta is gooey and hearty enough to feel decadent, yet light and vegetal enough to convince you you are eating something healthy. I can't think of a more satisfying one-dish meal on a chilly winter's day.

I don't have much experience with picky children, but this seems like a good recipe to get them to eat their veggies. The pureed squash blends into the cheese, leaving its voluptuous texture and sweet flavor, and the cauliflower gets disguised into the white of the noodles. (Kale haters: you're on your own.)

The mac is best when fresh, as the noodles continue to absorb moisture from the sauce as they sit, but leftovers are still delicious when re-heated. 

Oodles of noodles:
Winter Squash Mac and Cheese with Bacon, Collard Greens, and Caramelized Onions
Pasta Alla Carbonara with Kale, Brussels Sprouts, and Bacon
Nettle Pesto Pasta with Sun Dried Tomatoes

Baked Pumpkin Mac and Cheese with Kale and Cauliflower

Adapted from Martha Stewart

I like to make my own squash puree with butternut and/or kabocha squash, both of which have sweeter, more dense flesh than pumpkin. To do this, slice a medium-sized winter squash in half lengthwise with a sharp, large chef's knife. Leave the seeds in for now, and place it cut-side down on an oiled, rimmed baking sheet. Roast at 350ºF until very tender and collapsing slightly. Let cool, scoop out and discard the seeds and strings, then puree the flesh in a food processor. Alternately, you can use a can of pumpkin or butternut squash puree. I used corn and quinoa macaroni here, but penne works well, too. I used sprouted wheat bread for the breadcrumbs, but you can use any bread you like.

All ounce measurements are by weight.

Makes a 9x13-inch pan; 8 main-dish servings

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus a bit for greasing the pan
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more for salting the water
1 medium head cauliflower (1 pound / 450 grams)
1 bunch kale (such as lacinato)
12 ounces (340 grams) dry pasta (I used corn and quinoa macaroni)
2 cups (16 ounces / 450 grams) roasted winter squash puree
1 cup vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups whole milk
a good grating of fresh nutmeg
2 cups packed grated sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese (8 ounces / 225 grams)
1/2 cup (4 ounces / 115 grams) ricotta cheese (preferably whole milk)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs from 1-2 slices of bread
1/4 cup packed grated parmesan (1 ounce / 30 grams)
chopped parsley, for garnish (optional)

Be prepared:
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350ºF (175ºC). Lightly rub the inside of a 9x13-inch (22x33cm) baking pan with olive oil and set aside. Bring a large pot of water well-salted water to a boil.

Prepare the vegetables and pasta:
Break and cut the cauliflower into small florets. Tear the kale off of its stems and discard the stems. When the water is boiling, carefully add the cauliflower and cook until crisp-tender, 2-3 minutes. Scoop out the cauliflower with a slotted spoon, drain well, and place in a very large bowl. 

Add the kale, cooking it until it's bright green, 1-2 minutes. Drain well. When cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water and chop the kale roughly. Add the cooked kale to the bowl with the cauliflower.  

Add the pasta to the pot of boiling water and cook, stirring frequently, until it's just a little firmer than you would want to eat. (It will continue to cook and absorb moisture during the baking process.) Drain the pasta well and add it to the bowl with the vegetables.

Make the sauce:
In a large saucepan (or the now empty pot in which you cooked the veg and pasta), combine the squash puree, vegetable stock, milk, nutmeg, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Bring to a bare simmer, stirring frequently, then remove from the heat and whisk in the cheddar and ricotta to melt the cheeses. The sauce will seem thin, but it will thicken up during the baking process. 

Make the breadcrumb topping:
Heat the 1 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and cook, stirring, until crisp, 5 minutes. Scrape into a small bowl, and stir in the Parmesan and a pinch of salt.

Assemble and bake the goodness:
Pour the sauce over the pasta and vegetables, and stir to combine. Scrape the mixture into the greased baking pan and sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture. Bake the pasta until bubbling and golden on top, 20-30 minutes. Serve hot.