Thursday, April 30, 2009

Ellie Krieger's Spaghetti Penne with Turkey Meatballs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

The Craving Ellie in my Belly selection this week is Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs in Spicy Tomato sauce, chosen by Oddball Oven Mitt. Meatballs are one of those things that I really enjoy eating, but not making. It is the manhandling of raw meat thing. I prefer to get my meat from raw to cooked with minimal manipulation on my part. Yet despite my disdain for the process, it seems like I've made a ton of meatballs within the last couple of months -- there were Ina's Real Spaghetti & Meatballs for a Barefoot Bloggers challenge that I made and then slacktastically failed to blog about; the chicken meatballs for Ina's Italian Wedding Soup; Mark Bittman's meatballs; and I swear I can remember bitching about meatball-making at least one other time in my blog recently, but I'll be darned if I could remember which post it was. So when I saw that this recipe was picked, I had my usual conflicted meatball reaction, but I forged ahead.

This time the meatballs are of the turkey variety, which I had not made in a while. Make them by mixing together lean ground turkey, bread crumbs, parmesan, onion, garlic, parsley, thyme, and egg, salt, pepper and shredded carrots. (Incidentally, I used that carrot shredding momentum to my advantage and continued shredding enough carrots to make Ellie's carrot cake cupcakes. Hubs loved them; I loved them once stopped thinking "cupcakes" and started thinking "muffins.") Anyway, once everything is mixed up, roll up your sleeves, take a deep breath, reach in and roll those meatballs, baby. Eyes on the prize.

The sauce here sounded interesting to me because it includes some chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, which I had previously only used in southwestern-style dishes. But I guess if you want to get something spicy, chipotle chiles are one of the quickest ways to do it. In addition to the chiles, the sauce calls for onions, garlic, tomato paste, fire roasted tomatoes, oregano, rosemary, salt, pepper and basil. This might be the first time I've used fire roasted tomatoes. Pamela sung their praises just last week, so I was really eager to see what all the excitement was about. And wow, I don't know if it was the fire roasted tomatoes or the chipotles or what, but this sauce was kickin! Definitely spicy, and just exploding with flavor. Ellie, I take back all the times I ever said that your dishes can be a little bland sometimes. There is NOTHING bland about this sauce. We loved it, and it will become my go-to spicy tomato sauce (doesn't everyone have a go-to spicy tomato sauce?) My only complaint is that the sauce-to-meatball ratio seemed a little low. I'll probably double the sauce recipe next time I make this. But in terms of flavor, I wouldn't change a thing. It is fabulous!

Also, I made Ellie's garden risotto over the weekend. See?

This risotto is next week's pick from one of my favorite bloggers, Jessica of Singleton in the Kitchen. I am about to be out of pocket and will be unable to do a full post about this next week, but I didn't want to miss Jessica's pick, especially since she picked risotto, which is much loved by my hubs and me. And this one did not disappoint. You all are going to loooooove this! Thanks Jessica!

Oddball Oven Mitt, thanks for the fantastic pick this week -- we loved it!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

TWD: Grand Chocolateapalooza Finale - Chocolate Cream Tart

April has been quite a chocolatastic month for TWD. Sure, we started out the month exploring the coconutty, lime-y and banana-y end of the dessert spectrum, but by mid-month we were solidly into chocolate, and we haven't looked back. As the only reliable chocolate eater in my house (my kids would pick Skittles over chocolate - where did I go wrong?) I sort of found myself on my hands and knees last weekend, clawing and scratching my way to the chocolate finish line. But boy, am I ever glad I made it there, because this Chocolate Cream Tart is certainly the best chocolate dessert I've ever made, possibly one of the best I've ever eaten, and absolutely among the handful of the best desserts I've made since joining TWD.

The tart calls for Dorie's chocolate shortbread tart dough. This is a pretty simple dough -- mix up flour, cocoa powder, sugar and salt in the food processor, and then cut in some butter and an egg yolk and mix until "clumps and curds" form. I might as well just come out and say it: I've got pastry issues. I just can't stop mixing it. I want to stop, I know I should stop, but then there's my finger on the "pulse" button again. Dorie provides the best, clearest directions for pastry dough -- she even tells you that the mixer will start making different sounds when the dough is almost ready, and it really does -- so as long as you don't have pastry dough OCD like I do, you should have no trouble with this.

My slightly overmixed dough after being turned out onto work surface:

The other great thing about Dorie Greenspan recipes, thankfully, is that they are generally pretty forgiving. So you can overmix the crust a little bit, as I did, and it will still taste great. I could tell that mine didn't have that perfect shortbread consistency, but it was very good, and when it came together with the chocolate pastry cream and the whipped cream, it was downright incredible. A tad crumbly, though - I made four 4" mini tart crusts, and two of them kind of fell apart on me. But those pieces worked great in parfaits!

I thought the chocolate filling was the star of this show. Making it, of course, involves that whole custard making process, which for me is inherently stressful. Adding to the usual custard stress was the realization -- after I started boiling the milk and whisking together the yolks, sugar and cornstarch -- that I didn't have enough bittersweet chocolate -- whoops! At that point hubs was not home, and I had three sticky, sandy kids, so I did a quick analysis and decided that losing my pastry cream would suck less than taking my kids to the grocery store at that moment. Fortunately, the pastry cream was as forgiving as the crust, and graciously agreed to come together for me in fits and starts over a two hour period.

The night I made these tarts, David and I went out to dinner at one of the restaurants owned by one of our little town's favorite sons, James Beard Award-nominated (that's why he's a favorite son) Frank Stitt. David ordered dessert, but in an unprecedented move that is likely to never again be repeated, I did not. Because I knew that I had Dorie's chocolate cream tart waiting at home, and I was confident that it would rival anything that Frank could throw my way. When we got home, I prepared the tart for David's parents (our awesome babysitters - thank you!) and myself. And the three of us proceeded to be wowed by the tart as David looked on longingly. Okay, not really, he had just finished off a strawberry cheesecake twenty minutes earlier. But the tart eaters in the house really were wowed!

The three components of this dessert - the crust, the pastry cream, and the whipped cream topping, unite to create a spectacular dessert. Each part is good on its own, but it is not until the pieces come together that this tart becomes really special. What can I say, I'm kind of running out of English words/adjectives to describe the fabulousness of Dorie's desserts. As Jessica and I have discussed, pretty soon we are going to have to move into symbols, a la Prince, or interpretive dance. Suffice it to say that this tart is crazy good.

Kim from Scrumptious Photography chose this week's recipe. Kim has been one of my favorite bloggers from my early days in TWD. I swear I can just stare at her photographs all day long. In fact, come to think of it, some days I do. She is a supremely talented food stylist and photographer. Visit Kim's blog for the recipe, and for more eye candy (and eye cookies . . . eye brownies . . . eye pie . . . you get the idea.) Thank you for this incredible pick, Kim!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Barefoot Bloggers: Croque Monsieur, and Craving Ellie: Balsamic White Wine Chicken with Spinach and Couscous Brown Rice

Kathy of All Food Considered chose this week's Barefoot Bloggers dish, Croque Monsieur. This recipe appears in Ina's book "Barefoot in Paris," which, as luck would have it, I recently bought for myself to celebrate the fact that I hadn't bought myself a cookbook in a couple of months. All you Ina and Jeffrey fans out there will love flipping through this book and reading about those two crazy lovebirds flitting around Paris with their tent, feasting on fine bread and cheese for a mere five dollars a day. Love this book!

While there are a lot of enticing dishes in Barefoot in Paris, it was the croque monsieur that called my name when I first read through the book. Casual French bistro food is my kind of French food, and to me, the croque monsieur, which is essentially a pimped out ham & cheese sandwich, epitomizes casual French bistro food.

The recipe calls for Virginia Ham. I knew immediately that I was going to have to hunt down some Boar's Head ham. I had Boar's Head deli meat for the first time when I was a student in Charlottesville. There was a really great deli close to where I lived called . . . actually, I don't know what it was really called. We all called it Fancy Exxon, because (1) it was fancy, and (2) it was in an Exxon station. Creative bunch, we law students. Anyway, they served Boar's Head meat, and their superb sandwiches stood out even in a really great sandwich town. If Boar's Head ham is not the best deli ham in the world, please don't tell me, because it would completely shatter my entire worldview in a way that I might not be able to put back together. Thanks. Anyway, for my croque monsieur, Boar's Head ham it was!

Start out by making the cheese sauce - melt butter, add flour, pour in milk and whisk until thickened. Off the heat, add in salt, pepper, gruyère, parmesan, and nutmeg. Confession: I skipped the nutmeg. I have tried to like nutmeg over and over again, but I just can't live a lie anymore. If it is not on eggnog between December 23 and 26, I don't like it.

Spread some toasted white bread with dijon mustard and top with ham and gruyère. Assemble sandwiches and slather with the cheese sauce. Top with yet more gruyère, bake for 5 minutes, then broil for another 3-5 minutes until topping is bubbly and browned.

Results: I loved this sandwich. The gruyère adds a sophisticated note to it (or, at the very least, it ensures that nobody in your house under the age of 7 will eat it), but at its core it is a comfort food. David liked this as well, although probably not quite as much as I did, because he's not as much of a fan of gruyère. Same old story with the kids -- my youngest gobbled it up, my older two refused it in highly dramatic fashion. Yawn. Great pick, Kathy -- this one totally lived up to my high expectations!

Marthe of Culinary Delights chose this weeks Craving Ellie dish, Balsamic Chicken with Baby Spinach and Couscous. I wasn't 100% sure until I got going, but I'd actually made this one before. I remember reading Ellie's intro to the recipe: "As a busy mom who is really cranky when she's hungry, I need delicious rush-hour meals I can get on the table fast" and feeling an instant kinship. Of course, we all know there is a new word for the "cranky when hungry" phenomenon, "hangry." I think that hangry is destined to enter the OED within the next five years. Some words that recently entered the English language, as determined by the Oxford English Dictionary, include "bahookie" (n., a person's buttocks), "celebutante" (n., a celebrity who is well known in fashionable society), "crunk" (n., a type of hip hop music characterized by repeated shouted catchphrases - a combination of "crazy" and "drunk"), "obesogenic" (adj., tending to cause obesity), and "Yogalates" (n., fitness routine that combines Pilates exercises with the postures and breathing techniques of yoga). Actually, I changed my mind -- hangry will be in the dictionary within three years.

Well, Ellie is not joking - you really can get this one on the table quickly, thereby minimizing the consequences of your hanger. Put a little salt & pepper on the chicken and saute in a tablespoon of olive oil. Remove from skillet. Wilt some baby spinach in garlic and a little oil. Remove from skillet. In the same skillet, make a sauce of balsamic vinegar (I used white wine vinegar because I was out of balsamic. Who runs out of balsamic?), chicken broth, and diced canned tomatoes, and deglaze the pan. Put the chicken and spinach on couscous (I used brown rice) and top with the sauce.

This is undeniably quick, but I think there has got to be a way to jazz up that sauce a bit without adding a whole lot of extra time. I realize that by definition we are already in a foul mood when we are making this one, but nobody is going to get hurt if we take the few extra seconds to throw in few red pepper flakes or some kalamata olives. I love the basic idea of this recipe, but for me, the vinegar, broth and canned tomatoes alone just don't provide enough flavor. There are a thousand different ways to amp up the flavor in here, and I will try one of them next time. But you can't go wrong with the chicken, spinach and tomato foundation of this dish. I bet that my CEiMB pals did all kinds of creative things with this, and I can't wait to read everyone's posts. I will definitely make this again with a few changes. Thanks for the great pick, Marthe!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

TWD: Four Star Chocolate Bread Pudding

This week's Tuesdays With Dorie recipe for Four Star Chocolate Bread Pudding was chosen by Lauren of Upper East Side Chronicle. I love bread pudding -- I will never forget the first time I tried the bread pudding souffle at Commander's Palace in New Orleans -- but I have never made it before. And my track record with the so-called "spoon desserts" I've made with TWD did not exactly leave me brimming with confidence going into this one. Some of my spoon desserts turned out more like "straw desserts;" others more like "shot glass" desserts. There have been the fugly mutant custards and the floating islands that reminded my husband of alka seltzer (in a good way). So I was really feeling the pressure to turn out a semi-respectable bread pudding, so as to not be permanently banished to the spoon dessert hall of shame.

The threshold question that must be asked before making any bread pudding is "what kind of bread?" Dorie suggests "brioche, challah or white," and there were all kinds of cool ideas floating around on the P&Q, including doughnuts. Oh yeah! But as soon as I saw that brioche was a good option for this bread pudding, I knew that it was time for me to roll up my sleeves and attempt to make Dorie's version of this rich, buttery bread that has long intrigued and intimidated me.

I made the brioche (and sticky buns with the other half of the dough). My loaf had a misshapen form and slightly overdone crust that only a mother could love:

But it looked much better when sliced

And it tasted delicious. I cut off the amount needed for a half recipe of this bread pudding, and let it sit out in the open air to "stale up" a bit. I kept checking it, but you know how the old saying goes, "a watched loaf never stales" -- so I ended up using Dorie's technique to speed up the staling process in the oven.

Once the bread is stale, cube it and throw it in a pyrex pan. Heat up some whole milk (I used 2% because that's what I had) and cream, and in a separate bowl whisk together eggs, egg yolks, and sugar. You know what's coming next, don't you? Milk heating, eggs in a separate bowl? Oh yes, that could only mean one thing -- "tempering the eggs so they don't curdle." I have a Pavlovian reaction (profanity) whenever I read those words, which is interesting because I think I actually have not curdled eggs much more than I've curdled them. But I always have this nagging feeling that the eggs are going to do what they are going to do regardless of anything I do in the hot-milk-pouring or whisking department. I guess I am an egg fatalist.

But my eggs did not curdle this time, and I continued pouring and whisking vigorously, and then added chopped chocolate to the mixture, whisking all the while.


Pour the custard over the bread. I apparently did not do as good of a job de-bubbling as I was supposed to.

And let the bread sit on the counter for 30 minutes, pressing down on the bread with the back of a spoon occasionally.

This gets baked in a water bath -- the bread pudding pan goes in a larger roasting pan, and then you pour hot water into the roasting pan until the water comes halfway up the sides of the pudding pan. I managed to slosh some water into the pudding while I was pouring - I was apparently just being "careful," rather than "very careful," as Dorie advises. It's done in 35 to 45 minutes, or when "the pudding is uniformly puffed, the top is dull and dry and a thin knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean."

The result? This was delicious! Unlike some of the other desserts we've made recently, this was chocolatey, but not insanely so. It was rich, comforting and satisfying, and there was no doubt that the brioche was the star of this pudding. This might be one of the first times I've ever disagreed with one of Dorie's serving suggestions -- she recommends serving this at cool room temperature or cold instead of warm, but I really loved it best warm (the warm pudding was especially good with homemade vanilla ice cream!)

Hubs doesn't eat chocolate, so I enlisted my kids to help me with this. My one year old loved it; my four year old would not try it; and my six year old tried one bite and said that it was really good, but then wouldn't eat any more. I must look like I have a fragile ego, though, because he went out of his way to reassure me that just because he wasn't eating it didn't mean that he didn't like it.

You can hop on over to Lauren's blog for the recipe. Thanks for the great pick, Lauren!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dorie Greenspan's Pecan Honey Sticky Buns, or "That Sunday Morning When Our World Was Rocked"

It didn't take me long after I started food blogging to notice Dorie Greenspan's Pecan Honey Sticky Buns out there in food cyberspace. TWD covered them before I joined the group, so I came across numerous reverential posts about these buns, as well as posts about other sticky buns that said things like "these are good, but they are no Pecan Honey Sticky Buns." So legend has long etched these in my mind as the holy grail of sticky buns.

I've read the recipe often when flipping through my copy of Baking: From My Home to Yours. The sticky bun part didn't seem like much trouble, but the brioche-making that precedes the sticky buns did seem like much trouble, at least for a scatterbrained yeastaphobe like myself. But I've now had some moderate success with yeast, and while I'm not any less scatterbrained, I've learned that yeast breads are a little more forgiving than I used to think they were -- e.g., you can (just as a hypothetical) flat out forget about the dough for hours past the time at which you are supposed do something to it, like refrigerate it or slap it, and it will probably be okay. Not that I am recommending that. Anyway, this coming Tuesday's TWD recipe is Chocolate Bread Pudding, which Dorie says works well with brioche, so I finally had a good excuse to attempt the brioche, and more importantly, the sticky buns.

I made the brioche on Friday afternoon. It was pretty straightforward. The recipe called for two packets of active dry yeast, but I wanted to use instant yeast from a bulk package, so I turned to my friend Nancy, everyone's favorite baker/mathematician, and she totally hooked me up with some perfect active-dry-packet-to-instant-bulk conversion numbers. There were decimals involved. Thanks Nancy! Nancy also advised me to put the instant yeast right in with the flour instead of dissolving it in the water/milk as the recipe has you do with active dry yeast. That's what I did, and it worked out great.

Dough after mixing:

Dough after rising:

Daughter after getting into blue magic marker while I was making dough:

Oops, how'd that get in there?

After the dough goes through its various warm air and cold air rises, it needs to sit in the refrigerator overnight. So the next morning, Saturday, I went ahead and baked a loaf of brioche with half the dough. Dorie has you shape the loaf by making four logs and setting them crosswise in the loaf pan:

My logs were exactly the same size (I weighed them) yet despite my efforts at precision, the logs rose to slightly different heights, so my bread baked up all crazy and funky. Oh well. It tasted good.

But lovely as the brioche was, I was really in this for the sticky buns. I originally planned to make these on Saturday morning as well. And I started to -- I followed the instructions in the recipe and rolled the dough into a 16" square polygon of sorts. I then spread on some butter and sprinkled the cinnamon/sugar mixture onto the dough:

And rolled it up into a cylinder:

I cut the cylinder in half and put half of it into the freezer for later.

At that point, I read the rest of the recipe more closely and realized that the buns would have to rise for 1 hour and 45 minutes before they could be baked. It was already 9:00, and call me crazy, but I really wanted sticky buns for breakfast, not lunch. So I decided to put the log back in the fridge and wait to make them on Sunday morning instead.

I set my alarm for 5:45 on Sunday morning. Got up, started my coffee, and made the glaze for the sticky buns (I had measured out the butter, brown sugar and honey and put them into the saucepan on Saturday night, because I knew I would not be able to trust myself that early in the morning on Sunday). I poured the glaze into the pan, cut the buns and placed them in the pan:

Then I covered the pan and went out for a long run, which, if my calculations are correct, burned calories equivalent to what is in one fourth of one of these sticky buns. By the time I got back, the buns looked like this:

After much hand wringing about whether that was sufficiently doubled and puffy, and some neurotic moving of the pan from one spot to another in search of the perfect warm spot, I decided that they weren't going to rise any more and decided to go for it. I baked them for thirty minutes, let them cool for a minute of two, unmolded them, and bit into my one way ticket to sticky bun heaven:

These Pecan Honey Sticky Buns completely lived up to their hype. In fact, four out of five people in my house agreed that these are ridiculously delicious sticky buns. The fifth person wanted Cinnamon Toast Crunch.

Of course, there WAS that little voice in my head that said "Cathy. These took you three days, contain a pound of butter, and required that you get up with the roosters in order to get them on the breakfast table. They BETTER damn well be good." But honestly, that voice is about as much fun as George Will at a 7 For All Mankind convention. I just ignored it.

Sadly, I won't be able to make these nearly as often as I'd like to, simply because they take time and a fair amount of advanced planning . But when I am looking for a "special occasion" breakfast, these sticky buns will be at the top of the list!

Pecan Honey Sticky Buns
From Dorie Greenspan’s “Baking: From My Home to Yours”

*** I made a full recipe through the part where you roll the dough in the cylinder, then I cut the cylinder in half and froze half for later. I made half the glaze, and baked everything in a 8" square pan.


1/2 recipe for Golden Brioche Loaves, chilled and ready to shape (make the full recipe and cut the dough in half after refrigerating it overnight)


1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/4 cup honey
1 1/2 cups pecans (whole or pieces)


1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

Generously butter a 9-x-13-inch baking pan (a Pyrex pan is perfect for this).

To Make the Glaze: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, bring the brown sugar, butter and honey to a boil over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to dissolve the sugar. Pour the glaze into the buttered pan, evening it out by tilting the pan or spreading the glaze with a heatproof spatula. Sprinkle over the pecans.

To Make the Filling: Mix the sugars and cinnamon in a small bowl. If necessary, in another bowl, work the butter with a spatula until it is soft, smooth and spreadable.

To Shape the Buns: On a flour-dusted work surface, roll the chilled dough into a 16-inch square. Using your fingers or a pastry brush, spread the softened butter over the dough. Sprinkle the dough with the cinnamon sugar, leaving a 1-inch strip bare on the side farthest from you. Starting with the side nearest you, roll the dough into a cylinder, keeping the roll as tight as you can.

With a chef’s knife, using a gentle sawing motion, trim a tiny bit from the ends of the roll if they’re very ragged or not well filled, then cut the log into 1-inch thick buns. (You should get 15 or 16.) Fit the buns into the pan cut side down, leaving some space between them.

Lightly cover the pan with a piece of wax paper, and set the pan in a warm place until the buns have doubled in volume, about 1 hour and 45 minutes. The buns are properly risen when they are puffy, soft, doubled and, in all likelihood, toughing one another.

Getting Ready to Bake: When the buns have almost fully risen, center a rack in the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Remove the sheet of wax paper, and put the pan on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake the sticky buns for about 30 minutes, or until they are puffed and golden; the glaze will be bubbling. Pull the pan from the oven.

The sticky buns must be unmolded minutes after they come out of the oven. If you do not have a rimmed platter large enough to hold them, use a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or buttered foil. Be careful–the glaze is super-hot and super-sticky.

Golden Brioche Loaves

2 packets active dry yeast
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch water
1/3 cup just-warm-to-the-touch whole milk
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1/4 cup sugar
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature but still slightly firm


1 large egg
1 tablespoon water

To Make The Brioche: Put the yeast, water and milk in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using a wooden spoon, stir until the yeast is dissolved. Add the flour and salt, and fit into the mixer with the dough hook, if you have one. Toss a kitchen towel over the mixer, covering the bowl as completely as you can– this will help keep you, the counter and your kitchen floor from being showered in flour. Turn the mixer on and off a few short pulses, just to dampen the flour (yes, you can peek to see how you’re doing), then remove the towel, increase the mixer speed to medium-low and mix for a minute or two, just until the flour is moistened. At this point, you’ll have a fairly dry, shaggy mess.

Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula, set the mixer to low and add the eggs, followed by the sugar. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for about 3 minutes, until the dough forms a ball. Reduce the speed to low and add the butter in 2-tablespoon-size chunks, beating until each piece is almost incorporated before adding the next. You’ll have a dough that is very soft, almost like batter. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl, about 10 minutes.

Transfer the dough to a clean bowl (or wash out the mixer bowl and use it), cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes, depending upon the warmth of your room.

Deflate the dough by lifting it up around the edges and letting it fall with a slap to the bowl. Cover the bowl with the plastic wrap and put it in the refrigerator. Slap the dough down in the bowl every 30 minutes until it stops rising, about 2 hours, then leave the uncovered dough in the refrigerator to chill overnight.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

TWD - 15 minute magic: Chocolate Amaretti Torte

This week's TWD selection was chosen by Holly of Phe/MOM/enon. I went in to this torte wanting to love it for its 15 minuteness alone. I figured that anything beyond that would just be icing on the cake (ganache on the torte?)


David's parents were visiting us the weekend before Easter, so my kids were in their glory, reveling in all of that grandparent adoration, performing for a rapt audience, and generally keeping the grandparents hopping from sunup to sundown. Now, like any proud mom, I think my three little darlings are super charming and adorable. That said, I have long suspected that if my kids had a rock & roll anthem, it would be from Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit:"


Yes, my kids have an insatiable appetite for playing, and more specifically, for playing with you. The words "let's sit and rest for a few minutes" are usually met with a confused "no comprende" look. Needless to say, by the end of a weekend, they've worn out any and all grownups in their path. So anyway, fast forward to Sunday, when everyone was hanging out, and I realized that I really needed to track down amaretto cookies if I was to have any chance of getting this torte baked in time to bring it with us when visited David's grandmother over Easter. And I knew that finding the cookies in this town would be a challenge. So I grabbed my purse and my internet picture of an Amaretto di Saronno cookie tin, and announced that I was going to run to Whole Foods to look for the cookies.

At that point, every adult in the house leapt to their feet and took turns making eloquent, impassioned statements as to why THEY should be the one to get to go to Whole Foods to look for the cookies. In the end, David and his dad won the grand "get out of the house for 40 minutes" prize. (Next time, it'll be you and me, Jane, and we'll tack on pedicures while we're out.) Unfortunately, our hunter-gatherers came back cookieless. So I got to had to run out again later in the afternoon, where I finally found some mini amaretto cookies at World Market.


Every once in a while I like to include photographic evidence that 9 months of food blogging has not improved my hack food photography skills even a little bit.

A bold claim is embedded in the name of this recipe: that it only takes 15 minutes to get this torte mixed up and into the oven. I was skeptical, because I feel like I am the world's slowest cook. Even when I cook or bake without distractions (which is rare) I seem to exceed the stated prep times by at least 30%. So I guessed that this would take me at least 25 minutes, but you can bet that I was going to time it to be sure. I made this on Good Friday morning, at the same time we were trying to pack to get out of town for the weekend. The whole house was in a state of chaos; my one year old wanted to be held (that left me with one hand); and then my mother (from whom I inherited my love of the spoken word) called, which knocked me down to just 1/2 of a hand available to make this torte. AND EVEN WITH JUST A HALF HAND, I got it into the oven in 13 minutes. Dorie is not kidding -- there is some serious time magic at work here.

The torte comes together so quickly because it's the food processor rather than you doing all of the work. First it grinds up the amaretto cookies and some almonds, and then some butter, sugar and eggs. Add the cookie/almond mixture and some melted chocolate back to the processor, mix together, and pour it into an 8" pan. I used an 8" springform pan in the hopes that it would be all the easier to remove the cake. The recipe says to bake the torte for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a thin knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out "streaky."


Well, yes, it is blurry as well, but I thought the knife was more "wet" than "streaky," and popped the torte back in the oven for a few minutes.

After around 35 minutes, the knife looked more streaky than wet, and the cake looked like Dorie said that it was supposed to look on the top -- cracked and dry.


I felt like I stared at the bottom of this pan of cream, sugar and water for hours, just willing it to boil. I am really trying to do better about not walking away from my baking liquids when they are, or might soon be, boiling. But boy, if ever a pan of liquid made me want to scoot off for just a second to water the plants, it was this one. Eventually it did boil, and I added it to my chopped up chocolate, stirred, and was richly rewarded for my patience with some ganache.


That would be whipping cream, confectioner's sugar and almond extract whipped together in the Kitchen Aid. I did not take any pictures of it because hubs was reminding me that if we didn't leave in 15 minutes, we'd be going through Atlanta at rush hour.


David's parents, grandmother and I had the torte for dessert on Saturday night. I really liked the torte, but I didn't love it as much as I wanted to. Part of that is that I had just eaten a cheeseburger, fries and Frosted Orange at The Varsity in Athens a couple of hours earlier, and was still reeling. And part of it is probably attributable to the fact that I've been completely spoiled by TWD. If I made this torte a year ago, I would have been astonished that I baked something so decadent and delicious. But now, I couldn't help but compare this to the chocolate armagnac cake (another very dense, nearly flourless cake). I just didn't think that this torte had the complexity of flavor or the richness of texture that the chocolate armagnac cake did. Don't get me wrong, it is good -- very very good. Just not as good as the chocolate armagnac cake. On the other hand, it's significantly easier than the chocolate armagnac cake, so this is still a nice dessert to have in the arsenal when you need a quick dessert. And with any luck, you'll serve it to people who haven't tried the armagnac cake.

David's family seemed to enjoy this. I did not sense that eating this torte was a life-transforming experience for anyone, but I suppose if that is the standard by which I measure the success of my desserts, I'm bound to be disappointed most of the time.

Interestingly, I think you get two completely different desserts depending on whether you serve this with or without the almond whipped cream. I served it with the almond cream to David's family, and I thought the dominant flavor was almond. I had another taste of it on Sunday (without the almond cream) and the dessert had a much more chocolatey, nutty vibe to it. I actually think I preferred it without the whipped cream (although I usually love that almond flavor). Next time, I might cut down on the amount of almond extract in the whipped cream. I also preferred it cold, straight out of the refrigerator, rather than at room temperature.

Thanks for the fun pick, Holly! I will look forward to pulling the rest of this out of my freezer!


I'll conclude with some pressing business that has absolutely nothing to do with this chocolate torte. My friend Deb in Hawaii of Kahakai Kitchen was disappointed that I did not end my "Ode to Mr. Darcy & Coconut Butter Thins" with the famous lake scene shot of our dashing hero, and I hate to disappoint my friends. I thought I'd try to make it up to her by including not just one lake scene picture, but the entire lake scene. Deb, this one's for you, sister!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Ellie: Salmon with Sweet & Spicy Rub and Barefoot: Chinese Chicken Salad

Sorry about another double Thursday post. My original game plan when I joined these groups was to post CEiMB recipes on the Barefoot Bloggers off weeks, but somehow it doesn't ever seem to work out that way.

The Barefoot Bloggers recipe this week is Chinese Chicken Salad, which was chosen by McKenzie of Kenzie's Kitchen. This one was pretty straightforward. Bake bone-in chicken breasts for 40 minutes, and then shred the meat and mix it up with asparagus (I was thrilled to see really beautiful asparagus in the grocery store - spring must be here!), sliced red bell peppers, and scallions.

Of course, it's the dressing that makes this a "Chinese chicken salad." Ina's recipes often specify to use not just olive oil, vinegar, etc., but "good" olive oil or "good" vinegar. I am never 100% sure what she means by "good," but I have a feeling that she means "not the stuff they sell you in Publix." In this recipe, the dressing calls for "good apple cider vinegar." I did have apple cider vinegar in my pantry, but I'm afraid Ina would probably think of my vinegar as:

Heinz: The Apple Cider Vinegar of the Unwashed Masses

I am pretty sure that Ina would not consider this to be "good" apple cider vinegar. If you read the label closely, however, it says that it is "ideal for food." I figured I could build on that. So I made the dressing by whisking together my "ideal for food" apple cider vinegar with vegetable oil, sesame oil, soy sauce, honey, ginger, garlic, peanut butter, salt, pepper and toasted sesame seeds. Add the dressing to the meat and vegetables, and voila! you've just made Chinese chicken salad!

I once worked with a guy whose mantra was "no old food, no cold food," by which he meant that he does not like leftovers, or the cold presentation of food that is traditionally served warm (e.g., pasta salad). This friend also once yelled "Hey, Kool-Aid!" down the hallway after our very pregnant friend who happened to be wearing an orange dress, so we tend to discount what he thinks about things.

But still, I have to admit that I have had a little bit of that "no cold food" bias against salads with Asian flavors; I love Asian food, but I tend to prefer those flavors warm. But I really did enjoy this salad. The dressing is delicious, and it makes for an intensely flavorful, vibrant salad. I brought the salad to a picnic in the park on Saturday with David's family, and everybody seemed to really enjoy it.

This salad couldn't really give me that self-satisfied "I'm eating a light & healthy salad!" feeling, though, because the dressing contains 1 cup (plus 3 tablespoons) of oil, plus 1/2 cup of peanut butter. I will be paying close attention to see if any of the BBs lightened this up. Since I tend to like to get my fat from foods that just can't help being full of fat, like banana cream pie, it is unlikely that I will make this salad very often, at least not in strict accordance with the recipe. But I really enjoyed it and I'm glad that I made it. It definitely helped me get over my "no cold (Asian) food" bias.

The recipe for CEiMB this week is Salmon with Sweet & Spicy Rub, chosen by Pam of Lobsters & Fishsticks. I should disclose upfront: I am one of those people who, when considering whether to order an unfamiliar fish in a restaurant, will grill the waiter about whether that fish is "fishy" (other than that one thing, though, I try really hard not to be annoying in restaurants). I like white, flaky, unfishy fish like grouper, tilapia, halibut. I generally lump salmon in the "fishy" category and therefore never order it. That said, it's been a while since I've tried salmon, and this recipe really sounded delicious, and it was undeniably simple -- busy weeknight simple for sure. I figured I'd give it a try.

The rub is super easy: a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar, a tablespoon of chili powder, a teaspoon of cumin and a little salt and pepper. Cover the salmon with the rub, and grill 4-6 minutes per side. That's it! I served the salmon with grilled zucchini rollups, also from Ellie's cookbook.

We really enjoyed this. Salmon is never going to be my favorite fish (or my husband's, for that matter), but this is a really great way to prepare it. The sugar caramelizes when grilled, and the crispy exterior is really delicious. I liked the rub so much that I'm tempted to try it on different fish --but this recipe was good enough, and quick enough, that I'm likely to make this again even with salmon.

Thanks for the great picks, McKenzie and Pam!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

TWD: Banana Cream Pie

This week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe is Banana Cream Pie, chosen by Amy of Sing for Your Supper . Since this is the only non-chocolate TWD dessert for the entire month of April, I went into this one really hoping that my non-chocolate eating hubs would enjoy it, because if he didn't, it would be May before he gets another dessert (at least from my oven!)

There are three parts to this recipe: the crust, the custard, and the topping. We'll start from the bottom.


I had a single recipe of Dorie's Good for Almost Anything Pie Crust in my freezer, left over from the Thanksgiving Twofer Pie that we made in late November. I had some serious doubts about using it, because (1) Dorie says that the crust can stay in the freezer for up to two months, and I'd exceeded that by a good margin, and (2) there was potentially a substantial amount of bad juju tied up in that crust, given what happened with my Twofer Pie. I am extremely superstitious by nature. As a recovered sports fanatic (when I was a kid, I would cry if the Yankees or my hometown UConn Huskies lost) I firmly believe that I have the power to affect the outcome of a game based on where I am sitting or what I am doing during the game. I know this only because there have been numerous occasions over the years when my team has been tearing it up on the field/court while I sat on the end of the sofa with my arms crossed and my feet up on the ottoman facing west, only to fall apart as soon as I got up to get a drink. It is a terrible burden to have that kind of power. All of that energy spent worrying about how my popcorn bowl placement was affecting Mike Mussina's slider eventually chipped away at my enjoyment of the game, and somewhere along the way I realized that I derive no pleasure, only pain, out of watching sports. So I quit paying attention. I knew that I was fully reformed when UConn lost in the Final Four this past weekend (I did not watch the game), and I remained completely impassive as I scanned over the front page of our local paper's Sunday Sports section while en route to my favorite weekly stop, the Letters to the Sports Editor (which are written primarily by highly impassioned people who are convinced that our sportswriters are disrespecting Alabama or Auburn and favoring the other school).

So being a superstitious person, I struggled mightily with the thought of using a crust that might be permanently tainted by its association with that previous pie making experience (which involved, among other things, a horrifically burnt pie crust, undercooked filling, and injury to my person that culminated in a sloppy self-surgery right there on the kitchen counter). But ultimately, my lazy nature reigned supreme, and I decided to take my chances with the frozen crust.

All I had to do was roll out the crust and then fully bake it. How hard could that be? I swear that when I put the unbaked crust into the pie dish, there was plenty of dough and it completely covered the edges of the pie dish; in fact, it hung over the edges. But somehow it shrunk when it baked. Note the fissures and the portions of the edges that are lacking crust completely. I am sure a science-minded person out there could turn this into a teachable moment, but I am at a loss to explain what happened. It really looked sad and pitiful, and had some seriously overdone portions around the edges (to the extent that there were any edges). But I decided that it would just have to do, and I forged ahead to


I feel like at this point I have baked enough different things to be able to say with authority that I really don't enjoy making custard. It involves stirring eggs over heat, and that is just fraught with danger for me. They could scramble at any moment. Dorie has you pour a little bit of hot milk into the egg mixture to temper the egg yolks so they won't curdle. That sounds great in theory, but I still set my odds of messing that up at about fifty/fifty. Fortunately, the egg yolk tempering gods were smiling on me that day, and it worked fine.

After the eggs are tempered, you have to continue to whisk the egg mixture vigorously while pouring the rest of the milk into the egg mixture in a steady stream. I don't know about anyone else, but for me whisking vigorously is a two-handed job in and of itself. I whisk with one hand and hold the pan handle with the other. So once I have to add in the additional task of pouring milk steadily from another heavy pan while whisking, I start to feel like I need more hands than Octomom. It is just not a physically comfortable process. Anyway, while the custard making process was not remotely enjoyable, it seemed to do its custard thing, and for that, I was grateful. I stuck it in the fridge for a while. When I was ready to assemble it, I whipped together


Which is essentially a super fabulous whipped cream that I was far too busy licking off my fingers to photograph.


David's parents were visiting this weekend, so they got to try some of the banana cream pie. It was so great to have some other tasters for a change, because honestly, even I get seriously bored reading about what David and I think about these desserts week in and week out. Both David's mom and dad seemed to really enjoy the pie. David's dad had another piece on night two, and said that while he would typically not order banana cream pie in a restaurant, he would order THIS banana cream pie in a restaurant if he knew ahead of time how great it would be. Isn't he the coolest?

It was obvious to me that my hubs REALLY enjoyed the banana cream pie, but he did qualify his praise by saying "you know, it's like chartreuse." I realize that "it's like chartreuse" might seem like a non sequitur in the context of banana cream pie evaluation, but David and I have been together long enough that we have pretty much formed our own shorthand/code for communicating with each other. So I knew immediately that what David was saying, fully translated, was: "you know what they say about chartreuse: if you look good in chartreuse, you'll look even better in a color other than chartreuse. I think this banana cream pie is really, really good, but if I think this banana cream pie is really, really good, I'll think a dessert other than banana cream pie is even better."

I tend to think of banana cream pie as the chartreuse of the dessert world myself, but this one has me rethinking that position. I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of this. Each component was fabulous on its own, even the crust (which looked cursed, but did not taste cursed), and they came together beautifully to form an extraordinarily delicious dessert. Despite how rich and heavy this actually is (chock full 'o the usual suspects: cream, egg yolks, butter) it tastes light and refreshing, and it goes down SO easily. I felt no pain whatsoever as I consumed my cholesterol allotment for the quarter. It was so worth it.

Thanks for this great pick, Amy! You can find the recipe on Amy's blog, and for a couple of hundred other interpretations of this pie, be sure to check out the Tuesdays with Dorie blogroll!
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