Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Update your feeds, change your bookmarks!
Come join us at the newer, awesomer Pithy and Cleaver! We've got Thai crab salad! And Fire and Spice nut mix! Sunchoke soup and double-vanilla french toast (with homemade vanilla-infused bourbon) and LOTS of fun stuff up ahead.
Our new address is: http://pithyandcleaver.com
Please come see us!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Sunday, March 22, 2009
Everyone is writing about Twitter these days, perhaps because it's really happening, or perhaps because everyone wants to figure out what the heck it's good for. Quick answer: it's great for wasting time. But I've also found that Twitter is a pretty interesting way to connect with people I may not have gotten to chat with otherwise, as well as a chance see a behind-the-scenes look at bloggers I admire. And it's a useful forum for asking for advice on recipes and restaurants.
I was daydreaming about dessert when I asked my twitter-people (tweeps? Are we really calling them that?) whether they had any tips on tiramisu ingredients or technique. The kind person who contributes to Twitter for Everyday Food magazine responded, volunteering an easy recipe for me to try. How cool! But to me, their recipe just isn't the real thing. These days, mascarpone is easy enough to find (especially in New York) so there was no way I was substituting a bar of reduced-fat-cream cheese. I wanted to grate some nice dark chocolate into it, too, not just use cocoa powder. Instant espresso isn't really my game (it just tastes off to me, even in baked goods) and the recipe didn't call for any alcohol!
We here at Pithy and Cleaver don't mind baking with booze. Shiv did invent a Mint Julep Pie, after all. I was further encouraged when I stopped at the farmer's market for a bottle of fresh cream. The woman from Milk Thistle Farm who sold me a bottle of lovely heavy cream offered her advice: for that true sophisticated tiramisu taste, I should go to a nice liquor store and buy a decent bottle of marsala. It just wouldn't be the same without it. "One last thing," she warned. "Don't soak the ladyfingers too long. And don't overbeat the cream, it's so full of milk fat, it will turn into butter."
Trying not to think of the giant tub of near-butter I was about to serve my unsuspecting guests, I headed for the liquor store with a plan. For this grown-up tiramisu, there would be not one, but two kinds of booze. Good freshly whipped cream, good chocolate, real coffee (spiked with Kahlua!) and real mascarpone, with a touch of marsala. Decadent, for sure.
And really delicious. Like, eye-rolling, expletive-dropping delicious.
This is the perfect dessert for company, since it requires no oven and must be assembled a few hours ahead. It's dramatic looking—your guests will be so impressed, they cannot imagine what a breeze it was to put together. It's rich, but not cloying. Traditionally, tiramisu has raw egg yolks in it, but this eggless version is worry-free. And don't be scared of all the alcohol, the taste is just sophisticated, not too potent.
Eggless Tiramisu with Marsala and Kahlua
2 cups very strong decaf coffee or espresso, cooled
1/3 cup plus 1 T sugar, divided
3 T Kahlua
2 cups mascarpone
3 T Marsala wine (unsalted-buy at a liquor store, not "cooking wine")
36 savoiardi (Italian ladyfingers)
1 1/2 cups very fresh heavy whipping cream
small bar good-quality dark chocolate for grating (I used four Valrhona 70% cocoa feves)
Prepare layering ingredients: chill a large bowl and the beaters of an electric mixer (a hand mixer is fine.) Prepare coffee and let cool in a wide-low dish (a loaf pan or baking dish works well.) Add 1 T sugar and the Kahlua, set aside.
Place mascarpone in a large bowl. Fold in reminiang 1/3 cup sugar and marsala. Using chilled bowl and beaters, whip cream until soft peaks form. Do not overwhip! Gently fold half of the cream into the mascarpone mixture, then add in the rest, folding carefully until just mixed.
To assemble tiramisu, have 8 1/2" trifle bowl (or other straight-sided serving bowl) next to coffee mixture. Dip savoiardi one at a time into coffee mixture briefly-count "One" as you dip one side, then turn and count "One" before removing. Place in bottom of bowl until a layer is formed (You may have to break a few ladyfingers before dipping to evenly fill bottom layer. When bottom of bowl is covered, carefully add about a quarter of the mascarpone and cream mixture, smoothing the top with a spatula. Grate chocolate on top, evenly covering the cream (you should still be able to see the cream through the chocolate.) Cover with another layer of soaked savoiardi, then another layer of cream, followed by chocolate shavings, repeating until you have four layers and all your cream has been used up. Wrap well with saran wrap and refridgerate at least two hours before serving. You can wait overnight, but the whipped cream condenses a little.
Thursday, March 19, 2009
Read this post, and new ones, at the new Pithy and Cleaver! Thanks for updating your book marks. We hope you like the new design.
Living in a 450 square-foot apartment is tricky if you love to cook and bake. Wall shelves help, as does a freestanding counter island. Baking pans are stacked in unnatural positions and wedged in tiny cabinets, and we have a bread board hanging on a nail on the wall. Luckily, we did manage to find an apartment with a dishwasher—though it's insalled directly under the sink, rendering it impossible to rinse dishes and put them into the dishwasher with any sort of grace. Needless to say, we don't have lots of big kitchen appliances.
Every time I read a cooking magazine or pick up a new cookbook, I am reminded of my longing for a food processor and (sigh) a Kitchenaid mixer. So many recipes call for these tools without explaining any alternatives. That's why I was so excited to receive a copy of Baking Unplugged from the kind folks at Wiley publishing.
In Baking Unplugged, Nicole Rees provides recipes for old-fashioned treats that don't call for any fancy equipment. With a whisk and a spoon (and a few other low-tech tools you probably already own), she makes breakfast treats and old-fashioned desserts to satisfy a sweet tooth. The yeasted cinnamon rolls sound amazing, as do the lemon squares with grated hazelnuts in the dough. (That one is very high on my to-make list.) Her directions are simple and clear, though I do wish there were pictures of the finished dishes. A long introduction explains baking down to the simplest techniques and ingredients: she wants to impart all the knowledge of old-fashioned baking the way your great-grandmother might have done.
Many of Rees's techniques and tricks for baking by hand make perfect sense, and I wish more cookbook and magazine writers would follow her lead and at least mention how a dish might be made without a mixer. Besides, it is kind of satisfying to put a dough together the old fashioned way. However, I'm unlikely to follow her all the way down this road. Whipping cream with a cold whisk may be possible, but I'm not that eager to try when a small electric hand mixer can do the job in a fraction of the time. (And without the arm cramp.)
I had never made scones before attempting the recipe in Baking Unplugged, and I was amazed at how quickly they came together. You could easily bake these in the morning before friends came over for tea or brunch. (Though they can also be frozen and rewarmed with decent results.) Straight out of the oven, they are trancendental. They're simple, tender, and flaky, with none of the off, stale flavors you find in coffeeshop scones (plus, a fraction of the cost!)
I used local cream from the farmer's market for this recipe, which I highly recommend. Because the scones have more cream than butter, and no other flavorings to distract you, the taste is one of farm-fresh dairy. They're not greasy at all. They were a touch too sugary for my liking—perhaps this is what the author means by "retro" baking. I'll scale down the sugar a tiny bit when I make them again (and watch the sugar in other recipes in the book.) I just may not have quite the same intense sweet tooth as Nicole Rees. But I'm glad her sweet tooth guided her toward writing this book.
From Baking Unplugged by Nicole Rees; Wiley 2009
Makes 8 scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar (I would consider a little bit less)
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream plus 2 T for brushing
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
sugar for sprinkling (crunchy turbinado sugar would be good)
Preheat the oven to 375°. Stack two baking sheets together and line the top one with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Stir the vanilla extract into the heavy cream. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until a few pea-sized lumps remain. With a fork, gradually stir in enough of the 3/4 cup heavy cream until the mixture just starts to come together. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and very gently pat into an 8" round about 1 1/2" high. Using a chef's knife or bench scraper, cut the dough round into 8 wedges. Transfer the wedges to the baking sheet, spacing the scones at least 1" apart. Brush the tops with the remaining heavy cream and sprinkle liberally with sugar. Bake in the top third of the oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until the tops are golden. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool slightly, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve warm with jam.
PS: I've added the book to our Amazon sidebar over there --------> so you can pick yourself up a copy.
Tuesday, March 17, 2009
There are plenty of foods I'll experiment with. I'll tinker with tomato sauce, I'll riff on risotto. But for me, no salmon recipe can unseat this one as my favorite. (I'll admit, I haven't yet tried Shiv's Seduction Salmon with Honey Mustard.)
Before we moved to Oregon and became flannel-wearing Northwesterners, I don't remember eating much salmon. As soon as we got settled, though, my mother was grilling it up (in the rain) with the best of them.
This recipe, for me, is the taste of home. It reminds me of my parents' dinner parties, during which our little dachshund would attempt to steal a napkin from some unsuspecting guest's lap and shred it to bits. (And then eat it, which was a pretty bad idea.) The salmon was served with a big salad and crusty loaves of bread, sometimes a dish of couscous with raisins alongside. Giant, thick filets of fish were consumed—even those who didn't plan to take seconds always did. It's hard to keep from licking up any remaining sweet soy-honey sauce from the plate. Whenever Matt and I travel west to see my folks, this is the dinner we request.
My mom has actually moved on to a new recipe, and that's fine, but this is the one for me. If you have a grill, you can cook the fish quickly outside, but if you only have a broiler, that works just as well. It isn't too smelly, I promise. Just be sure to leave it quite rare, like true Northwesterners do.
Salmon with Soy-Honey and Wasabi Sauces
Gourmet, May 2001
If you're only serving 2, I would still make all the sauce, since it's delicious.
1/2 cup sake
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1 tablespoon finely grated peeled fresh ginger
1 6 to 8 oz piece thick salmon fillet per person
2 tablespoons soy sauce (I use reduced-sodium)
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
2 teaspoons wasabi powder
1 tablespoon water
Lime wedges for serving
Briefly marinate salmon:
Stir together mirin, soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger in a shallow dish. Add fish, skin sides up, and marinate, covered, at room temperature 10 minutes. Preheat broiler.
Make sauces: Boil soy sauce, honey, and lime juice in a small saucepan, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 4 minutes. For wasabi sauce, stir together wasabi powder and water in a small bowl.
Broil fish, skin sides down, on oiled rack of a broiler pan 5 to 7 inches from heat until fish is still pink inside, 5-6 minutes. Do not overcook! Serve salmon drizzled with sauces, with lime wedges for squeezing.
Soy-honey and wasabi sauces can be made 2 hours ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature. Salmon is good with lightly steamed/sauteed vegetables (pea shoots, asparagus, shitake mushrooms) tossed with a tablespoon of hoisin.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Given that I am a total misanthrope, it comes as a surprise to some how much I love entertaining. Ever since I figured out how to boil water without setting the house on fire (somewhere in my early twenties), I've taken ridiculous pleasure in having my nearest and dearest over for a home-cooked meal. The current flaw in this pleasure: in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen, it's hard to manufacture a meal for more than, say, four people at a time. As such, I am sure you can imagine my initial panic when Bench and I decided to have a dinner party for eight; fortunately for everyone, I had this recipe tucked in my back pocket.
A riff on traditional white-slash-green lasagna, this particular recipe gets a little extra heft from sauteed mushrooms and a whole lot of personality from minced artichoke bottoms (I tried to make this happen with artichoke hearts, but...just...no. Texturally, they just didn't do what I wanted them to; they were too flighty and fibrous where I wanted solid and defined) and about thirty pounds of garlic. Though you can do everything The Hard Way (make your own pesto, wash and chop adult spinach, grate your own parmesan--none of which, seriously, I would have done if I'd known the party was going to be switched at the last minute from Saturday to Friday; totally unnecessary when you're pressed for time), you really don't have to: premade pesto is an excellent way to shave off some prep time, and bagged, prewashed baby spinach makes it almost TOO easy. You can probably even use those lasagna noodles that don't require pre-boiling (which I, being a cowardly sort, have never tried) and you can definitely use pre-grated cheese.
I love serving this at parties for several reasons: it's delicious (obviously), it's impressive, it's easy to assemble, vegetarians will eat it, it multiplies well, and you can do it at a leisurely pace in advance or you can make it in a hurry on a Friday night. Basically, it's my go-to, no fail, always appropriate, guaranteed-to-elicit-queries-for-the-recipe party superstar. My repertoire holds no equal. I hope it's the same for you.
Pesto lasagna with spinach, mushrooms and artichokes
a little oil for the pan
about 16 lasagna noodles
6 oz baby spinach, roughly chopped
8 oz mushrooms, finely minced
15-oz (usually 1 can) artichoke bottoms, minced
2 lbs. (4 cups) ricotta cheese
1 cup pesto
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts (or minced walnuts)
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 head garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
fresh black pepper to taste
3/4 cup grated parmesan
1 1/2 lbs. mozzarella cheese, grated
- Preheat your oven to 350; slice the top off the head of garlic, drizzle it with olive oil and wrap it loosely in foil. Bake until soft and fragrant (about one hour) (Note: if you are preparing the lasagna in advance, this would be a good time to turn off your oven. If you are NOT preparing this in advance, roast the garlic while you're prepping the rest of the filling and keep the oven hot). Once it's cool enough to touch, squeeze the garlic out of its skin and mash it into a paste. Set aside.
- Set a large pot of salted water to boiling; cook the lasagna noodles for 4-5 minutes (until tender but still al dente). Drain them and lay them out flat on foil or parchment while you get the filling ready.
- Heat some olive oil in a large pan; over medium-low heat, saute the mushrooms with a bit of salt until they have released all their liquid, and then re-absorbed it (about 3-4 minutes). Add the artichoke bottoms and saute for 2-3 minutes more; add the minced garlic and saute for two more minutes. Remove from heat.
- Mix together: ricotta, artichoke-mushroom mixture, pine nuts, roasted garlic paste, pesto, pine nuts and spinach. Set aside.
- Lightly oil a 9x13 pan. Line the bottom with one layer of noodles, then spread 1/3 of the filling over the noodles, followed by 1/3 of the mozzarella and 1/3 of the parmesan. Add another layer of noodles, filling and cheese. And once more.
- Bake for about 50 minutes at 350 degrees; if the top starts to scorch, cover it lightly with foil.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
It's probably become kind of apparent by now that my general approach to cooking is...well...kind of lax. I rarely measure, I just kind of throw stuff in a pan. Sometimes this works, sometimes this comes back to bite me in the ass. And sometimes, both will happen at once, as was the case when I last made meatballs.
My starting point for these meatballs came from a recipe recommended to me by a lovely friend of mine (who also passed along her secret, awesome twist), a true virtuoso in the kitchen. After seeing her breezy, effortless way with these little delights, I was entranced, and immediately came home to try them. They were an unqualified success, and so I, of course, misplaced the recipe before the evening was over. Never to be seen again. Which meant I was, more or less, SOL when Bench requested a repeat a few days ago. Fortunately, these setbacks have never really stopped me; and so I trotted home, ground turkey in hand, to recreate the magic on a wing and a prayer.
Reasons why (in this particular instance) this cavalier attitude presented a slight problem:
- I messed up my liquid-to-solid ratio and oversoaked the crackers (standing in for the breadcrumbs--this is the secret, and IT IS AWESOME), resulting in a saltine porridge instead of a moist, crumby cracker dough, which meant I needed to compensate by adding vast quantities of additional crackers to dry out the Meat Dough.
- I came home with far more ground turkey than was really necessary. However, in light of problem 1, this turned out to be a blessing.
- I could not remember how to actually apply the heat to these things in order to cook them. Bake? Fry? What temperature? What? (In the clinch, I turned, as I so often do, to Mark Bittmann, who showed me the way when it comes to baking meatballs, turkey or otherwise).
- I failed to add two very important components: Salt and Pepper. Which I realized after I'd rolled out half the meatballs. Re-rolling raw meat=not particularly enjoyable.
Light and lovely turkey meatballs
12 oz ground turkey (or pork; I'll never tell!)
1/4 lb saltine crackers (about one tube if you buy one of the big boxes), crushed
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 medium onion, diced
2 tsp fresh sage, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
- In a medium-sized skillet, saute the onion in a bit of olive oil until just translucent. Turn off the heat and add the sage; mix thoroughly.
- Meanwhile, moisten the crushed crackers in the milk; don't let them get too soggy! Squeeze out the excess moisture.
- Add the crackers, egg, onions and sage to the ground meat; mix thoroughly. if the mixture is too wet, crush some dry crackers into the mixture until you reach the desired consistency. Add salt and pepper.
- MEANWHILE! Preheat your oven to 350. While it's cranking up, roll the meat dough into balls approximately 1.5" in diameter; place them on parchment-lined cookie sheets. When the oven's ready, bake the meatballs for about ten minutes.
Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Read this post, and new ones, at the new Pithy and Cleaver! Thanks for updating your book marks. We hope you like the new design.
Let's say you want to have a special evening. There's a fancy bottle of wine you've been saving, and you've invited a few friends over for a home-cooked meal. You have something to celebrate.
But you don't know exactly what time they're arriving—they could be stuck at work, or their train could take forever to come. If you plan a dish with too many last-minute preparations, you'll be bustling around while your friends relax and catch up. And you clearly don't have time for lots of shopping and complicated prep between the time you leave work and the time they come over. It's a challenge, the weeknight dinner party.
But take a deep breath. There is no reason you can't entertain on a weeknight, even have a truly decadent, enjoyable meal, without any stress. That's what braising is for. Everything is prepared in advance. You can gently reheat these port-braised lamb shanks for 45 minutes or an hour or longer while your guests arrive, while you drink toasts and eat lovely cheese, and the meal will be none the worse for wear. In fact, it will just get better.
It always amazes me how recipes for braised dishes fail to emphasize the value in cooking ahead. Cook for three (or more) hours the evening before your party, and let the pot cool off outside before you stash it in the fridge overnight. The flavors will mingle, and, most importantly, the fat will separate from the cooking liquid. On game day, you skim the now-solidified fat from the surface before reheating. And this dish has plenty. It's quite satisfying to remove it, knowing you're saving your guests from a greasy meal.
So the lamb reheated happily on the stove, and we sipped the wine and ate lovely cheese from Fromaggio in Essex Market. And Matt asked Peter to be his best man in our wedding, and they were both blushing and adorable, and the lamb fell off the bone as I tried to serve it, and it was as tender as can be.
Port-Braised Braised Lamb Shanks with Coriander, Fennel, and Star Anise
Adapted from Bon Appetit, March 2006
2 1/2 tsp ground coriander
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large lamb shanks (about 5 pounds)
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large white onion, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
10 garlic cloves, peeled
3 celery stalks, cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled, cut crosswise into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1 small leek
3 cups ruby Port
2 1/2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 1/2 cups beef broth
6 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
The day before the party, prepare and braise the lamb shanks. Measure coriander, fennel, and pepper in a heavy skillet. Toast on medium-high heat until aromatic and slightly darker, about 2 minutes. Transfer to spice grinder or mortar and pestle; grind finely. Rub each shank with spice blend, reserving a tablespoon or so. Sprinkle each shank with salt.
In large pot, heat port to a simmer. Simmer until reduced to about 1 cup, about 20 minutes. Add broth, boil until liquid is reduced to about 4 cups, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, eat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add shanks to pot. Cook until brown on all sides, about 20 minutes. Remove to bowl. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to same pot. Add onion and next 4 ingredients; sauté over medium heat until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add remaining spice blend and stir 1 minute. Add hot liquid when reduced, scraping the pan and using the liquid to deglaze.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Return shanks to pot. Add cloves, star anise, bay leaves, and crushed red pepper. Cover pot and place in oven. Braise lamb until tender, 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
When cooked, uncover and cool slightly. Remove shanks from sauce, holding on a plate or bowl, and strain sauce. Return shanks and sauce to pot. Cover and keep refrigerated up to two days.
The day of the party, skim fat from top of the dish. Rewarm, covered, in a 350°F for 45 minutes to one and a half hours (until warm) before serving.
Place 1 lamb shank on each of 4 plates (can be served on top of polenta). Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon sauce and over lamb and serve.
Monday, March 9, 2009
The other weekend, we were lucky enough to wrangle a brunch invite from the Lovely A and her man B (huevos con migos cooked up by real live Texans? HELL YES!), and Bench and I were tasked with bringing along some fruit. So, we popped into one of my favorite stores ever, Union Market, to peruse their produce section. En route to picking out the fruit, my eye was caught by the mushroom bar.
Oh man, oh mercy.
They had mushrooms i'd never even SEEN before! Black trumpets! Hedgehog mushrooms! Mini chanterelles! They also had some of the most beautiful oyster mushrooms I'd ever encountered. Needless to say, I stopped in front of that display like I'd walked into a wall of glass. Bench, recognizing the symptoms, just handed me a bag, and with the acquisition of a gorgeous (if GIGANTOR) piece of yellowfin tuna, the evening meal was planned: Seared tuna with multi-mushroom-miso ragout.
I decided that miso was going to be a central flavor in this meal, and so I marinated the tuna in a slurry of red miso, rice vinegar, and sesame oil; the mushrooms were sauteed slow and low with miso, sake, garlic, and honey (low and slow is pretty much my watchword for mushrooms these days), resulting in a tangy, complex, meaty ragout. The tuna was cooked fast and high in my cast iron skillet, its simple seasoning an excellent match for the robust mushroom sauce.
Basically, this was a nice, quick weeknight meal elevated to gourmet ridiculousness with the application of a few specialty mushrooms; it will taste just as lovely with whatever mushrooms you happen to find at your local. This dish is not elitist! This dish does not judge!
Seared tuna with mushroom sauce
1lb nice tuna steak, cut into four portions
1lb mushrooms, sliced (any combination your heart desires! I used black trumpet, hedgehog, shiitake and oyster, but crimini, portobello, button white, or any other combination will work)
2 tsp red miso, divided
1/4c seasoned rice vinegar
1 tsp sesame oil, divided
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp honey
2 cloves garlic, sliced
- Make your marinade: combine 1/2 tsp sesame oil, the rice vinegar, and 1 tsp miso in a zip top bag. Mix it thoroughly, add the fish and then refrigerate for up to one hour.
- Meanwhile, make your sauce: over medium-low heat, saute the garlic until it's just aromatic. Add the mushrooms; stir until they've released their liquid.
- Add the miso and the honey. Continue to saute until the mushrooms have re-absorbed their liquid.
- Add the sake and stir until the sauce starts to thicken slightly. Reduce heat to low.
- In a well-seasoned skillet, heat the remaining sesame oil with the olive oil over high heat. Remove the fish from the marinade and pat dry.
- When the oil just starts to smoke, plop your fish down in it and cook for 3-5 minutes a side (turning once) until it reaches your favorite level of doneness. I like mine still flopping around, so I tend to find myself closer to the three-minute end of the spectrum.