Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Spaghetti Squash = Magic

Now that I've taken account of the contents of my pantry, I realize empying is something that has got to happen but will be impossible to complete before Saturday. I have a potato in there that has probably established roots--I was too afraid to look.
I did a decent job of emptying out these jarred Mediterranean items. I've had the capers for well over a year (probably why they don't taste good anymore). But in the process of cleaning off my counter I discovered an amazing new gourd: the aptly name spaghetti squash.
There are so many just weird things this earth produces. Gourds are kind of weird in general. And the spaghetti squash is definitely not the weirdest out there. But it's pretty sweet that you can boil a halved and de-seeded squash just like pasta, let it cool a bit and then scrape the sides and it looks like spaghetti. The flavor of this squash is really mild, so it goes with any sort of sauce you might put with regular, wheaty pasta.

Spaghetti Squash with Tapenade: from Food and Wine 1 spaghetti squash 1 cup coarsely-chopped almonds >1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted 1 tablespoon capers couple sun-dried tomatoes 1/4 cup scallions 3 tablespoons lemon juice 1 tablespoon olive oil salt and pepper handful or so crumbled feta cheese You'll want to toast or blanch the almonds if they aren't toasted already. So pre-heat the oven the 350. Toast whole almonds for 5 to 7 minutes, then pulse in the food processor until coarsely chopped.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil--both halves of the squash will need to fit in the pot, so make sure it's big enough. Slice the spaghetti squash in half and spoon out the seeds. Place carefully in boiling water and simmer until al dente--about 12 minutes. Remove and place upside down to cool while you make the tapenade. Once cooled a bit, using a fork, scrape the insides. It will magically form little strips of squash--don't ask questions of Mother Nature, just enjoy.

In a food processor, pulse pitted olives, capers, tomatoes, scallions, lemon juice and a bit of olive oil (anchovies also often go in tapenades).

In a bowl, toss the squash, almonds, feta cheese and tapenade with a drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle with salt a pepper. Serves four as a salad.

And I'll confess here that I am not at all a fan of tapenade. I've made variations before, and I just don't like it, so if you're looking for a good alternative to that sauce, toss squash with feta, salt, pepper, almonds, lemon juice, olive oil and some herbs.

Best Of Food Eaten

I haven't passed a milestone. I completed 100 blog entries several months ago, and I've long passed the six month mark. The reason for my Best Of list is because I was in Ohio last weekend and I'm going to Africa (yes Africa!) this weekend, and I hereby refuse to go grocery shopping. So tomorrow expect some seriously random pasta or egg dishes whilst I clean out my pantry. But in the meantime, feast on some the favorite recipes from the blog. (Disclaimer: This list is completely arbitrary based on the dishes I deem to be your favs and mine. And there are only eight, not 10. Deal.)
8: Salmon with Aioli and Leeks - or The day I conquered emulsifying. This was a great recipe that I really improvised on.

7. Cranberry-tangerine Muffins - I actually didn't think these muffins were anything spectacular, but as it turns out it's the only cranberry-tangerine combination on the World Wide Web.

6. Sauteed Asparagus - Another recipe that seems like nothing special to me. But I think it's the simplicity of this side that makes it stellar. And considering the copious amounts of limp asparagus in the world, we could use a recipe that let's the vegetable shine.
5. Potato Latkes - Come time for a Jewish holiday I get a lot of hits my site for this recipe. The best part: It can be made ahead of time and reheated. 4. Sour Cream and Onion Dip - Ohmygosh, this dip is insanely fantastic. Served the same night as the latkes (must have been some party), I was scrapping the bowl to get the last of the dip around 2 a.m. 3. The Seyler Family Eats Out - We've gone to Amsterdam Falafel, McDonald's and Thai Pepper. It's always an experiment in family dynamics. Call me Narcissus, but I still laugh when I read that Amsterdam Falafel entry.

2. Tortellini Soup - This recipe is legendary in our family.1. Amaretto Biscotti - Hands down the best thing I've made all year (and probably ever will make). So soft but still biscuit-y like biscotti is supposed to be.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Let Them Eat Yellow Cake

The saying "it's a piece of cake" means that something is easy. Not just easy, easier than a piece of cake. What I want to know is what about making a cake is easy? Eating cake--totally doable. But what it takes (at least for me) to go from beginning to end with a layer cake cannot be described as easy. I am a disaster with layer cakes. I tried to list and describe my many failures in the baking department (specifically cake baking), but the list is too long and the stories too complicated. I've had frosting all over the counter and broken cake layers and never once a beautiful, perfectly frosted, cake that's cooked through. But I do love a mess, so here we go. Megan's birthday is Saturday. There was no way I wasn't going to make her a cake. She's a great roommate, among the best. She always loves the stuff I cook. And by god, she is going to have a yellow cake with chocolate frosting if it's the last thing I do. To achieve this goal, I knew I had to do something I so rarely do. Something I find difficult. I would have to follow the directions.

When the directions said to sift the flour, I sifted the flour. (That's how much I love you Megan, I sifted flour for you.) I used two separate bowls (ones I still haven't cleaned). I even rotated the cakes in the oven halfway through. I never do that.

Except I'm not perfect. And neither is this cake. When the directions said to cut out parchment and spray the cake pans, I ignored it because we don't have parchment or Pam. I thought butter would do the trick. Well, it didn't. Tapping and shaking and gravity only worked on one of the layers. Right now, the last cake layer is sitting upside down on the kitchen counter, still attached to the cake pan. I might try singing songs to coax it onto the plate, but I'm not too optimistic at this point about not breaking the second layer into several pieces. However, the redeeming factor with cakes is that enough frosting and no one will ever know.

Yellow Cake: from Joy of Baking 6 large egg yolks 1 cup milk 2 teaspoons vanilla 3 cups flour, sifted 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar 1 T and 1 t baking powder 3/4 teapsoons salt 12 tablespoons unsalted butter Frosting: Betty Crocker chocolate frosting knife Preheat oven to 350. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk egg yolks, vanilla and 1/4 cup of milk. According to JoyofBaking.com, the difference between white cakes and yellow cakes is that yellow cakes us yolks and white cakes use the entire egg. Fascinating. In a large bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add softened butter and blend with an electric mixer on low increasing to high for up to a minute. Add the rest of the milk and mix again, starting on low and increasing speed. For easy removal post-baking, cut out pieces of parchment paper to fit into cake pans, spray pans and paper with Pam. Gradually add in the egg mixture, beating until the batter is smooth. With a spatula, transfer batter to two 9-inch round cake pans. Even out the batter by giving the pans a good shake. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Rotate cakes halfway through. Allow layers to cool before removing from pans. When the cakes are cooled, I use a knife to run around the edge of the cake between the cake and the pan. Using a serving plate, place the plate upside down on top of the cake pan, with the top of the plate facing the cake. Carefully turn the pan and plate over in your hands so that the plate is right side up and the pan is upside down. Tap on the bottom of the cake pan to loosen the cake. Do this to the other cake. Ice the cake (I have no advice to give here). Eat the cake.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mom's French Toast

Some in the blogosphere made a request for breakfast items on the blog. I'm actually not a big breakfast person at all. Don't get me wrong, I love crepes and eggs, but rarely am I ready to eat a hearty meal at 8 a.m. But when you drink too much sake and head to the Crescent Moon with friends and stay up until 2-ish helping your roommate look for her lost contact (except that she's looking and you're just talking talking talking) and you wake up at 9 or 10 on Sunday, a big hearty breakfast is the best thing you can think of. Part of my apathy toward breakfast foods stems from my lack of a sweet tooth. I do not like syrup. Too sweet. So if I'm doing anything for breakfast it's eggs with cheese and garlic and salt salt salt. Unless we're talking about French Toast. My mom's French toast was my favorite Saturday morning thing when I was little. What's not to like about fried bread? But the best part was that no syrup was involved. Just butter smeared on the toast and then topped with powdered sugar. It turns out to be pretty close to frosting and very far from syrup. The recipe below is nothing spectacular, just plain, ol' French toast.
French Toast: (for four)
12 slices of bread
>5 large eggs
1/4 cup milk
powdered sugar

In a shallow bowl, whisk eggs and milk until it has uniform consistency. Put a medium skillet on the stove top and heat to medium. Drop a pad of butter on the skillet. Drop a slice of bread into the shallow bowl of eggs, turn to coat completely. Toast bread on skillet, turning to brown each side. I like my French toast a bit crispy on the outside, so make sure it's actually brown.
Remove from skillet when finished, keep warm in the oven at 200 degrees while you toast (fry) the rest of the bread. Cover toast with butter and dowse with powdered sugar.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sake To Me

Saturday night Megan, Kristen and I went to Matsu Sushi downtown. We decided Matsu would be more low-key than Blue, we were right. We even ran into my friends Amy and Pat--there's nothing I love more than bumping into people (Pat's band, Oui Bandits, is fantastic; they're playing a show at Slowdown on May 14 that you should all go to). After purusing the menu for like 20 minutes we decided on edamame, four rolls and a flight of sake. Five samples of sake was $6.50, while one 5-ounce drink was $4.50. As Amy said, "Seems like an obvious choice." Until the server brought the sake to our table. In five shot glasses. People walked by our table and stared at us. We thought about whether Eric could come pick us up when we couldn't walk anymore, or maybe we could take a cab home. Kristen and I were determined to drink them all. Megan drank with a bit more trepidation:
Then we called Katy to come help us finish the sake. But she got there and said she didn't like sake because she thinks it tastes like licorice. Some friend ...
So we called Maggie and Aaron to come help us.
Then the waiter told us that our five samples of sake was really equivalent to about two-and-a-half glasses of wine. Ohhhh. But we still shared. Even Katy tried some--ones that didn't taste like licorice. Instead she compared it to something else. Katy: "I know what it tastes like, hydrogen peroxide." Megan: "Ooooo, that stuff that whitens your teeth." So maybe two-and-a-half glasses was enough.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Earth Day

Earth Day is this Saturday. Earth Day Omaha has done a lot of work to organize a big ol' party in Elmwood Park featuring speakers and live music (Black Squirrels and Polydypsia!). This is like the first festival of the summer people. And it celebrates Mother Nature. How exciting! I work part-time for The Reader, media sponsor for the event. My job generally involves eating at various restaurants around town and writing about it, among other things. But it's pretty sweet. But a month or so ago, John Heaston asked if I would write a cover story about community gardens. Even more exciting than Earth Day (to me at least)! And on such an interesting subject. I had the best time interviewing folks at City Sprouts, Gifford, Big Garden and Lampe and Rynearson (the last of which didn't make it to the story, sorry, not enough space). These organizations do such a great service ushering in sustainability and providing fresh produce in areas that don't have great access to healthy food. I could gush on and on (now that I'm no longer obligated to be journalistically apathetic). Researching and writing the story took a lot of energy, and I can only hope I presented the information concisely and interestingly (uh, is that a word?). But my story is on the cover of this week's Reader. If you don't find one lying around somewhere or if you aren't from Omaha or Lincoln, you can read the story here. I hope you like it, I hope you're not bored by it and only read the first two paragraphs. If you don't like it, lie to me. Photo Courtesy of The Reader

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Queen of Tarts

I saw this tart on the cover of April's Gourmet Magazine and knew I had to make it. I even finally bought a tart pan with a removeable bottom. I predict many quiches and elegant pies in my future. Additionally, I think I may have solved my previous pie crust issues. Thus in the epic battle of me-versus-tart, I am the victor. I am the Queen of Tarts.
Strawberry Tart: from Gourmet Crust:
1 1/4 cups flour 3 tablespoons granulated sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt 7 tablespoons unsalted butter 1 egg yolk 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons cold water Filling:
1 1/2 pound strawberries 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice 1/2 cup amaretto 1 pound mascarpone cheese 1/4 cup confectioners sugar 1 teaspoon lemon juice 1 teaspoon lemon zest 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pre-heat oven to 375. For crust, blend flour, 3 tablespoons of sugar, salt and butter in a large mixing bowl with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse meal. In a small bowl, whisk egg yolk, vanilla, lemon juice and water. Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until a dough is formed. Turn out on a lightly floured surface and knead a couple times. Form a flat, 5-inch circle with your hands. Place circle of dough into 9-inch tart pan and press with your fingers until dough covers the bottom and sides of the tart pan. With fork, stab little holes into the bottom of the crust.
Cover crust with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or uncooked rice (guess which I chose). Bake for 20 minutes and remove tart from oven and remove foil and rice. Replace in oven and bake for another 20 minutes until golden. Let cool for at least 30 minutes.
While tart crust is cooling, make the filling. Slice strawberries and place in bowl with 1/3 cup granulated sugar and 1 teaspoon or so of lemon juice. Let sit for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, to allow the juice from the strawberries to collect in the bottom of the bowl.
Meanwhile, mix together mascarpone, powdered sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla in a medium bowl. Once tart crust has cooled, spread mascarpone evenly onto the crust.
Go back to the strawberries. Using a strainer, pour the strawberries and their juice over a medium frying pan. Once drained, arrange the strawberries on top of the tart. Going back to the skillet, add 1/2 cup of amaretto liqueur to the strawberry juice mixture. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes or until it has reduced by half or has thickened to a syrup. Remove from heat and pour over tart. Refrigerate before serving. This is best eaten the day of.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Chocolate Cake

The second of the Easter desserts is another of Molly's recipes from A Homemade Life. I had been plotting out three desserts for the holiday meal for maybe even weeks in advance. I was going to do two of yesterday's Orange Upside-down cake and tomorrow's strawberry tart. But Thursday night I came across Molly's Winning Hearts and Minds Cake at the end of her book and knew it was exactly what was needed. (If one can actually need dessert.)

I think I may have made a mistake. A cake that goes by the name "Winning Hearts and Minds" perhaps shouldn't be the accompaniment to a fancy, orange cake and an even fancier strawberry-mascarpone tart. It will be over-shadowed because, even though it is chocolate, it's just chocolate. There is no drizzled caramel syrup, no snicker's bars, no crushed oreos and no mocha flavoring. It's just a (nearly flourless) chocolate cake. One that, according to Molly, has magical powers of persuasion. We're all in need of a little help in winning hearts and minds, not least of all me. And if this cake helped Molly along in that direction, it can't hurt, even if all I'm doing is embodying the spirit of the chocolate cake.

Molly's Winning Hearts and Minds Cake: from Orangette 7 ounces unsweetened chocolate, broken into smaller pieces 7 ounces (1 3/4 cups) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 5 eggs 1 tablespoon flour And I threw in some orange zest because I felt like it.

Molly suggests to either melt the chocolate in the microwave or on a double boiler. I haven't ever had success with melting chocolate in the microwave--it always burned. And double boiler's sound complicated and expensive--they're not. I use a medium skillet filled halfway up with water and then place a bowl on top of the skillet, as if the bowl were a lid put on upside down. I just so happen to have a bowl that fits perfectly inside my medium skillet. Be sure the water in the skillet doesn't touch the bottom of the glass bowl. And voila, double boiler.

Preheat oven to 375. Bring the water in the skillet to a boil. In the bowl melt the chocolate pieces and the butter completely, stirring continuously. Stir in the sugar and orange zest (if you want). Remove chocolate from heat (carefully). Whisk in eggs one at a time. Stir in the flour. Transfer to a greased 9-inch round cake pan. Bake in oven for 20 to 25 minutes, checking periodically the last five minutes.

My cake puffed up really big in the oven, which (needlessly) made me nervous. I am constantly afraid of under-cooking baked goods. You'll know the cake is done when the top is cracked and the middle jiggles only a little when you shake it. Allow cake to cool and it will probably lose the puffiness. Turn out onto a plate and then turn again onto a serving platter. This cake is freezable.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Orange Upside-down Cake

I went all out for Easter this week. In fact, everyone went all out. I had a half-day of work on Friday and spent my afternoon baking. I can't think of a better way to spend a few free hours, well at least off the top of my head. Joanie and Doug spent all of Saturday smoking the beautiful salmon pictured below. It was so good, it led my mother to loudly declare "I could eat salmon all day," in response to Jason's pensive ponderings on why he loves studying philosophy. Jason said something like, "Philosophy is something I'm really passionate about." And my mom (basically) said (in no small voice), "I'm passionate about eating." Katy was laughing so hard she started crying. To be fair, the salmon was good. (The creme fraiche-ish recipe is also listed below). We had a fun afternoon cramming a dog underneath the table and 13 people around it, even though we were missing my sister Allison. After dessert and ridiculously strong coffee, a group of us rolled ourselves out of the house and down to the park to play croquet. We sort of look like a J. Crew catalog in our Easter best (aside from my house slippers). Even Shelby enjoyed croquet. She frolicked from person to person asking to be petted and didn't even try to steal any of the balls. Orange Upside-down Cake is dessert one of three that I made for the holiday meal. This one was probably the sweetest and the most like a regular cake. Sweet with a subtle note of orange (sounds like perfume). And look how pretty with the caramelized oranges on top. My little sister Emily would not eat them even though I swore they were edible. "It's like candy, Emily." Megan, champion convincer, even joined in. "Emily, it's good. Just try it. Try it." She did. But even Megan couldn't convince her to try the asparagus. Orange Upside-down Cake: inspired by Gourmet Magazine 1 orange 3/4 cup sugar 3/4 cup water orange zest 1 1/2 cups flour 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 stick unsalted butter 2 large eggs 1 1/2 teaspoon orange zest 3/4 cup buttermilk To caramelize oranges, slice orange into 1/4-inch thick pieces. In a skillet, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Drain and set aside. In the same skillet, add sugar, water and orange zest and bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Put orange slices back into the water and simmer gently until water has reduced and is syrupy. Should take 30 to 40 minutes. Remove orange slices with a fork and place in the bottom of greased 9-inch round cake pan. Pour syrup over oranges. Preheat oven to 350. In a medium mixing bowl, blend together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, mix sugar and butter until smooth. Add eggs one at a time and mix until smooth. Add in orange zest and mix. (I bought the cutest citrus zester at Target for like $3 on Friday, best buy ever!) Alternately, add dry mixture and buttermilk to the wet mixture until fully incorporated. Pour batter into the cake pan that already has the orange slices and syrup in it. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool and dump cake onto serving dish. Creme Fraiche for Smoked Salmon: sour cream chopped red onion capers parsley Mix all the ingredients together.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Buttermilk Coffee Cake

After I cut myself I still had to make something to bring to work the following day. We have this thing at the office called the Breakfast Club, for which one person from a group about 10 of us brings breakfast every Friday morning. So not as cool as this Breakfast Club, but not too shabby. I signed up to have an excuse to bake something and share it, except that whenever it's my turn I forget until the last minute and have to run to HyVee to pick up a bunch of muffins. Or like last week when you do something like cut my finger with a knife, take a half-day holiday at the last minute and don't feel like cooking anything because it the busiest week of your life. (Remember how I exaggerate.)

But being the genius that I am, I knew all this would happen ahead of time. Thus in anticipation of my Thursday-evening bloodbath, I called my friend (and baking goddess) Sarah to come hang out and help me. That's her in the above photo doing all the work while I watched and gave directions (one of my favorite things), oh and made a mess of the flour. The recipe comes from my Better Homes and Gardens baking cookbook. Sarah doubted its deliciousness, declaring she had a killer coffee cake recipe at home. But I think I converted her in the end.

Buttermilk Coffee Cake: from Better Homes and Gardens
2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup butter
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs
1 1/3 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350. In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar and salt. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Set aside 1/2 cup of the flour-sugar combo. Stir in baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg. In a separate bowl, whisk together eggs and buttermilk.

For those who don't have buttermilk just lying around, a cup of regular milk combined with a teaspoon of vinegar or lemon juice will do the trick.

Combine wet and dry mixtures. Spoon batter into 13x9-inch baking tray. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes.

Monday, April 6, 2009

I Channa You Masala

A few weeks ago after a rather long meeting at work, I took a break on the sunny spring day to go to the Bookworm. I found Wallace's Infinite Jest but just wasn't satisfied until I made the entire bookstore staff turn the culinary department upside down looking for Orangette Molly's A Homemade Life. Once we had scoured the entire store to find the book, I couldn't very well not get it, could I? I was initially unsure about the book. There was a ridiculous amount of hype about it in the foodie blogosphere. But the cover was just so pretty. I've fully dug in and completely abandoned reading The Satanic Verses and ever picking up any sort of post-modern writing again, I swear. (Unless it's by Jonathon Safran Foer.) I love the book. Love it. I was reading it at lunch one day and actually started crying. Tears running down my cheeks. I had to go over and get a paper towel to dry my eyes. But funny thing, I hadn't run into anything I needed to make rightthissecond. I had been folding over the ears of the pages at the end of every single chapter, but I always do that and I never follow through. Until I came across the channa masala recipe. What I need from recipes these days is one that won't take long and one that doesn't require a separate trip to the grocer. What sealed the deal were these ingredients: fresh cilantro and garam masala. I had cilantro just sitting around the fridge after the salsa, waiting to be used on something besides a salad. And I had a bag of garam masala collecting dust in the back of my spice cabinet. Who has garam masala just lying around? I mean, I don't even know what that is. And just like Molly, this meal comes with it's own story. Unfortunately for me, mine is not accompanied with a cute boy sauteeing onions in my kitchen. My story is a touch more tragic. I had just been talking to someone, nary 24 hours prior to making the channa masala, about my partiality for chopping saying something like "the repetitive motion is therapeutic, and if you have a bad day, you can take it out on a bunch of vegetables, but I'm such a clutz it's a miracle I haven't severly injured myself." You can see where this is going. Instead of finely chopping the cilantro, I finely chopped my left index finger. I wanted to cry, but instead I just cursed all the way to the bathroom, ripping through the cupboard looking for some freaking bandaids and going through tissue upon tissue of blood-soaked toilet paper. Of course I was home alone, and of course my nurse mother was unable to answer her phone. I finally found an old T-shirt and paced around the living room until I was convinced I didn't need to go to the hospital to get stitches. (Have I mentioned I'm dramatic?) I finished off the rest of the meal with the T-shirt wrapped tightly around my finger. And no, blood didn't get into the cilantro. Molly's Channa Masala:
1/4 cup olive oil 1/2 large onion, chopped 1 teaspoon cumin 1 teaspoon coriander 1/2 teaspoon ginger 1 teaspoon garam masala 1/2 teaspoon cardamom 2 garlic cloves, minced salt 2 14-ounce can diced tomatoes 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro finger (just kidding) dash cayenne pepper 2 14-ounce can chickpeas On medium heat, saute onion until soft-ish, about 5 minutes. Toss on the spices then add the garlic and saute for another minute. Add 1/4 cup water, bring to boil and simmer until its just about evaporated. Add the tomato juice from the cans of diced tomatoes. Simmer for a couple minutes then add the tomatoes and cilantro. Boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the drained and rinsed chickpeas along with 1/4 cup of water. Boil and reduce to simmer for 10 to 15 minutes until chickpeas are tender but firm to the bite. Halfway through add another couple tablespoons of water. Serve garnished with cilantro. Molly recommends serving with plain yogurt or lime.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Half-moon Cookies, aka Mezzalunas

Ahhhh, sigh of relief. I've just turned in a big story, one that I put a lot of pressure on myself to make good (lord, I hope no copyeditors read this blog or at least that sentence). I spent hours driving all over Omaha, interviewing people and pulling my hair out when the right words wouldn't come. And now I'm taking a break, for a moment, and writing the blog. Then it's back to work. Someday this week I'll finish that story that is already a week past deadline ... But right now, I want to think about rolling out dough on my kitchen counter and folding jelly-filled pastries into cute little pockets of sweetness. And don't forget, sprinkled with almonds. I'm relaxed already. Cue the Jose Gonzalez "Heartbeats."
I didn't break anything or injure myself in the process of making these pastries, which is saying a lot considering the past week. Though I did carelessly roll the dough too thin. I thought it wouldn't be a big deal, but the jelly melted in the oven and burned. The crust was still light and flaky, but the pastries with jelly still inside them were so much more delicious. This really was such a nice dessert to make, not too sweet. And rolling is so therapeutic. Time and again I come back to Italian recipes. They're always the best. Maybe it's my palate, but there's got to be a reason why we all love spaghetti.
To cut out the dough in circles, you're supposed to use a biscuit cutter. I don't own one of those, so I used the jar of jelly as a guide. Not to toot my own horn, but I am so good at improvising, not so great on the details. Someday I'll tell you the story of how I escaped from my stairwell later. This post is about mezzaluna cookies filled with strawberry jam.
Mezzaluna Cookies: adapted from Food and Wine
1 1/2 cup flour 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 12 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract 1 egg white strawberry jam 1/2 cup blanched almonds, pulsed in food processor powdered sugar for dusting To blanch almonds, boil a cup or so of water on the stove. Drop in almonds for about 1 minute. Drain water and let almonds cool. The skins will sort of slip off if you squeeze the almonds. It's kind of fun, but be careful not to drop them on the floor.
Preheat oven to 350. For the dough, mix flour and sugar. Cut in butter and blend with a pastry blender. Add vanilla 1 tablespoon at a time. Food and Wine only recommended 1 tablespoon of vanilla. This was absolutley not enough for me, so I added more, kneading the dough until it all stuck together. Wrap dough in Saran and refrigerate for an hour. Cut off 1/4 of the dough and lie on flat, well-floured work surface. If you're nervous about the dough, follow the directions on this blog. Amazing. Roll until the dough is 1/8-inch thickness. Use biscuit cutter or large mug to cut out 4-inch circles from the dough. Repeat, recycling the dough until it's all cut out.
Arrange dough on baking sheet. Using a pastry brush (or barbecue brush, whatever), brush egg white on the circumfrance of the dough rounds. Spoon a teaspoon of jam onto the middle of the dough. Close and pinch shut with your fingers or with the edge of a fork. Arrange the pastries about two inches apart on the sheet. Once your finished spooning, brush the tops of the pastries with egg white, sprinkle with powdered sugar and almonds. Refrigerate the pastries for 10 minutes before baking. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes for 4-inch pastries.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Homemade Salsa

I did it. My first time using real, live jalapenos. And I didn't even burn myself, probably because I barely touched the pepper with my bare hands--I used a dish towel to grab it. But I did become more and more bold with the pepper, while making salsa last week for a Bible study I go to. The group meets Wednesday evenings for dinner, study and beer, starting at Aaron and Laura's and ending at the Upstream. I'd have to say, it's one of the greatest parts of my week. Aaron and Laura are the other "most hospitable people I know," in competition with Eric and Megan. But really, everyone there is great. If you happened to come in town to visit, I would introduce you to these people.

For dinner, everybody pitches in. My first effort with cooking for about 30 people ended (I think you could use this word) near disastrously. Let's just suffice it to say that something I cooked caused permanent damage to Aaron and Laura's stove. This time, things went better. I was pretty unsure about the salsa. Did I go too crazy with the onion and garlic? (If I did, friends, don't tell me, my ego can't take it.) Tim was absolutely raving about it though, apparently the best salsa he had ever had. I wouldn't go that far--at all. I did hear a couple people asking for gum or mints post-salsa. Some would say that's a good sign for salsa. My analysis: Store bought salsa costs like $3, but you don't get to pulse vegetables to a pulp in the food processor.

Homemade Salsa: 1 1/2 15-ounce can diced tomatoes 2 cloves garlic 1/2 red onion 1 jalapeno 1 tablespoon lime juice handful or two of fresh cilantro salt and pepper

Toss all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse it to a pulp.

With jalapenos, apparently the seeds and white-ish-hued ribs inside the pepper are the spicy parts. I started out with less of everything and tasted as I went along to adjust for heat, etc. Whatever you do, do not touch the pepper and then touch your eyes.