January 23rd, 2013 § § permalink
J. came over for dinner last week — unfortunately, the night before I had to catch a bus out of town for the weekend. I could have planned that one better. But I had a trick up my sleeve: J. doesn’t cook. Her fiancé does (we’ve had a few conversations about how much we both want a KitchenAid stand mixer in a pretty color while J. looked on bemusedly), but J. herself doesn’t.
Which meant I could cook things which I can make in my sleep and it would seem impressive. Yes! I am a master of the kitchen! I, um. Do magic with knives! I labor to provide you with an elegant experience!
In reality? I had broccoli in the fridge. I stopped at the grocery store on the way home from work and bought a couple of salmon filets, which were on sale, and a fresh loaf of bread. When I got back to my apartment, I shoved the salmon into a ziplock bag, added some soy sauce, honey, a chopped garlic clove, and a sliced half-lemon I had hanging around, sealed it and stuck it in the fridge. When J. came in, I made a quick batch of popcorn for us to nibble on and poured some hard cider to keep her busy while I preheated the oven to 400° F and chopped the broccoli.
photograph by gkdavie, licensed under CC BY
The salmon came out of the fridge and onto foil in a roasting pan, which went into the oven. A little less than ten minutes later, I put the chopped broccoli into the microwave for two minutes with a damp paper towel on top. When the broccoli was done, I drained it and added butter and salt. The salmon was pretty much done at that point, conveniently (demonstrating the Canadian Rule), and within the squeezing of a lemon (as Elizabeth David said), we were sitting down to bread and butter, steamed broccoli, and roasted salmon.
And yes, J. did say what I quoted at the outset of this post. I think I can be forgiven for feeling smug.
November 22nd, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
I probably shouldn’t admit how quickly this apartment goes through loaves of bread — we eat the stuff as fast as I or B. can bake it. (Our record is three loaves of pretzel bread, which is B.’s specialty, demolished in less than twelve hours. Almost no loaf makes it more than 24 hours, or 36 at the outside, around here.) So when I was on vacation a while ago, and had some spare time, I made some extra batches of a basic white loaf and stuck most of the dough in the freezer. It’s all gone now, and I’m going to settle down to some serious kneading and shaping again so I can stick to the habit of thawing the dough in the fridge overnight and baking it while I’m drinking my morning tea and catching up on RSS feeds. (You do know you can get A Very Uncommon Cook delivered to your virtual doorstep in a feed, right? I am just looking out for your welfare, folks!)
photograph by timlewisnm
(This recipe, I should note, is adapted from King Arthur Flour.)
1 ½ cups warm milk
1 heaping tablespoon honey
2 ¼ teaspoons yeast
1 ¾ teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons soft butter
around 4 cups all-purpose flour
2 mixing bowls
1 nine-inch loaf pan
Pour the warm (not scalded! just warm) milk into a large mixing bowl. Add the honey and yeast, and stir to dissolve. Let rest two to five minutes. Add salt and butter, and stir to distribute. Add three cups of flour and mix. Add the last cup-or-so of flour gradually, kneading in between additions, until you have a smooth, elastic ball of dough.
Oil or butter another large mixing bowl and put the ball of dough in. Roll the dough around so the exterior is a little greasy. Cover with a hand towel or plastic wrap (loosely, in the latter case; don’t make it entirely airtight). Leave in a warm still place (I like the top of the refrigerator) for up to an hour and a half.
Grease a nine-inch loaf pan. When the dough is puffy, deflate it gently. There’s no need to slam your fist into it like it’s done you personal injury; if you want that, I suggest a boxing gym. Shape it into a log that will fit in the pan. Cover the pan with the towel or plastic wrap, and leave it in the warm still place for another hour or so. After an hour, turn the oven to 350°; when it’s preheated, remove the towel or plastic wrap and put the bread in.
Bake for twenty minutes, and then drape some aluminium foil over the top. Bake another ten to fifteen minutes, or until golden brown, and cool on a rack.
January 28th, 2011 § Comments Off § permalink
Because some days I know I should eat breakfast, but I’m not hungry at 6 AM, and also, uh, my hand-eye coordination is maybe not the best at that moment. Obviously, the solution is to shove a Russet potato in the oven, whence the smell of hot, fluffy carbs will unfurl throughout the apartment for the next hour, and make myself a hot drink containing enough caffeine that wielding a knife doesn’t make me a public menace.
This is totally-not-home-fries and poached eggs. For lazy people.
photograph by avlxyz
Bake an unpeeled, scrubbed russet potato until done — I tend to assume it will take about an hour on 400° F — and leave the oven on when you take the potato out. Either slice in half lengthwise, or if you’re feeling dexterous, remove a section of potato skin from the side you deem the top, large enough to crack an egg into (an inch and a half long by half an inch wide should do it). Scoop the interior of the potato out into a bowl. When the potato shell is empty, put it back in the oven to crisp while you handle the rest of this delicate, subtle operation.
Mash the potato with whatever probably-dairy-related product takes your fancy — the last time I made this, I used grated Parmesan and Emmenthaler cheese, but have had great success with Greek yogurt or sour cream. Add bacon bits or turkey sausage! Chopped chives! Wherever your morning madness leads you. (This is also an awesome lunch, I’m just never home for lunch any more.) Scoop the flavored potato flesh back into the crisped shell, leaving space in the middle into which you can crack an egg. (I suggest building a sort of wall of potato around the space so the egg white doesn’t ooze out.) If you’re nervous about cracking the egg directly into the potato, you may want to use a small pitcher so you can fish out any bits of shell (rinse the eggshell before cracking it, and use the broken shell to get the chips out; I don’t know why this works, but it does, normal cutlery is useless) or swear a lot if the yolk breaks. I don’t recommend using a egg with a broken yolk for this, and believe me, saying that causes me pain: it is not your fault if the yolk breaks. Eggs are tricky.
Once you have the egg tucked safely into the potato, put it into a loaf pan or onto a baking sheet and back into the oven. Turn the heat up to 500°F, and let it bake for ten to fifteen minutes, or until the white of the egg is set and the yolk is still a little runny. (If you are pregnant, have a weakened immune system, or are otherwise at risk/concerned about salmonella, obviously, cook until the yolk is firm. I am not a doctor and do not play one on the internet.)
When done, remove from oven, salt and pepper to taste, and eat hot.
Just typing this recipe up made me hungry.
October 24th, 2010 § Comments Off § permalink
Recent kitchen failure: yogurt. That was a waste of a quart of milk, let me tell you. (I thought we had a candy thermometer; apparently it has vanished, and I had to guess about the temperature at every stage. Do not do this.. I could’ve put that milk into tea, which would have been a much better idea.)
Recent kitchen success: orzo-stuffed acorn squash. Rich and cheesy and with a great combination of textures, and I am definitely making it again. I haven’t done much with acorn squash before, and now I can’t imagine why; it fits in the palm of your hand! Most recipes for it are brown sugar or maple syrup based, and while I have no objection to candied root vegetables — glazed carrots are one of my favorite side dishes, a reliable standby that I should really put up here one of these days, someone remind me to do that — I generally prefer savory dishes to sweet ones. It took me years to like sweet potatoes because they were too sweet for me; I’m still not keen on them without spices tipping them toward the umami realm. This dish is not one of those recipes.
photograph by shaferlens
One small acorn squash per person (as a main course, one per two people as a side dish). Slice in half along the equator, scoop out the middle, and put in a baking dish , cut-side down, with a quarter-inch of water. Bake for twenty minutes (or until fork-tender) in a 350 oven. Remove, let cool to lukewarm, slice off the stem and base so you have hemispheres that don’t wobble. Salt and pepper the exposed squash.
Simmer half a cup of orzo per person in a half and half broth of chicken or vegetable stock and milk, one cup of broth to half-cup of orzo. Stir frequently; the starch and fat combine to essentially make a béchamel and it will stick and burn and no one wants that. After five minutes, add grated cheese — I used farmer’s market garlic-and-chive cheddar, parmesan, and pepper jack — a quarter to a half-cup per person, and cook, stirring frequently, over a low flame until the orzo is done. Salt and pepper to taste.
Heap the hollows of the squash with the orzo, put back in the baking dish, and return to a 400 oven until the top has browned to golden. Serve with salad or steamed green beans, something crisp and light.
October 11th, 2010 § § permalink
Google Analytics informs me that a lot of people come here because they are searching for “apple chips homemade”. While it is true that I wrote about them a while back, there’s not much I can do to follow up on that. But it’s apple season now, and I am having a baked apple with honey syrup for breakfast, with some fresh-baked bread that B. made yesterday, and I feel I should share. Well, not the breakfast itself, that is mine, all mine, but I will share the …it’s not a recipe. It’s guidelines. Suggestions. Some friendly advice.
photograph by leoncillo sabino
Last time I wrote about apples, I insulted Red Delicious, and I stand by that. The apple I’m having is a Gala, which are my favorites, and which I tend to buy just from habit, but Braeburn, Empire, and Jonathan varieties are also good choices. They hold together and don’t go grainy or mushy, both of which are primary characteristics to prize in whole baked apples (which is a slightly different beast than baking slices in pastry).
Partially core four apples, leaving some flesh in the bottom. Pack the hole with brown sugar, chopped golden raisins, dried cranberries, and cinnamon. Bring a cup of apple juice or cider, a few tablespoons of honey, a cinnamon stick, and a few cloves to a boil and simmer briefly. Pour the syrup over the apples, and bake for twenty to thirty minutes in a 350-degree oven.
October 6th, 2010 § Comments Off § permalink
I can’t tell if I should be talking about this dish as decadent or virtuous. On the one hand, three kinds of cheese. On the other, whole-wheat noodles and steamed or roasted butternut squash.
Either way, it is delicious.
Last year, I convinced S to like butternut squash based on my inside-out ravioli. This year, so far, I have converted two more people, and I have no plans to stop. As far as I can tell, all I have to do is combine tender squash from the farmer’s market or our CSA with cheese and pasta, and people will make suspicious faces until they take the first bite. And then they will eat all of it, and ask for more.
photograph by geishaboy500
In this case, the cheeses were parmesan, ricotta, and mozzarella. I split and roasted one butternut squash and then puréed the flesh. Boil to pre-al-dente, drain, and separate whole-wheat lasagna noodles (I made nine, and managed to eke out all three layers just barely). I combined a cup of ricotta (please, don’t use skim ricotta, the texture is all wrong) with a quarter cup of grated parmesan (we were low on parmesan; there may or may not be a need for a twelve-step program), a half-teaspoon of nutmeg, one egg, and salt and pepper.
Lightly oil a 13-by-9 pan. Spread a thin layer of the butternut squash puree over the bottom. Lay noodles on top so they fit inside the pan. Some people like them overlapping; I find it easier to cut and serve the finished product if they lie side-by-side. Spread another, thicker layer of butternut squash on top. Dollop and spread a layer of the ricotta mixture on top of the squash. Sprinkle a quarter-cup of grated mozzarella cheese on top. Repeat the noodles, squash, ricotta, mozzarella stack as many times as you can with your ingredients. Finish the last layer, whatever it is, with an extra quart to half-cup of mozzarella. Cover with foil and bake for thirty minutes in a 375º F oven. Take the foil off, let brown for ten to fifteen minutes. Let cool for five minutes, slice, and serve. Look smug.
This is a lighter version of lasagna; while it isn’t vegan, it is ovo-laco-vegetarian. Half a pan served five people, and it reheats perfectly well. It’s a good dish for early autumn, warm and comforting and yet still tasting fresh enough that it doesn’t feel like it comes from the root cellar of the soul.
February 22nd, 2010 § Comments Off § permalink
When I made this for the third time in as many weeks, S. looked at her dinner, looked at me, and said, sounding a little puzzled, “Is this on the blog yet?”
“…No,” I admitted.
Which may or may not have been the kick in the ass I needed to stop fiddling with this recipe and post it. You may all thank her.
It’s probably noticeable that I have a great love for butternut squash. It is a gorgeous color, it is a dollar a pound at the farmer’s market, it is available all winter, it is basically made up of Vitamin A. There is pretty much no way to go wrong with it.
photograph by theilr
All sizes mentioned below is for a set of guidelines that produces enough to feed two people. Two hungry people, really.
Take a medium-sized butternut squash. Prick it all over with a knife, and cook it in the microwave for six minutes, then slice it from stem to base. (The microwave step makes it approximately 297% easier to halve the thing. It is not essential; if you don’t have a microwave, slice it with a big knife and use a rubber mallet to jam the blade through the flesh.)
Scoop out the seeds and the rest of the yucky stuff in the hollow. Put the slices into a baking pan, cut-side-down, and add a quarter-cup or so of water. Bake in a 350° oven for twenty or thirty minutes, until fork-tender.
Remove from the oven and let cool (this takes ten minutes or so, in my experience). Scoop the now-soft flesh out from the shell and throw the skins away. Puree with an immersion blender or a standard blender, or well, a fork, which works just damn fine.
Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil and cook a cup to a cup and a half of rigatoni, cavatelli, or rotini until al dente, sttirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, sauté perhaps a half-cup of sliced onions or shallots in some olive oil over a medium flame, until soft and golden. Add the butternut squash and stir until mixed with the onions. Slowly add a half cup of cream or whole milk slowly and stir until smooth. Add as much grated Parmesan or Reggiano as you want, at least a half cup and probably more. Add a few good shakes of nutmeg and pepper, salt to taste. Thin to desired consistency with white wine (or stock if you must, but in that case, add some lemon juice along with). Keep warm until the pasta is done.
Drain pasta, combine with sauce, and serve.
(While I was writing this entry, I discovered to my shame that I had, in fact, written up a recipe very similar to this one last year. This one is easier, I swear, and less fussy.)
November 1st, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
Come hither, my children, and do not as I did.
For I hath committed a grave error: I have succumbed to the clever name. Yes, I tried to make butternut squash soup…with buttermilk.
This was not a good idea. This was a clever idea that sounded awesome, and then it was a frustrating idea that tasted middling at best. Did you know that trying to cook butternut squash in buttermilk, on the stove, is an ugly process? I do…now. The buttermilk separates, and the butternut squash doesn’t cook, not for the two hours you leave it over low heat (low in the futile hope that the buttermilk will stop separating).
Buttermilk is a wonderful thing, thick and tangy and to be respected; part of our culinary heritage from when it was the remnant of the process of making butter.
photograph by Mel B.
Do not, for the love of God, try to cook root vegetables in it.
If you cook root vegetables, have the sense God gave, well, a turnip, and oven-roast them at 400º until tender. Or in stock, which you can bring to a boil.
Then puree them (with hot stock, if you have chosen the roasting method), and eat hot with croutons. If you are so mad as to ignore my dire warnings, and wish to try the buttermilk route, being as susceptible as I am to charming names, add grated Parmesan. Believe me. It will help.
And now I am going to count my sins once more, in hopes that the kitchen gods will look kindly upon my trespasses.
September 29th, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
One thing I never bother hiding anymore is just how much of a geek I am. It’s a pretty hopeless endeavor: last week was Bilbo and Frodo Baggins’ birthday — September 22nd — and I baked a cake and had a party.
No, really. I baked a cake for fictional characters.
And it was delicious. I am not embarrassed to say that my most successful cake to date was for fictional characters….who are not even human. That’s the kind of fun you have when you are me. (This does not mean that I will not bake a different cake next year, because while this was excellent, and devoured with all appropriate, hobbit-like speed, I was not keen on the frosting. I try to avoid corn syrup, and that was not the case for this recipe. Which is why I am not sharing the recipe here.)
Sift together 4 cups plus 2 tablespoons cake flour, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1½ teaspoons baking soda, and 1 teaspoon salt in a medium bowl. In a large mixing bowl, beat 2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter and 2 cups sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, then beat in 2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I have what you might charitably call a “heavy hand” with vanilla extract). Add 4 eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. At low speed, beat in 2 cups buttermilk until just combined (mixture will look curdled). Add flour mixture in three batches, mixing until each addition is just incorporated.
Spread batter evenly in a buttered cake pan, then whack pan on counter several times to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden and a wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Cool in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a knife around edge of pan. Invert onto rack then cool completely, about 1 hour.
July 11th, 2009 § Comments Off § permalink
Galettes are supposed to look rustic. Galettes are supposed to look rustic. Galettes are supposed to look rustic.
This cherry galette didn’t actually take as long as I feared, and wasn’t nearly as labor-intensive as I still think of pies and tarts as being. But it had its problems.
The whole pie with summer fruit thing kind of baffles me, because you need to keep pie crust cool until the moment you slide it into the oven. But you might have noticed: the northern hemisphere, between May and September, is hot. It’s hard to keep crust stiff enough in this kind of weather, even if you are trying for rustic.
But the pâté brisée held up pretty well, surprisingly enough; I used water straight from the freezer, butter straight from the fridge, and chilled it for a good hour or so before I shaped it. When I say “shaped,” you should probably read “swore a lot at.” It might have been rolled out too thin, because it tore more than a little (although it was easy enough to patch). Unsurprisingly, it was delicious; anything with that much butter in it, proportionally (hell, absolutely), tends to be so.
photograph by bensonkua
But the cherries were not that great. I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between the sweet and the sour ones (I had a pint of each) when I tasted a few as a reward for pitting them. And when I baked them with a splash of almond liqueur and some brown sugar and cornstarch, they were still not that great.
And then the crust leaked while in the oven and the juice that seeped out scorched and set off the smoke alarm. That was awesome.
This was frustrating and not as good as I had hoped it would be, but that is still pretty good.
Combine flour and cold butter in a 3:2 ratio by weight. Do not over mix; leave the butter in small, pebbly chunks. When combined, add 1 part chilled water and a dash of salt. (I used Michael Ruhlman’s sizing for this one, twelve ounces of flour, eight ounces of butter, and four ounces of water.) Mix lightly until just combined, but not homogenized. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic, and chill for an hour.
Pit cherries. I had two pints in total, one sour cherries and one sweet. Toss with ¼cup cornstarch or tapioca, ¼ cup brown sugar, and a splash of almond or cherry liqueur.
Heat oven to 400° Fahrenheit.
Pat out dough to a rough circle about ¼ inch thick. Pile cherries in the middle and fold the edges up to cover about half the cherries. The fruit shrinks in cooking, so make sure there is a lot of it. Move the galette to a baking sheet and bake for thirty minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a rack.