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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Brisket Galore and a Guest Post! (Ann's Shredded Chicken Tacos)

Tip for life: if anyone ever asks you to join them to an all-you-can-eat brisket cook-off against several of nyc's finest BBQ joints at one of your favorite bars, you always say yes. Jimmy's No. 43, a great place for well crafted beers and a big supporter of the slow food movement, hosts several food events every weekend.They're having a duck-off next weekend. Mmmm....

And there are two new things about "Mmm...Toast". First of all, we have our very first guest post! Ann Erickson, my old roomie and close friend from Illinois Wesleyan University is a fellow foodie, and was kind enough to share her fabulous recipe for shredded chicken tacos. I have yet to try it myself, but I promise that's something I'm going to rectify soon. 

The second new thing is, everyone can comment on my blog now! Yay! I finally figured out how to change the settings on my blog, so those few followers I have who've been dying to tell me things, now you can. Now let's get to the food.

This is Fatty 'Cue's entry. A delicious brisket sandwich with pickled onions, cilantro, a little coleslaw on a hawaiian roll. I'd like to say that the sandwich entry is a bit of a cheat, because this competition is about the brisket, but damn it was a good sandwich. And I've always wanted to go to Fatty 'Cue. Now I have even more reasons why. This sandwich, and the cute guy doling out the 'cue.  =)

This was an entry by the cutest lady named Emma, who wasn't part of any restaurant whatsoever. She just made her own brisket and offered it up to hungry patrons. I'd love to say it was wonderful, because she was so adorable, but while the meat was incredibly soft, it had almost no flavor. The coleslaw was good, though.

Jon is trying to figure out which three entries he liked the best. He wouldn't let me look at his choices. Party pooper. 

I know this seems like a mish-mash of meat, but there are actually two different kinds of briskets here. One was from a Tennesse joint, Mr. Bobo, nice but a bit stringy, one's the Fatty 'Cue sandwich (delicious, as we already know), and Ribs From Within. One of my favorites, soft, great flavor, but a bit on the too fatty side (I know, that doesn't seem possible).

Here is the entry that won 1st place (The Kitchen NYC), and the brisket that won audience's favorite (Waterfront Ale House). The Kitchen's is a wagyu brisket with pickled radish, yuzu, and some other accoutrement I can't remember. I chose Waterfront's as my top pick. Great straight-forward brisket. They also had a mind blowing pastrami with house-made mustard (on top of their brisket above). 

Such a good time. And the embarrassing thing is: we had brunch before coming here. So essentially, we ate two HUGE full meals within about three hours. I even got seconds of some of the briskets. Yup, we're awesome. And now, without further ado, here are Ann's delectable chicken tacos. (I'll be back soon with a few dishes of my own to share with you guys.)

Shredded Chicken Tacos (By Ann M. Erickson)

So to say I love Mexican food is an understatement. I grew up in a south suburb of Chicago, ensconced in some of the best authentic Mexican food around-- not just in restaurants, but in the homes of some of my dearest friends. I have tried to replicate many of the recipes made by those wonderful mothers who insisted that I eat every time I came over, and I have even tried to make healthy versions, with mixed success. These tacos were inspired by a chicken flauta making session at my best friend's house. I wanted to make something almost as delicious, but less greasy and with my favorite taco toppings--- here you have it, spicy shredded chicken tacos!

Package of boneless chicken breasts (about 1.25 lbs)
1 tbsp of kosher salt
1 tsp Freshly ground black pepper 
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp white onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp chili powder
2 tbsp olive oil
Package of corn tortillas
Mexican cheese
1 avocado
Other toppings as you choose.

You start out with three large boneless chicken breasts. I like butterfly them just for ease of having well-seasoned meat and quicker cooking, but if I am lazy, I will just season the breasts and throw them in the stove. (Here is a pretty good tutorial on how to butterfly chicken breasts:

Once the meat is ready, rub it in kosher salt, black pepper, and then again in red pepper flakes, white onion powder, garlic powder, chili powder, ground cumin, and cayenne pepper. It sounds like a ton of seasonings, but I promise it balances out. Drop about two tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet and lay the chicken pieces in the skillet. Cook at medium heat.

Once the chicken is cooked all the way through (no pink when split open!), place pieces of chicken into a metal or pyrex bowl. Then, using two forks, shred the chicken breast. Using one fork to hold the meat down and the other fork to pull the meat away in shredded pieces seems to be the best way to get this done.

Once all the chicken is shredded, put it back in the pan and mix in a small can of tomato paste. Taste here for seasonings-- if it needs more salt or spice for your taste, feel free to add! Cook the mixture together for a couple of minutes on medium heat while warming up tortillas on another pan. 

Top with your favorite taco toppings-- I had avocados and a blend of Mexican cheeses to top them with, but feel free to add salsa, sour cream, tomatoes, or lettuce.

If you wanted to do the flauta version, you could pour vegetable oil into another pan--- about an inch deep-- and roll some of the chicken mixture in the corn tortillas. Drop a few flautas in the oil at a time, and fry them until the outsides are crispy. Delicious with guacamole!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Couple days in Chicago....oh so much food....

My ribeye burger with gouda and curried onions at Blackbird. Comes with pear salad and frites.

So, you'll have to forgive the poor photography. I somehow went home thinking "nah, I'm not going to cook/eat anything I'll want to share with the world." So stupid...anyways, these are the work of my trusty little blackberry, because in the last few days I spent in Chicago, oh my word. There was food. Glorious food. Enough that I almost don't care I've gained about 5 pounds in a disturbingly small amount of time.

The first stop on our culinary tour was Blackbird, a little Chicago landmark from chef Paul Kahan. It's one of the few restaurants in the city with two Michelin stars (up there with Charlie Trotter's, Tru, Everest, the usual suspects) yet unlike other restaurants of that caliber Blackbird serves lunch, and at a crazy reasonable price. All entrees were around $14-$15. They also have a three course prix fixe for $22. And as you can see from the picture above, the portions aren't crazy small. I also got a diet coke, which was refilled four times. For free. This is why I love my windy city. (nyc: until you offer free refills as generously as the Midwest, there will always be something between us.)
My Dad ordered the sturgeon. It was the best dish out of the three, hands down. Might be one of my favorite fish now. (Not pictured is Mom's whitefish sandwich. Very good, but apparently not very photogenic in my mind.)

After this we went to Alliance Bakery in Wicker Park, and I am so sorry that I didn't take photos of both the bakery and the gorgeous apple custard tart we bought. Because the bakery was adorable, and the tart was probably the best apple tart I've ever eaten. No joke, later that night, when it wasn't even warm, I picked it out of it's little white box, took one bite, and it was all over. That thing was gone within a matter of seconds. My mother was able to drag it away from me for a couple bites, but dad was completely left out. I will most definitely try to find a recipe for that little bit o' heaven, and report back. 

On the plus side, I did take a photo of the jar of peanut butter I made the morning I arrived home. Two different kind of peanut butter in fact (just give me a second while I brush my shoulders off...). The top is a nice, lightly toasted peanut butter and the bottom is an UBER toasty peanut butter. While the top one is more for general applications, the bottom is fantastic for cooking. It made some stellar peanut butter cookies, where you can really taste the nutty, roasted flavor of the peanuts. It's extremely simple to make PB, actually. Roast some peanuts till they're just beginning to brown, toss in a food processor, add a pinch of salt and some honey, and turn that sucker on high. When the nuts start becoming paste-like, stream in vegetable or peanut oil till it thins out to the right consistency. Voila! Homemade peanut butter!

The toothpicks are not actually my sadistic attempts at cake-torturing. I place them around the surface of the cake so the saran wrap on top doesn't touch the icing. Also, I used powdered buttermilk, which was fantastic. Apparently, the buttermilk we buy in stores isn't real buttermilk. Powdered is closer to the real thing.
 So, I might have a problem. Around midnight on Friday, when my parents were tucked away sleeping, I finally had enough of the Ghost Hunters marathon I'd been watching on the Travel Channel (alright, I'll admit it, I was getting creeped out), and instead of going upstairs to sleep like a normal person, I thought, why this is the perfect time to make a cake! Mind you, by this point, I had literally baked about five different things. My baking drive was on overkill. Part of me really didn't want to, but I had seen a recipe on a wonderful food blog by Tartlette ( that I just couldn't get out of my head. It's a caramel cake, with caramel sauce in the batter, and a caramelized brown butter frosting (which I flecked with some orange zest). Now, the frosting sounded wonderful, and in theory it is, but it's literally sugar on top of sugar. Way too intense, so I'm not even going to give you the recipe right now till I perfect it. But don't worry, make the cake anyway. This cake is so good it needs absolutely nothing to fancy it up. It's so good that at 3 am last night/morning I was taking a fork and burrowing underneath the icing just to get at cake. Seriously, MAKE THIS CAKE. And then send me a piece. 

Another item we picked up at Alliance Bakery was a chocolate macaron with a salted caramel filling. The macaron was delicious, but the price seemed ridiculous. $1.50 for a itty bitty cookie? In the Midwest?! My mother turned to me and said "I bet we can make those." And of course, the challenge was laid down. That evening, my mother and I attempted to make macarons for the first time. Ladies and gentlemen, these are frustrating little buggers. The egg whites need to age, dry ingredients need to be sifted twice, the batter needs to be folded about 62 times (even slightly under or over mixed batter ruins the cookie), the cookies must rest for an hour before being put in the oven, oh and don't get me started on the hundred different ways I looked up on how to properly bake a macaron. Needless to say, I understand the $1.50 charge now. Our first batch was over mixed and the cookies came out like flat pancakes. The photo above is my second attempt, and the batter was under mixed. There's no other way to say it: I made Smurf turds. But, looking past that, the flavor of these....oh man. I've had macarons before and have never been that impressed, but these had this wonderful light, almondy flavor, and a great crispness on the outside and chewiness the good thing is I now really love macarons. The bad thing is I'm going to have to kill myself to finally make them right.

Of course, you need a filling for macarons. For some reason, my parents had an abundance of pears in the house, so I thought, why not a pear curd? I haven't made curds in a while, but as far as I know, it's generally fruit in some form (either juice and zest, or pureed), egg yolks, and butter. Since these pears were relatively young, I simmered them in simple syrup with a cinnamon stick and some cloves, blended them, then went ahead with a traditional curd recipe. Oh man, is this stuff good. Very lightly flavored, it works so well with the macaron, or honestly, probably on any dessert-like platform. I'd actually just eat it on its own.

For my goodbye dinner, my mom always makes up a meal that I generally couldn't get anywhere but her kitchen, which is almost always Indian food. We were browsing the produce section of the grocery store and came upon Methi, or fenugreek. That was it, a dish I haven't had in ages but really love: aloo methi. It's chopped up fenugreek leaves cooked with potatoes. This is a seriously Indian dish. I almost never see it at Indian restaurants because it's a flavor that most people who haven't grown up eating Indian food would probably not immediately enjoy. It also makes your kitchen stink a bit. But honestly, the flavor is so interesting and lovely. You mix mustard oil and seeds with asafoetida, turmeric, and these greens and potatoes and get this amazingly pungent, bitter, and delicious dish. If you're brave, I'd definitely give this one a try.

This dish came completely out of left field. Early yesterday morning my mom, my cousin and I were watching one of our favorite shows on the Cooking Channel: French Food at Home. The host, Laura Calder, is adorably quirky and her food looks divine. One of the dishes she prepared was a celeriac remoulade. Now, I'm not really a fan of anything celery flavored, but my cousin was adamant we make this (mainly because he'd just gotten back from India and wanted something on the plate not heavily spiced). It's an easy side dish to make, especially if you put your julienne blade onto your food processor and make quick ribbons out of all the veggies and fruit (something I highly recommend). The flavor of the remoulade was, well, kinda perfect. It was ever so lightly coated in a lovely vinaigrette that has fennel and mustard seed, just enough to give you a taste of the spices but not overpowering the flavor of the celeriac at all. Divine. 
My last supper: aloo methi, gobi (of course), papar (best chip you could ever buy), and celeriac remoulade
It's always so nice to visit home, get re-energized to deal with the rest of life. No matter how chaotic things get, thank goodness there is always a plate of something yummy and two smiling parents just a two hour flight away.

Alliance Bakery:
French Food at Home:

Caramel Cake (based on Tartlett’s)
Note: This was my first try at using buttermilk powder and I thought it was extremely successful. The instructions on the side of my container said it required 4 tbsp of powder and 1 cup of water to substitute 1 cup of buttermilk. Then, instead of mixing the powder and water together, mix the powder with the dry ingredients and use the cup of water as you would milk in the recipe. If your container of buttermilk powder has different instructions, I’d follow those instead of the ones I provide. If you have fresh buttermilk (or another type of milk) instead, go ahead and use that.

10 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
Generous 1/3 cup caramel (recipe below)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
4 tbsp buttermilk powder
1 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9 inch cake pan.

Cream butter until light and fluffy. Add sugar and salt and cream until light and fluffy as well. Add caramel sauce and whip on high speed till well combined. Add eggs one at a time, and vanilla. Beat mixture well.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and buttermilk powder together. Set mixer to low speed and add one third of the dry ingredients. Add half a cup of water. Add the second third of the dry ingredients. Add the last half cup of water, and follow with the rest of the flour mixture. Mix until just combined.

Take bowl off mixer and use a spatula to fold batter a few times, making sure everything is properly mixed. Pour batter into pan and smooth out top. Place pan on a baking sheet and bake for between 45-50 minutes. Rotate pan halfway through. Check cake by sticking a toothpick in the center. A few crumbs should stick and it’s done.

Caramel Sauce (based on Ina Garten’s)
Note: To quicken the cooling of the sauce, I took the 1/3 cup I needed for the cake, put it in a metal bowl, and popped it into the freezer for about 15 to 29 minutes. Stirred it a few times afterwards and it was perfect.

1 ½ cups sugar
1/3 cup water
1 ¼ cups heavy cream

Add sugar and water to pot and set to medium high heat. Do not stir. Swirl pot to mix ingredients. Bring to a boil and let bubble away till reaching a dark amber color. As soon as this happens, add the cream and step back to avoid getting splattered. Whisk till caramel becomes smooth again on low heat, about two minutes. Then turn off stove and let sit till coming to room temperature, about two hours. 

Pear Curd

Two large pears
1 cup sugar
2 1/3 cup water
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
pinch salt
4 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla
2 tsp lemon juice
half stick butter

Peel pears, and save the skin from one of them. Chop the pears into a small dice. Place sugar and water into a saucepan. Add diced pear, skin, cinnamon stick and cloves. Turn heat to medium high and bring mixture to a simmer. Stir.

Let pears soften till they are just barely retaining their shape. Strain, reserving the liquid. Take out pieces of skin, cloves and cinnamon. Toss pear into blender and blend into a puree. Set aside in a glass or metal bowl to cool slightly. 

Meanwhile, wash out pot, fill with water and put on medium high heat. Take pear puree and whisk in salt. Whisk in egg yolks one at a time. Add lemon juice and vanilla.

Set bowl over pot of simmering water and whisk vigorously. Continue whisking till curd sets and the curd becomes much lighter in color and becomes pudding-like in texture and thickness. Take off heat, but continue whisking for another 30 seconds. Taste curd. I noticed at this point that I wanted a touch more sweetness and pear flavor, so I added about 2 tbsp of the reserved cooking liquid. Did the trick. Whisk that in and taste again. Add more if necessary.

At this point, if you aren’t happy with the texture of the curd, pour through a fine mesh strainer.

Take a piece of plastic wrap and place directly on the top of the curd. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight before using.

Aloo Methi (Potato w/ Fenugreek)
Note: It’s not necessary to use mustard oil if you don’t have it at home. You can just use all vegetable oil. If you do end up using the mustard oil, along with the mustard seeds, I’ll warn you right now: as soon as those two start cooking, you’re essentially perfuming your house with a light mustard gas. My mom and I started coughing whenever the lid was removed off the skillet. However, the taste was divine. Part of my childhood in a pot, heavenly.

One Last Thing: For god’s sake, open every window in your house/apartment, and make sure the exhaust is on. Otherwise I can’t guarantee you’ll ever be able to set foot in your kitchen again. This is mainly necessary if you are using the mustard oil and asafoetida.

12 cups fenugreek leaves
3 large potatoes
1 tbsp mustard oil
A few grated shavings of asafoetida (hing), or ½ tsp of asafoetida powder
1 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tsp mustard seeds
1 tbsp chopped garlic
2 tsp turmeric powder
2 tsp red chili flakes
salt and pepper to taste

Thoroughly wash and dry fenugreek in a large bowl. Set aside. Peel and chop potatoes into 1 inch pieces. Add oils to your largest nonstick skillet, and add mustard seeds. Add the asafoetida into the oil as well. Set heat to medium high and cook till seeds turn pale in color and begin to pop. Add turmeric powder as well and cook for 1 to 2 minutes.

Add chopped potatoes. Toss to coat in spices. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes. While those are going, start taking large handfuls of fenugreek leaves and chopping them down just a bit. Don’t go too fine, you’re just looking to pretty much halve the leaves. Start adding to the skillet, allowing every third or fourth handful to be tossed and settled into the potatoes before adding more. Add salt and pepper.

Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until potatoes are soft. Serve with plain yogurt.

Celeriac Remoulade (recipe based on Laura Calder’s)
 Note: When we tossed the vinaigrette with the celeriac and apple we found that it was just shy of enough. Instead of making more I just sprinkled in a bit more ground fennel and mustard, along with a pinch more salt and pepper. Worked out fine, this vinaigrette adds more like a sheen to the mixture, just the faintest hint of dressing.

1 medium celeriac
1 apple (Fuji or Grannysmith, something crisp and tart)
1 egg yolk
3 tsp apple cider vinegar
3 tsp Dijon mustard
¾ cup Olive oil (grapeseed and vegetable work well too)
2-3 tsp ground fennel seed
2 tsp ground mustard
salt and pepper to taste
lemon juice to taste

Peel and julienne both the celeriac and apple (to make quick work of this, use your food processor). Toss together in a large bowl.

In a separate smaller bowl, whisk together the rest of the ingredients except for the olive oil. When properly mixed, slowly stream in the olive oil while whisking vigorously. When you’ve drizzled in about 75% of the oil, stop and taste. Continue if necessary. Taste again, and season accordingly.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Work Work Work....Chimichurri and Blueberry/Blackberry Jam

I am in some strange form of limbo I've created for myself. There are things to be done. MANY things to be done. And yet, I seem to feel I've got all the time in the world to putter around and do things like....make a double layer espresso chocolate cake filled and iced with a chocolate ganache then covered with a caramel-y seven minute frosting (I'll try and post my crappy blackberry photo of the thing. Honestly, early afternoon I just thought "Hmmm, why not make this?") 

Part of me feels like I need to stop giving myself so much time to do other things, not just cooking but reading, eating out, or just plain walking around and taking in this barely-a-newborn spring that's coming in. But then I think to myself, what am I crazy? The only way I can become the writer/director I want to is by doing all these things just for the sake of DOING things. Of having experiences. Or at least, that's the excuse I give myself, because after making a couple batches of this homemade chimichurri and jam, I'm definitely going to have to find time to make sure there's always a good stock of it in the fridge. 

I originally came across chimichurri in Argentina, where they use this condiment (best descriptor I can think of) on pretty much everything. Mainly meats. And let me tell you, it is phenomenal. I've used it so far on steak, fish and pork, and there's nothing I don't want to douse it in. Think garlicy, herbaceous, lemony, with just a kick from some red chili flakes. All tossed into one phenomenal jar.

I'll tell you right now, by the way, that my chimichurri is by no means traditional. Most recipes simply call for olive oil, garlic, fresh oregano, cilantro, chili pepper, and salt. Mine has about five or six more ingredients. Why? Because that's who I am. Nor is it scientific. Honestly, the first time I just started adding things, and kept making adjustments along the way. I'd recommend doing the same, and using the recipe below as a guideline.  But seriously, try making this and not using it on every protein you consume. I dare you.

So, along with the chimichurri, about two days later (or it actually might have been the same night, not sure anymore) I made homemade jam out of the two berries I had sitting in my fridge. I think one of the main reasons I was so into making condiment-like foods was because I had just gone to The Broadway Panhandler (great kitchen store) and bought at least six different types of bell jars. And then felt compelled to fill them.

Actually, if I'm honest, I'll admit that I've wanted to make homemade jam for a lot longer than since buying the jars. I've made batches before, but they've always been more akin to curds or relishes. This is a proper, slather your morning toast, having between two slices of bread with peanut butter kind of jam. My inspiration came after buying a fabulous (and fabulously expensive) jar of Sarabeth's jam, turning it over and seeing "Ingredients: Cherries, sugar, plums". That was it. I just couldn't help myself. Surely if there's only three ingredients, I can't mess things up too much, can I?

And guess what? Apparently I can't! Hoorah! My on-the-fly jam came out lovely. A bit too much on the thick-ish side (next time I'll reduce the mixture a bit less), but it's jam, and it's delicious. And it definitely set me back WAY less than my fancy jam.

Probably cooked about seven or eight minutes too long. Try and stop your when you can coat the back of a spoon and run your finger clean across the surface. 
However, I did add an ingredient or two. Or, really just one ingredient in two different forms. Lemon, in the form of skin and juice (and a pinch of salt, but that hardly counts) I felt the berries were great, but the sugar had muddled that brightness of flavors a bit. The lemon juice and zest really helped bring that freshness back to the foreground.

Another reason this jam is so easy: there is naturally occurring pectin in fruits such as berries and apples. Hence why no gelling agent is necessary, the berries take care of that on their own. If you'd like to make a plum or pear jam, some other form of pectin might need to be added. Hmmm....I've got a ton of pears handy, maybe I can experiment and report back....Alright, I'll go write a couple pages, then get back to cooking. Life in balance.

The homemade goodies that made up a baby shower gift. The dark one is the jam. Also included: mom's garam masala, picked red onions, and lemon-lavender poppyseed/browned butter and walnut sables. (Recipe for those coming soon)


1 bunch basil
1 cup chopped cilantro
2 cups chopped parsley
9 -11 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2-3 tbsp fresh oregano (use dried if you don’t have fresh, 1-2 tbsp)
5-6 sprigs fresh thyme
3 tsp chili flakes
3 tsp salt
2 tsp ground black pepper
¼ to 1/3 cup olive oil
1 lemon

Place all fresh herbs in food processor. Pulse for about 10 seconds to coarsely chop greens. Might need to do this in batches. Add remaining ingredients EXCEPT for olive oil. Pulse for a couple seconds to combine. Finally, keep food processor on and stream in olive oil. Add just enough to make the mixture a paste. Taste. Season more if necessary.

Blueberry/Blackberry Jam

3 cups blackberries
2 cups blueberries
1/3 cup sugar
2 tbsp lemon zest
2 tbsp lemon juice
pinch salt

Wash berries gently in a large bowl, and pat dry with paper towel. Using a fork, mush and macerate berries till most are crushed and mixture looks similar to a rough jam. Add contents of bowl to a stockpot, along with sugar and salt. Turn to medium high heat. The juices from the berries will make what looks like berry soup. Keep at a simmer and allow to reduce by about a third, or spoon test comes out clean (spoon test: dip back of spoon into mixture and run your finger across it. If the line stays clean, jam is done).

Turn off heat and stir in zest and juice. Let come to room temperature before storing in tupperware or glass jars. Keep refrigerated, will last approximately three weeks. 

Sunday, March 13, 2011

I'm in the Zone! (Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Cake w/ Browned Butter Crust)

The witching hour is when I always get my best work done. Maybe it's because there's absolutely no one else awake to distract me. But it's not been so easy for the past few months, which is a problem: the most important thing for me to accomplish at the moment is writing, and I don't know why, but it's become so hard to sit down and do just that.

Which is why I decided to celebrate my recent stroke of inspiration by taking a break and making use of my leftover buttermilk and wild blueberries by mixing them into this insanely moist loaf cake. This also gave me a chance to try out my new loaf pan! (I know, I live a terribly exciting life.) The pan browned the cake marvelously. The browned butter created a delicious crust, which was my absolute favorite part of this treat.

What's amazing is that this cake is ridiculously, unabashedly moist, almost to the point where after I sliced into it, for five seconds I was horribly worried I under-baked the loaf. And you will too. Relax, take a deep breath, you haven't. This just isn't a crumby, powdery sort of cake. It's got almost a pudding-like crumb, which is how it's supposed to be. That's from using buttermilk, and oil instead of butter. If you're not a fan of such a moist cake, you could opt to swap out the 1/2 cup of oil with a stick of room temperature  butter. Whip that with the sugar till light and fluffy and then add the rest of the wet ingredients. You could also add an extra half cup of flour to soak up more of that moistness. It might even be interesting to swap out half the flour with cornmeal. Hmmm...I should try that....

My definition of a wonderful Saturday night: page after page of writing accomplished, a cake baking in the oven, and a black market copy of My Fair Lady (always makes me think of my mom) playing in the background.  This was a spur of the moment experiment, which ended coming out a thrilling success. I'm anxiously looking forward to a slice with breakfast tea. This is also, like so many of my dishes, extremely adaptable. Prefer poppy seeds over blueberries? Not a problem, add half a cup of those instead. Or toasted walnuts. Or chocolate chips. Or both. The possibilities are endless. Kind of like the art of writing. Speaking of which...

 Lemon Blueberry Buttermilk Cake w/ Browned Butter Crust

Note: So, right off the bat I should be honest. I almost never sift my dry ingredients together. I’m just too lazy. And I’m sure my baked goods suffer somewhat from my laziness. Because I try not to promote such bad behavior, I have written out the directions below with the proper way to prep your ingredients, but in case you aspire to be just as lazy as I am, here’s how I make this (as well as almost every other cake I make) a one bowl recipe. I add the salt in with the wet ingredients, and when all of those are incorporated, I add the leaveners and mix thoroughly to combine. After that, generally the only other dry ingredient is flour, and I add that at the very end. I’m awful, right?

1 ½ cup flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 tsp salt
1 cup buttermilk
¾ cup plus ¼ cup sugar
3 large eggs, separated
2 tsp grated lemon zest
3 tbsp to ¼ cup lemon juice
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup frozen wild blueberries (the small ones)
pinch extra flour
extra sugar
3 tbsp butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray a 8 ½ x 4¼ x 2 ½ inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Take out frozen blueberries and spread onto paper towels to thaw. Pat dry and gather into bowl.

Sift together the 1 ½ cups flour with the baking powder and salt. In another bowl whisk together the buttermilk, ¾ cup sugar, egg yolks, zest, lemon juice, extract and oil.  Slowly add dry ingredients and mix to combine. Set aside.

In another bowel, place egg whites. Whip with electric mixer till frothy, then with mixer still on, slowly add ¼ cup sugar. Whip on high till egg whites are glossy and hold soft peaks (make sure the whites keep their sheen and don’t get too dry). In three additions, add to batter, folding each addition in with a spatula.

Take a pinch of flour (about 2 to 3 tsp) and toss to coat berries. Add them to the batter and fold gently to incorporate. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and sprinkle top lightly with sugar. Place in oven.

While the cake is cooking, place butter in a small stockpot and cook on medium-low heat till nutty and brown. Remove off heat.

Keep an eye on the cake. When the top is still pale but not liquid anymore (about 20 to 25 minutes) take cake out and drizzle/brush browned butter on top. Since the sides had begun to set, I poked holes throughout the surface and allowed the butter to seep into the cake. Sprinkle with a touch more sugar and place back in oven and bake till golden brown.  Total baking time is about 45 to 50 minutes.

Cool for ten minutes in pan, then flip out onto parchment paper. Flip cake again onto cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

What Shall I Do With My Life....Mmm, Kimchi Stew

In our feature film packaging class today, we were meant to write up two futures for ourselves. One being our fantasy version of what we would absolutely love to happen in the next 5 years, and the other what would most likely happen. It was somewhat...depressing. Not because I won't be able to achieve the fantasy version of my life, but even the realistic version seems so daunting. Can I really make a feature film in the next five years? Can I actually scrounge out a living making movies? I feel at any minute someone's going to catch me and realize I'm just having fun. I will then be forced to become an adult and do something responsible. Since it was such a heady day, I decided to go home and make my new absolute favorite one pot dish: kimchi stew.

A friend made a simpler version of this last Sunday evening and it honestly blew my mind. This beautiful spicy, tangy broth mixed with kimchi, some pork belly, hot dogs and tofu, and just underneath the surface a little pile of rice that became its own soupy component. How have I been living so long without this miracle food?!

So I set out to make the dish again, just a day later, however I didn't use fresh kimchi, which I realize is pretty much essential for this stew. Don't use a jar of kimchi you've had sitting around for a month. Go to the Asian supermarket and buy it fresh. I actually spent an extra few bucks and got the kind packaged like at a deli, in a temporary plastic container with the weight and price written out across.

Now, any koreans reading this: I totally realize I am breaking the rules. It's probably blasphemous to add corn and spinach to your kimchi stew, but I wanted a little variety in the vegetation swimming around. I'd highly recommend adding the spinach. It get soft and adds a wonderful texture. 

Korean chili paste. If you can find it, use it. And not just in this stew. 
I'm a big fan of lots of kimchis, not just the cabbage variety, so I decided, right at the very end of cooking, to add a bunch of chopped green onion and daikon radish kimchi. To be honest, I could take or leave the daikon radish in there; it's one of those kimchis better served cold. The green onion, however, added such a nice onion-y flavor, I'll definitely add it again.

For those of you who've never had this dish before and are interested in making it, please be warned: this is NOT for the faint of heart. Koreans are a strong, hearty people and they like their food SPICY. This bowl of soup is going to make you sweat, your nose drip, and you will need at least a gallon of water. I'm Indian, so while I might not be the biggest badass of chili eaters I know, I can take a good whacking. And trust me: this stew will give it to you. Of course, I added a good amount of Korean chili paste. You can use less if you wanna go the milder route. 

Kimchi Stew
Note: It is my belief that there is just no way to make stew for one. Or even for three. This recipe makes a LOT of stew. Enough that I’ll probably be enjoying it for the next week and a half. Also, stews to me have always been the kind of food that you’re able to constantly improvise with, so that’s what I did. The measurements below are approximations, but have fun creating your own version. Really, the only necessity in a kimchi stew is…well that should be obvious.

2 tbsp canola oil
½ cup chopped pork belly
1 cup chopped onion
3 tbsp chopped garlic
½ cup diced sausage/other protein (hotdog, kielbasa, marinated pork, etc.)
1 cup chopped tofu
4 cups chopped (or ripped) raw spinach
3 cups chopped cabbage kimchi
1 cup frozen corn
few splashes of mirin
few splashes of fish sauce
few splashes of soy sauce
close to ¼ cup Korean chili paste (gochugare)
salt and pepper to taste
3-4 cups chicken broth
4-6 cups water
1 cup chopped green onion kimchi (optional)
1 cup chopped daikon radish kimchi (optional)

Prepare this stew in the largest stockpot you have. Turn the heat on medium high and add the oil. Allow to heat slightly, then add the pork belly. Cook for a 3 to 4 minutes, till the pork is almost fully cooked. Add onion and garlic and sauté till onions become translucent and soft. There may be a good deal of fond (brown yummy bits) at the bottom of the pot at this point. If so, add the mirin and stir vigorously, to get all the flavor from the bottom back into the veggies and meat.

Add the chopped sausage and stir, allowing the pieces to sear a bit. After another minute, add tofu. Let tofu cook a couple minutes and add kimchi. Toss mixture with tongs for several minutes. Finally add spinach in batches and toss again, allowing each addition to wilt down before adding any more. Add corn and stir. Finally, add fish sauce, soy sauce, chili paste, and salt and pepper. Cook for several minutes, allowing the mixture to get mind numbingly fragrant. Finally, add broth and water. Stir to combine, and bring to a simmer. Cook till reduced by almost half.

If using, add green onion kimchi.  Cook for just another minute or two. Turn off heat and if using, add daikon radish kimchi. Stir and serve immediately.  

Serve with steamed rice in bottom of bowl (traditional) or on top. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Sniffles Go Well with Soup (Curry Chicken Soup w/ Pickled Red Onions)

This is one of those ideas that simply...happens. I was in the middle of a horrible cold, and all I wanted was soup, and NOT to cook. But I couldn't find a single takeout place with a soup that interested me at the time. So, of course, I said "Fine...I'll just do it..." and started to throw things in a pot. Some leftover chicken tenders, a few vegetables, broth, and why not, let's just top it with some of these pickled red onions that couldn't fit into the jar I had just filled. (Homemade pickled red onions: a staple in my fridge.)

It was only when I got my face close enough to inhale the thick steam did I realize, wait, this may actually be quite good. And, can I just say, what an understatement. The red onions cutting through the thick curry flavors and all these nice, just-soft veggies and chicken floating in was almost worth not having functioning sinuses for the next week. 

Indian Chicken Curry Soup w/ Pickled Red Onions

Note: I actually made this with Trader Joe’s curry marinated chicken tenders that I cubed. Thing is, in this kind of soup the meat became overcooked and chalky. I really didn’t care so much seeing as I was battling the plague, but for those of you with 100% functional taste buds I’d recommend using bone-in chicken pieces that you’ve marinated yourself. Or, for an easier yet still tasty soup, buy pre-roasted chicken and toss it in right before you add the liquids. 

*Pickled Red Onion recipe below

2 tsp canola oil
¾ cup red onion, chopped
¾ cup carrots, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 tsp of ginger, minced
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
1-2 tsp salt
1.5 tsp fresh ground pepper
½ cup frozen corn
3 tsp and 1.5 tbsp favorite curry powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground coriander
3 tsp lemon juice
2 chicken thighs or 1 bone-in/skin-on chicken breast cut in half
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/3 cups water
¼ cup heavy cream
Mix the 1.5 tbsp of curry powder with the cumin and coriander in a small bowl.  Add a pinch of salt and some grinds of black pepper. Add lemon juice and combine.  The mixture should become a thick paste. Add water, a small amount at a time till you get a thinner paste, one that you can easily rub onto the chicken. Coat both pieces and let chicken sit for at least 30 minutes (but two hours would be better).

Put oil in stockpot and turn to medium high. When the oil is hot, add the chicken skin side down. Cook for four minutes, then flip. Cook for another four minutes and remove chicken from pot.

Add onions, garlic, ginger, carrots, bay leaf, cloves, and cinnamon.  Saute for 2 to 3 minutes, until onions turn translucent. Add salt, pepper and curry powder. If you feel that you’d like more curry powder, go ahead and add some! I’m a fan so I might actually add a little more than this.

Allow the curry powder to cook a bit, about 3 minutes. Add frozen corn and cook another minutes. Add tomato paste and turn heat to high. Stir to coat all the vegetables. Add chicken back to the pot and give everything a few stirs.

Add chicken broth and water. Allow mixture to come to a simmer and reduce a little more than a third, depending on how strong you like your soup. Finally, add cream and stir, cook for a minute and turn off heat.  (I actually added a touch more than ¼ cup but hey, I’m sick, I’m allowed.)

Ladle into bowl. Top with a pile of pickled onions.

Pickled Red Onions (adapted from David Lebovitz)

¾ cup red wine
¼ cup water
2-3 cloves
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
3 tbsp sugar
pinch salt
several good grinds of black pepper
2-3 good shakes of hot sauce
1 red onion, sliced thinly

Add everything except onion to a small stockpot and put on med high heat. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to bring to a simmer and add onion. Stir, and cook for about one minute. Turn off and let cool completely in pan. Transfer to either bowl o’ soup or jar and refrigerate. Onions will keep for about a month.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Antsy Wednesdays and Fancy PB&J Sandwich Cookies

I have work to do. A lot of work to do. I need to send my film out to festivals, write a short script, write a feature, help package another feature, update my website, apply for writing programs and internships....screw it. Tonight I make PB&J sandwich cookies. Why? Because with one bite you become 5-years-old again, when your biggest worry was hoping it wouldn't rain so you could ride your bike to the park. But these are adult cookies, more like a toasted peanut shortbread with nice, organic uppity peanut butter and jam sandwiched in between.

While America's Test Kitchen preferred using Jif in their cookies, next time I'd go with my Woodstock Farms Organic PB.
These cookies came about in a way many late night baked creations do. The "what if" moment. Let me explain: you're lying around, surfing the internet, when suddenly you think "what if I crossed a brownie with tater tots?" Thus begins the experimentations and epic successes and failures. This experience, I'd like to think, was a success.

I have recently become addicted to watching America's Test Kitchen episodes online on their website (I caved and bought the annual membership). If you haven't seen this show and enjoy cooking, well, first slap yourself for not knowing about this show, and then immediately go to their website and enjoy. This is their version of the perfect peanut butter cookie and except for one tiny little thing, I'd agree.

The cookies were moist, chewy with great texture, and the toasted chopped peanuts added to the batter give them a great, nutty taste. The only problem is, ATK recommends using Jif peanut butter, stating that most organic peanut butters are too gritty for this cookie. Thinking there's no way these giants of food knowledge could steer me wrong I did what they said and realized: they were, in fact, wrong.

See if you can spot the remanents of my "test subject" cookie.
In the end, these cookies weren't peanut-buttery enough for my taste. My gorgeous Sarabeth's Plum and Cherry Jam was completely covering the peanut goodness. I wanted stronger flavor, and Jif just wasn't cutting it. I had a jar of Woodstock Farms' Organic Peanut Butter on hand, and I decided to add a little extra peanut butter in between the cookie layers. So essentially, I made a pb&j sandwich, but instead of using bread, I used these insanely rich cookies. Because I'm all about eating healthy. 

So good. I wish I was 5 again so I could eat 8 of these and not have them affect my hips at all.
With that extra layer of peanut butter I got exactly what I wanted: toasty peanutty yumminess paired with tart, sweet cherry jam. But be warned: these cookies will kill you. I made standard sized cookies, but as sandwiches, they were pretty heavy and dense. Next time, I'll try to make them petite. But if you use a good, strong peanut butter in the batter to begin with, I'd guess you wouldn't have to add more PB to the final product.

And I'd suggest using a good jam for these. Keep the Smucker's for your late night/half drunk toast cravings and break out the local artisanal stuff. I opted for the Sarabeth's line, which I believe is generally available in most New York City grocery stores. They are expensive, but they are fantastic. Or, if you want to save a few bucks and have ten minutes, just make jam at home using my little ol' recipe (coming up in a couple days). 

I tried a flat version of these cookies as well. These browned a bit more, and had a slightly more caramel-y taste. I'd say if you like doughy, go traditional, but if you like a deeper flavor, try to flatten these cookies out.
PB&J Sandwich Cookies (adapted from America's Test Kitchen Peanut Butter Cookies)

Note: I opted for the smooth peanut butter over chunky, as is stated in the original recipe, because I knew from the beginning I'd be using these cookies in sandwich form, and felt too much nuttiness would create a structural problem. The toasted chopped peanuts you add bring enough of that peanut flavor, in my opinion. Just use good peanut butter!

2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, salted
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup smooth peanut butter (Woodstock Farms Organic is good)
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup roasted salted peanuts, ground in food processor to resemble bread crumbs
Jar of good jam (will depend on how much jam you'd like as to how much to use)

Adjust oven rack to low center position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift flour, baking soda and powder, and salt together.

In large bowl beat butter until creamy. Add sugars. Beat in peanut butter, then eggs, then vanilla. Toss dry ingredients into wet and stir gently. Add ground peanuts, stir until just incorporated.

To make smaller sandwich cookies, take a little less than a tablespoon of dough and roll into a ball. Continue with the rest of the dough, placing each ball on a cookie sheet about two inches apart from one another. Pour cold water into a small bowl and grab a fork. Dip fork in water and press the tines into the dough ball, flattening it. Dip fork again and press into cookie at a 90 degree angle from the first impression, creating the traditional pb cookie crosshatch.

Bake until the cookies are puffy and slightly browned around the edges. The middles should NOT be browned. About 10 minutes. These will not looked completely baked, but trust me. Cool on tray for about 4 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.

Once the cookies have completely cooled, spread selected jam onto the bottom of one cookie and take another and press bottoms together. If you'd like more PB flavor, spread a thin layer of peanut butter on 2nd cookie bottom.