9/29/14

Key Lime Pie

Matt had to work late tonight, and so I'm sitting here alone at 8:18pm with a piece of this pie. I'm rejoicing, reveling even, in this moment to myself after having spent the entire day with my little boy (who, incidentally, took two steps all by himself this afternoon). In a sentence: being a parent is so great and so emotionally and physically wrenching. (See photos below for evidence of physical wrenching.)

Speaking of parents, my stepdad Bruce was here this weekend (meeting Teddy for the first time!) and instead of getting a babysitter, I offered to make dinner and dessert. Enter: this Key lime pie, a favorite of Bruce's.
I'd bought a bag of Key limes before actually finding a recipe, and as soon as I began the search in earnest, I was surprised to find that all of them called for sweetened condensed milk. Surely a blog of this nature, of this high level of class and culinary esteem could do better than canned milk, right? And so onward I searched until eventually coming across this interesting article on the history of the Key lime pie by Molly O'Neill. O'Neill explains how when sweetened condensed milk was originally invented, its main aim was to "eliminat[e] malnutrition abroad. The boiled, sweetened, and canned milk was, however, also a boon to the Florida Keys, where there was no ice or refrigeration until 1930 when the Overseas Highway allowed tank trucks to travel to the far-flung islands." In short, when this canned milk arrived in the Keys around 1855, it was a total luxury... and people started doing luxurious things, like making Key lime pie.  

As if I was going to mess with a recipe that's been around for 150 years. Plus, as you'll see from the below photos, I had enough to deal with this Saturday afternoon in the kitchen. 
p.s. I hate to brag... but my stepdad was here for less than 24 hours and had three slices. One for dessert, one for breakfast, and one as a pre-lunch snack! 
Pepe's Cafe Key Lime Pie super slightly adapted from Epicurious

For the graham cracker crust:
1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs from about 12 (2 1/4-inch by 4 3/4-inch) crackers
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

For the filling:
2 large egg whites
4 large egg yolks
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup fresh Key lime juice
To serve:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoons sugar

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350°F.

In a medium bowl, stir together the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and cinnamon. Drizzle with the melted butter and stir until well combined. Press the mixture evenly onto the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch pie plate. Bake until set and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Leave the oven on.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or a large mixing bowl with a whisk or hand mixer, beat the egg whites until they hold stiff peaks.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk. Add the lime juice and whisk until combined. Gently fold in about 1/3 of the egg whites to lighten the mixture then add the remaining egg whites and fold until just evenly combined. Gently spread the mixture in the pre-baked crust and bake until just set in the center, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely then refrigerate at least 2 hours before serving. 

In a medium bowl, combine the heavy cream and sugar and whisk until soft peaks form. Cut the pie into slices and top each with a dollop of whipped cream.
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9/21/14

Eggplant and Porcini (Meatless) Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

It's overcast and dare-I-say chilly here this morning and it feels so good. Last week, we had a run of 100-degree days, and not only were they unwelcomed, but there are only so many hot weather dinner options. In short, I can't tell you how much I enjoyed being in the kitchen and doing some real cooking for a change. 
Apart from the heat wave though, things have been looking up around here. Matt got a new job! (And bonus, this major life change also allows him to come home a bit earlier so that he can spend some time with Teddy before bed!) And I finished a new piece of writingsomething I hadn't done for monthsa post-baby problem of mine I'd written (complained?) about over on Grizzly and Golden
But back to these meatballs: Matt and I loved them. Really loved them. Plus, the texture wasn't too far off from normal meat-full meatballs. As I alluded to before, they are a bit labor intensive, but it's all of the good kind of labor—roasting, simmering, frying until golden-browned.
We were also really pleased with the wine we drank with them: Symmetry (2011 Meritage) from Rodney Strong vineyards. I rarely say yes to PR requestsmaybe two or three times in the last five years but when the good people at Rodney Strong vineyards offered to send us some bottles, I simply couldn't say no. Their Healdsburg location made me nostalgic for our 2011 trip to the beautiful Russian River Valley. Plus, good wine is important to new moms (and I suspect, to tenured moms as well).

Point being, this is kind of a perfect late summer/early fall meal. I'm already looking forward to making it again.
Eggplant and Porcini "Meatballs" in Tomato Sauce via Food and Wine
serves 4

1 large eggplant (1 1/4 pounds)
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (I accidentally bought only half an ounce and though it worked fine, I think next time I'll go for the full ounce.)
Boiling water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, finely grated
Two 28-ounce cans imported whole Italian tomatoes, seeded and pureed with their juices
2 tablespoons chopped basil, plus leaves for garnish
Salt
Freshly ground pepper
3 cups fresh bread crumbs (from 6 ounces crustless country bread)
2 large eggs, beaten
2 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, freshly grated, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley
All-purpose flour, for coating
Vegetable oil, for frying
Crusty bread, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350°. Prick the eggplant all over with a fork and set it on a baking sheet. Roast in the center of the oven for 1 hour, until very soft and collapsed. Let cool slightly, then scrape the eggplant flesh into a large bowl and let cool completely. Discard the skin.

Meanwhile, in a heatproof bowl, cover the porcini with 1 1/2 cups of boiling water and let stand until softened, 30 minutes; drain, reserving the soaking liquid. Rinse the porcini to remove any grit. Finely chop the porcini.

In an enameled cast-iron casserole, heat the olive oil until shimmering. Add the onion and half of the garlic and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until softened, 5 minutes. Add the tomato puree and pour in the porcini soaking liquid, stopping before reaching the grit; bring to a boil. Simmer over moderately low heat, stirring, until thickened, 1 hour. Add half of the chopped basil and season with salt and pepper.

Fold the chopped porcini, bread crumbs, eggs, 2 ounces of cheese, parsley and the remaining garlic and chopped basil into the eggplant. Season with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.
Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Form the eggplant mixture into twenty 1 3/4-inch balls, rolling tightly. Dust the balls with flour and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1/2 inch of vegetable oil. Add half of the meatballs at a time and cook over moderately high heat, turning occasionally, until browned all over, about 8 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Add the meatballs to the tomato sauce and simmer for 5 minutes. Garnish the meatballs with basil leaves and serve with crusty bread and grated cheese.
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9/10/14

A Chinese Caesar Salad with Umami

above photo by Sarah Anne Ward for The New York Times
My brother sent me a link to this recipe with the request that I try it out as a bon appétempt on his behalf. I was intrigued from the start, as he rarely makes such requests. And when I clicked on it, I was almost completely won over by the title alone: "A Chinese Caesar Salad with Umami." Then I looked at the list of ingredients (kasha, hijiki seaweed, shio kombu) and was discouraged. But then, I actually read the article and was sold once again. See, the chef responsible for the salad, Danny Bowien, gives you carte blanche to skip any of the ingredients you don't have on hand. Here's the quote, just to be clear: “Yeah, if you don’t have it, leave it out... That’s cool. It still works.”

If you say so, Danny! 

Here's the recipe's original ingredient's list with my changes:

½ 3/4 head red cabbage
1 medium-size beet, ideally candy-striped 2 carrots, peeled and chopped into thin rounds
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon dried hijiki seaweed  2 teaspoons wakame seaweed (For some reason, at Whole Foods, a small bag of hijiki seaweed was $20 so I went with the $5 wakame.)
1 teaspoon ume vinegar or red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sweet white-miso paste
3 tablespoons tahini
1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar
1 tablespoon shiro shoyu or light soy sauce (Somewhere along the way, I started buying shoyu instead of soy sauce.)
8 anchovy fillets, coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons neutral oil, like canola
½ cup kasha
2 tablespoons aonori seaweed, green seaweed or finely shredded nori

3 tablespoons toasted white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon shio kombu or salted kombu, optional Pinch of salt, or to taste

Cut cabbage in half, and remove core. Cut into 1-inch wedges and then into 1-inch pieces. Toss these lightly in a bowl, and set aside.

Under running cold water, scrub beet with a vegetable brush or paper towel. Trim the beet top and beet root to provide a flat base for slicing on a mandoline. Set thickness to 1/8 inch, and slice beets into flat rounds. Toss the carrots into the bowl with the cabbage and season with half the lemon juice. Set aside.

Make sesame-anchovy dressing. In a small bowl, cover hijiki wakame with warm tap water. Allow to bloom for 15 minutes, then drain well, and season with the red-wine vinegar. Add miso, tahini, rice vinegar, shiro shoyu, the remaining lemon juice and the anchovies, and whisk to combine. Dressing should have a thick, almost mayonnaise-like consistency.

Make the kasha furikake. Pour neutral oil into a sauté pan, and place over medium-high heat until it begins to shimmer. Pour kasha into the hot pan, and stir it quickly with a spoon to coat with oil. Allow kasha to fry in the oil, stirring constantly, until it has darkened by two shades of brown. Drain kasha through a fine strainer, and transfer to a plate covered by paper towel. While it is hot, season with the seaweed, which should adhere to the kasha. When it has cooled, mix kasha in a small bowl with the toasted sesame seeds and, if using, the shio kombu. Salt to taste.

Make the salad. Add 3 tablespoons of the sesame-anchovy dressing to the bowl with the cabbage and the beets carrots, and mix well to combine. Add more dressing if necessary. Transfer the salad to a serving bowl, and sprinkle 4 tablespoons or so of the kasha furikake over the top with lightly toasted sesame seeds.
All I can say is: Danny was right. Despite all of the changes, this salad was so delicious. We served it with a couple of grilled boneless skinless chicken breasts I'd marinated in some rice vinegar, garlic, and shoyu, which without the accompanying salad, would have been pretty sad. 

Everyone should now go and leave a personal thank-you note to my brother Bill in the comments section. (Something about how cute Teddy and his two teeth are would also work.) 

Until next time!
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9/1/14

Behind the Scenes of Season 3!

My dear friend / best bud, Mary Anne, recently sent me a link to this video and told me I should do a send-up of it. Well, here goes!
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8/28/14

Yellow Gazpacho & More Plum Cake

This past Saturday, I had a minor meltdown searching for something to make for dinner that would please myself, Matt, and my mom. I really wanted to make this eggplant dish, but when I mentioned it to my mom, she responded with a half frown and an emotionless: "Eggplant isn't one of my favorites." 

To Matt, I said, "I was thinking of making this baked eggplant dish unless you had an idea for something else?" to which he responded: "I'd probably rather have anything else."

I spent the next hour looking through cookbooks and getting more and more annoyed that I wasn't finding anything I wanted to make. At which point, I got up, announced that we were going to have the eggplant (dammit!) and I was going to the farmers market to pick up the ingredients. "Byeeee!!"
But as you can see from the above photos, I didn't end up buying eggplant. The sun was so bright and the air so hot and the tomatoes and plums so pretty, that I decided to make gazpacho and put my mom in charge of making another plum cake. 
I know this is the way a lot of people shop. They go to the market and see what inspires them, but it's not typically the way I go about things, especially post-Teddy. (I now understand those women with their grocery carts so full they seem like they are about to topple over. They are moms who aren't sure if they'll ever get back to the grocery store again.) But I enjoyed my little stint as a farmers market wanderer and gatherer and hope to do it again from time to time, just as I'm enjoying writing this post centering on two recipes I've already made and written about before. The yellow gazpacho goes way back to 2009, back when I sometimes didn't even include a recipe. Here it is, though, in case you want to give it a try, and I recommend that you do. It's so refreshing and delicious. (I also recommend that you skip the step of straining it and that you eat it with lots of bread and possibly butter.) Oh, and word to the wise: the recipe says it serves six, but the three of us devoured our portions and could've eaten more. 
Sadly, my mom has already come and gone. And doubly sadly, Teddy and I are both a little sick. But at least we have the long weekend ahead of us. Plus, Matt and I have a new "behind the scenes" (giant winky face) video to share. Hopefully, we'll post that on Tuesday. In the mean time, have a great weekend! xox
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