Monday, November 29, 2010

Sake Fish en Papillote

I cook real food, too, you know. It’s not all ice cream and frozen yogurt and rugelach and brownies. I even cook and eat things without butter or cheese or any dairy products whatsoever in them sometimes – food that some might even consider “healthy”. Of course, it helps when such things are also delicious.

The intersection of healthy and delicious is an ideal, and one that oftentimes seems unattainable. We all know that definitely need not be so. Certain methods of cooking tend to produce healthier results. Steaming is one such method, but one that has gotten a rather bad rap. Thinking back to the steaming of our childhoods often conjures up images of sadly steamed broccoli releasing its sulfuric compounds, an unfortunate byproduct of overcooking cruciferous vegetables (that's whymost of us probably never liked Brussels sprouts much growing up, though we know how great those can be). When we dwell on comfort foods, odds are we're not hankering for anything steamed - it just doesn't carry with it delicious connotations. But that needn't be so.

But steaming, like Brussels sprouts, shouldn't be feared. Baking in parchment paper essentially allows the contents nestled within the package to steam, since the heat created during the cooking process is trapped within the package. Baking in parchment is a great little trick to have in your arsenal - it is incredibly simple - just throw a few things on a parchment (aluminum foil often works if you don't have parchment on hand), throw it in the oven for a few minutes, and just like that - like magic, really - what lies within emerges perfectly cooked. And yes, what you're eating is, in fact, steamed - but you needn't say so.

Fish en papillote, which literally means "in parchment" is the french term for baking things within a little package - and doesn't it just sound so much nicer than "steamed fish"? It's a phenomenally easy thing to prepare for a dinner party as well, you could plate it unopened, so as to require audience participation. It's always exciting to open a present, and that is no less true when there are delicious scents emanating from the package.

Sake Steamed Fish en Papillote
Adapted from Gourmet, June 2009

This recipe couldn't be easier - you throw some things in parchment, tie it up, with scallions if you want to be fancy about it, with string if not, throw it in the oven and forget about it for a few minutes. It sounds so much more complicated than that though, but who's to know? Regardless of how you advertise it, what you're left with when you open that package is something fragrant, delicate, delicious and blessedly healthy. I served it with some sauteed baby bok choy and brown rice for a round, wholesome meal.

1/3 cup sake
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated peeled ginger
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 (6-ounce) pieces skinless fillet of any firm, white fish (about 1 inch thick), bones removed
1/3 cup sliced scallions

Note: You'll also need two 12ish-inch squares of parchment paper and, to tie up your parcels, some string or a couple of scallions.

Preheat oven to 400°F with a baking sheet on bottom rack.

In a bowl, stir together sake, soy sauce, garlic, ginger, and sugar.

If fish fillets are more than 4 inches long, fold ends under. Put a fish fillet in the center of each piece of parchment paper and sprinkle with salt. Divide scallions evenly, sprinkling them on top of each fillet. Holding up two corners of the parchment paper to prevent liquid from running off everywhere, spoon one half of the sake mixture over the top of one one the portions. Gather the sides of the aprchment paper together to form a pouch encasing the fish, make sure there are no openings through which the steam can escape, and tie tightly with string or a scallion. (If using a scallion to tie the pouch, quickly steam it so that it softens, which will prevent them from snapping when you try to form a knot.)

Bake on hot baking sheet until fish is just cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes.

Serves 2.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Peanut Butter Ice Cream

As Labor Day has come and gone, and the temperatures have been dipping
into the chilly zone come nightfall around these parts, it seems that
summer's on its last legs. Don't tell that to my ice cream maker. I
know there's been a lot of ice cream around here, but I hope you'll bear
with me for one more before season's end. This one's worth it.

Peanut butter was never my favorite thing as a kid - in fact, I don't
think I actually touched the stuff until I was in 6th grade. Something about it
just freaked me out, and my parents were never the peanut butter and
jelly-pushing sorts. I wasn't a picky kid, so I don't think they had
to utilize the pb&j crutch on which so many parents rely just to make sure
their kids get some calories in them. (While calories weren't a problem, calcium was - I was not one for milk, and my parents finally just gave in and allowed me to eat ice cream for breakfast, sometimes even without the proper-breakfast-validating waffles. Major win.) When I finally did get into peanut butter, it wasn't the cloyingly sweet, oil-slicky smooth commercial varieties, but the chunky, grittier "natural" stuff. The texture is more substantial, the flavor more reminiscent of actual, real-life peanuts and less of sugared-up legumes.

I can't really explain then why this ice cream pulled me in, considering it calls for that processed, not-so-natural stuff. It wasn't about nostalgia, since I had sat on the sidelines, quietly enjoying my tuna sandwiches, watching my friends lap feverishly to get those smooshy soft sandwiches unstuck from the roof of their mouths; this peanut butter was never a feature of my childhood. It has to be, then, that what drew me in was the inkling I had to take the ice cream and throw a whole slew of salty stuff in there. And I think by now we know how I feel about sweet plus salty. Throw a toasty, crunchy, nutty aspect in there as well, and it's pretty much a done deal.

While this ice cream falls somewhere between a custard-based ice cream and the frozen greek yogurt in terms of complexity and involvement, it is definitely much closer to the almost-too-easy-to-be-true frozen yogurt end of the range. And that's just because of all the extras I chose with which to bedazzle my ice cream. Had I not had to chop these mix-ins (and I threw a LOT of stuff in there), there'd have been little more to this recipe than a couple of measurements and a quick buzz in the blender.

I toyed a bit with doing a peanut butter and jelly version instead, but clearly the siren song of salty-sweet was simply too much for me to resist. And I don't regret it for an instant. Neither will you.

Sweet and Salty Super Loaded Peanut Butter Ice Cream

Ice cream base recipe adapted from The Perfect Scoop, by David Lebovitz

3/4 cup smooth peanut butter*
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 2/3 cups half-and-half
Pinch of salt
1/8 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup salted, blanched peanuts, chopped coarsely
1 cup dark (or milk, if you prefer, but I like the bitterness of dark) chocolate, chopped coarsely or semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup salted pretzels, chopped (note: I used standard, salted pretzels, but would probably use chocolate-covered pretzels next time, since the pretzels got a little bit soggy after a while)

* Don't be tempted to use natural peanut butter, as the oils will separate and this will not make you happy.

Combine the peanut butter, sugar, half and half and salt in a blender and blend until combined and the sugar has dissolved. Place the mixture in the refrigerator until cold. Freeze the mixture in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. In the last two minutes of the churn cycle, add in the various mix-ins until combined. Transfer the finished ice cream to a container and freeze until you're ready to enjoy. I enjoyed a little additional sprinkling of coarse sea salt over my bowls of this ice cream.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Frozen Yogurt with Figs and Honey

I knew that this guy was going to be trouble. There was no way that I was going to make it out of the summer without a severe ice cream-making addiction, so I just embraced it - there's been mint, coffee, peanut butter ice cream (that one's coming soon - stay tuned!), the list goes on. And I haven't really looked back.

OK - I looked back just a little bit, deciding that not everything that The Churnster (as I've affectionately dubbed him) produces has to be the richest thing ever (or at least the richest thing since the last thing that we made together). I made frozen yogurt. And you know what? It was awesome. It was made with greek yogurt, so it had that thick, assertive tang that I love so much about the stuff. I cut back on the amount of sugar in the recipe, since I really wanted that tang to be at the forefront of the finished product.

When I was in Greece, I ate yogurt with walnuts and honey with reckless abandon. The simplicity of it all just made me sit back and appreciate the various ingredients, which came together to form one of my favorite combinations of all time. And because that shit is awesome. Seriously - smooth, thick, tangy yogurt, tempered by the muted sweetness of thinly drizzled Greek honey, saccharine, yes, but not cloyingly so, and dotted with the crunch of bitter walnuts. I can think of almost no better dessert. Except ice cream, of course. So obviously the next logical step was to make this into a frozen dessert.

Greek yogurt is pretty much just your plain-old typical yogurt from which the whey has been strained. Since the liquid's been removed from the equation, you're left with unadulterated yogurt; in-your-face, tangy, thick-enough-to-stand-a-spoon-in yogurt. I know that a lot of people can't get into it for those exact reasons. But those very reasons are why it makes such a great base for frozen yogurt. While a far cry from the richness of an egg yolk-laden custard base, it's at once rich and delicate, with a tangy heft that makes you sit up and take notice. So even if you're loathe to eat greek yogurt on its own, give this a go; you won't be sorry.

I swapped out the walnuts for figs, for no real reason other than I had a pint of them and they don't have a particularly long shelf-life. And they pair awesomely with honey and yogurt. It also seemed a "Greek" enough substitution so as not to stray too far from the nostalgic roots of the yogurt.

I can absolutely not stress enough how easy this recipe is. There's close to nothing to be done - seriously. Take some greek yogurt, mix in some sugar until it dissolves - the stand mixer made incredibly easy work of this, but it is not much more laborious to do it by hand, add in some vanilla if you're so inclined. Then let it chill in the fridge for a little bit - both figuratively and literally, of course, until you're left with a cool and laid-back yogurt base. Throw that awesomeness into your ice cream maker and you're there. That's. It. Awesome frozen yogurt at your disposal.

Greek Yogurt with Figs and Honey
Adapted loosely from 101 Cookbooks
Makes approximately one quart of frozen yogurt

This recipe is really the easiest thing ever. It's tanginess is reminiscent of the frozen yogurts on offer at Pinkberry, Red Mango and those guys. But it's wholly unlike those, if for no other reason than that you know there's absolutely nothing in there but the good stuff. No chemicals, no stabilizers, just pure yogurt. And anything else you want to throw in. I went with figs, which I cut and allowed to freeze a bit on a sheet tray before throwing them into the mix so that they wouldn't be completely dessicated by the Churnster. The only downside with this frozen yogurt is that it's best almost immediately after it's been made, and tends to harden a bit more than is desirable in the freezer. Just take it out a few minutes before you're ready to eat it, though, and you should be good to go.

If you're turned off by the sourness of plain yogurt, feel free to add a teaspoon of vanilla, which will temper the tang and round out the flavor a little bit. Next time I make this, I'm throwing some fresh ground black pepper in the mix. I ground some over a couple of servings after drizzling some honey on top and it was a great move, so I think it deserves a place within the yogurt as well.

3 cups Greek yogurt (the original recipe calls for full-far yogurt, but given that I was trying to make this a lighter production, I went for 1 1/2 cups full-fat yogurt, 1 1/ cups 2%)*
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
1 1/2 cups fresh figs, cut into small pieces and semi-frozen
1/2 cup honey

Mix the sugar (and vanilla, if using) into the yogurt and stir until the sugar is completely dissolved into the yogurt. Refrigerate until the mixture is cold. Freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. About two to three minutes before the churning process is finished, gently add the figs to the ice cream maker. Spread about a third of the honey on the bottom of the container in which you plan to store the frozen yogurt. Working quickly, add about a third of the frozen yogurt to the container, then another layer of honey, then another third of the frozen yogurt, then honey, then yogurt, until it's all been used. Freeze until ready to eat, or dig in immediately. Either way, drizzle some extra honey on top, and if you're up for it, a couple of twists of the pepper mill.

*Greek yogurt can be a bit expensive, so if you want to make your own, just take a container of plain yogurt and empty it into a colander that you've lined with cheesecloth or paper towels and that you've placed over a bowl (to catch the whey, since it will make a mess otherwise). Place it in the fridge and let it strain overnight. Do note, however, that the volume of the yogurt will be cut in half, so a cup of plain yogurt will produce 1/2 cup of greek-style yogurt.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Butter Poached Fish

There are days when I get home from work, usually after I've put in some decent work scouring the internet for some dinner time inspiration, totally psyched to get my hands dirty cooking a labor-intensive meal. Then there are days where I want nothing more than to sit down to a cheese plate with some good bread and butter (which is why I usually find myself with no less than four different cheeses on hand…) and, lately, piles upon piles of radishes.

But then there are those in-between days, when I want something warm, but something that's not going to suck those last few precious drops of energy from my body. Sometimes those days end in eggs, gently poached and piled atop something or other - sometimes green, sometimes grain. But sometimes that just won't do - sometimes I want something that most normal people would consider a proper meal - and for those days, I turn to butter poached fish.

I don't cook a lot of meat at home - not for any particular reason, really. I don't frequently crave it as is, and it seems almost silly to prepare meat when it's just myself I'm feeding. Chicken is easy enough I guess, but chicken is also boring. Since it's easily portioned and any uncooked portions can be frozen and quickly defrosted at a later date, fish is a pretty good choice to prepare for one. It also cooks in a snap. But because of this latter feature, fish is sometimes tricky to prepare properly, since you have to pay such close attention to it as it overcooks so quickly. And if there's one thing that suffers after a day at work, it's my attention span. Poaching the fish in a shallow pool of fat, however, is so forgiving that even my post-work brain can handle it.

This butter poached fish is something I first read about in the Times a little over a year ago. It seemed so simple - too simple, really, so I gave it a try. Not only was it just as easy as advertised, its deliciousness belied its simple roots.

Since pretty much every ingredient can be swapped out for another or changed at your whim, this dish is more concept than recipe, more guidance than anything. Every element can be varied, from the herbs or spices, to the fat in which you're cooking, even the fish itself - none of it's safe from your tinkering. The important thing to remember is to select a firm-fleshed fish, or else you risk having it crumble and disintegrate. It'll still taste good (not that I know from experience or anything), but you won't have the satisfaction of stabbing your fork into those bigger hunks of fish.

Poaching the fish in fat, as opposed to water, not only imparts so much flavor, but ensures that your finished product is going to be moist and, well, buttery. Both fresh herbs and dried work equally well. I've made this with both the dried mint recommended by the Times article and with fresh parsley and dill, both to great effect. And the fat in which you've done the poaching makes an excellent sauce - whether you choose to use it is up to you and your diet. The fish and sauce are wonderful over egg noodles in the winter; for a lighter summer meal, lift the fish out of the pot with a slotted spoon and serve along side some barely cooked vegetables or a barely-dressed salad. So do as you please, and rest easy that you'll enjoy.

Butter Poached Fish
Adapted from Melissa Clark, original recipe here.
Serves 2 well.

Again, this is more guidance than rule, so go crazy. The general idea is about a pound of firm-fleshed fish, about four tablespoons of fat, be they butter or olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic and herbs of your choosing.

One pound firm-fleshed fish, such as halibut, mahi mahi, basa or even salmon. Cod is a bit delicate for this, but if you're careful, it can definitely work.
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon pepper, or to taste
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil*
3-4 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
4-5 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced

1. Season the fish generously all over with salt and pepper. In a medium-size skillet just large enough to fit the fish in a single layer, heat the butter and oil over low heat. Add the fish, dill and 3-4 tablespoons of the parsley, and let cook slowly until the fish begins to turn opaque, about 3 minutes.

2. Stir in garlic and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper, and cook until the garlic is fragrant and the fish is just cooked through, another 3 minutes or so (the heat should be low enough so as not to brown the garlic or fish but high enough to gently cook everything; the cooking time will vary widely with your stove).

3. Taste and add more salt and pepper and a few drops of lemon juice if desired. Stir in the remaining fresh parsley and serve (using a slotted spoon to leave the cooking liquid in the pan if desired).

*I use a mix of butter and olive oil, since I like the taste of butter, but I don't like having to worry if it's going to burn. Even though that's unlikely since we're cooking over such low heat, the olive oil allows me to rest easy that it won't burn, which is a good thing given my aforementioned attention span.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream

A couple of months ago, I welcomed a newcomer into my kitchen. I'd been speaking for ages of getting an ice cream maker, and I finally made an honest woman of myself and bought the ice cream maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

Now, you might be wondering why I haven't shared this unfathomably exciting news with you just yet. And there are reasons, some more exciting than others, some just mere effrontery and excuses for my general laziness and inability to sit down in front of a computer to a task requiring anything more than a three minute attention span. And it's probably a bit of all of those things, but what it comes down to, really, is that we just hadn't made anything together worth sharing.

Yes, the flavor of that dark chocolate sorbet was spot-on - rich, deep, all that wonderful stuff. But the texture left something to be desired - it wasn't quite as silken as it should have been. And sure, the vietnamese iced coffee ice cream tasted great - it paired the smooth, easy sweetness of sweetened condensed milk with that deep, rich flavor of a strongly brewed cup of coffee; so strongly brewed, in fact, that into the garbage it went, since even the mere two spoonfuls I'd sneak in before bed were enough to keep me awake for hours. I'll revisit both of those in due time, I have no doubt, but I knew that my ice cream maker and I, we could do better.

And so we did. Mint chocolate chip was always one of my favorite ice cream flavors growing up (coffee is the other), and it still ranks very high up there. I was convinced at a young age that the green mint chip ice creams tasted mintier than their colorless counterparts (except for Breyer's Mint Chip, which was pretty much the only white mint chip ice cream we had on constant rotation in our freezer when I was young). But these days I want the colors in my ice cream to be more muted - more of a byproduct of the actual, natural flavors than a distraction from the unnatural flavors imparted by a tasteless bottle of chemical-laden food colorings. And fresh mint brings such a clean bite that can't be matched by any amount of extracts, and it’s a bit softer around the edges than those artificial mint flavors. After all, we're eating ice cream, not gum.

This mint chocolate chip ice cream is great, though I still think it can get better. The amount of sugar was perfect - not too sweet in the least. The original recipe, however, called for a 2:1 ratio of heavy cream to milk, but I found that the cream dominated my palate a bit too much and stole a bit of the spotlight from the fresh mint. Next time I'm going to go for an even cup and a half of each, or maybe swap out the cream for half and half, as well as use a little bit more fresh mint. If you play around with the figures below, let me know how it turns out. I'll check back in after my next attempt.

The texture of the ice cream, though, was spot-on. Rich, eggy, silky smooth. It was awesome. It even had the faintest shade of green from that final squeeze of those mint leaves. I made this recipe a week ago, and, suffice it to say, it wasn't long for this world. But now that I'm armed with my ice cream maker, I know that there's much more where it came from.

Fresh Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
Adapted from David Lebovitz, original recipe here


1 cup 2% milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream
Pinch of salt
2 1/2 cups tightly packed fresh mint leaves
5 large egg yolks
1 cup chocolate chips, chopped to your desired consistency. I left some chunks larger than others, but for the most part chopped it finely.


1. Warm the milk, sugar, half of the cream, and salt in a small saucepan, but don't bring to a boil. Once warmed, add the mint leaves and stir until they're fully immersed in the liquid. Cover the mixture, remove from the heat, and let the mint leaves steep in the milk at room temperature for 1 hour.

2. Strain the mint-infused mixture through a mesh strainer into a medium saucepan. Press on the mint leaves to extract as much of the flavor as possible, then discard the mint leaves. Pour the rest of the cream into a large bowl and set the strainer on top.

3. Rewarm the mint-infused mixture. In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks. Temper the eggs by slowly pouring the warm mint mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly as you pour, then scrape the warmed egg yolks back into the saucepan.

4. Stir the egg yolk and mint mixture constantly over medium heat with a heatproof spatula, scraping the bottom as you stir to prevent scorching, until the mixture thickens and coats the spatula (if you're unsure, run your finger through the liquid on the spatula, if it doesn't run, then you're ready to proceed). Pour the custard through the strainer and stir it into the cream. Stir until cool over an ice bath.

5. Chill the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator (I let mine sit there overnight), then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Add the chopped chocolate to the ice cream maker during the last two minutes or so of the churn.

Makes a bit more than a quart.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010


When I was younger, I was never one to pay any mind to rugelach. Ice cream, pudding and (gasp) 3 Musketeers - those were the things I loved when I was younger (though my love affair with ice cream is still ongoing, and I have no reason to believe that flame will ever die). Rugelach just seemed the type of dessert relegated to the adult palate and the adult plate. It just doesn't look like much, all that pastry and dried fruit - and when you're a kid, looks mean a lot. It lacked all that nougaty goodness and arm-drippy action of other desserts. And there were no special ways to eat it (i.e. take Yodel, freeze, bite off chocolate at each end, nibble at chocolate seam, unravel, eat or, take Oreo, Double Stuf, of course, twist apart, eat cream, place two halves back together, hide back in package (option A) or take two Oreos, Double Stuf, twist each apart, ensuring that all cream sticks to one cookie, place two cream-topped halves together and voila, Quadruple Stuf (option B, a/k/a the only way I'd actually eat the chocolate wafer)).

But somewhere along the way, my tastes matured, and I learned to appreciate the less flashy desserts. Like the plain-jane best friend in a cheesy romantic comedy, it took me a while to love rugelach, I had shunned it at all our family gatherings for years in favor of the poufs of whipped cream and jewels of sprinkles atop ice cream sundaes, but after my tastes "grew up," it was like I was tasting it for the first time. I finally saw the beauty that is rugelach - flakey, tender dough wrapped around a bounty of wonderful: sweet, spicy cinnamon, crunchy nuts, sweet, chewy jewels of dried fruit - each bite revealing something new. That little swirl of pastry contains a bounty of spices and textures, begging to be uncovered at first bite.

I never had the chance to taste my great-grandmother's rugelach. I'm not quite sure when she stopped churning them out, but I'd imagine it was a few years before she died when I was in the fourth grade. Not that it'd have mattered much, since the rugelach would have gone to waste on little me, not quite having come into my rugelach-loving self. I hear that her rugelach were divine. And I hear that these little beauties would have made her quite proud (not my words, of course).

The key is the cream cheese in the dough. It gives it a depth, a richness, that can't be achieve by butter alone. The fillings are adaptable to your preferences - I like mine studded with a whole mess of nuts.

I won't lie to you, this recipe requires a little bit of your time (and some upper arm strength when rolling out the chilled dough), but it is undoubtedly worth it. Give it a whirl; not only will you not regret it - you'll be thumbing your nose at those lesser bakery specimens for good.

Makes Many
From Gourmet (RIP), May 2004

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup plus 4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup apricot preserves
1 cup loosely packed golden raisins, chopped
1 1/4 cups walnuts (1/4 lb), finely chopped
Milk for brushing cookies

Whisk together flour and salt in a bowl. Beat together butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer until combined well. Add flour mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until a soft dough forms. Gather dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap, then flatten (in wrap) into a roughly 7- by 5-inch rectangle. Chill until firm, 8 to 24 hours (I usually just let it rest overnight and take it out of the fridge whenever I'm ready for it the next day).

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Line bottom of a 1- to 1 1/2-inch-deep large shallow baking pan with parchment paper.

Cut dough into 4 pieces. Chill 3 pieces, wrapped in plastic wrap, and roll out remaining piece into a 12- by 8-inch rectangle on a well-floured surface with a floured rolling pin (or an old wine bottle with the label removed...). Transfer dough to a sheet of parchment, then transfer to a tray and chill while rolling out remaining dough in same manner, transferring each to another sheet of parchment and stacking on tray.

Whisk 1/2 cup sugar with cinnamon.

Arrange 1 dough rectangle on work surface with a long side nearest you. Spread 1/4 cup preserves evenly over dough with offset spatula. Sprinkle 1/4 cup raisins and a rounded 1/4 cup walnuts over jam, then sprinkle with 2 tablespoons cinnamon sugar.

Using the parchment paper as an aid, roll up dough tightly into a log. Place, seam side down, in lined baking pan, then pinch ends closed and tuck underneath. Make 3 more logs in same manner and arrange 1 inch apart in pan. Brush logs with milk and sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon of remaining granulated sugar, trying your best to keep the sugar from falling to the parchment (or at least minimize it), as it will caramelize and start burning in the oven, leaving the bottom of your pastries sticky and potentially unpleasant (not speaking from experience or anything). With a large, sharp knife, make 3/4-inch-deep cuts crosswise in dough (not all the way through) at 1-inch intervals. (If dough is too soft to cut, chill until firmer, 20 to 30 minutes. Note: The dough should be pretty firm - if it's too soft it will start to tear - just think about how many calories you're burning rolling out that dough!)

Bake until golden, 45 to 50 minutes. Cool to warm in pan on a rack, about 30 minutes, then transfer logs to a cutting board and gently slice cookies all the way through.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Passover Recipes

With the holiday around the corner (the first seder is on Monday night), I figured I would put all of my Passover recipes in one place.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy whatever it is you're celebrating!

Matzoh Ball Soup
Sweet and Spicy Charoset
Homemade Gefilte Fish (with horseradish cream, which you should make at some point regardless because it's seriously delicious)
Brisket with Merlot and Prunes
Raw Beet Salad

Chocolate and Caramel Covered Matzoh
Cocoa Brownies

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Cocoa Brownies

So I was going to tell you about some awesome rugelach. The post is underway, a draft in the works, forthcoming, I promise. But then I made these brownies. And they demand your immediate attention. They're divine, as far as brownies go - so deep and rich that a teeny tiny square will more than suffice to quell your cravings.

Oh, no cravings for brownies, you say? Have a little bite, and let the cravings commence. A thin, crackly top gives way to a fudgy, dense, irreproachably chocolaty interior. The edges are chewy, the insides moist, the whole thing a perfect little package of brownie goodness - no need for a slick of ganache (in my belief a good brownie shouldn't need a ganache-boost) or a sprinkling of powdered sugar atop these bad boys, they're fantastic just as they are.

You see, I'm not really a brownie connoisseur. They're not what I turn towards when my dessert cravings hit. A mere little bite usually sates me, and I can move on to other things. But when my roommate had shoulder surgery a couple of days ago, I knew I needed to provide him with a little something to help the healing. And this kid loves his chocolate, so I immediately scoured the interwebs for brownie recipes. When I saw these brownies, I knew I had hit the jackpot. And I was not wrong - these brownies are, to date, the best I've made. And, since I'm not a huge brownie person, there were no prior brownies with which Dom could compare these, he agreed that these reached levels of brownie awesomeness.

Not only that, but the small amount of flour gives me reason to believe that these can be easily adapted to a passover context - and the fact that they rely solely on cocoa powder for their chocolaty needs means that there's no reading of labels or settling for kosher-for-passover chocolate to thwart your quest for brownie supremacy. Now, I haven't tested this theory out yet, but I'd be willing to bet that swapping the half cup of flour for matzoh cake meal will not mess with these gems all too much. But rest assured that, as the Seders loom on the horizon, such a test is forthcoming, and I will report back, hopefully confirming my hypothesis.

UPDATE: A pan of these brownies, with five tablespoons of matzoh cake meal substituted for the flour have just emerged from my oven, and the texture is a little, well, passover-ish, but they're still pretty good!

Cocoa Brownies

Adapted from Alice Mendrich's Bittersweet via Smitten Kitchen

10 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, cold
1/2 cup all-purpose flour or 5 tablespoons matzoh cake meal (confirmation of success pending - confirmed!)
2/3 cup walnut or pecan pieces (optional, I didn't use but I imagine they'd be awesome in there)

With rack in the lower third of the oven, preheat oven to 325°F. Line bottom and sides of an 8×8-inch square baking pan (note: I used a circular pan because my square pan is 9x9 and I was afraid that the brownies would be too thin, which just meant that there were little scraps leftover after I'd cut them into squares, which, you know, totally did not go to waste) with parchment paper or foil, leaving a bit of an overhang on two sides, which will allow you to lift the baked brownies out of the pan with ease.

Combine butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is fully melted and the mixture is shiny and rather smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is warm, not hot. (As Deb notes, don't be taken aback by the texture at this point in the process, though it looks rough, that is totally fine).

Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one to combine. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir to combine until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Pour the batter into the prepared pan. It will be rather thick, but just spread it around with your spatula so that it's even.

Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, about 20 to 25 minutes. Note that I let mine go a little bit past the "emerges slightly moist with batter" stage, but to no ill-effect. Let cool completely on a rack, or do as Deb suggests and throw them in the icebox for a little while to get them to really cool and facilitate easy cutting.

Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into squares with a very sharp knife, as big or small as you desire. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Julia Child on David Letterman

Andrew showed me this clip of Julia Child on the Late Show from the late 80's a few days ago. It's truly classic, so I thought I'd share. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Manolo Caracol - Panama City, Panama

At the end of our holiday, Andrew and I found ourselves in Panama City, in a quite romantic part of town, on a very (admittedly manufactured) romantic day of the year. Due to the fact that we were thousands of miles from our kitchens and apartments, if we were going to celebrate the holiday, we had no choice but to deviate from our typical stay-in-and-cook Valentine's Day celebration and cease control of our palates to a stranger. Thankfully, we were thousands of miles from home, thousands of miles from prix fixe menus dotted with purported aphrodisiacs, thousands of miles from profit-hungry restauranteurs who view Valentine's day as nothing more than a ripe opportunity to turn tables as quickly as possible and take advantage of dudes who need a table that will impress their girlfriends.

We were staying at a little bed and breakfast (breakfast to come) in Casco Viejo, a neighborhood on the southern edge of Panama City that has seen a renaissance of late - its narrow, cobbled-stoned streets have been the subject of a vast gentrification effort. It was hard to imagine a better scene for a Valentine's day stroll and repast. The buildings range from gutted and totally renovated, with new, wrought iron railings to charmingly (and not-so-charmingly) dilapidated structures with balconies that appear mere seconds from collapse. With much of the city's residents out of town to escape the insanity of Panama City's Carnival, the neighborhood was dark, quiet, peaceful.

As we'd heard that the restaurant is one of Panama City's most popular, we made reservations ahead of time, figuring that between Manolo Caracol's destination dining status and Valentine's Day we'd need one. However, the mass Carnival-driven exodus meant that there was little reason for them. While nearly all of the tables had little reservation cards noting the party's name and anticipated time of arrival, many tables remained unoccupied throughout the duration of our meal. We didn't mind, though. After so many meals in the crowded confines of New York City restaurants, it felt nice to have some breathing room.

Manolo Caracol is fully ingredient-driven. There is no set menu whatsoever, except for wine. The chef creates twelve small plates, served tapas style, based on what is fresh and what his suppliers have come through with that day. For this reason, I've heard that the restaurant is very hit and miss - sometimes spectacular, sometimes less so. From what we tasted, I'd imagine that the better the haul of the restaurant's seafood suppliers, the better your meal will be.

We were treated first to plantain chips with a tomato and olive salsa. The chips were great, sliced lengthwise, super thin and perfectly crispy. Because of how thin they were, they didn't risk turning soggy as soon as they reached room temperature. I think the kitchen waited a bit too long to salt these, though, after they came out of the fryer, since they were on the bland side, the bottom of the serving glass littered with salt crystals.

At the same time, we were brought two little cups of ceviche, which were stellar. The shrimp were juicy and tender, having been perfectly cooked by the lime juice without turning rubbery. The onions were raw so that they were still crunchy, but their sting was tempered by the lime juice as well so as not to overwhelm the other elements. There were other crunchy things in there, which now escape me, but the dish as a whole was really great, especially spooned atop the plantain chips, which provided another level of crunch.

After that came a huge salad, topped with fresh, crunchy greens and what I believe was a beet vinaigrette. The salad was great to provide some much-needed roughage, which had bee missing from most of our meals in Panama, but was otherwise unremarkable. It seemed a bit out of place with all the other dishes, since there was no element that elevated it or made it anything more than your standard side salad. Still, I ate it gladly.

Following the salad, we were brought tiny bites of tuna tartar, wrapped in seaweed. They were topped with julienned carrots, a couple of sesame seeds and sesame oil. and were so, so good. The tuna was finely diced, but contained in a neat little package, and had a great mouthfeel. It was simply a classic dish, but one perfectly done.

Oh yea, there were button mushrooms too. They were...button mushrooms.

Two discs of chicken roulade, stuffed with basil and carrots, dusted with paprika and paired with a passion fruit sauce. The chicken was well-seasoned and just slightly on the dry side of well-cooked. The passion fruit sauce seemed a bit odd at first, since I don't tend to associate chicken with fruity sauces the same way that I associate pork or duck or other gamier meats, but it actually worked. It was light and not overly fruity and I ended up eating every last bit off the plate.

Steamed littleneck clams in a basil and parsley broth (I think). The clams were nothing remarkable, tender, but could have been cleaned a bit better. They were good, but nothing mind-blowing.

Roasted red peppers stuffed with shrimp and vegetables were next. These were extremely flavorful, especially after the lightly seasoned clams, and were a big hit. The shrimp were finely diced, yet managed not to get lost at all in the aggressively-flavored pepper.

"Meat," as this plate of veal was so artfully described by our server, followed. The meat was overcooked, save for patch of pink in the thickest part of the veal. It was seasoned simply with salt and pepper, and tasted very vealy; had it not been overcooked, it would have been a winner.

We were then given a plate of rice and beans, topped with a chunky salsa. While Andrew is not a bean fan in the least, I love rice and beans with an unbridled passion. That said, these were nothing amazing. I like the "beans" part more than the "rice part" and I like my beans to be mildly soupy. These were dry, and, though they were perfectly cooked, they got lost in the rice. The salsa provided a wonderful textural contrast.

This piece of fish was next up. It actually reminds me a little bit of the mahi-mahi I made with cilantro chutney once upon a time. This one was really a winner. The kitchen's strength is definitely in its seafood preparations. This little piece of fish, I'd venture to guess it's corvina, which is widely available in Panama, was tender, flakey, pretty much everything you want in a piece of fish. It was seasoned delicately with an herb sauce and dotted with capers to provide a briny note. Really, truly wonderful.

Dessert was another simple affair. A lilliputian bowl of vanilla ice cream, topped with a rich, thick caramel sauce, decorated with slices of strawberries and crowned with a swirl of whipped cream. There was something chunky going on in there that I couldn't put my finger on as well, it had the texture of partially-hardened wax and didn't really taste like much. That said, it didn't adversely affect the dish, which I enjoyed because hell, I'll eat ice cream any day of the week.

All in all, this was a really enjoyable meal (made more enjoyable that the tasting menu is $25 per person, which I'm sure made me more forgiving in my criticism of the restaurant throughout the meal). Though I've only been there once and don't know if the kitchen tends to reuse certain staple dishes, since there is no menu, it's probably a really fun place to stop in frequently, since it's unlikely you'd get bored with the menu choices. The kitchen prepares a bunch of the same dish at once, it seemed to be sending about 4 or 5 out at a time, so that affects the timing and pace of your meal, sometimes negatively. We would sometimes be brought two dishes at once, or three within 6 minutes, and sometimes would wait 20 minutes between courses. Overall, though, it was a very pleasant dining experience and one that will not put a huge dent in the wallet. Manolo Caracol is a pioneer in the Panama City restaurant scene, having spawned restaurants using a similar concept, and generally opening the door for fine dining in the city. Though it's hit or miss, if you have the time to spend a leisurely couple of hours enjoying some simply prepared food, it's a worthwhile risk to take.

Manolo Caracol
Calle 3a Oeste (at Avenida Central)
(507) 228 4640
Panama City, Panama

Thursday, January 28, 2010


After many futile attempts to take my wonderful boyfriend out to dinner for his birthday (there were many factors at play and cross-country trips to compete with), in the beginning of January, we finally made it happen - and only 37 days after the fact! We walked in to Wallsé (pronounced Vall-Say) right on time for our 8:30 reservation, and we were greeted warmly by the hostess at the front. I left a note on OpenTable that it would be great to get a nice table since we would be celebrating my boyfriend's birthday (I was sure not to use "it is my boyfriend's birthday," since it was not, in fact, his birthday, but we were, in fact, celebrating - nobody likes a liar).

Wallsé is located on a very quiet Far West Village corner, as not many people find their way to the corner of West 11th and Washington unless they're there for a reason. But we had a reason, and the quiet corner seemed completely befitting the restaurant, which exuded a warm, welcoming vibe, giving it the feel of a fabulous neighborhood haunt. The space is outfitted in dark colors; the black carpeting and large paintings prompted Andrew to declare that he felt as if he were in L.A. I didn't get the same feeling, but the restaurant was very spacious and quite relaxing. We settled in to our corner banquette near the front of the restaurant, which was great, since it allowed us to sit next to one another without having to be one of those couples that sit on the same side of the booth.

We started with a bottle of Riesling, the name of which escapes me now, and I was clearly not diligent enough to jot it down or snap a picture at the time. It was a bit sweeter than we prefer, as we both tend towards dry Rieslings, but it was light and delicious nonetheless.

The menu is broken down into Appetizers, Fish, Meat and Sides. Since there were so many things on the menu that looked great, we decided to go with the four-course prix fixe - a great option since you're able to choose your own courses, with the only requirement being that one of your four courses has to be dessert. Since we're the sharing, generous types, we decided on six dishes that we both wanted to try and decided we'd split all of them; I think this approach threw our waiter for a loop a little bit, but it all worked out in the end.

Despite knowing how much food was headed our way, I cannot abstain from a bread basket - and I'm glad I didn't here. The whole wheat bread was the lightest I've had in a really long time, with large holes and a crisp crust, it was awesome.

For our first course, we went with the Spätzle with braised rabbit, wild mushrooms and Brussels sprouts and the Rösti with lobster, fennel and oranges.

The Spätzle is a signature dish at Wallsé - I believe it's been on the menu since the restaurant's inception - and it's a signature for a reason. This dish hit all the right notes: chewy, freshly made spätzle (a nostalgic favorite of mine), studded with tender, juicy hunks of braised rabbit and earthy, satisfying crunches of separated Brussels sprouts leaves. All coated with an unapologetically rich quark-based sauce and brightened by teensy shreds of basil, this dish was a home run. I would return for this dish again and again, had I no fear for the implications such a habit would have on my waistline.

The Rosti was another success - the lobster was meaty and tender, and while my feelings towards potato pancakes can be summed up by my always latke-less Chanukahs, this one was perfect. The crispy exterior gave way to pillow-soft insides and the bright citrus flavors and crisp fennel made the dish feel almost light. Though in comparison to that spätzle, macaroni and cheese burgers might even seen light - not that that's a bad thing, of course…that spätzle haunts my dreams.

We moved onwards to fish. The steamed halibut was fabulous - left pretty much raw in the middle, the purely white fish was accompanied on the plate by a shock of green in the form of a cucumber dill sauce, all topped with a mess of mushrooms. The halibut was as delicate as any I've ever had - though halibut is a meaty fish, the steam treatment gave it an impressively soft, silky texture, one that I don't think I've experienced with halibut before. The sauce was bright, heavy on the dill, and delicious - the perfect complement to the mild flesh of the fish and the earthiness of the mushrooms.

The wild striped bass was accompanied by sauerkraut, a pairing I don't think I'd seen before. The kraut was awesome, and the bass a shining example of a perfectly cooked piece of fish. Crackly skin gave way to a tender, moist white flesh. Another mild fish, the dish was amped up by the aggressive flavors of the sauerkraut, which might have been a bit too much for the meekly flavored fish had it not been for the depth of the black truffles cutting right through it.

For our third course, we went with the monkfish, which was served with a porcini mushrooms and a semolina quenelle, with a petit bowl of Styrian cabbage on the side. These mushrooms were undeniably addictive - at this point in the meal I was about ready to burst, but I could not keep my fork out of those mushrooms. My body said no, but I was not about to deprive my taste buds of those mushrooms - they were innocent bystanders in my destruction of my body anyway, totally undeserving of deprivation.

The cabbage seemed a bit disjointed from the monkfish, but, whatever - it was great too, finely shredded and dotted with juicy, salty bits of ham and caraway seeds, which I adore, it was light and fresh, serving to cut the richness of both this dish and the meat dish we ordered.

That lone meat course (I realized after the fact that it was a bit odd that we'd eaten so much fish given that we were eating in an Austrian establishment, and Austria isn't known to be big on the seafood, being landlocked and all) was a plate of veal cheeks, which sat atop a pile of roasted winter root vegetables and a fingerling potato puree, all crowned with a curl of veal tongue. The veal cheeks were tender, the pieces pulled away with the most minimal of fork-driven efforts. This dish was unmistakably Austrian - the deeply braised meat, fatty and rich, was hugely flavorful. The tender tongue seemed almost superfluous, but who am I to argue? It was delicious.

For dessert, we opted to share one dessert to share a cheese plate, which ended up being a great move since they brought the cheese plate out after we finished our dessert, serving to elongate the meal. The Salzburger Nockerl with huckleberries was brought to our table with a lit candle in a quenelle of schlag (a nice touch, considering I had been a delinquent girlfriend and totally forgot to ask them to put a candle in it, they were really paying attention to those opentable notes). Salzburger Nockerl is like a giant pouf of meringue, burnished in the oven until it achieves that beautiful golden brown crown. This was light, and very, very sweet - as one would expect of something made almost entirely of egg whites and sugar. The dish was definitely a looker, but it was rather one-note, especially once you we got past the slightly crispy tops. The huckleberries provided a bit of a tart foil for the sweetness, but they were rather sweet as well, and after a few bites, both Andrew and I had enough, which isn't to say it wasn't good, it was just a bit too much for both of us.

The cheese plate, which came with fig and - I think - apricot chutney, was completely unnecessary at this stage in the meal, given all that we'd already ingested, but I am a sucker for milk fat in all of its forms so I was not going to stay away. The cheese menu notes that the cheese on offer are Bergkäse Alt, a cow's milk cheese from Bregenz, Austria, a cow's milk Münster from Voralberg, Austria, a cow's milk Gunzesrieder from Allgäu, Germany and Noble Goat from the Austrian Tirol - so I presume that these were the four we were given (I was again, not that diligent, but hey, at least I have the excuse of being half a bottle deep at this point). The second from top in the photo above was my favorite - I believe, but don't hold me to it, that this was the Gunzesrieder, though I have a soft spot for creamy cheeses.

As if that were not enough, we were given a plate of mignardise, which comprised a raspberry macaron, a gelée of some sort, a chocolate-cakey petit four and a little cellophane-wrapped hazelnut nougat. The macaron was pretty good, though light on the filling, the outer shell had that nice crackle and that chewy interior that I love about macarons. Andrew devoured the gelée and claimed it to be delicious. The thought of chocolate at that point was too much for me to handle, so that poor little guy went untouched, while I pocketed the nougat for the next day (it was really quite good).

I have been to a number of Michelin-starred restaurants at this point, and I think there's a great variation in the quality of meals I've enjoyed in such establishments. Judging from this meal, Wallsé should rank very high on the list of one-star Michelin restaurants; it's definitely very high on my list of New York restaurants. The service was effusive, without being overbearing - everyone was treated as if they were a regular. There was none of that fake, haughty courtesy, but instead a warmth and appreciation that made you feel like making your experience exceptional was truly important to everyone involved.

Our server was incredibly helpful, the maitre d' stopped by to check on us and see how everything was going, and the hostesses engaged in very lively banter with us about Julian Schnabel and Lou Reed, who the hostess had chatted with as if they were old friends (turns out Lou Reed is just a regular) when they left the restaurant a few minutes before us.

Because of it's relatively out-of-the-way location, it seems that Wallsé is trying to cultivate regulars, and, had I the funds of the likes of Lou Reed, I'd be a regular in a second.

344 West 11th Street (corner of Washington)
New York City 10014
(212) 352-2300