Sunday, November 27, 2011

Salted Caramel Six-Layer Chocolate Cake

So I know this picture is lame.  The pictures I took of the whole cake were even worse so I'm not even going to bother posting them.  I was in such a rush to get to the event that I was bringing this cake to that I didn't have time to really set up and take some pictures.  And to be perfectly honest, I don't have a very good set-up for taking pictures anyway.  I really need to get a better spotlight so I can take better pictures of our food for the blog.  We can make that my super early New Year's Resolution.  If you want to see good pictures of the cake, you should just go to Martha Stewart's website here and commence drooling immediately.  For more pictures, you can go to The Bitten Word.

You might be curious why I am posting about this cake while in Hawaii.  The reason is that I have been thinking about how delicious it was and couldn't wait until my return to share the love.  It was delicious.  When I read the name of the recipe, I assumed that the caramel itself would be salted and that the sea salt I could see sprinkled on the top of the cake was just, well, the icing on top of the (already salty) cake.  The caramel had a hint of salt to it, but not as much as I had been expecting.  But man, it was delicious.  The cake was very moist, almost a little brownie-like in texture.  And then the caramel soaked into the cake, making it even more moist and delicious.  And the frosting was deeply cocoa-flavored and chocolately.  I really liked that it wasn't as sweet as most frostings are because that level of sweetness totally turns me off (and actually makes my teeth hurt).  But this frosting was just rich and delicious.  You totally have to listen to Martha when she says to let the frosting sit for 30 minutes before frosting the cake.  After we first finished making the frosting I was convinced that it was a total bust because it was more like a ganache than a frosting.  I had no idea that it would set up that much in the 30 minutes (well, in our case it was more like 60 minutes) that it rested.  I guess Martha Stewart really knows what she is talking about, huh?  Anyway, try this cake.  I am totally planning on making it again for some special occasion.  It was amazing.  Mine came out a little lopsided (I guess I need some more practice assembling layer cakes), but so be it.  I will take amazing-tasting cake over pretty, but dry/boring cake any day!

Recipe after the jump!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving! Cider-Brined Turkey Breast with Star Anise and Cinnamon, Roasted Squash with Mint and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds and Homemade Cranberry Sauce

Happy Thanksgiving!  I'm not going to give much commentary because I think I deserve to be able to take Thanksgiving off too, but I wanted to post the menu I served my family (my parents and Alex) for Thanksgiving today before I fly off to Hawaii tomorrow morning!!!!!!  Since there were only four of us, we cooked a whole, bone-in turkey breast instead of a whole turkey.  We used the braise from Anita Lo's Cider-Brined Turkey with Star Anise and Cinnamon recipe, but revised the recipe for a whole turkey breast.  From the same issue of Bon Appetit we made the Roasted Squash with Mint and Toasted Pumpkin Seeds.  We served the turkey and squash (both of which my father assured me were properly traditional and American dishes) with some Momofuku brussels sprouts and homemade cranberry sauce.  Yum.

Recipes after the jump!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Asparagus Custard Tart

I wish every season was fresh asparagus season.  I love asparagus.  And as much as I love the concept of eating seasonally, I can't restrain myself from indulging in asparagus year round (provided that the asparagus at the grocery store looks ok).  This time it looked pretty good, so I decided to go ahead and make an asparagus tart recipe from Gourmet for a potluck Fakesgiving dinner (one of those pre-Thanksgivings you have with your friends before you go home to have the real Thanksgiving with your family).  As a side note, I really think of this dish as more of a quiche than a tart, but to each their own.

My favorite thing about this tart by far was the crust.  Even without blindbaking it stayed buttery and flaky.  It managed not to get soggy at all.  I was shocked.  And it is even more impressive when you consider that I ate that slice above after it sat in the fridge overnight in a tupperware.  And the crust was still flaky.  The custard itself was nice and creamy and had a really nice, fluffy consistency.  Fluffy sounds weird, but it kind of was.  I thought the asparagus and leek combination was really nice, but I think I would add some grated Gruyere cheese or something to the custard the next time.  I don't want a ton of cheese, but I think a little nutty flavor from the cheese would be a nice touch.  The tart does take a little while to make.  First you have to make the crust, then you have to let it rest, then you have to roll it out and so on and so forth.  I might try the crust and the custard with different vegetable fillings (and cheese).  I wonder how the same recipe would taste with zucchini or spinach.  It also might be delicious with some heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Roasted Wild Mushrooms with Miso Butter

We originally whipped up this miso butter so we could make the Pan-Roasted Asparagus, Poached Egg & Miso Butter from the Momofuku cookbook.  Then we realized our asparagus wasn't good.  Ugh.  I really hate it when that happens.  So I dug through the fridge for an alternative and came across some wild mushrooms - oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms and shiitakes.  I decided to go ahead and roast the mushrooms and serve them on a pool/bed of the miso butter.  I thought that the flavor of the miso butter went really well with the mushrooms.  Roasted mushrooms are a bit nutty and so is the miso butter.  The richness of the miso butter could get a little overwhelming, but the sherry that you cut the miso butter with gives it a nice punch and cut through the hearty flavors of the miso butter and the mushrooms wonderfully.  Given how well this turned out on the fly, I wonder what else the miso butter works with?

Recipe after the jump!

Turkey Cutlets with Brussels Sprouts and Dried Cranberries

This dish reminds me of Thanksgiving.  If I were to cook Thanksgiving for just Alex and I, this is the type of dish I would make.  Actually, for Thanksgiving last year we were pretty elaborate and made Pan-Roasted Squab, Polenta and Broccolini.  I have a problem with making overly elaborate dishes/meals on occasion.  What I love about this dish is that it's a medley of my favorite Thanksgiving ingredients and flavors - turkey, cranberries, sage (which I love in stuffing) and brussels sprouts (which is one of my absolute favorite Thanksgiving sides).  Actually, that's not the only thing I love about this dish.  Equally important is the fact that this is a one pot meal that doesn't taste like a one pot meal.  If I didn't know better, I would think this dish had cooked longer and been more complicated.  The flavors were just so rich, nuanced and delicious.  This would be a great Thanksgiving dish, but I would definitely cook this all fall long.  It's perfectly (and wonderfully) autumnal, plus it's so easy.  It also comes together really quickly - and in one pot (bonus)!  It's a toss up for me between whether I prefer the swordfish or these turkey cutlets, but I think the turkey might win by a hair.  Alex said that he also preferred the turkey, but it wasn't quite as close a call for him.  Both were unexpectedly moist and flavorful, but this dish had the added bonus of the delicious brussels sprouts and cranberry mixture.  Yummy.

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Sicilian-Style Swordfish

Swordfish is not typically one of my favorite fish(es).  And yes, I know that fishes isn't a word, but I like it so I am going to use it.  Back to swordfish.  Generally it's too meaty and overcooked and dry.  When fully cooked it reminds me of a well-done steak (aka shoe leather).  Gross.  There is nothing good about that.  The key is to cook swordfish like a medium to medium-rare steak.  You want the outside to be nicely (and evenly) seared, but you want the middle to stay a little rare.  Otherwise you end up with a swordfish steak that is roughly the texture of an overcooked pork chop.  But I have wanted to make this dish ever since I saw a variation on it at Eataly.  I couldn't convince anyone to order it with me, but I had such order envy every time I saw someone else order it.  It was just so wonderfully golden-brown and it smelled so wonderful as they cooked it in the kitchen.  Granted, everything smelled wonderful while they cooked it.  We had the luck to sit at the counter so we could watch everything being cooked.  Man that made me hungry.  Since I couldn't get anyone to order the dish at Eataly with me, I decided to make it at home.  Luckily, Dave Pasternack had a similar recipe (or maybe the exact same recipe, but who really knows) in The Young Man & the Sea: Recipes & Crispy Fish Tales from Esca.  And yes, I checked to see if the recipe was in the cookbook the second I got home that day.

While most swordfish is kind of blah, this swordfish was very moist and tasty.  With just a squeeze of fresh lemon juice on the swordfish, I loved it.  It was fantastic - bright and fresh, with the proper balance of meaty fish to acid to buttery breadcrumbs.  Don't forgo the fresh lemon juice or you will wonder what all the fuss is about.  And you should definitely take the time to make the Italian-Style Bread Crumbs.  They are worth the trouble because they give the swordfish great texture and flavor.  Plus when you make a batch of breadcrumbs you have enough to last you for a little while.  We can usually get at least two dishes out of each batch of bread crumbs and we only make half the recipe.  They are excellent with pasta or as a substitute for regular breadcrumbs in just about any Italian-ish recipe.  The breadcrumbs here helped to preserve the moisture of the swordfish while it cooked, as well as lending it more flavor and texture.  Be careful while cooking the fish because the breadcrumbs burn rather easily if the heat is up too high or if you're just not paying enough attention.  For the record, one side of our fish got a little toasty, but we saved it before it could actually char.  So just keep an eye out.  If you do manage to cook the swordfish without burning the breadcrumbs you will realize something I have known for awhile - Dave Pasternack is a brilliant man.

Recipes after the jump!

Cauliflower Soup with Pecorino Romano and Truffle Oil

Somehow Monday has become the night of white soup.  Last week we made congee and this week, cauliflower soup.  I'm not sure where I got the bee in my bonnet, but I have been wanting to make cauliflower soup for some time now.  I think my obsession with cauliflower soup stemmed from a shot glass full of truffle-scented cauliflower soup that we were served as an amuse bouche at Eighty-One almost two years ago.  It was such a lovely mouthful of soup that I have been thinking about it ever since.  I have had cauliflower soup served as an amuse at other restaurants as well (it seems to be a rather common amuse bouche here in NYC), but none were quite as good as that first one.  Speaking of Eighty-One, I'm still pretty depressed that it closed.  Moving on.  I have been on the lookout for a recipe that looked easy, but flavorful.  I have to say that the truffle oil is what did it for me here.  I love the combination of truffle oil and cauliflower.  And I love bacon with cauliflower.  So it sounded like the best combination of recipes/flavors ever!  But I'm not sure that bacon, cauliflower and truffle oil were the most successful combination in this soup.  The entire soup was imbued with this subtle bacon-y flavor (which I usually love), but thought that it was too much like every other soup we make with bacon in it.  It didn't stand out and didn't work as well with the truffle oil.  It also overpowered the subtle flavor of the cauliflower.  The entire pot of soup just tasted like any really rich, creamy, slightly bacon-y soup.  It could almost have been loaded baked potato soup (or whatever that soup is called), except for the occasional whiff of the truffle oil.  I think if I were to make the soup again I would leave the bacon out entirely and try to coax out more flavor from the cheese and truffle oil.  I would also roast the cauliflower, rather than simmering it in the stock, to intensify the flavor of the cauliflower itself.  I also think that the soup would be improved (both aesthetically and flavor-wise) by the addition of some fresh chives sprinkled on top. 

Sadly, this soup didn't make much of a lasting impression, but it did teach me some valuable lessons about cauliflower soup.  I guess I will have to keep looking for the perfect cauliflower soup recipe - one that can live up to the memory of that cauliflower soup at Eighty-One.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Scones and Pumpkin Buttermilk Biscuits

It occurred to me on Saturday that I hadn't baked anything in some time.  Since fall is finally here I knew exactly what I wanted to bake with!  So I went through the cupboard and found a can of pumpkin puree that I knew was in there (and have been saving).  Then I had to decide what to make.  I originally wanted to make some pumpkin whoopie pies with maple-flavored cream cheese frosting, but I didn't have everything I needed.  I thought about making pumpkin bread, but that seemed a little boring.  So I decided to bake some pumpkin scones and some pumpkin biscuits.  What can I say - I go a little crazy sometimes.  This is what happens when I haven't had time to bake in awhile.  

Out of these two recipes, both Alex and I preferred the scones.  I thought the combination of spices really worked and it came through very clearly, without being overpowering.  I also thought the crumb was nice - soft and crumbly, without being dry.  And I liked the crunchy sweetness of the turbinado sugar topping.  I think that bittersweet chocolate is perfect for these scones.  The bittersweet chocolate gave the scones a really nice deep, chocolatey flavor that worked really well with the pumpkin and the spices.  Semisweet chocolate would work too I guess, but I don't think I would use milk (or white) chocolate because it would be too sweet.  The biscuits couldn't seem to decide if they were supposed to be sweet or savory.  Topped with butter and honey they were pretty good, but we thought they needed more salt to both accentuate and balance out the sweetness of the honey and sugar in the biscuit batter.  And I thought the texture wasn't as flaky as I would have liked.  They almost seemed a little doughy and heavy in the centers, rather than flaky and light.  I'm thinking that I might not have mixed the batter as evenly as I could have.  Oops.  The blog where I found the recipe suggested serving them with butter, some bacon and a drizzle of maple syrup.  That might be enough to really make me love the biscuits, but I'm not there just yet.

Recipes after the jump!

Sauteed Greens with Cannellini Beans

Have you ever eaten a dish that was so healthy that it left you feeling like you needed to eat a candy bar to balance it out?  This dish felt that way to me.  It was good, but just eating a gigantic plate of sauteed greens and beans left me with a serious jones for something fattening and unhealthy.  I bought a gigantic bunch of kale at the farmers' market today and decided that for lunch I would either make a soup with it or simply saute it up with some canned beans (either cannelini or garbonzo since that is all we typically have in the house).  I ended up going the saute route since it was  simpler and quicker.  I briefly considered making some quinoa and serving the sauteed veggies on top of a bed of quinoa, but I got lazy.  I wish I had because then I think the dish would have been a little more satisfying.  The flavors were good and I enjoyed the dish, it just left me wanting more - more meat, more fat, more carb, more something.  I think that adding some red onions and some quinoa would have satisfied my need for more something by adding more flavors, textures and some healthy grains.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mint-Marinated Shrimp with Tabbouleh, Tomatoes and Feta

Somehow this week has turned into a Mediterranean fiesta.  Can you even say that?  Who knows.  I am saying it anyway.  But thus far this week I have posted Grilled Branzino with Ladolemono and Lamb Souvlaki Sandwiches with Tzatziki Sauce.  Including this dish, this is more Mediterranean food than I think we have ever made in such a short span.  Look at us mixing things up!  I'm fairly proud of myself - make that ourselves since Alex helped me cook the souvlaki and the branzino.  But I get to take most of the credit for picking out/making up the recipes.  This recipe was one that I stumbled across last week while looking for some new shrimp recipes.  We make a lot of shrimp (we probably cook almost as much shrimp as we do chicken) and I am always interested in finding new healthy, shrimp recipes.  This particular recipe appealed to me because it was a different flavor profile from our usual dishes and involved a new ingredient that I had never cooked with before - bulgur.  I know that bulgur is traditionally used for tabbouleh (or tabouli or however you spell it), but when I have made tabbouleh in the past we have used other grains like quinoa.  But it's always fun to try new things.  And now that I have bulgur I have to figure out other uses for it, which is even more fun!

Alex particularly enjoyed this dish.  I thought it was nice and fresh.  I particularly liked the tabbouleh salad, although I thought the shrimp didn't absorb quite as much lemon flavor as I would have liked.  That might be due to the fact that we only marinated the shrimp for 15 minutes, rather than the 30 that the recipe specified, but I just don't know if marinating the pre-cooked shrimp for an extra 15 minutes would really have resulted in much additional flavor.  But roasting the shrimp definitely intensified the flavors of the shrimp themselves, which I think is a good thing.  Actually, I think it would be a fabulous cold picnic dish.  I feel like I say that fairly often, but this dish really would be.  It would be just as good served cold as it would room temperature and it's a wonderful alternative to pasta salad or chicken salad.

Recipe after the jump!

Chicken Congee

Most Cantonese people I know think of congee as comfort food.  Up until last night I thought of congee as old people food.  When I was a child I hated anything that was the consistency of gruel or porridge.  I couldn't stand oatmeal, cream of wheat, grits, or congee.  I was convinced that all of those things tasted like wet cardboard and were just gross.  But then I went off to college and discovered that I actually liked grits.  And then about two years ago I discovered that I really like oatmeal.  I have to make a disclaimer when stating that I like oatmeal.  I like my oatmeal flavored with brown sugar and topped with lots of fruit.  So it's not like I inhale bowls of plain oatmeal every day for breakfast.  Now that I know that I actually like oatmeal and grits when they have some flavor, I decided to go back and try congee again.  But I wanted to make my own so I knew exactly what went in it and I could make it flavorful enough to override my initial dislike.  So I poached some chicken breasts with ginger and scallions to start a stock and then took a shortcut to making real stock by adding some chicken bouillon.  In my defense, I didn't have the time to make a real stock, or the quantity of chicken parts.  Then I slightly undercooked my congee so that my rice wasn't as gruel-like and mushy as the congee that I remembered from growing up.  I also took another shortcut before cooking the rice of rinsing it and soaking it.  Rinsing the rice helps to remove the extra starch (so that it wasn't quite as crazily thick) and soaking the rice helps it to cook faster.  What resulted was a really flavorful and comforting bowl of chicken congee that I would be happy to eat any day.  It was the perfect sick food - warm, lightly seasoned with ginger and scallion, and hearty.  I served my congee with scallions, cilantro, fried shallots and sesame oil for garnish (basically the same things that I garnish my Vietnamese Chicken Noodle Soup with).  I know that other people use different garnishes, but that was what I wanted (and what we had in the apartment) so that was what we used.  And since it was delicious, that is probably what I will stick with in the future.

Hurray for discovering foods that I didn't think that I liked, but actually like quite a bit, and that I can make good congee at home for myself!  Maybe I will try out my recipe on my mom sometime and see if it gets her approval.  If she likes it then I know I have a winner on my hands!

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Lamb Souvlaki Sandwiches with Tzatziki Sauce

I periodically tell Alex that we need to make more Mediterranean food.  Asian cuisine is our go-to, and failing that we end up making "American" food or Italian food.  Rarely do we make Mediterranean food, which is something that I really want to change for a number of reasons.  First, I love Mediterranean flavors - lemon, oregano, olive oil, olives, garlic, tart yogurts, etc.  The flavors are so simple and yet so satisfying and delicious.  I also love how healthy the diet is overall.  And while lamb isn't exactly as healthy as say, tofu, it is an indulgence that I enjoy from time-to-time and is totally fine when eaten in moderation.  I might try the recipe with chicken or pork in the future, as healthier alternatives to lamb, but we used lamb this time because I picked up some leg of lamb the other day with souvlaki in mind as the end goal.  I actually picked up several pounds of leg of lamb because there are several lamb recipes that I have been wanting to make, but haven't gotten around to because leg of lamb tends to be pretty pricey in NYC.

Since lamb (and all red meat with the potential exception of bison) isn't exactly super healthy, Alex and I made a resolution about a month ago to only eat it at restaurants or on the weekend.  No cooking red meat during the week.  But we broke our resolution this time because we had guests coming for the weekend and I really wanted to make my souvlaki.  Oops.  In order to lighten this sandwich up, we used multigrain flatbreads and added chopped up baby spinach, tomatoes and onions.  We also used nonfat Greek yogurt to make the tzatziki, rather than the whole-fat variety.  I find that when you make tzatziki with nonfat yogurt instead of whole-fat, it is a little thinner and less creamy.  Since we were using the tzatziki as the sauce for our sandwich and not a dip that was supposed to stand alone it was absolutely fine that it was a little thinner.  The end result was that the dish wasn't as heavy (or detrimental to your health) as it could have been, while still retaining a lot of flavor.  The rosemary and garlic in the marinade made the apartment smell delicious while we pan-roasted the lamb, and marinating the lamb overnight gave it really nice flavor.  I'm glad I stuck to my guns on this one because it was a really nice and satisfying meal.  Maybe I will try it out with pork next time, but then again, maybe not...

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Grilled Branzino with Ladolemono and Sauteed Spinach with Garlic

I was craving a really fresh and light meal for dinner tonight.  While I was at Fairway trying to figure out dinner I was immediately drawn to the whole branzino.  So I had the fishmonger clean and scale two branzinos for me and brought them home.  My original plan was to stuff the branzino with herbs and lemon slices, and then serve drizzled with some really nice evoo and lemon juice (kind of like this Whole-Roasted Rainbow Trout we made about a year ago).  Then I remembered this recipe from my Bon Appetit and decided to make that instead.  For the record, I don't know if they have new writers at Bon Appetit or what, but they had really fantastic issues all summer long.  I haven't made any of the recipes from the September through November issues, but I really need to because we made a number of very successful meals with recipes from the June through August issues!  This branzino was yet another successful dish.  I was worried that the fish wouldn't have enough flavor, but branzino is such a mild fish that it really worked.  The ladolemono (essentially a lemon vinaigrette made with equal parts lemon juice and evoo) and dried Greek oregano gave it more than enough flavor.  It had a lot of zing and freshness from the lemon, countered by the buttery evoo and the fragrant oregano.  And then the fish was very moist and perfectly cooked.  This recipe was definitely a keeper and I can't wait to try it with an actual grill to get that extra element of flavor.  We served the branzino with a very simple sauteed spinach with garlic and lemon juice - fresh and healthy, but flavorful.

Recipes after the jump!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Chipotle Meatballs

Alex has proposed a challenge - one whole week of cooking where we are not allowed to use any recipes and have to come up with everything all on our own.  It's going to be a tough challenge, but I am game.  But it can't be this week because I have already planned out all of our meals for the week!  Whatever week we end up picking for our challenge, I will let you guys know in advance.  Or at least I will let you know which dishes are part of the challenge.  And it might end up taking more than a week - I think I am going to adapt the challenge a little to do seven meals that are uniquely ours, even if it takes two weeks. 

For this week we are still using recipes that I picked out from other websites, cookbooks, magazines, etc, like this one from Simply Recipes.  The reason I wanted to make this recipe (aside from the fact that it sounds delicious) is that it would use up the ground pork in the freezer and the remaining chipotles in adobo and crushed tomatoes that we used to make our Smoky Shrimp, Hominy and Tortilla Soup.  It also had the added benefit of using up our remaining scallions and a half of an onion we had in the fridge.  Sometimes things just work out and it's wonderful.  And everything worked out with this recipe - it used up random ingredients in the fridge and it was really tasty.  We served it over brown rice and I thought it was delicious.  We were both a little worried that the flavor of the chipotles would completely overwhelm the flavor of the meatballs themselves but between the bacon and the ground pork the meatballs were porky enough to stand up to the spicy, smoky flavor of the chipotles.  Considering that they were only briefly simmered/tossed in the sauce, they soaked up a surprising amount of flavor while retaining their integrity.  I thought served over brown rice they were a fun variation on your typical Italian-American spaghetti and meatballs.  And who doesn't love a good spaghetti and meatballs?

Recipe after the jump!