Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Gooey Cinnamon Cake

Recently I have spent dozens of hours reading a number of different Paris food blogs in preparation for our trip to Paris at the end of May.  Most of the blogs are dedicated to the Parisian restaurant scene, but David Lebovitz's blog is dedicated to dessert and Paris.  All of the blogs get me all worked up like a little kid on Christmas Eve or like Alex after eating dessert too late at night (i.e. bouncing around and unable to sleep).  We currently have reservations at a few restaurants and I'm pondering my options for our remaining meals.  I'm having trouble narrowing it down because I want to eat everywhere, but I'm going to have to make some tough decisions soon.  I can't wait.  But enough about that - back to David Lebovitz.  I stumbled across his Gooey Cinnamon Cake recipe a few months back but the number of steps/layers that it involved was sufficient deterrent to keep me away.  But I kept coming back to it.  I'm not sure what it was about this cake recipe that kept bringing me back for another look but after my 10th visit I decided that I had had enough.  And that is the story behind this cake.  It's not much of a story, but this cake was inspired by our upcoming trip to Paris (in a rather backwards and roundabout way).

I'm not sure what I expected the cake to taste like, but it strongly reminded me of coffee cake.  And I'm not a huge fan of coffee cake, but I found this cake to be strangely delicious.  Other bloggers have said that these cake squares reminded them of snickerdoodles, which makese sense given the prevalence of the cinnamon.  I expected the upper layer to be a little more buttery and gooey-er than it actually was, but that didn't bother me.  And it did become gooey-er after a day or two.  All in all I considered it to be a very pleasant cake.  It tasted (and looked) homemade and just struck me as a very simple dessert (notwithstanding how long it took me to put it together).  I could see making it if I ever had people over for brunch.  It didn't blow me away and I wouldn't make it the centerpiece of a dinner party, but I think brunch would be the perfect opportunity to make it again.  Then again, I might prefer a french toast bread pudding, which would be equally brunchy and potentially more scrumptious...

Recipe after the jump!

Miso-Marinated Chicken Breasts and Roasted Japanese Sweet Potatoes with Scallion Butter

For the record, Alex rocks.  Sometimes my job explodes and I basically disappear.  I would say that it's like magic, only the use of the word "magic" makes it sound fun and exciting when it is often exhausting for both of us.  Last Sunday he did the laundry, made us both dinner and cleaned up after dinner while I was on an epic conference call for work from 6:00 pm to nearly midnight.  And that's after I basically worked all evening on Saturday as well.  He also made me this Red Cabbage Salad with Warm Pancetta-Balsamic Dressing for lunch.  I picked out all of the recipes and bought most of the ingredients, but he handled everything else and there is a lot to be said for a meal magically appearing in front of me while I tap away at my laptop.  It's pretty awesome.  This meal started with the Japanese sweet potatoes that I picked up at a little Japanese deli near my office.  Once I had the sweet potatoes I needed to figure out what to do with them.  This sweet potato recipe seemed like a perfectly simple recipe to feature the Japanese sweet potatoes but not drown them in sugar and other stuff.  And the chicken naturally followed.  If we were making a miso-scallion butter for the sweet potatoes, why not marinate the chicken breasts in miso and aromatics? 

In some ways this dish was exactly what I needed to get me through that conference call.  It was warm, conforting and had good flavor.  It was also easy to eat one-handed (and relatively easy for Alex to prepare on his own).  I really liked the combination of miso-scallion butter with the sweet potatoes.  The delicate sweetness of the sweet potatoes worked really nicely with the savory butter.  I was surprised by how the texture of the sweet potatoes differed from the American sweet potatoes that I am used to.  The flesh was a little drier and starchier (which required more butter than I typically use with sweet potatoes).  I also liked the marinade for the chicken and was pleasantly surprised by how much flavor the chicken picked up.  I could imagine using these chicken breasts in a number of dishes.  They would be delicious either in a salad or a sandwich.  They were also quite nice as a stand alone entree.  They didn't have any noticable heat to them, but I was ok with that.  I think that the addition of more Korean red pepper flakes would have detracted from the overall comforting quality of the dish.  And after hour 3 of my conference call I was dying for some comfort.

Recipes after the jump!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Red Cabbage Salad with Warm Pancetta-Balsamic Dressing

Sometimes my meal planning get a little weird.  Take this salad for instance.  We made it for lunch last Sunday.  We had 3/4 of a head of red cabbage leftover in the fridge from our shrimp tostadas and I wanted to do something different with it.  This seemed to fit the bill.  I wanted something salad-like, but a little more filling than slaw and I didn't want to go out and buy a dozen ingredients in order to make an Asian chicken salad.  So I poked around a bit online and this is what I came up with.  We still had to go out to buy the pancetta because we don't typically keep it in the apartment but I didn't need to buy (and then chop) a ton of veggies.  When we made this Saigon Chicken Salad for example, it took almost 30 minutes to prep and chop all of the ingredients.  The green papaya alone took forever.  The only things that required chopping here were the red cabbage itself and the pancetta, shallot, almonds and parsley.  I considered that pretty easy.  Granted, Alex did most of the chopping and prepping (although I did chop the cabbage) because I was doing work.  But it looked fairly easy to put together.  And it was tasty.  I liked the combination of different flavors and textures.  The sweetness of the currants and balsamic was a nice match for the crispy, salty, porky pancetta, the crunchy almonds and the crispness of the cabbage.  It worked on a number of fun and interesting levels.  One thing I will say - the leftover salad kind of creeped me out.  I brought it into work on Tuesday and the dressing had turned gritty and strange.  I had a few bites and tossed the rest.  Don't let that deter you from making the salad in the first place, but don't plan on making extra salad for leftovers. 

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

(Belated) Chinese New Year Meal #7: Ginger-Scallion Lobster

First things first - I know that I have been awfully delinquent with my final Chinese New Year meal.  I wanted to make seafood but I couldn't find any seafood recipes that really appealed to me.  Then I tried to make salt and pepper squid (aka salt baked squid) at home and failed.  The potato flour breading we tried to use on the squid just fell off and gunked up the oil.  The flavor was fine (if a little oily) but it was definitely not worth posting.  I spent hours poking around in our various cookbooks and online to find another recipe that I really wanted to make but nothing really appealed to me or if a recipe did appeal to me, it either required ingredients that were difficult to source or required entirely too much time and effort.   I seriously considered buying a new Chinese cookbook (either Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo or The Hakka Cookbook: Chinese Soul Food from Around the World by Linda Lau Anusasananan) for some inspiration but decided that was a little silly.  I might still buy them at some later date, but buying an entire cookbook to come up with one last Chinese New Year meal seemed a little extravagant.  It is entirely possible that I am in a cooking rut (but that's another post altogether).  I briefly considered making lobster (both because I have never made lobster at home before, and also because it seemed luxurious enough to make up for the fact that I have been MIA on this final Chinese New Year meal for over a month now), but discarded it as being too expensive.  But this past weekend we had a rental car (that I booked to visit a friend in Westchester) and I decided that a trip to Costco and Target was in order.  While at Costco I saw some (relatively) inexpensive lobster tails and decided to go ahead and bite the bullet and try to make ginger-scallion lobster.  I poked around online for a little while and ended up watching a video of Ming Tsai and a Chinese chef making ginger-scallion lobster.  I also found a Rasa Malaysia recipe for ginger and scallion crab that I was about to use until I decided that fish sauce just didn't belong in my final Chinese New Year meal.  So I went ahead and improvised, using the video for basic guidance.  

I will be the first to admit that this dish wasn't perfect.  I wish more flavor from the ginger and scallions permeated the lobster, particularly the ginger.  I also wish we hadn't (slightly) overcooked the lobster.  But such is life.  As a side note, the reason that our lobsters aren't the fire engine red that you expect from Maine lobster is because the lobster tails at Costco were either Caribbean spiny lobsters or Brazilian lobsters (our two tails looked substantially different from one another and one had serious spines on the shell) and not Maine lobsters.  So this certainly wasn't a restaurant-worthy version of ginger-scallion lobster but I was pretty happy with it considering (1) we didn't follow a recipe and (2) this was our first attempt at cooking lobster.

Recipe after the jump!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies

This past Sunday I was suddenly struck with an urge to bake.  It happens from time to time, but I'm usually struck with the violent desire to make a particular type of baked good (like pumpkin bread) or I happen to have something in the apartment that I need to use before it goes bad (this happens pretty regularly with bananas and banana bread).  This time I just wanted to bake something for dessert.  I had a bunch of chocolate in the apartment so it was a foregone conclusion that I would make something chocolate-y.  I was originally going to try to make something with the heavy cream or whole milk we had in the apartment, but I gave up on that idea pretty quickly.  I briefly considered making brownies (because who doesn't love brownies), but this cookie recipe was too delicious-sounding to ignore.  The funny thing about these cookies was how much the cookies changed from Sunday night (when I baked them) to Monday morning.  Both versions were delicious, but I wasn't expecting them to turn quite as crispy on day two.  I wish they had stayed a little softer, but c'est la vie.  Watch them carefully in the oven because you want to pull the cookies when they are just starting to turn lightly golden around the edges.  Don't wait until they are golden brown or they will be too hard.  These cookies are definitely an adult version of chocolate chip cookies - if you want to make them kid-friendly I would suggest leaving out the Maldon sea salt.  I think the combination of sea salt and chocolate is an acquired taste that is more appealing to adults than to children.  Then again, I know that some adults (like my mother) do not enjoy the combination of salty and sweet, so it is definitely a question of personal taste.  My officemates and I regularly inhale Lindt's dark chocolate with sea salt by the truckload and so I knew I would have a rapt audience if I brought them in to work.  They disappeared pretty quickly so I think they were a success.  If I were to make them again in the future for a different group I might sprinkle half of the cookies with sea salt and leave the other half salt-less so that everyone could enjoy. 

Recipe after the jump!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Arepas with Black Beans, Avocados and Cotija Cheese

Alex and I were left with a dinner dilemma on Sunday.  We had a lot of items in the fridge, but nothing really went together and I had no interest in going to the grocery store or cleaning up after an elaborate meal.  I really wanted something quick and easy.  Once we realized what we had in the fridge, the simplest solution seemed to be to make some form of arepas with the store-bought arepas.  I thought the arepas already had cheese in them, but it turned out that they were plain.  I threw together some black beans, with sauced jalapenos, onions, garlic, cilantro and cumin.  I'm not typically a huge fan of beans but these were actually very tasty.  I'm proud (and a little bit shocked) to say that we ate the entire pan of beans.  The only problem with the dish was was that it needed some sort of a sauce.  I originally considered taking one of the avocados and blending it with some lime juice and other ingredients to make more of a sauce, but we ran out of limes (and I got lazy).  Looking back on it, I wish we had made something like this Avocado-Lime Sauce to give the arepas some moisture.  They were a little dry.  Halfway through the meal I admitted that I really should have thrown half of the avocado in the blender and served the other half sliced because it would have been the best of both worlds.  Beans and arepas (particularly plain arepas) need something saucy and/or creamy to really make them come together.  I had hoped that the sliced avocado itself would be enough, but while it did provide some creaminess, it didn't quite get the job done.  Oh well.  I think it would have made for a really nice sauce for the arepas.  As a side note, that avocado-lime sauce gives me some interesting ideas for a shrimp tostada, but that is a dish (and a blog post) for another day.

Recipe after the jump!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Chilaquiles with Southwestern Pulled Brisket

What do you do when you have like 3/4 of a pound of Southwestern Pulled Brisket left in the fridge and 3 ripe avocados?  You could make more of the same tacos, but that's kind of boring.  I guess you could make sandwiches, but that's pretty boring too.  We had roughly 20 corn tortillas leftover from the tacos (Alex bought the family-sized package) so it made sense to make more tacos or something that uses tortillas rather than going out to buy bread.  I wanted to make migas or breakfast tostadas, but Alex decided (and since he was cooking I couldn't protest too much) that he wanted chilaquiles.  By the time I got home from work he had already put together the red chili sauce and fried up the tortillas.  I have to say, it's pretty nice to come home to a homemade meal that is already well underway!

The red chili sauce was not my favorite - I thought it was a little bitter/harsh.  It had a nice spice level, but I was a little alarmed by my first taste of just the chili sauce-coated tortillas.  But the bitterness worked fairly well with the leftover brisket (which was sweet and meaty) and the leftover pickled shallots (which were slightly spicy/sweet and nicely acidic).  If you don't have brisket you could try serving with a fried egg (or poached eggs) and the fatty richness of the oozing egg yolk might also work with these chilaquiles.  In that case I might add some honey to the red chili sauce to add a little sweetness to counteract the bitterness.  I wasn't originally planning on squeezing fresh lime juice on the top of the chilaquiles because I didn't want to make them any soggier than they already were, but I needed the additional freshness, acidity and bright flavor of the lime to really make it work.  When I tried another bite of everything after squeezing the lime over the top it all came together nicely.

Recipe after the jump!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Turkish Chicken Yogurtlu Kebobs and Cauliflower Salad

Sometime last fall Alex and I tried a Turkish restaurant called Peri Ela on the Upper East Side based on a recommendation from a friend.  The food there was pretty good, but my absolute favorite dish that we had there that evening was a dish called yogurtlu chicken adana (which the menu described as "spicy ground chicken, sliced and served over yogurt-garlic and pita bread").  I was essentially picturing a wrap/open-faced sandwich or pizza of some sort, but it was so much better than that.  The pita bread was toasted and cut or torn into large croutons and then topped with spicy chicken kebobs, onions and peppers and a garlicky-yogurt sauce.  The croutons soaked up the juices from the chicken kebobs and the sauteed onions and and peppers but still retained some of their crunch and texture.  The chicken kebobs themselves were nice and flavorful.  It was totally spicy, creamy and delicious.  Sunday afternoon I picked up some Turkish bread from Zabars and immediately starting thinking about trying to recreate that yogurtlu chicken adana with the bread.  Seeing as I am far from an expert on Turkish food I tried to find a recipe to follow online but I couldn't find any.  I found plenty of lamb or beef kebob yogurtlu recipes but nothing with chicken.  So I decided to just make something up.  I always like  yogurt-marinated chicken so step 1 was marinating the chicken in labneh, herbs and spices.  Step 2 really winging it since I couldn't find a really good recipe to follow.  We did take inspiration from the various lamb or beef kebob yogurtlu recipes but from that point we basically threw in whatever ingredients seemed to make sense. 

Given that I basically had no idea what I was doing here, I thought the end result was surprisingly successful.  The chicken itself was my least favorite part (next time I will tweak the marinade to make it more flavorful or make chicken adana), but the pide soaked in the tomato sauce and yogurt sauce was pretty delicious.  While we were eating Alex and I both came to the conclusion that next time we might want to cook the chicken 90% of the way and then add the bread, chicken and tomato sauce to a shallow casserole or baking dish and throw it in the oven for a few minutes.  I think that way the bread will absorb more flavor and the dish will just meld together a little better.  Even if I don't bake the combined dish in the oven, I will serve the dish in shallow bowl or baking dish because serving it on a plate is just asking for trouble.  As Alex and I tried to toss the bread, chicken and sauces all together it was a battle to keep everything on the plate and not fling chicken, etc. everywhere.  While our execution wasn't perfect, the flavors were pretty good.  I thought the combination of the tangy-ness from the yogurt sauce, the sweetness and slight smoky flavor from the tomato sauce and the heat from the cayenne in the butter sauce worked really nicely together.  I was worried that the cauliflower salad would be too heavy/dense to serve with the kebobs but it was surprisingly light.  I really liked the lemony dressing, which was bright and fresh but not too acidic.  I also liked the slight hint of heat of the crushed red pepper flakes.

Recipes after the jump!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Southwestern Pulled Brisket Tacos with Spicy Pickled Shallots and Spicy Green Onion Slaw

When left to his own devices, if I ask Alex to pick out a recipe for dinner he will pick an Asian (or Asian-influenced) recipe nine times out of ten.  I usually go with it, but Sunday night I wasn't in the mood for Asian food.  Thursday night Alex and I went to Ma Peche for dinner for upscale Vietnamese-influenced food.  Then we made a chicken stir-fry over sizzling rice for dinner on Friday.  On Saturday Alex and I took his brother to Biang! in Flushing and then gorged ourselves on dumplings that we picked up in Flushing that evening.  And then Sunday afternoon we made a tofu dish from Every Grain of Rice:  Simple Chinese Home Cooking.  Enough already.  Don't get me wrong - I love Asian food.  But sometimes I want to experiment with other cuisines.  I crave variety.  So I called an audible on the brisket recipe that Alex had selected (braised brisket with star anise, soy, etc.) and declared that we were making a brisket taco recipe I found on Smitten Kitchen instead.  The recipe at Smitten Kitchen called for cooking the brisket in the slow cooker for 8-10 hours but I was too lazy to get the slow cooker out of storage so we decided to braise it in the oven instead.  In some ways I wish we had used the slow cooker because the brisket might have been more tender, but whatever.  It might also have helped with the tenderness if we bought a brisket with slightly more fat on it.  Our brisket was fairly lean, but I wasn't going to hit the grocery store again for a fattier piece.

This dish was one where each element contributed to the final dish in some crucial way.  When I sampled each component I wasn't blown away by any of them.  But when you combine them something really delicious happens.  The brisket was sweet, meaty and (relatively) tender.  It represented one of the few instances where I thought that molasses did wonderful things to a dish by providing depth of flavor and sweetness, without being too overpowering.  The slaw and the pickled shallots added some much needed heat and acidity to the tacos.  I really liked the combinatation of olive oil and mayo in the slaw because it added moisture and creaminess without cooling the slaw down too much and making it heavy and mayo-laden.  As a side note, this isn't a slaw that I would eat on its own - I think it is a little aggressively spicy for that (perhaps if I used one chili it would be better for snacking), but it was the perfect slaw to serve on top of (or with) the brisket to really kick it up a notch.

Recipes after the jump!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Salt and Pepper Salmon with Herbs and Meyer Lemon

I am happy to report that spring is finally making an appearance in New York.  Today was the first day since last fall that I came into work and didn't need a jacket of any sort.  It was marvelous.  And over the past two weekends the farmers' market has been growing more and more populous (both in terms of the number of customers and the number of vendors), which is totally exciting.  Right now the produce selection is still fairly limited, but I bet that in a few short weeks I will be able to buy all sorts of yummy spring veggies.  I can't wait.  With spring approaching, I have been craving lighter fare, like seafood and veggies/salads.  I'm sure if you went back through the blog you could track the seasons relatively well by what I am cooking and right now, I'm all about fish.  We make a lot of salmon at home because it's relatively easy to find at any grocery store and it's a great blank canvas.  This salmon was a riff on our favorite Salt and Pepper Salmon from Tyler Florence.  We had a bunch of Meyer lemons laying around the apartment so we have been on a Meyer lemon kick.  First I made roast chicken breasts with a Meyer lemon and thyme marinade.  Now that I think about it, those two recipes for salmon and roast chicken breasts represent the two dishes on the blog that we make all the time.  We also made a number of Meyer lemon vinaigrettes, but there's nothing new or earth-shattering there.  Since we had the lemons and an abundance of fresh herbs, I decided to make our standard salmon, but top it with a Meyer lemon and herb compound butter.  It was springy and best of all, it was easy.  Once the butter melted down over the salmon it created a really nice delicate sauce.  In a lot of ways think this would be the perfect salmon recipe for people who are on the fence about salmon - you taste the flavor of the salmon but it's layered under the flavor of the compound butter. 

Recipe after the jump!