Tuesday, September 29, 2009

in season: italian plum torte

A recipe so popular that reader demand insured it's publication in The New York Times just about every year between 1983 and 1995. Now this is something that I had to try. It just looks so incredibly simple on paper, could it be so good as to develop this cult-like following?

Well, as I've said over and over, simplicity is often the best insurance that a recipe will be memorable and perfect. And this was the essence of simplicity. It took no time, it took very few ingredients, it took barely any effort, and it seemed like the kind of thing you can't really mess up. But it looks somewhat impressive, and tastes much more complex than it is. The sweet-tart of the plums, the warmth of the cinnamon, the slight crispness of the cake top dusted in sugar. Recipe after the jump:

From The New Elegant But Easy Cookbook, by Marian Burros and Lois Levine.

3/4 cup PLUS 1 or 2 tablespoons sugar
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 eggs
Pinch salt
24 halves pitted Italian (aka prune or purple) plums
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, or more
Vanilla ice cream, optional

1. Arrange a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. In an electric mixer, cream the 3/4 cup sugar and butter. Add the flour, baking powder, eggs, and salt and beat to mix well. Place in a 9- or 10-inch ungreased springform pan. Cover the top with the plums, skin side down. Mix the cinnamon with the remaining 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar and sprinkle over the top.

3. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes (mine took a little over 50), until the center tests done with a toothpick. Remove and cool to room temperature or serve warm. Serve plain or with vanilla ice cream.

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Thursday, September 24, 2009

j-cat cooks: chicken cordon bleu

J-cat is definitely showing a tendency towards cooking those old-school classic dishes with questionable heritage(Beef Wellington, Chicken Francese, etc.). This time it was Chicken Cordon Bleu, which I must admit I had never eaten before. I probably never ate it because the only places I ever saw it on the menu were diners, where it is not exactly wise to veer from the burger or breakfast realm. But if you think about it, there's no way it could be bad - chicken, prosciutto or ham, gruyere, bread crumbs. I always imagined it would just be layered but J-Cat got all fancy and made it roulade style. I did my best at slicing it to show off the fanciness.

J-Cat does not use single recipes, and he almost immediately forgets what he did, so it's pretty tough for me to post a recipe. But it was pretty straight forward - pound out chicken breast, layer prosciutto slice, layer gruyere slice, roll it up, do the flour, egg, panko bread crumb breading process, bake, yum.

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Wednesday, September 16, 2009

french food i did not eat in france: coq au vin

The French seem to really love their chicken. I was just craving some homey, classic, filling food as the weather starts cooling down. Coq au vin really hit the spot. Now, I did not have a rooster for this dish, so there is a disclaimer that this is not completely authentic.

I also didn't marinate the chicken in the wine before cooking, which many recipes call for. I think I might try that next time to see how much of a difference it makes, but I did not think this version was lacking flavor at all. In fact, the intensity of the wine and mushroom flavor - set off by the sweet pearl onions and the salty bacon - was really perfect for my taste. I almost felt like we were back in Paris, and it prompted J-Cat to say that he wants to do that whole trip over again, with more foods. Recipe after the jump:

Adapted from Simply Recipes

1/2 lb bacon slices
20 pearl onions, peeled (blanch in boiling water to ease peeling)
3 lbs chicken thighs and legs, excess fat trimmed, skin ON
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 garlic cloves, peeled
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups red wine, preferably pinot noir
2 bay leaves
Several fresh thyme sprigs
Several fresh parsley sprigs
1/2 lb cremini mushrooms, trimmed and roughly chopped
2 Tbsp butter
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Blanch the bacon to remove some of its saltiness. Drop the bacon into a saucepan of cold water, covered by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil, simmer for 5 minutes, drain. Rinse in cold water, pat dry with paper towels. Cut the bacon into 1 inch by 1/4 inch pieces.

Salt and pepper the chicken parts. Place in a large resealable plastic bag with the flour and shake to coat the chicken. Shake off the excess flour and set aside.

Brown bacon on medium high heat in a dutch oven big enough to hold the chicken in one layer, about 10 minutes. Remove the cooked bacon with a slotted spoon, set aside. Keep the bacon fat in the pan. Working in batches if necessary, add onions and chicken, skin side down. Brown the chicken well, on all sides, about 10 minutes. Halfway through the browning, add the garlic.

Discard any excess fat. Add the chicken stock, wine, and herbs (it is easiest to tie the herbs into a bouquet garni). Add back the bacon. Lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until chicken is tender and cooked through. Remove chicken and onions to a separate platter. Remove the bay leaves, herb sprigs, garlic, and discard.

Add mushrooms to the remaining liquid and turn the heat to high. Boil quickly and reduce the liquid by three fourths until it becomes thick and saucy. Lower the heat, stir in the butter. Return the chicken and onions to the pan to reheat and coat with sauce. Adjust seasoning. Garnish with parsley and serve.

Serves 6. Serve with potatoes or over egg noodles.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

what we look like when we talk about food

I think our hand gestures could be easily misconstrued. And yes, we still talk about food even when we're not at work.

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Tuesday, September 08, 2009

j-cat cooks!: sugar raised doughnuts

Remember when I said that J-Cat likes to cook things that have good potential for being disastrous? Well he has truly proven this over the last few weeks, tackling several tricky recipes - most involving vats of oil. He's made French bistro-style fries, fish and chips, various crepes and blintzes, and much more. This weekend, he tackled one of my great loves in life: sugar raised doughnuts.

This was actually not his first foray into the world of doughnuts. A couple of weeks ago he made some delightful spiced cake doughnut holes. But the sugar raised is - in my opinion - the pinnacle of the doughnut repertoire. Simple, light, sweet but not overpowering, chewy, yeasty, almost melts in your mouth. It's not fussy, it's not fancy, it is just the essence of doughnut.

These were a bit of a handful, but they were quite successful. I helped J-Cat with the second part of the process - the rolling/cutting/frying/sugaring part, ie. the fun part. It was certainly an adventure, and there really is nothing like eating a freshly fried doughnut just minutes after it comes out of the oil, as soon as it is cool enough to handle. A touch of a crisp exterior, a light and airy interior, a good bite. I think perhaps our choice of canola oil to fry was not ideal for flavor, there was a mild flavor almost like soy milk that I am guessing was due to the oil. It was not a bad flavor, it would probably just be a little better without it. We're looking forward to trying this one again, but next time we'll make sure there are a few more people around to eat a dozen doughnuts within the few hours before they go stale...recipe after the jump:

Adapted from Betty Crocker’s Old-Fashioned Cookbook
Yields approximately 1 dozen large donuts and holes

5 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt

2 packages active dry yeast
1 3/4 cups very warm milk (120º to 130º)
1/3 cup shortening
2 eggs
Vegetable oil

Mix 2 cups of the flour, 1/2 cup sugar, salt and yeast in large bowl. Add milk, shortening and eggs. Beat on low speed 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Beat on medium speed 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Stir in remaining flour until smooth. Cover and let rise in warm place 50 to 60 minutes or until double. (Dough is ready if indentations remain when touched).

Turn dough onto generously floured surface; roll around lightly to coat with flour. Flatten dough with hands or rolling pin to 1/2-inch thickness. Cut with floured doughnut cutter. Push together scraps and gently knead 2 or 3 times. Flatten dough to 1/2-inch thickness; cut with floured 4-inch doughnut cutter. Cover doughnuts and let rise 30 to 40 minutes or until double.

Heat oil (1 1/2 to 2 inches) in Dutch oven to 350º. Slide doughnuts into hot oil with wide spatula. Fry about 1 minute on each side or until golden brown. Remove carefully from oil (do not prick surfaces); drain on paper towels. Roll or shake in sugar.

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