Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Pickle Salad

I still have cucumbers in my garden. Just a few, and they are ... not so lovely. Time to turn those bitter, tough bats into a gorgeous side dish.

Pickle Salad
6 cups cucumbers sliced very thin, seeded if seeds are large
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
1 small shallot, sliced paper thin
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Toss the cucumbers with the salt in a colander, and set it over a bowl to drain. How much water will drain out over the next three hours? A lot.

Push as much liquid through the sieve as you can. The cucumbers should have reduced in volume by about half.

Hold aside a pinch of shallots and dill for garnish, and toss together all the ingredients. Taste and adjust the seasonings before arranging the dill and shallot on top. This salad is very salty, so count on small portions. Serves 10-12.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Honey Orange Spice Cake

Honey cake is a traditional treat for Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Only, you have to wonder whether the definition of "treat" was somewhat different in the Old Country. Honestly, most of the authentic honey cake recipes I've come across are just awful. They all seem to contain honey and coffee and cinnamon and orange juice. As if being persecuted wasn't bad enough, they had to eat this for dessert!

Enough already! Let's make a honey cake that's actually good. Keep it pareve (non-dairy) by baking it in a bundt pan and glazing it. Or frost it in layers for dairy. It's a wonderful New Year in our New World - do what works for you.

This recipe is kind of modular. You can frost it, glaze it, both, or neither. Top with honey, orange zest, pistachios, whatever. But if you use flat-bottomed cake pans, this part is non-negotiable: you must line your pans with wax paper or parchment. Honey is sticky, and honey cake batter is ... sticky. Grease and line the pans, or you'll be breaking your New Year's resolution to cut out the profanity big time.

Honey Orange Spice Cake
4 tablespoons honey
1 3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup orange juice
1/3 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
zest of one orange

Using the whisk attachment, beat together honey, eggs and oil until they are light and bubbly. Add everything but the orange zest, and beat on medium high for three or four minutes, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. If you add the zest in with the rest of the ingredients, much of it will get pulled out by the beater, so stir it in by hand at the very end.

Grease and flour a 10-cup bundt or two or three 9" round cake pans. Line the flat pans with parchment or wax paper. Fill the pans, and bake at 350 (325 convection). A bundt should take about seventy minutes; layers should take about half that. (Yes, honey cake takes forever.) The tops will be golden brown, and the cake should pull away from the sides of the pan. Rest on the counter for ten minutes before inverting onto racks to cool.

There are three ways to assemble this recipe. You can glaze it as a bundt cake; You can put honey cream cheese frosting on it with layers; Or you can brush the glaze on the layers and then frost them. All are good.

Honey Orange Glaze
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons sugar
juice of one medium orange

Simmer everything together in a small saucepan until the liquid is reduced by about a third and is quite syrupy. Brush all over the large cake, or just on tops of the layers.

Honey-Cream Cheese Frosting
6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons cream cheese
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups powdered sugar

Make sure the butter and cream cheese are very soft, then beat them together with the honey on medium-high for three minutes to combine. Add in the vanilla and one cup of the sugar. Beat in just enough of the remainder of the sugar to get to a soft, spreadable consistency. This quantity will cover the horizontal surfaces of a three-layer cake, or all sides of a two-layer cake.

Garnish with a tablespoon of chopped pistachios or almonds, orange zest, even a drizzle of honey just before serving. And Happy New Year!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Bitter Chocolate Cake

Some days are for sundresses, hammocks and lemonade. If you're having that kind of day, don't make this cake.

But if you desperately need a sitter and a glass of red wine, if you're grinding your molars every time you talk to someone under thirty, if the sunshine is starting to get on your nerves . . . pull the butter out of the fridge to soften up while you hide in your bedroom for an hour. Don't open the door unless someone is actually bleeding.

Fall is coming. School starts this week. We'll make it.

Bitter Chocolate Cake
3 sticks of unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
7 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder, dissolved in
2 tablespoons of warm water
3 tablespoons of honey
1/4 teaspoon table salt
2 cups flour
1 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder
1 1/2 cups bitter chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

Spray a 10-cup bundt pan with Pam for Baking, or grease and flour it. Preheat the oven to 350 (325 convection).

Cream the butter and sugar until it's very light and fluffy, about three minutes in a stand mixer on medium-high. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then mix in the vanilla, coffee, salt and honey. If you have the patience to measure out the honey and wash the tablespoon, then you are in the wrong frame of mind for this recipe. For pity's sake, just eyeball it! Ditto sifting the flour and cocoa powder. Just kick the mixer up to high for a few seconds after you've worked the dry ingredients in pretty well.

Fold in the chips with a long-handled spatula, scraping the inevitable white streak of butter off the bottom of the bowl. Spread the batter in the pan, mounding it up toward the sides to keep the bottom of the cake flat as it rises.

Bake for about an hour and 15 minutes, until the top feels crusty when you poke it, and you don't see wet cake batter in the cracks. Rest in the pan for five minutes before cooling for an hour on a rack. The texture will improve with an additional hour in the fridge. But sometimes you need cake now. I feel ya.

I am of the opinion that a cake with three sticks of butter, seven eggs, and chocolate chips is good to go with just a shake of powdered sugar. But glazing a cake is so easy and pretty, you might as well.

Vanilla Glaze
1 tablespoon melted butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-2 tablespoons milk
Using a small whisk, work two cups of powdered sugar into the butter. Add in the vanilla and one tablespoon of milk. Keep adding the milk drop-by-drop, until you reach the consistency of ketchup. If you overshoot, add more sugar. One spoonful at a time, pour the glaze on the top of the cake. If the first spoonful sits in a blob, or drips down onto the plate, add more sugar or milk to the bowl. Unless it's February and your kitchen is freezing, I'd recommend firming it up in the fridge.

This would also be great with espresso glaze from my Chocolate Pound Cake, but only if your sweet tooth has a very bitter edge.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Middle Eastern Meatballs with Tahini Sauce


Apparently I am not the only one obsessed with making meatballs inspired by the Jerusalem cookbook. That book is the bomb, and I really did intend to follow their awesome meatball recipe. But . . . of course, I didn't.

Here's what I ended up with. Like all meatball recipes, it's a pain in the neck. Which is why you should always make an enormous batch and freeze half. You'll spend five extra minutes today, but next month you'll be desperately rummaging in the freezer, and there will be your fabulous, forgotten meatballs. Use all three pounds of meat - all the cool kids are doing it. If you really insist upon making a smaller quantity, divide this recipe in two. Math: it's half of what's for dinner!

Aside from industrial quantity, two tools minimize the hassle of meatball production. First, use a kitchen disher (aka ice cream scoop) to portion out all the meatballs in just a couple of minutes. Second, wear disposable gloves to mix and shape the meat. Rub a little oil on the palms of your gloved hands, and the balls will roll out faster and prettier. Bonus: you won't reek of garlic all day long. Win, win, win!

Middle Eastern Chicken Meatballs
2 cups dry bread crumbs
1 bunch of parsley, chopped fine
1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped fine
4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
6 cloves of garlic, pulverized
8 green onions, minced
2 teaspoons dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper (or more)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground sumac
2 eggs
4 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 lbs ground chicken (or veal or pork)
3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Spread about 18" of waxed paper on the counter. Divide the oil between two 9" pans, or one 13x11". In a large bowl, stir together everything but the chicken and oil. Glove up, rub a little oil on your hands, and work the chicken into the other ingredients. Pull off the gloves and use your disher to portion out the meat onto the paper. I use a large (1.25 oz) scoop which yields three dozen enormous meatballs. Make whatever size you like.

I'll admit, I use a second pair of gloves to roll the balls. You caught me. Oil the gloves and roll the meat into smooth balls. Roll them around in the oil as you arrange them in the pan.

If you have to bake them now, no biggie. But the texture will be better if you let them set up in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Feel free to freeze these in the baking pan. If the pan is glass, though, you'll want to give it a few minutes rest on the counter before putting it into a cold oven so the pan doesn't shatter from heat shock. Alternatively, freeze them on a baking sheet, and throw them in a zipper lock bag when they're hard.

Bake at 375 for about 20 minutes before flipping them over to brown on the other side for another 15 minutes. You're just going to have to use your judgment when they're done. Your meatballs may be smaller, your freezer may be colder, your oven hotter. Reasons this blog is called Listen to the Food! If you're in doubt, pull one out and cut it in half to see if it's still raw inside.

And while we're on the subject of judgment ...

Tahini Sauce
1/2 cup tahini paste
1/2  clove crushed garlic
juice from 1 lemon
1/2 - 3/4 cup water
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground sumac, optional

Adding only half the lemon and the lesser quantity of water, stir together all the ingredients. Taste them and adjust the acidity and texture to suit your palette. Remember that tahini thickens up as it sits. Feel free to make this in advance, but you'll probably have to add more water later. So, don't overfill the bowl or garnish with an extra shake of sumac until just before serving.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Lemon Brownies

No, not sticky, squishy lemon squares. For that recipe, ask your auntie. I wanted lemon bars with the texture of brownies and a major acid hit. My friend Mr. Google was no help. So I tinkered with my one-bowl brownie recipe and came up with this.

I always store bars and brownies in the fridge, and with these it's absolutely essential. On the counter, chewy becomes gluey and tart turns brassy. Trust me: Keep them cold.


Lemon Brownies
1 stick of unsalted butter
1 cup of sugar
1 whole egg, plus 2 yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
juice and zest of one lemon
3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat your oven to 350 (325 convection) and line an 8x8" pan with foil. Microwave the butter in a glass bowl. You will know it's melted when you hear it pop and splatter everywhere. (Or perhaps you have learned not to wander off mid-recipe?) Stir in the sugar, then the eggs and salt. Work in the juice and zest, and finish up with the the flour. Spray the foil with baking spray and smooth the batter out evenly, making sure to push it into the corners of the pan. Bake for about 35 minutes, depending on your oven and how firm you like your cookies. I like mine very chewy, so I left them in for 45 minutes. You've eaten a brownie before - you don't need me to tell you how you like 'em!

Rest on the counter until the pan is cool enough to refrigerate for an hour.

Lemon Glaze
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 1/2 - 2 cups powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon vegetable oil or butter

My husband and I loved the glaze made with lemon juice only. But, I do admit that the kids thought it was inedibly sour. So, depending on your palate, you may want to swap out an equal volume of water for half the lemon juice. Either way, just whisk the sugar into the liquid a 1/4 cup at a time until you reach the consistency of honey in wintertime. Add the oil and then spread a smooth layer over the cooled bars.

Chill for another hour before slicing. Seriously, don't skip this step. Warm bars don't slice; they smush. I cut mine into 24 narrow fingers (8x3), since the glaze is pretty strong. You'll eat more than that, but in small bites.

These come together in no time flat, are delicious with lime or orange, and taste like summer. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Mango Peanut Salad


I saw a similar recipe in the current issue of Cooking Light. Only theirs had meat in it, which was never going to sell around here because . . . Ewww, touching! But we had a case of unripe mangoes, so I made it a couple of times as a side dish. For company, spend a few extra minutes arranging it. For the kids, not so much. 
Mango Peanut Salad
6-8 ounces of spring mix
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
1/4 cup mint leaves, rough chopped
1 large or two small mangoes, cubed
3 shallots, sliced thin
1/3 cup salted peanuts, chopped
2 tablespoons peanut butter
juice of half a lime
1 tablespoon peanut oil (or vegetable oil)
2 tablespoons water
1 1/2 teaspoons palm sugar (or honey)
1/2 teaspoon sriracha sauce (or a pinch crushed red pepper)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Whisk together the peanut butter, lime juice, peanut oil, water, palm sugar, sriracha and salt. It should taste intensely salty and sour. If it doesn't, fix it. Add more salt/oil/lime juice.

Family Dinner Method: Dump everything in a bowl and toss it. Insist there are no onions, only shallots. Ignore commentary.

Company Method: Toss the lettuce and all but a tablespoon of the cilantro and mint together so that you don't end up with a giant ball of minty salad dressing. Pour on the dressing and toss together. Arrange the mangoes in a circle on top of the lettuce, top with a smaller circle of peanuts, and then a smaller circle of onions. Sprinkle the remaining herbs over. Take a photo for posterity.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Plum Cake

If you're a person who feels that the purpose of cake is to convey the frosting to your mouth in polite company, this cake isn't really for you. If you'd like something to serve with whipped cream after dinner, here it is. And if you're the person who is looking for an excuse to eat cake for breakfast the next morning, then Hello, Baby!

Plum Cake
3 small plums, thinly slice
11 tablespoons softened butter
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 1/3 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon table salt
3 eggs
Baking spray with flour
Parchment paper
8" or 9" round cake pan
The good news is that the batter comes together in five minutes. The bad news is that the fruit layer is sort of fiddly.

Trace the outline of your cake pan on the parchment, and cut a circle just inside the line you've drawn. Line the pan and spray the whole thing with baking spray.

Microwave the sliced plums on high for about a minute and fifteen seconds to soften them. You can skip this step, but your cake won't be as pretty because the plums won't be flush to the parchment. I arranged my plums in concentric circles. If you want rows or one spiral - it's a free country. But do try to press the pattern as flat as possible so that no batter seeps under the fruit.

In a mixer, cream the butter and sugar for two minutes. Beat in the flour and salt, before adding the vanilla and eggs, one at a time. Spoon the thick batter over your plums, spreading it gently with a small spatula so you don't move the fruit.

Bake at 350 (325 convection) for about an hour and five minutes. I prefer mine very crusty, so I left it in for ten minutes longer. Rest the cake on the counter for five minutes, before inverting it and peeling off the parchment. You'll want to do this very carefully, and with a small knife in hand to ease off any slices of plum that stick to the paper.

What did you have for breakfast?

Monday, April 8, 2013

Lamb and Feta Lasagna


Let's say it upfront: Lasagna is a giant pain in the ass. It takes at least an hour and involves a dozen dirty dishes. Lasagna will not make you skinny. Your hair will smell like fried onions.

On the other hand: You can make lasagna whenever you have an hour, and refrigerate or freeze it until you need dinner. Pretty much everyone likes lasagna. And your hair will smell like fried onions, if you're into that kind of thing.

So, here's a variation on a dish I saw in March's issue of Cooking Light. Don't worry - I put back all the fat. If you're on a diet, have a salad instead.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Lazy Blueberry Pie

Several years ago, I made a weird but wonderful fruit pie. It had a single pressed crust and went into the oven in less than half an hour. Of course, I immediately forgot which cookbook it came from. Maybe it was called "Lazy French Housewife's Tart?"

Five years later, I happened back upon it, there on page 433 of the King Arthur Flour 200th Anniversary Cookbook: "French Fruit Cake." Come on, now! Who's going to remember that?

Let's call it Lazy Blueberry Pie and be done with it.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Buttermilk Gingerbread

I can't be the only one with a giant stack of recipes that I'm totally going to try some day. Admit it - you have one, too. So, this week I actually got around to a recipe I've been hanging onto from the November 2000 issue of Bon Appetit. And it was terrific! Go figure. I wonder what else is in that pile.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hamantaschen 101, with Chocolate Filling

Haman's Ear, Haman's Pocket, Haman's Hat . . .

However you describe them, it's time for those triangle cookies again.

Here are the Top Five Rules of Hamantaschen:
  1. You have to allow time to chill the dough so it will roll out easily: four hours in the fridge or one hour in the freezer.
  2. Canned fillings are okay - as long as you make your own dough, you get all the points. I'm not a big fan of bought fruit fillings, but if that's what you grew up with, then crank up that can opener.
  3. You have to freeze the formed cookies to prevent them leaking, spreading and slumping. Do not defrost before baking.
  4. More filling is not better. Especially with poppy, a great glob of filling, is just unpleasant.
  5. However your grandmother made them is the right way. If you don't like your friend's recipe, don't insult her Bubbe by telling her.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Remember the Couscous, To Hell with Celery Root!

I really did want to like celery root. Just think, a vegetable I've never cooked. The possibilities are endless! Okay, it's not the prettiest plant.

But I really did try.

No dice.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Purple Friday Blueberry Cake

This is precisely the wrong time of year to buy blueberries, when they are out of season in both hemispheres. But, I bought them. Of course they tasted like library paste, so I shoved the package to the back of the fridge and ignored them. You will be shocked, shocked to hear that the berries were no better a week later.

What to do?

(I think you only get half credit for using them in muffins, when you know the kids will just pick out the berries and leave them on the plate.)

Here in Baltimore, every day has been Purple Friday since the Ravens clinched a Super Bowl spot. So, Purple Friday Blueberry Cake.

Purple Friday Blueberry Cake
2 cups granulated sugar
4 eggs
1 stick butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup white wine (or 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or vinegar, plus enough water to make one cup)
2 1/2 cups plus one tablespoon all-purpose flour
big pinch of table salt
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup blueberries, washed and dried

  1. Preheat oven to 350 (325 convection). Spray two 9" cake pans with baking spray containing flour (or grease and flour the pans). If you are making cupcakes, put two dozen cupcake papers in muffin tins.
  2. Beat the sugar and eggs on high for 30 seconds.
  3. Microwave the butter to melt in a glass measuring cup. Add oil sufficient to make a cup.
  4. Add all the other ingredients except the tablespoon of flour and the berries to the mixer. Beat for a minute, scrape down the sides, and then beat again briefly to incorporate any stray flour.
  5. In a bowl, sprinkle the blueberries with the tablespoon of flour, then stir them into the batter with a spoon, not the beaters.
  6. Pour the batter into the pans or muffin tins. If you have an ice cream scoop with a release mechanism, use it to fill the cupcake liners.
  7. Bake the cakes for about 45 minutes - the blueberries take forever to cook. Or cupcakes take half an hour. Rotate the pans midway.
  8. Remove from the oven when the tops are brown. It is very easy to wind up with raw cake when you bake with fruit, so err on the side of overdone.
  9. Rest the cakes for five minutes before inverting them to cool on racks. Wait at least an hour before frosting.

Blueberry Frosting
1 stick unsalted butter
8 tablespoons marshmallow Fluff
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup blueberries
purple food coloring (optional)

Note: I know all the cookbooks tell you not to soften butter in the microwave. Here on planet earth, you probably forgot to take the butter out of the fridge this morning. I know I did. If you turn the stick every fifteen seconds on 30% power, your butter will be soft in a minute. If you wander off and don't rotate it, you'll need to mop up a puddle of grease.

  1. Beat the butter and Fluff in the mixer to incorporate.
  2. Mix in two cups of powdered sugar and the vanilla. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  3. Beat in the blueberries on medium-high to break them up.
  4. Add the remaining two cups of sugar.
  5. Use your own judgement (aka listen to the food) - if your berries are very juicy and the frosting seems runny, add more sugar. If you find it too sweet already, twenty minutes in the fridge should firm it up.
  6. Add the optional purple coloring for team spirit. Keep in mind, the color will darken a shade as the frosting dries. (I couldn't even eat the ones I made for the play-off games, the purple color was so unappetizing.)
  7. You may want to put the frosting in the fridge for half an hour to set up - fruit frostings are very runny. I probably wouldn't try piping this frosting, since the blueberry bits will clog the tip, and it's just too loose to hold a shape very well. Just decorate your cake with blueberries - it will be pretty enough.


(Or use cherries if you're a 49ers fan.)


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chickpea and Red Lentil Dal

Call them chickpeas, garbanzos or chana. To my mind, they are the best legume. They also take forever to cook, which is why we often buy them canned. But any Indian market will sell you Chana Dal, which are peeled and split garbanzos, like green or yellow split peas. This will halve both the cooking time and the cost, and you won't have tough bean skins floating around your dish. Win, win, win.

While you're at the Indian store, pick up a bags of unsweetened, shredded coconut, cardamom, coriander, turmeric, and small, red lentils. Even the smallest bags will keep you supplied for dozens of meals, and the whole basket of stuff should run you about ten bucks. Live large.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies

AKA False Scarcity Cookies. Because Trader Joe's only sells Peppermint Bark Baking Bits at Christmastime, so it is imperative to buy seven bags. Obviously. But then you realize, no one's going to want Peppermint Bark in July, so you've got to figure out what to do with them. Try this.

Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookies
(makes about 40 cookies)
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup white sugar
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup Dutch process cocoa powder (yes, really)
3 cups flour
9 ounce bag Peppermint Bark Baking Bits

These cookies come together like every other drop cookie you've ever made. If you feel like sifting the dry ingredients together in a separate bowl, knock yourself out. (Wash another dish? I think not.)