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!