Thursday, July 15, 2010

new kitchen, heirloom tomatoes

It has been a surprisingly hot and unsurprisingly lovely summer so far. Drenched in sweat, the stickiest I've been above the Mason-Dixon line, I have had a wonderful two months while neglecting this blog. There was a trip to Texas filled with gush-worthy pork belly and the juiciest peaches and my mother: the only person who never fails to be in the mood for gelato every time that I am. I've been cooking a little, less than I said I would after the stresses of school fell away, but more than seems appropriate when 97 degrees makes turning on the oven seem ridiculous. New seasonal tastes have arrived, I can barely drink water if it doesn't have a hefty handful of cucumbers in it. I have renewed my devotion to stone fruits, the peaches, the plums, and the apricots, oh my. And all of this in a brand new kitchen, four blocks from the old. I am still adjusting to the shift, I haven't organized my spices, I have yet to hold a potluck, and the toaster remains in an awkward limbo between the top of the refrigerator and the counter. 

But enough is enough, and to truly christen a kitchen, baking a pie is in order. On my flight down to Texas in early June I read a book by Laurie Colwin where she waxes poetically about a tomato pie. Never having eaten one, this struck me first as odd and then as brilliant. I nearly forgot about my savory pie intentions until this week, when flipping through a Gourmet from last summer I saw a recipe that the editors described as an offspring of Colwin's pie and a cheesy James Beard version. It was time. The oven preheated, the dough rolled out, I christened my oven with the smells of roasting tomatoes and fresh basil. And it was good, really good. Carefully (and astonishingly successful) I wrapped the still warm pie in plastic bags and biked gently over to my friends to present them with the goods. Three slices of cheesy, sweet corn filled, crusty pie deliciousness later we all sat, sated by the freshness of summer produce and the feeling of indulgence and nourishment that can only come from a flaky homemade pie crust. And that is exactly the note I wanted to set for my new kitchen: a place where real ingredients can be combined with loving effort to nourish the ones I love. 

Tomato Pie
adapted from the August 2009 Gourmet

serves 6 as a light meal

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 3/4 tsp salt, divided
6 Tbs cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, plus 2 tsp melted
3/4 cup 2% milk
1/3 cup mayonnaise
2 Tbs fresh lemon juice
1 3/4 lb heirloom tomatoes, or the best you can find, sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
1 cup of corn, about 2 ears, chopped coarsely
4 Tbs chopped basil, divided
6 ounces grated sharp cheddar, about 1 1/2 cups

Whisk together flour, baking powder, 3/4 tsp salt in a bowl, then blend in cold butter with your fingertips until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add milk, stirring until mixture just forms a ball. 
Divide dough in half and roll out to 12 inch rounds, about 1/8 inch thick. Lay one round on the bottom of a glass pie plate, trimming any overhang. 
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Whisk together lemon juice and mayonnaise.
Arrange half of tomatoes in the crust, overlapping, and sprinkle half the corn, 2 Tbs basil, and a  pinch of salt and pepper over the top.
Repeat with remaining tomatoes, corn, basil, salt and pepper, then add one cup of the cheese.
Pour lemon mayonnaise over the filling and top with remaining cheese. 
Add second round of pie crust to the top, folding overhang over the edge of bottom crust and pinching to seal. Cut 4 steam vents into top of crust and brush with 2 tsp of melted butter.
Bake pie until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, about 35 minutes. Let cool and serve warm or at room temperature. Dig in.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

cantaloupe sorbet and my birthday

Glancing over my past posts, I have noticed a slight tendency towards decadence. I love writing about food, making and serving it to others, and I want every recipe posted here to be delicious. I want you to squeal with pleasure at the first bite. And to do that, I have given you creamy cheesy enchiladas, opulent pies, and comforting pastas.
This past week I turned 20. With my birthday, I completely let go of the pretence of healthy hedonism and totally bask in guilt free gluttony. So much good food. I wish I could bottle the chocolate filling on my birthday cake and smear it on toast for breakfast every morning. Although then I would have to give up the week's habit of brie and baguettes for breakfast...
Alas, I can not live on crusty bread and fatty cheeses alone. At least not with summer approaching. So I set out on a healthier path, a healthy dish in mind. Something I would still eagerly rush to post about, but something more spring-like: light, fresh, devoid of cheese. I was leaning towards something with quinoa, filled with veggies until I bought the most adorable trio of ripe cantaloupes, just begging to be made into sorbet. I know, I know, dessert isn't the lofty healthy ideal I was reaching for, but this is almost totally fruit! Baby steps. 
Well. Maybe there is a reason decadence is my go-to option. This sorbet isn't amazing. It is pretty good though, and very refreshing. I do think that in summer, with a more gutsy seasonal cantaloupe it could be superb. Or combined with some champagne for a slushie. Or as a granita with mint... For now, I will settle for healthy. 

Cantaloupe sorbet

-one ripe cantaloupe, seeded with rind trimmed off, cut into chunks
-3 Tbs lemon juice
-2 Tbs water
-1/4 cup sugar

In a blender or food processor, blend cantaloupe until totally smooth. In a small saucepan, or by briefly microwaving in a glass, combine the lemon juice, water, and sugar. Add to the cantaloupe mixture and blend in. Refrigerate for about an hour, or until very cold. Freeze in an ice cream maker. 

Or, for all of ya'll without ice cream makers (poor you.) here is the granita version.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

warm weather and a heavenly key lime pie

Is it warm and magnificent where you are? Is it picnic weather? Is it the first time where you feel like wearing anything less than your most summery, light weight, gloriously scant outfit would be a crime? Chicago is fantastic right now. It is bursting with flower buds, fragrant with plants, demanding that I fill my days with sunshine and too-short shorts.

For me these spring-time miraculous spurts of warmth are demanding of spring food. Food that begs to be eaten after a day of blister forming active discovering of your city, or getting the years first sunburn. Tasty eats like prosciutto wrapped melon and cold sesame noodles. The perfect strawberry ice cream, bought from a man with a cart, on a perfect day. Thank God winter has passed.

If your weather is as celebratory as ours in Chicago you simply must make this frozen key lime pie. Brightly acidic and luxuriously decadent, you deserve this after all the sweaters and scarves and numb toes and never ending waits for the bus in the snow. It is the antithesis of winter: a really amazingly citrus-y frozen pie, I couldn't tell if I was shoving it in my mouth to prevent it from melting or just because it was so sublime. Just like Spring however, this pie requires an insufferable wait. The actual pie took me and my saccharine partner in crime Cecile about 20 minutes to make. And four hours of agony waiting for it to freeze. But it was worth it. Totally. 

Frozen Key Lime Pie
exactly as the brilliant Ina Garten intended it

serves 8

-1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10 crackers)
-1/4 cup sugar
-6 Tbs (3/4 stick) unsalted butter

-6 extra-large egg yolks, at room temperature
-1/4 cup sugar
-1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
-2 tablespoons grated lime zest
-3/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (4 to 5 limes

For Decoration
-1 cup (1/2 pint) heavy whipping cream
-1/4 cup sugar
-1 tsp. vanilla extract
-sliced lime wedges for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

For the crust, combine the graham cracker crumbs, sugar, and butter in a bowl. Press into a 9-inch pie pan, making sure the sides and the bottom are an even thickness. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool.

For the filling, beat the egg yolks and sugar on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment for 5 minutes, until thick. With the mixer on medium speed, add the condensed milk, lime zest, and lime juice. Pour into the baked pie shell and freeze about an hour. 

For the decoration, beat the heavy cream on high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment until soft peaks form. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until firm. Spoon or pipe decoratively onto the pie and decorate with lime. Freeze for several hours or overnight. Try to wait as long as you can, I know the temptation is unbearable. Congratulations for surviving winter, Spring is here!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

easter and the best goat cheese and leek tart

Easter has a soft spot in my heart. With Easter comes many of my favorite things: discounted candy, deviled eggs, spring, baby animals. Unfortunately Easter has also often meant uncomfortable dresses, awkward brunches, and an extra long mass. But, ah the beauty of growing up and creating one's own Easter, free of puffy dresses and religious obligations. My first Easter sans the family, was magnificent (although I would have love to try my mother's curried deviled eggs with mango chutney.....). Eggs galore, mimosas flowing, my Chicago "family" of friends, the most perfect sunny Chicago afternoon, and a really good leek tart. 
This might sound heretical to some, but I think leeks might be the new Easter ham.  The proudly display many of Spring's best qualities: freshly sprung with the ground, bursting with flavor, providing hope to the winter-weary. OK, maybe not hope, but deep eggy satisfaction for sure. 
This tart is really good. A light crust, rich egg center, delicate leek flavor, and  decadent goat cheese. Just the kind of dish you want to serve to your impromptu family on Easter. Say a prayer first and all of your church truancy shall be absolved. 
So for your next brunch or family gathering, make this. It is best eaten on a porch while you get the first sunburn of the year. 

Goat Cheese and Leek Tart
simplified from Bon Appetit and Molly Wizenburg

-4 Tbs ice water (or more)
-3/4 tsp vinegar
-1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
-3/4 tsp salt
-1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

-1/2 cup whole milk
-1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
-1 large egg
-1 large egg yolk
-1/4 tsp salt
-1/2 cup goat cheese, crumbled
-1 1/2 cups leek confit*

Combine ice water and vinegar in a bowl. Blend flour and salt in a bowl (use a food processor for this is you have one, I used my hands). Add butter and combine until mixture resembles course meal. Add water in small increments, until mixture forms moist clumps. Add more water by the teaspoon if dough seems dry. Roll into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate two hours or up to 3 days. 

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 degrees. Roll dough out and place in a 9-inch pie pan. Bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown and slightly puffy. 

While pie crust cools, prepare filling. Whisk milk, cream, egg, egg yolk, and salt in a medium bowl until combined. Sprinkle half of goat cheese on bottom of pie crust, top with leek confit, and spread remaining goat cheese on top. Pour milk mixture over. Bake until center looks set, filling is slightly puffy, and the top is lightly golden, about 35 minutes. Let cool slightly, and serve. Enjoy!

*Leek Confit: sounds hard, super easy

Trim 3 large leeks to only the white and pale green parts. Chop into 1/4 inch slices. Saute on low with half a stick of butter (1/4 cup) and a 1/2 tsp of salt until very tender. 

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

austin + sour cream tomatillo enchiladas

My spring time trip home to Texas is one of ritual. The way other cultures welcome spring with dances and ceremonies, I embrace the new season with barbeque and SXSW. I have been fortunate enough to have my spring break the past few years land at the end of march, arguably Austin's most beautiful time of the year, and also the week of SXSW. So straight from finals, intense amounts of stress, and Chicago's winter I arrive to a weekend of bluebonnets, red bud trees in bloom, and my favorite bands playing for free. It's amazing. School forgotten, I am free to float around Austin, soaking up the sun, while Chicago begins it's thaw.

Food may be the most important part of my Spring ritual. Music is a close second, but food literally replenishes me after the long (terrible, cold, miserable, unbearable...) winter. First there is the obligatory trip to Lockhart, TX for the most incredible brisket, then a fried avocado taco at Torchy's, and a trip to Austin is never complete without a cherry lime slush. All this eaten in 75 degree weather.

I will stop there, to prevent more of you from moving to Austin, clogging up the highways, and making me wait in excessive lines for SXSW shows! I mean you, Black Keys fans. So for all of ya'll stuck up North, here is the closest approximation to a certain Austin Tex-Mex restaurant's Deluxe Tomatillo sauce, the most heavenly use of sour cream that enchiladas have ever known. I made these enchiladas for a potluck right before my return home, and again a few days later with my mom. They got every Texan at the table's seal of approval. Sorry I can't send you some of this sunshine but this is just as satisfying, I swear. Beneath the chicken, you'll find my veggie-fied version with black beans and acorn squash.

Deluxe Tomatillo chicken enchiladas
adapted from Homesick Texan

makes enough for 5 hungry Texans

-2 pounds chicken thighs
-salt & pepper
-olive oil
-1/2 medium onion diced

deluxe tomatillo sauce:
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 serrano chile, diced (adjust if your a spice wimp)
-2 Tbs butter
-2 Tbs flour
-2 cups chicken broth
-2 cups sour cream
-1 tsp cumin
-1/2 cup chopped cilantro
-8 fresh tomatillos, husked removed and sliced in half
-teensy bit of cayenne
-salt & pepper to taste

for enchiladas:
-12 corn tortillas
-2 Tbs canola oil
-2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
-1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 350.

Bake chicken, sprinkled with salt and pepper and the olive oil, in the oven for 30 minutes. Once cooled, shred with two forks and set aside. Turn oven to broil.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, once warm add serrano chile. Cook until softened, 4 minutes, add garlic and cook for another. Add flour and cook for another minute. Add chicken broth to pot and whisk over heat until thickened. Stir in sour cream, cumin, cayenne, and cilantro until smooth. Remove from heat.

Place halved tomatillos in oven under broiler, and cook for about 5 minutes on each side until blistered but not black. Place broiled tomatillos and sauce in blender and blend on low until smooth. Turn oven back to 350.

This step may seem silly but crucial in preventing tortilla cracking: Heat canola oil in a skillet and cook tortillas one by one in skillet until soft, adding more oil if needed. Wrap in paper towel to keep warm.

To start assembling the enchiladas, pour one cup of sauce into bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Place about 1/3 cup chicken, 1 tsp onion, and 1 Tbs cheese in each corn tortilla before rolling tightly and placing seam side down in the casserole dish. Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas, top with remaining cheese, and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.

Top with cilantro, serve, and pretend you're in Austin with me!

Veggie Deluxe Tomatillo Enchilada
To make these into a vegetarian's dream, replace chicken broth with vegetable broth in sauce. Instead of chicken filling use thinly sliced acorn squash, brushed with olive oil, and baked for 15 minutes. Fill enchiladas with acorn squash, black beans, diced onion, and cheese. Totally different, but really good.

Friday, March 5, 2010

a fennel salad and a photo

There is a wonderful feeling that comes from carrying heavy bags filled with fresh produce. This feeling, somewhere between productivity and peace, makes it worth carrying these two bags on two different forms of public transportation more than four miles. 

Or maybe I'm just crazy, going weak kneed at the sight of cheap fennel and organic blood oranges. I'm such a sucker for a good deal. 

With spring teasing me with 40 degree days (!) and sunshine, my internal seasonal clock has me craving fresh vegetables. After a winter diet comprised mostly of cheese and carbs, my body has begun to protest, demanding nutrients. I placated it with this salad.

Subconsciously I began forming this salad at the store, buying fennel and blood orange, but it only really began to take form on the bus, when my wandering mind remembered this awesome post from one of my favorite food blogs, The Kitchn. Paring it down from it's leafy abundance I created a minimalist, healthy, and tasty side for some homemade pizza. 

It was really good. I once claimed I wasn't a fan of sweet-savory combos, but this salad is living proof I was lying. The saltiness from the olives and the pecorino is the perfect contrast to the rich sweetness of the blood orange and the slight anise flavor of the fennel. This is the perfect accompaniment for the first picnic of Spring. But I might wait for 50 degrees to do that...

Fennel, Blood Orange, and Olive Salad
makes enough for 4 side salads

-1 fennel bulb, sliced very thinly
-2 large blood oranges, segmented
-1/4 cup pitted olives, chopped in half (I used kalamata)
-an ounce of pecorino romano or parmesan, or to taste
-2 Tbs olive oil
-2 Tbs lemon juice
-salt & pepper to taste

Assemble together the fennel, blood orange segments, and olives. Shave the pecorino over, using a vegetable peeler.  Toss with olive oil & lemon juice. Enjoy. 

* On a side note, many thousands of thanks to my wonderful sister Eva for the great camera I now have to document all my culinary adventures. Please bear with me as I attempt to improve my food photography!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

curry, spice, and everything's nice

I don't remember ever disliking Indian food. Instead I remember asking to go to the Clay Pit, Austin's finest Indian restaurant, for more than one birthday as a child, always loving the heavy smells and dim lighting, feeling so mature with my mango lassi. I thought lamb korma was the height of culinary perfection, creamy cashew deliciousness and tender meat. Don't even get me started on naan and raita

Moving to Chicago changed my relationship with Indian food a bit. There seems to be great Indian food restaurants everywhere, a few I've been lucky to eat at, but the prices are beyond my minuscule budget. Was Indian food this expensive when my parents were paying for it? (Thanks, Mom and Dad!)

I've always been a little timid at the thought of cooking Indian food, it seems so daunting, so complicated, so much better when someone else brings it to you with a warm basket of garlic naan. Alas, with the recent purchase of a plane ticket and my lack of financial planning, this is not an option. At the suggestion of my mother for a quick dinner, I made chicken curry. Awesome chicken curry. Heavily fragrant, intensely flavored, just rich enough to leave me sleepily full, awesome. 

And so easy! Not at all the laborious process I imagined. It's less work and more of a dumping everything delicious into a skillet and watching as it bubbles seductively, diffusing your house with curry smells. Pretty pleasant. And pretty cheap. Enough for you, another, and yourself again for lunch. You probably already have most of these ingredients languishing in your pantry and fridge. They're begging for you to use them, to take them off the shelf and transform them into something crave-worthy. 

Chicken Curry
adapted from Gourmet 2007

makes enough for 3 or 4

-1 1/2 pounds chicken drumsticks
-1 tsp salt
-2 Tbs olive oil
-3 garlic cloves chopped
-2 Tbs curry powder
-1/4 tsp cayenne (or to taste)
-1 14 oz. can light coconut milk
-1 14 oz. can stewed tomatoes
-3/4 cup fresh cilantro

(if you're feeling healthy, the original recipe calls for 1/4 cup currants and  1 10 oz. package of frozen okra.)

Pat chicken dry and sprinkle with salt. 

Heat oil in large skillet until hot but not smoking.  Brown chicken on both sides, about 5 minutes. Move chicken with tongs to plate. Stir garlic, curry powder, and cayenne into remaining oil before adding coconut milk and tomatoes with their juice. Bring to simmer, add chicken back into skillet. Briskly simmer about 20 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through and sauce has slightly reduced to a thick, heavenly consistency. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve with basmati rice or naan. And a healthy dollop of raita. Feast. 


-1 1/2 cup yogurt ( i used Greek)
-1/2 a large cucumber, peeled
-1 tsp salt
-1 tsp cumin
-2 Tbs freshly chopped cilantro

Chop cucumber into 1/2 inch sized chunks. Mix with yogurt, salt, cumin, and cilantro.