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Archive for January, 2010

90 minute beans

This technique has changed my cooking life. It has ended my relationship with canned beans (I never really loved you) by providing an alternative that doesn’t take hours, require planning ahead to soak, or call for a pressure cooker. The best part: it takes beans from in-the-bag to beautifully cooked in ninety minutes. True story!

chickpeas - done

I think that this (completely genius) idea first appeared on the internet on eGullet, and it came to me through the Paupered Chef. And at this point, all I can do is apologize for holding out on you so long.

Ninety-minute no-soak beans

1 lb beans
Two big pinches of salt
Water

Preheat your oven to 250 F.

Pick over the beans to make sure there are no rocks in there. (Seriously, this happens.) Put them to a Dutch oven* and add cold water to cover them by a couple of inches.

chickpeas - sink

Add the salt, and put the whole thing on the stovetop. Bring it to a boil on the stove.

boiling chickpeas

When it boils, put on the top, move the entire thing to the oven, and bake for about 75 minutes. It’s worth peeking in around 40 minutes to make sure they’re still covered in water. If not, heat some more water to a boil and pour it in.

Taste one at 75 minutes to make sure that they’re done; if not, you can leave them in for a few more minutes. (If your beans take more than 90 minutes in the oven, it’s probably a sign that they’re quite old and you should check the expiration date on your package! Nothing terrible will happen to you, but they will probably suffer in both taste and texture.)

*Okay, the Dutch oven situation. They are awesome, and not just for this, and if you don’t have one, you should consider it! There are two brands, Lodge and Tramontina, that make good enameled cast-iron versions that come in around $60 (rather than the $200+ that Le Creuset and Staub will set you back).

If you don’t have one, I have an untested theory that you could make it work by boiling the water in a kettle or pan and putting the beans in a Pyrex or enameled stoneware pan, then pouring the water in, covering tightly with aluminum foil, and baking as directed. If you try this, let me know!

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You’re probably all on to my little secret: I think caramelized onions improve almost anything. I first discovered them at age twelve (on a pizza at Bertucci’s, if you’re wondering) and I have since added them to all kinds of things (including mashed potatoes). This recipe, which adds them to cornbread, is pretty much a stroke of genius.

(Southerners, you may wish to avert your eyes for the remainder of this entry, as I am about to suggest a number of highly unorthodox alterations to traditional cornbread, at least some of which probably constitute heresy. Forgive me.)

cornbread.jpg

The secret ingredient in this recipe is goat cheese, which plays the part of butter with an added tang. (Not that there’s any shortage of actual butter to go with it. I wouldn’t do that to you.) The goat cheese flavor doesn’t come through strongly, but it provides a nice balance to the sweetness of the corn kernels and onions.

Caramelized Onion Cornbread
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

1 c. yellow cornmeal*
2 c. buttermilk**
2 onions
salt
6 T. butter
6 oz. of goat cheese (the kind that comes in a log)
3 eggs
2 T. honey
1/4 c. granulated sugar
1 3/4 c. flour
1 1/2 T. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
2 1/2 c. (about 16 oz) corn kernels (fresh or frozen-and-thawed)

The night before, mix the cornmeal and the buttermilk and leave them to soak, covered. Take the goat cheese out of the fridge and leave it to soften. (If you’re doing this on the spur of the moment, let the corn and buttermilk soak for about 20 minutes and slightly soften the goat cheese in the microwave. Don’t melt it!)

When you’re ready to bake, peel and dice the onions, then heat 2 tablespoons of the butter in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-low heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook slowly. You want to still hear some sizzling and popping, but keep the heat just above where it stops. Stir them occasionally so they cook evenly, and keep cooking until they turn a lovely deep caramel brown. This will take at somewhere between fifteen and thirty minutes, depending on how impatient you are low you keep the heat. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a big bowl, beat the goat cheese like you would butter, creaming it until it’s fluffy. (A stand or electric mixer can be a help here, but you can also totally do it with elbow grease.) Add the eggs one at a time (really, this helps!) and mix to combine. Do not fret if it looks curdled; everything will be fine!

Melt another 2 T. of butter in the microwave or a saucepan. Add it to the mix, along with the sugar and honey. Then stir in the cornmeal/buttermilk mixture. Mix well.

Now find your baking pan — you can use a 9×13-inch rectangular pan, a round 10-inch pie or cake pan, or my favorite, a 10-inch well-seasoned cast iron skillet — and put it in the oven with the last 2 tablespoons of butter in it. Leave it there while you finish mixing so it gets hot and the butter melts. (Word to the wise: do not use a nonstick pan for this; the coating may come off and that stuff is not for eating.)

To the batter, add the flour, baking powder, and baking soda, along with another pinch of salt. Stir to combine, then gently stir in the corn kernels.

cornbread batter.jpg

By now, your pan should have spent five minutes or so in the oven. Take it out — very carefully — and tilt it to spread the butter around. Pour the batter in, let it spread, and then sprinkle the caramelized onions on top.

Bake for about 30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow the bread to cool for ten or fifteen minutes before slicing it. This bread also freezes well (cut into pieces and stored in freezer bags); reheat it wrapped in tinfoil in a 200 degree oven.

cornbread in pan.jpg

*Ideally, what you want here is coarse or stone-ground cornmeal. You can sometimes find this in with natural foods in fancy brands (or as dry polenta); there’s also a version made by Goya that’s often in the international food aisle.
**Worth buying, but if you don’t have it, you can make a substitute by putting 2 tablespoons of white vinegar in a liquid measuring cup and adding milk until it reaches the 2-cup mark and then waiting a few minutes for it to curdle.

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Butternut squash soup

First apology: I’m sorry! I posted two recipes on Tuesday, in a fit of post-scheduling failure, and then topped it off by posting nothing yesterday!

Second apology:

squash soup.jpg

I make a lot of soup, and I like a lot of it, but this is a serious contender for being the most universally acclaimed. The kick of the ginger is the perfect counterpoint to the sweetness of the roasted squash, and you can create your ideal soup texture by putting in more or less broth at the end. It’s a staple of my family’s holiday tables, but if you keep roasted butternut squash in your freezer (and you should!), it’s also a quick weeknight supper option. Beats the heck out of Chinese takeout!

Butternut squash soup
Inspired by a recipe from a previous edition of The Joy of Cooking

1 butternut squash
Canola oil
1 onion or 2-3 leeks
3 T. grated fresh ginger*
About 1 quart of vegetable broth
Salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 400 F.

Cut the butternut squash in half and scoop out the seeds and strings. Rub the cut sides with canola oil, including inside the hollows. Line a rimmed baking sheet or 9×13 inch pan with aluminum foil (which will make your cleanup life much, much better) and place the squash on it, cut side down. Roast for about 45 minutes, until you can easily poke a toothpick or fork all the way the flesh of the squash.

About five minutes before it’s done, peel and chop the onion or the white and lightest green parts of the leeks, and start a stock pot warming over medium heat with a splash of canola oil in the bottom.

Remove the squash from the oven and flip the halves over. Wait a few minutes until they’re cool enough to handle and then scrape the flesh out of the skin. (This is the point at which you would freeze the squash if you were saving it for later.)

squash remains.jpg

Saute the onion until it begins to soften. Then add the ginger, and cook until the onion is very soft and the ginger is fragrant, 3-5 minutes. I know it sounds like a lot of ginger, but trust me, you want to add it all now. Ginger added later in the cooking time with have a much stronger bite!

Add the squash and about 2 cups of broth. (If you’re using frozen squash, just stick it in at this point; no need to defrost.) Bring the whole mixture to a simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, using your spoon to break up big chunks of squash. Then stir in the rest of the broth. You can add even more than the recommended four cups if you like your soup thinner; if you like it thick, you might not want to add any additional broth at this point.

Puree the soup in a blender or food processor (being careful not to overfill the container with hot liquid!) or with an immersion blender. Salt and pepper to taste.

*Two important notes here. First, you can keep fresh ginger in the freezer. It lasts a long time in the fridge too, but this way you never have to worry. Second, you can grate it without peeling.

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Bundt coffee cake

While the virtue of scones is in how quickly they come together, the beauty of coffee cake lies in how easy it is to make ahead. If you have extra freezer space (I know, very funny), you can even store a baked one, tightly wrapped, against emergency brunch needs!

bundt coffee cake

This one is a pretty everyday cake: it’s not super-rich, topped with streusel, or filled with chocolate chips. (That last one is coming, I promise.) But these very features are the ones that have given it the power to convert the “coffee cake is always too sweet” crowd (by which I mean “my mom”). Although it contains both cocoa powder and instant espresso, both flavors show up as a depth of flavor, rather than with strong tastes of their own.

Bundt Coffee Cake
Adapted from Lucinda Quinn’s Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys, a book to whose very title I object on feminist grounds, via Serious Eats

1 stick butter, ideally unsalted
1 c. plus 2 T. sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
1 c. sour cream
2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 t. baking powder
pinch salt
1 T. instant espresso powder
1 T. unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a bundt pan well, remembering to grease the center. Although I don’t generally like it, if you’re using decorative bundt pan, cooking spray is probably your friend here.

Soften the butter (either by leaving on the counter overnight or in the microwave) and cream it with the cup of sugar. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until combined.*

Add about half the sour cream and mix, then add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Finish by adding the rest of the sour cream.

Now find a little bowl and put the remaining two tablespoons of sugar in, along with the cocoa powder and espresso.

Take half of your batter and make a ring around the center of your bundt pan. The batter will be stiff! Then top it with the espresso-chocolate mix, and arrange the rest of the batter in a second ring on top. It’s going to look extremely lame.

Bundt coffee cake in pan

I swear to you that the cake in this photo is the same as the cake in the first photo! The oven makes it all okay. Trust me.

Now you’re going to bake it. Start checking at 30 minutes, especially if you’re using a larger pan. You can jiggle the pan — it should be set all the way through — and then test with toothpicks. It should take about 40 minutes in a larger pan and 50-55 minutes in a smaller one.

Let it cool completely before turning it out.

Serves eight generously or 16 as part of a meal.

*Here’s where most recipes are going to tell you to add eggs one at a time. In the end, it doesn’t matter much, but you may find it easier to mix them in if you do them singly.

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Raisinless carrot cake

Now is probably as good a time as any to confess that I have a pretty serious issue with raisins. Like, I have a hard time even just calling them “raisins” and not the-evil-scourge-raisins, which is what I believe them to truly be. Still, it’s okay with me if you like them. More for you!

Anyway, this whole raisin issue kept me from trying a number of foods for a long time. Scones were one of these casualties. But another one was carrot cake.

carrot cake.jpg

Carrot cake is especially dangerous to raisin-haters since some genius introduced golden raisins, which should pretty much be labeled “now even harder to pick out!” Not fair, I say.

Then, one fine day, I came across this recipe, from a fellow raisin-hater, and I knew that fantastic carrot cake would be mine, any time I wanted it. Bliss.

Carrot Cake
Adapted from Food on the Food

1 1/2 c. canola oil
2 1/2 c. sugar
4 eggs, separated
5 T. water
2 1/2 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
pinch salt
1 t. nutmeg
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. cloves
3-4 carrots
1 c. pecans

Frosting

1 stick (1/4 lb) butter, softened
8 oz cream cheese (low fat is okay, but don’t use fat-free here)
1/2-3/4 lb. confectioner’s sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9×13 inch pan.

Chop the ends off the carrots. Wash or peel them, then grate. The easy way to do this involves a food processor. The hard way involves, you know, a grater. Either way, look out for fingers! You want to end up with about 1 1/2 cups of grated carrot.

In a big bowl, mix the oil and sugar. Beat in the 4 egg yolks, then add the water.

carrot cake beginnings

Add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices. (If you have lumps in your stuff, you might want to do this through a strainer, but I’m generally not bothered.) Stir in carrots and nuts. Batter will be very thick.

In another bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Stir about a quarter of the egg whites directly into the batter to lighten it up, then gently fold the rest of the egg whites into the batter. A rubber or silicone spatula is your friend here.

Pour the batter into the pan and bake 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out pretty cleanly. (Crumbs yes; batter no.) Let cool.

powdered sugar

To make frosting, whip together butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer. Add 1/2 lb. confectioner’s sugar and mix until it’s as lump-free as you require. (If you are really strong on the lumplessness, you might want to put the sugar through a sifter.) I found this plenty sweet, but if you like it sweeter, go ahead and add more sugar.

Frost the cake when cool. I like to do this right in the pan, but if you have a platter that will hold the whole cake, go for it. Alternately, you can bake the cake in two eight- or nine-inch round pans, in which case you’ll want to double the frosting so you have enough for a layer cake.

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Making vegetable stock

This is the first in an occasional series covering really excellent ways to make simple core ingredients. This week: vegetable stock.

veggie stock - after.jpg

As most people who have cooked for vegetarians can attest, store-bought vegetable stocks vary widely in taste, and only a few are palatable to me. In some cases, like strongly flavored soups, the precise taste isn’t so important, but dishes like risotto, the taste of the broth can really dominate the dish.

Which brings us to the much-vaunted solution: make your own!

I have two pieces of good news about this. The first is that making stock is as easy as throwing some stuff in a pot with a lot of water, bringing it to a boil, and waiting. The second is that pretty much anything you make is going to be better than store-bought stock, so experimenting is pretty painless.

Vegetable Stock

What to use:

The usual suspects: These include carrots, celery, potatoes, and onions. Onions need the papery skin peeled off, and I usually trim parts I wouldn’t use in cooking off the vegetables, although some people report great results with leftovers like peels. (If you try this, let me know!)

Other veggies: Mushrooms, parsnips (they’ll make the broth cloudy, but who cares?), sweet potatoes or winter squash, peas, corn

Aromatics: Peeled garlic cloves are a great addition, and a bay leaf is practically mandatory. Parsley is common, as are whole peppercorns and thyme.

Salt: You need some! You can use anything you have on hand, or try soy sauce.

Extras: White wine is perhaps the most common addition to vegetable stock. You can also use a splash of fruit juice (try apple cider!) for a slightly sweet stock that would be good in squash soup.

Look out for: Brassica vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower) often taste overwhelmingly strong. Use tomatoes in moderation, as they have a strong flavor too. Beets will make your stock pink. Using herbs with a particular flavor palette is fine, but remember to label your stock with this so you don’t use something heavy on Italian herbs to make a Japanese soup!

The method

Roughly chop the vegetables: quartering them is fine!

Aim for roughly equal volumes of vegetables and water. If eyeballing is not your strength (it isn’t mine!), throw the vegetables into a big liquid measuring cup as you chop. Throw it all in a stock pot. [Note: do as I say, not as I do, here. The photo below doesn’t have nearly as many vegetables in it as you should use!]

stock - before.jpg

Heat it to a boil, then lower the heat until it’s simmering. Leave the top off. Simmer for about an hour.

stock - during.jpg

You can strain the stock at this point with a colander and store it in the fridge or freezer, or you can continue to simmer it until it reduces significantly — I usually aim for about an eighth of the original volume — and then cool it and freeze it in ice cube trays. Once it’s fully frozen, you can pop it out and throw the cubes into bags for later use. Note how concentrated it is so you know how much water to add when you use it!

Stock will keep a few days in the fridge; if you need it to keep longer, pour it out into a pot, boil it for 10 minutes, and then put it back in the fridge. It will keep forever in the freezer, but will taste best in the first two or three months.

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Okay, I know, I just posted a recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies last month. But I’m making up for lost time here. And these are different!

coffee oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.jpg

Not only do they have a secret ingredient (that would be the coffee, which almost no one will notice until you tell them it’s there), but they have an entirely different texture than those other cookies. They’re thin and chewy, more like a florentine or lace cookie than a cousin of the ordinary chocolate-chip variety. The brilliance of these cookies is subtle: the coffee helps cut the chocolate flavor, while providing depth that makes them taste rich.

One word of warning: these cookies are delicate flowers. If you want to travel with them, they’re going to need first-class passage in a hard-sided container. Of course, you could avoid that problem by eating them all yourself.

Coffee Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Baking Bites

1 1/2 T. instant espresso powder
3 T. water
1 c. butter
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1 1/2 c. flour
1 t. baking soda
pinch salt
2 c. old-fashioned oats (you can sub quick-cooking oats, but don’t use instant!)
1 1/2 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, dissolve the espresso powder in the water and set aside.

espresso.jpg

In a big bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light and fluffy. (Soften the butter first if you’re taking it from the fridge; try the defrost setting on your microwave to achieve this without melting it.) This is easiest with a hand or stand mixer, but can totally be accomplished with a big spoon and some bicep action. Mix in the egg and vanilla extract, followed by the espresso.

add espresso.jpg

(I love the instruction “add espresso.”)

Stir in the flour, baking soda, and salt, then add the oats and chocolate chips and mix until combined.

oats and chocolate.jpg

Drop roughly one-inch balls onto your lined cookie sheets, leaving room for the cookies to spread while baking. (It’s not a tragedy if they run into each other, but they look prettier if they don’t.)

Bake for 12-14 minutes, until cookies are golden-brown on the edges and set all the way through. Remove from the oven and let them cool for a couple of minutes before moving the cookies to cooling racks.

Makes about 3 1/2 dozen.

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