Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The stars aligned

I have to speed over pita, just for today. This is much better.

Yesterday was what felt like the hottest day of the summer thus far, or at the very least, the stickiest. The humidity was so heavy you practically had to move it out of the way to walk through it, a curtain of muggy, damp, summer air.

I mention this only to help explain the fact that pasta with mushroom ragu was decidedly not what the weather called for last night. Salad would have been more fitting. Perhaps no food at all would have been better, and just really cold beer and freezer packs alternated with new ones as they thawed.

But it happened, as it sometimes does, that what was in the fridge came together in a mushroom ragu kind of way, or the stars aligned, or I really didn’t mind all the pasta kneading on such a hot day.

A customer at the restaurant the other day left a note on the back of their receipt thanking the server and complimenting the food. I am tempted to borrow from their own words about our kobe beef, for lack of a better way to describe this pasta. It was, as the man that sat at table twenty this weekend would say, downright transcendental. It is a rather dramatic description, yes, perhaps a little pretentious-sounding, but this time, really just spot on.

Try this. You’ll know what I mean. Pasta can be transcendental, probably unbeknownst to Thoreau. Something about it is incredibly complex-tasting, even though you can count the ingredients on two hands. I blame it on the red wine.

Fettuccine with Mushroom Rag├╣

The eggplant in this recipe really just helped to bulk up the sauce; feel free to use more if you want the flavor to be more pronounced. Also, whatever kind of mushrooms you have on hand will more than suffice. This is my favorite kind of recipe – it is one very easily thrown together, mostly by eye.

½ a large eggplant, finely diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup chopped onion
8 oz mushrooms finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon black olive tapenade, or mined black olives
1/3 (or thereabouts) cup dry red wine
1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano
12 ounces fresh fettuccine

Sweat garlic and onion in olive oil until translucent. Add mushrooms and eggplant and cook over medium heat until they wilt and give up their juices. Don’t let juices evaporate. Stir in tomato paste and tapenade. Add wine, cook briefly, then season with oregano, salt and pepper. Remove from heat.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add fettuccine, stir to separate strands and cook about 3 minutes. Transfer fettuccine to skillet. Add just a bit of olive oil to the noodles. Gently fold ingredients together over low heat until mushroom mixture has reheated and is evenly mixed with fettuccine. Top with grated pecorino if you’d like (you should like, it makes it much better).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A little nostalgia for you

Being home coaxes out the nostalgia in me. Looking for something in my old room or on the family computer becomes an exercise in distraction, a trip down 21st century memory lane as I click through scores and scores of old pictures, ultimately forgetting what led me to my room or the computer in the first place.

I don’t have a recipe today, but I do have a little nostalgia for you. Consider it photographic sustenance, to tide you over. Remember way back when, when I first started this thing? I was tripping over words, attempting grand mission statements for this blog, and I told you about this one picture, perfectly illustrative of my own pickiness as a little girl. I came across that picture recently.

There I am. Since, I have realized that food is much more than a lunch-box filler, sandwiched between two pieces of white bread, but I did know a few things in those days. Chiefly, that the only proper way to show your appreciation for a good peanut butter sandwich is to have pieces of it left behind on your face afterward. Also, that the only thing better than a good meal is a good nap immediately following a good meal.

I believe in eating with purpose, and with food on your face for good measure, if that’s what does it for you. Perhaps part of me is still that awkward eight year-old, with an irrational fondness for pb&j and a secret love for purple pajamas. This picture reminds me of those things, of youth, of starting this little space, and so I wanted to share it with you.

Note: stay tuned for Greek food. I have been churning out pita in my kitchen (even though the heat here has rarely felt the need to dip below ninety), an action which, to be sure, is a certain kind of martyrdom in the name of Mediterranean flatbread.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The best kind of people

I have decided that cheese farmers are the best kind of people that exist.

They are the hospitable, warm, grandmothers of society; apron-clad, hands slightly dusted with flour, explaining that their house is your house and insisting that no normal person refuses another wedge of camembert. They are peaceful. They are cheese-loving. They are some kind of ambitious marker for good will and humanity. Is that too far?

Really, though. If all of you are still buying your cheese from the grocery store and not driving to farms and inviting yourself into cheese houses, you are sorely missing out.

My latest victim was Beltane farm, a mostly goat cheese maker out in Lebanon, Connecticut. To be fair to myself, this was an open house, though I did linger probably a bit too long around the samples table.

The weather was perfect. There were copious amounts of cheese, and a bakery just down the road. There were baby goats. And, as if props to some kind of flawlessly tranquil farm-life scene, there were even kids playing on a rope swing near a pond.

I feel a bit bad about enticing you to this farm, since the last of Beltane’s spring tastings have lapsed. You can still get their cheese though; they do sell at a number of local farmer’s markets. Or, if you’re anything like me, you might just show up anyway.

Note: By this point you may be growing tired of my reportage on cheese farms. I make no apologies, because, well, it’s cheese, but I will say that next time I’ll try to tell you about something mostly unrelated to cheese. But only mostly, that’s the best you’re going to get.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

And today, you get:

Cake. Who doesn’t like cake? This one has borderline unreasonable amounts of chocolate ganache, which if you're looking in my book, makes for a good dessert. And anyway, who likes reasonable cakes? Reasonable cakes, it seems to me, are a paradoxical thing, much like nourishing celery or salty sugar or milk powder.

Onward, then, with our unreasonable cake-making. (My original intention was for this to be read with one arm gallantly raised in the air, William Wallace style. While riding a Scottish draft horse and with your face pained white and blue, if you really wanted to make the sell. I realize, though, that some of you may be much less prone than I am to corny movie references spun around for the purposes of baking. I will forgive you for keeping your arm down.)

Anyway, see? I am not abandoning you. I’m bringing you chocolate cake. Unapologetically rich, intense, chocolate cake. Which is the best kind. Now, go! Bake! Bake!

Chocolate Raspberry Layer Cake
(Adapted from Bon Appetit)

Nonstick vegetable oil spray
2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 3/4 cups sugar
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
3/4 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs

18 oz bittersweet chocolate (do not exceed 61% cacao), chopped
2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
6 tablespoons seedless raspberry jam, stirred to loosen, divided
fresh raspberries to garnish
Powdered sugar to garnish

For cake:
Position racks in top and bottom third of oven; preheat to 350°F. Coat two 9-inch cake pans nonstick spray. Line bottoms with parchment paper rounds; spray rounds.

Sift flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt into large bowl. Whisk to blend and form well in center. Whisk 1 cup water, buttermilk, oil, and eggs in medium bowl until combined, and then pour this into the well you've made in the dry ingredients. Whisk just until blended. Divide cake batter between prepared pans.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. (If cakes form domes, place kitchen towel atop hot cakes, then press gently with palm of hand to level.) Cool completely in pans on cooling racks.

For chocolate ganache and raspberry topping:
Place chopped chocolate in medium bowl. Bring cream just to boil in heavy medium saucepan. Once it has almost reached a boil, pour the cream over the chocolate. Let stand 1 minute, then stir until ganache is melted and smooth. Transfer 1 1/4 cups of your ganache to a small bowl, and cover and refrigerate until ganache is thick enough to spread. (It will take about 1 hour.) Let remaining ganache stand at room temperature to cool until barely lukewarm.

Place rack inside rimmed baking sheet. Carefully run knife around pan edges to release cakes. Invert 1 cake layer onto cardboard round or bottom of 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Peel off parchment paper. Place cake layer on round on prepared rack. Spread 3 tablespoons jam over top. Spoon chilled ganache over, then spread evenly.

Invert second cake layer onto another cardboard round or tart pan bottom. Peel off parchment paper. Carefully slide cake off round and onto frosted cake layer on rack. Spread remaining 3 tablespoons raspberry jam over top of second cake layer. Pour half of the barely lukewarm ganache over cake, spreading over sides to cover. Freeze until ganache sets, about 30 minutes. (The freezing and removing will get a bit annoying, but it is worth it: you need the ganache to set so you'll end up with a smooth outer layer.)

Pour remaining ganache over cake, allowing to drip down sides and spreading over sides if needed for even coverage and to smooth edges. Freeze to set ganache, about 30 minutes. The cake can be moved to the fridge if you aren't ready for it, and brought back down to room temperature before serving. Arrange your raspberries on the top before you serve as well.