Thursday, November 25, 2010

The whole, sentimental enchilada

Hi there. I doubt most of you are on your computers today, with things like turkeys and simmering cranberries occupying most of your free moments, but in case you are:

Happy Thanksgiving to you. May your turkeys be perfectly brined and your potatoes perfectly mashed.

I've always been a bit of an introvert when it comes to matters sentimental. Going around the table and saying what you're thankful for in perfect turn always seemed to me, as a child, akin to brute punishment.

But, since the day beckons for it, at a very fundamental level, I will say that I'm thankful for being able to cook for going on four days now. In a row. I've been eyeballs-deep in piles of mushrooms, onions, cubed and toasted bread for days, and it's been glorious.

So, then, I'm thankful for that. I'm thankful for a day devoted simply and only to food. (If you're me, you will cleverly stretch this one day over the course of a week, organizing and participating in, at minimum, three different dinners.) I'm also thankful that pictures involving ceramic dishes with potato gratin can be semi-seductive. They deserve that.

And cake. Who isn't thankful for cake? If you're in need of a last minute Thanksgiving dessert, give this one a try. It's not pie, but traditionalism is a bore anyway. I baked it last week for a friend's going away party, and it was eaten so fast I never got a picture of it. It's that good.

I apologize to those Thanksgiving purists, those of you who would have me saying I'm thankful for love, and life, and faith, and that whole, sentimental enchilada. For now, I've done my part; I've gone around the metaphorical table. Plus, I'm giving you cake.

Over and out. Have a lovely day, readers.

Spiced Pumpkin Layer Cake
Adapted from Bon Appetit

3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ginger (I used fresh, but you could substitute ground)
1 3/4 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 large eggs
1 15 ounce can pure pumpkin
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup sweetened flaked coconut plus additional for garnish

1 8 ounce package cream cheese, room temperature
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla paste
3 cups powdered sugar

Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Dust pans with flour. Sift 3 cups flour and next 7 ingredients into medium bowl.

Using electric mixer, beat both sugars and oil in large bowl until combined (mixture will look grainy). For this step, I was without my mixer, and did everything by hand. Your arms will burn, but it will work just fine.

Add eggs 1 at a time, beating until well blended after each addition. Add pumpkin, vanilla, and orange peel; beat until well blended. Add flour mixture; beat just until incorporated. Stir in raisins and 3/4 cup coconut. Divide batter between prepared pans. Smooth tops.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cakes completely in pans on rack. Run knife around cakes to loosen. Invert cakes onto racks. Turn cakes over, rounded side up. At this point, you can trim the tops of the cake with a serrated knife if you like. I left mine just the way they were, for a slightly more "rustic" cake.

Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in orange peel and vanilla. Add powdered sugar in 3 additions, beating just until frosting is smooth after each addition (do not overbeat or frosting may become too soft to spread).

The recipe calls for the frosting to be divided in two parts, and spread just in between the cake layers and on the top. I found that there was more than enough to do the sides as well, so that's what I did. This part is up to you. Sprinkle with remaining coconut and serve.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The tomato's version of black tie

This stuff is all over the internet.

I’ve been reading about it for a while. I read about it here, and then here, and then I saw it here. It’s like the internet’s version of the food world’s foam. It’s everywhere, on everything, with reckless abandon.

Up until now, I had really never intended to talk about tomato sauce on this site. My experience with the stuff was limited to quick dinners and staff meals at the restaurant where I work. Pasta with red sauce, as it is so vaguely referred to as, tasted, to me, as bland as the name suggested. It was strictly fuel, which is a tragic, tragic way to approach dinner.

Since this sauce quite literally stirred the blog world, it seemed worth a try. Even if it was reminiscent of my pre-work meal, at the very least the name – tomato sauce with onion and butter – was a vast improvement on plain red sauce. Plus, I had all of the ingredients, all three of them. So there was that.

It was, in a word, genius. Which I suppose is not news at all, since people have been reporting just that, just about everywhere for a while now.

With just three ingredients, you wouldn’t really expect much from this sauce. Its simplicity is one of its best attributes, though; the lack of spice, or much of anything else, really allows the tomatoes to sit up and sing. This sauce is canned tomatoes in their absolute best incarnation, all dressed up, the tomato's version of black tie.

The main theory proved, yet again? That butter, in all of its glory, makes everything better. Well, that half of a stick of it makes tomato sauce better. It acts to soften, round out the whole sauce, calming the tomato’s acidity while giving it a bit more depth. The kind of depth hardly worthy of a title like red sauce.

Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter

Adapted from Every blog, ever.

If you haven’t been making this for years already, you should start now. Marcella Hazan, apparently, really knows her tomatoes. Also, I found that this sauce makes about enough for three servings (or four small ones); I used about ¾ of a pound of pasta.

2 cups whole, peeled, canned plum tomatoes, chopped, with their juices (about one 28-oz. can)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt, to taste

Combine the tomatoes, their juices, the butter, and the onion halves in a medium saucepan. Add a pinch or two of salt. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

Cook, uncovered, at a steady simmer over medium low heat for about 45 minutes, or until some of the liquid has reduced and a nice, thickened sauce has started to form. Stir occasionally, mashing any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Salt as needed, and remove the onion halves, before you serve.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Radishes, and no known theme

This shall be random. Preemptive apologies.

I tried to think of a slightly cohesive way of tying together all of my thoughts this morning, but it’s just not in the cards. Not today. Or, really, this week.

This morning, I ate a handful of cereal, drank a cup of coffee. Went back for some cucumber slices. Read a few pages of The Fountainhead, jumped in the shower, washed a coffee mug, turned the sofa cushions.

You can see what I mean.

So today, you get more pictures of Europe. French breakfast radishes from the Raspail farmer’s market in Paris, some of the biggest sand dunes in Europe, Katherin. (This could be anywhere, yes, but it’s not, it’s Bordeaux. This one fits, at least in this tangent.)

You get announcements, about me, and my new job at a wine bar. This is important to you, of course, because now I’ll be able to tell you about great wines, my palate willing, and maybe even ones with more pronounced fruit, or black fruit, or red fruit, or no fruit at all. (I’m still learning.)

You also get table-building. Every night after work, I come home to something different: a new wall color in the kitchen, IKEA putting its Swedish touches on the living room, a puppy mural. Last night it was a table, built in the living room and taking up residence in the kitchen. It’s a beautiful table, beautiful and tall; it looks almost like a gangly adolescent boy, skinny and tall, still unsure of it’s legs.

In keeping with my completely unsystematic week, I went to Whole Foods the other day and ransacked their bulk aisles. I came home with a bag of what looked like bird seed deconstructed, in no particular order: red lentils, navy beans, quinoa, and what may or may not be wheat germ. Suggestions on what to do with this would be greatly appreciated. Clearly I need to get myself back on track. Arbitrarily, and with wheat germ, is no way to cook.