Friday, January 28, 2011

Plain Jane

I haven’t been cooking a lot lately. The idea is, presumably, if you're the kind of person with a recipe-centric blog, that the recipes you share ought to be good, intricate, impressive. The idea is also that you should be cooking these, often.

Do I have the wrong idea?

Clearly, when I make something that fits into the above criteria, I want to share it with you. But what about everything else? I do tend to eat more than once a week.

Today I made an awesome kale salad, made more complex with a kick from lemon juice and crispness from apples, and for once eating raw kale didn’t feel like the meal was better suited for a grain bin, or a troth, or a pasture.

Tonight I made risotto with poached eggs, but forgot I didn’t have any stock on hand, so I just used water. It was a little bland, not my best.

During the down time in between the rice absorbing liquid and the mushrooms browning, I looked out my kitchen window at the apartment building next to mine. My window matches up with another one, shrouded in lace curtains and giving a near perfect view of the stove. My neighbor, whoever she is, was cooking too, bouncing between three different pots on her stove. Stir one, put lid on, check the next, adjust the heat.

We stood there, in separate buildings, stirring and checking and adjusting in what felt like some kind of weird, Hartford-apartment-harmony, and it occurred to me that a lot of people make dinner, often. And what we make, what is permanently in our repertoire (for better or for chickpea-spaghetti-worse), shouldn’t be skipped over because it isn’t grandiose, labor-intensive, blog-worthy.

And so it is that I tell you about my kale salad, involving only five ingredients, tasting like it involves more. I tell you about my boring lunches and bland dinners, bulked up by whole foods bread that I didn’t even close to make, but still enjoyed just as much. Another confession: I ate boxed cereal for breakfast. (The horror.) My food is, for the most part, normal, even plain Jane, and I don’t care who knows it.

Kale Salad with Apple and Red Onion

Note: This is even better with avocado, but you don’t need it. Which is to say this salad is flexible, a kind of culinary free-for-all. Be creative. Also, the ingredients listed here is to serve only one, but I would just eyeball everything based on how much kale is enough kale for you.

2 large leaves kale, washed and ribs removed
1 lemon wedge
1 teaspoon olive oil
A few rings of red onion, diced
1 tart apple, sliced very thinly

Coarsely rip the kale into strips. Squeeze lemon wedge over, and add olive oil. Here’s the important part: massage the oil and lemon into the kale for a few minutes; enough to kind of break down the kale a bit. It will reduce quite a bit in size. (If you can, do this step early, as the kale is best after it has sat for twenty minutes or so.) Gently fold in apples and red onion, and serve.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Caution to the wind, potato chips in your cookies

Christina Tosi is brilliant. This is a fact, of course, that has long been established. I’m saying it again though, compost cookie in hand, just as you would if this cookie was in your hand.

One cookie, all of your favorite snack foods. Imagine. (If you haven’t already gotten one at milk bar.) It may not be the healthiest snack in the book, but in my opinion, if you’re making cookies, especially birthday cookies, you might as well go balls to the cookie wall. By which I mean include potato chips, and pretzels, and popcorn, and mostly anything else you have. This cookie can handle it.

I can think up the process of creating these devilishly good cookies: snacking on potato chips, pretzels, throwing caution to the proverbial wind, throwing a handful into the dough for good measure. It is the recipe that conjures up all childhood memories, mad scientist experiments, potions, and all. It's the one baking recipe to which you can add in a little of this, a little of that, recklessly concoct, and the result will still be successful. Wildly successful. It is the cookie recipe to end all cookie recipes, to make a convert of all self-professed baking-haters.

It seems that the compost cookie is an exercise only in channeling your inner child, but it really all makes sense: sugar with salt, savory with sweet, all muted slightly by the standard slurry of flour and butter. And even better, the recipe never has to be the same twice. If you really wanted to, you could switch up the add-ins every time. Which makes this not only as brilliantly successful as a cookie can be, but also ever-changing, adaptable, never boring.

Go on, empty your pantry into cookie dough. It’ll be wonderful, I promise.

The Momofuku Milk Bar Compost Cookie

recipe by Christina Tosi

Note: The only thing I left out here was the corn syrup (to be precise, one tablespoon of it), because I didn't have it. The cookies still came out great, but adding it in is up to you.

1 cup butter (two sticks, unsalted)
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons Kosher salt
1 1/2 cups your favorite baking ingredients, crushed if too large (I used chocolate chips, chocolate covered pretzels, some shredded coconut)
1 1/2 cups your favorite snack foods, crushed (I used potato chips and smartfood)

In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream butter, sugars and corn syrup on medium high for two to three minutes until fluffy and pale yellow in color. Scrape down the sides with a spatula. Add eggs and vanilla to incorporate slowly.

Increase mixing speed to medium-high and set a timer for 10 minutes. The mixture will become an almost pale white color and will double in size; this is what you want.

On a lower speed, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Mix 45 - 60 seconds just until your dough comes together and all remnants of dry ingredients have been mixed in. Be careful not to over beat the dough, and scrape down the side of the bowl every once in a while.

On the same low speed, add in the hodgepodge of your favorite baking ingredients and mix for 30 - 45 seconds until they evenly mix into the dough. Repeat this with the snack food ingredients.

Portion cookie dough onto a parchment lined sheetpan. (The original recipe calls for a 6 oz. scoop, but I just eyeballed it.) Wrap scooped cookie dough tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of one hour or up to 1 week - You'll need the dough to be chilled in order for the cookies to hold their shape when baked off.

Heat the oven to 400 F. Take the plastic off your cookies and bake 9 to 11 minutes, or until browned on the edges and barely beginning to brown in the center.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Indication of greatness

There I was, writing you last week’s post, talking wistfully about high oven heat and the wonders it works on root vegetables, and then, without warning or permission, I went ahead and took a wildly sentimental turn.

That doesn’t seem quite fair.

Lucky for you, I find that one of the best things to do after such emotional matters is eat to bread pudding. Well, make it. Then eat it.

I made this a little while back, and then two days after that, I made it again. Which normally isn’t saying much, but if you know me, you know that in matters of making new recipes, to repeat one is to be missing out on another, newer one, entirely. There are just too many things out there I have yet to try.

So take that as an indication of this recipe’s greatness, and then try not to pay much mind to the amounts of egg yolks and cream. It is bread pudding, after all. If it helps, you can blame it all on me – things just got a little too heavy, and sad, and well, the only sensible cure at this juncture is a cream-laden savory bread pudding. Totally understandable.

I will gladly take the blame.

Mushroom Bread Pudding

Adapted from

1 loaf crusty country-style white bread
1/4 cup olive oil
4 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 large garlic clove, minced

6 tablespoons butter
1 pound assorted fresh mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced celery
1 cup finely chopped green bell pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley

3 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
8 large eggs
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Cut bottom crust and short ends off bread and discard, or use for toast. Cut remaining bread with crust into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups loosely packed). Place cubes in very large bowl. Add oil, thyme, and garlic; toss to coat. Spread cubes out on large rimmed baking sheet and season with salt and pepper. Bake until golden and slightly crunchy, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes, depending on your oven. Return toasted bread cubes to same very large bowl.

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion, celery, and bell pepper. Sauté until soft and juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add sautéed vegetables and parsley to bread cubes and lightly mix.

Whisk heavy cream, eggs, salt, and ground pepper in large bowl. Mix custard into bread and vegetables. Transfer stuffing to prepared dish. Sprinkle cheese over.

Bake stuffing at 350, uncovered, until set and top is golden, about 1 hour. Let stand 15 minutes before serving.