October 29, 2013

Fried Cauliflower Sandwich (that sandwich from Serious Eats)

Fried Cauliflower Sandwich

Fried Cauliflower Sandwich

Everything about this sandwich is right up my alley. Crispy fried cauliflower, garlicky sauteed kale,  salty-sour peppers, creamy provolone cheese and crispy soft bread. The inspiration comes from a picture of something similar on Serious Eats from a place in Boston called Strip-T's. I never thought of frying cauliflower but, like most fried things, it's real good.

This takes no time to put together and is very tasty. So tasty, I think I want to make it again today. Meaty, tangy, gooey sandwich satisfaction.

Hot dang - I think cauliflower might be the new bacon. Or at least the new kale.

October 25, 2013

Spice Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

Spice Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

This is the best cake I've ever made. And it came at a good time because...

1. Yesterday the lab results from my annual physical came back and they informed me that I'm in early menopause. So that means, according to the film they suggested I watch called "Hot Flash Havoc" (really?), I will probably scarf half this cake, snarl at my family and then forget it ever happened. I really didn't expect to have to deal with this until I hit 50, so this is a surprise. Did I mention how old I am? No? Oh. Not 50.

2.  I foolishly signed up for a 10-mile (not 10K, mind you, 10 m i l e s) race tomorrow with my sister-in-law that I will probably start like a jack-rabbit and end feeling paralyzed because I've done no serious training and still think my body is 25 and can do that kind of thing. But as my hormone levels so kindly reminded me, no.

So a baking success was a bright spot. I've made lots of cakes and they've been good, but not without their density issues, namely high density (think banana bread). But not this one. Maybe it's the cake flour or the buttermilk or because I realized you really have to whip the butter, sugar and eggs into fluffy peaks before you add the dry ingredients (which are sifted and undisturbed) and then mix just until combined. I think that's the secret. Anyone?

Side note: I found a 10-year-old message thread on a baking site re. how to make cakes light and fluffy and commenters are still going strong. People are quoting Proust and Betty Crocker. Conclusion? Food is a great uniter. Cake, more so.

This spice cake is light and fluffy and flavorful and the frosting is simply perfection. Sick perfection. Sugar, butter, cream cheese perfect 10, first love perfection. It looks lighter on the sides than on the top because I made it two ways - one with white sugar and one with brown to see which was better. The verdict? Too close to call.

Spice Cake with Caramel Cream Cheese Frosting

October 22, 2013

Quinoa Squash Salad with Buttermilk Dressing

This time of year I'm saying my last farewells to summer lettuces, herbs and vegetables and begrudgingly welcoming cold weather staples back into my produce drawer. 

My reluctant autumn salad is composed of squash (local, inexpensive and plentiful) that is cubed and roasted, spinach (julienned to tame it's toughness), thinly sliced red onion and nutty red quinoa. A douse of spicy buttermilk dressing gives this some lushness and keeps it from being too virtuous. 

Quinoa Squash Salad with Spicy Buttermilk Dressing

I used acorn squash which is a BEAST to cut into cubes (the rind is thick and tough) but has such good flavor and holds up well under high heat roasting. 

And red quinoa because I've had a bag sitting in the cupboard for six months staring at me in judgement when I reach for the white flour, pasta or chocolate chips. 

October 18, 2013

Maple Cumin Carrots

This is straight from Food52 - one of my favorite food sites. It's surprising - the coriander and cumin seeds are abundant yet not overpowering (or terribly crunchy). The maple syrup is sweet but not cloying. The only change I made was to add a bit more salt to keep it perky. The recipe says it serves 4-6. No way. I'd say it serves two, or one hungry recipe tester (ahem). This would be a fun addition to a holiday meal - people would be impressed and it's a cinch. 

Maple and Cumin Carrots - click for recipe

From Food52

October 14, 2013

Gorp Toffee with Sea Salt

Gorp Toffee with Sea Salt

Last week I was invited to spend the day with some local food bloggers at the headquarters of General Mills, located here in Minneapolis. We toured their photo studios (incredible) and test kitchens (super incredible), but the most fun part was they let us use their kitchens to cook with cereal (in advance of National Cereal Lovers Week—happening right now) and we didn't have to clean up after ourselves! It was like being at camp. Here's what I learned:

  • General Mills is an impressive company with an impressive campus that's like a sun-filled, well-decorated and lushly landscaped Pentagon. The people who work there are even more impressive (in a friendly way) and seem genuinely happy to be there (and most have been there for a long time so that speaks for itself). 

  • I should NOT be using my convection oven in recipes I post here unless specified. Apparently most consumers don't use them, even if they have this setting on their ovens. Why not? It's faster, people. Much faster.

  • It's fun cooking with a bunch of food bloggers who like to sample cereal flavored cocktails after lunch and can talk endlessly about food props, lighting and the recipes that got away.

  • Rice Chex makes a very crunchy coating, similar to panko. I made some meatballs rolled in Chex and they were crispy and delicious. I'll share that recipe when I can remember exactly what I put in them. I'll blame the aforementioned cocktails. 

But, I have to confess, all I really wanted to do is cook with Cheerios's. I love this cereal - the iconic yellow box, the toasty, clean, comforting flavor and the fact that they are truly good for you. It got me thinking about the Cheerios I used to enjoy in "gorp" at Camp Ajawah when I was a kid. So I turned an updated gorp (almonds and cherries standing in for the peanuts and raisins) into a terrific toffee. This is like trail mix encased in crunchy caramel, either with or without a little chocolate glaze. 

October 10, 2013

Noble Beasts and Crustless Quiche

This is a weird mash-up today but stay with me.

This morning I had to move our dear old thoroughbred horse, Stanley, from the barn he's called home for the past eight years. Stanley is 24 years old (old), 17.1 hands high (big) and gentle as a bunny. He's known as the "Professor" for his ability to teach green riders, including yours truly. He's forgiving and honest and never pulls cheap tricks like stopping in front of a jump or turning quickly to avoid something scary (like a flower box or a flapping banner) - a maneuver that tends to pitch the rider into the sawdust.

But life has gotten busy and I've not been able to get out and ride him as much as he needs to stay sound and healthy. So I decided to move him to another stable where he'll give lessons three times a week to little girls who will love him and hug him and feed him carrots all the day long. The caretakers are conscientious and kind and I knew he would be well looked after. But still, I was moving him from his herd, his eight buddies who he spent the days in pasture with, where it took him five years to make it to herd leader, top of the heap.

October 6, 2013

Whole Wheat Apple Hand Pies

Whole Wheat Apple Hand Pies

Holy cow I'm a pathetic pastry chef. Watching me roll and cut out pie crust is a gruesome sight. There's flour on me and every nearby surface, a rolling pin with scads of dough clinging to it and rips and holes on what should be a uniform blanket of pastry. Mine never forms a perfect ball in the food processor (maybe I should be doing this by hand) or rolls out to a shape that follows any recognized geometric restraints (looking more like an amoeba in the final throws). My crimping looks like it was done by a toddler wearing boxing gloves. But what do you know - sometimes it just doesn't matter how sloppy the chef is, the dish comes out delicious. This is one of those times.

I used whole wheat flour to make these more rustic and, yes, a little healthier. Whole wheat pastry flour is delicate and has lots of fiber - fiber helps slow the absorption of sugar into your body and makes you feel full. And I can attest that after two days of making and sampling these, I am feeling quite full, and happy. And mad at the fact that apples shrink when cooked and I can't cram any more into these without ripping the dough and making them sticky leaky pies and not the neat grab-and-go wonders I had in mind.

There were lots of issues. But, as I said, these are still wonderful. Pastry perseverance.

October 1, 2013

Pan-Fried Chicken with Tomato Fennel Salad

Pan-Fried Chicken with Tomato Fennel Salad

I tend to eat a vegetarian diet most of the time. It's not because of the health risks associated with eating too much meat, the fact that meat-centered diets are unsustainable for a growing population or even the troubling nature of factory farming and processing (all valid reasons and issues we're hopefully thinking more about these days). I simply prefer the taste of vegetables, grains and legumes and feel better when I eat them.

But about once a week or so I get a primal craving for meat. Meat. MEAT!!
A hamburger, steak, some chicken wings, a great sausage  - some portion of animal protein that makes me feel totally sated. I tried to go vegetarian a few years ago and while I made it three months, I couldn't shake the hankering for meat and, even though it was probably just in my head, it felt like I was getting flimsy.

My go-to weeknight meat is a pan fried chicken breast. It's easy, fast and goes well with so many other flavors. I bread the cutlets with panko and fry them in plenty of olive oil. Sometimes they get a dip in a hot sauce/butter bath (buffalo style), or I'll deglaze the pan with fresh lemon juice and a pat of butter for a bright sauce. But today it's its own plain self serving as a platform for a fresh tomato fennel salad. The bold dressing flavors the chicken, the arugula is crunchy, the tomatoes and fennel tangy, the blue cheese is assertive and a little gooey and it's really satisfying.

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