My in-laws are serious eaters. At all the gatherings I’ve attended, the quantities of food would make the Two Fat Ladies blush, and we always come home with several containers of leftovers. This Christmas was no exception! My mother in law hosted Christmas Eve, as is getting to be the tradition. She veered away from the usual Puerto Rican fare this year (roast pork, arroz con gandules) and went Mexican, making posole, ceviche and nopales (cactus) salad. One of his cousins brought an interesting new (to me) PR dish of chicken gizzards cooked with green bananas and a few green olives (something like this except it was served warm instead of like a salad). The dish is an unglamorous greyish color, but the flavor was great and the gizzards were much more tender than when I’ve made them. It re-inspired me to try making gizzards again after an unsuccessful attempt last summer.
With all this great food in such abundance, it’s always hard to know what to bring. My MIL never wants to assign me a dish; she always demurs, saying that there will be enough food, or to just bring “whatever I want”. I know this is because she doesn’t want to impose, but I have somewhat mixed feelings about it… she knows I like to cook; I’m part of the family now; shouldn’t that warrant a side dish assignment? To be fair, for all I know she does the same with all the other relatives and they just bring whatever they feel like. But a small part of me would be flattered to be entrusted with something specific. Continue reading
Summer tomatoes may seem like an odd thing to post about right now, as most other North American food bloggers are fully in fall’s sway. But now that I have this silly wedding business behind me, I’m catching up with a few odds and ends- blog posts I’ve been sitting on; photos I’ve been meaning to edit; recipes I wanted to share. Besides, the particular recipe I have for you today- a savory zucchini-tomato bread- is actually more suited to this time of year, because who wants to turn up the oven on a sweltering August day? (Oh, that’s right, I did.) This bread, though- if you still have a glut of zucchini but are tired of sweet zucchini bread, this is the ticket. It’s rich, eggy, cheesy and perfect for a cool fall day, and it keeps for a few days because of how moist it is. Also, if you’re grabbing bushels of Roma tomatoes to make these roasted Romas, this is a great use for them. Mine were from last year (roasted and frozen in olive oil) but they held up beautifully. If you don’t have tomatoes you can throw in a handful of black olives, or even a little diced ham.
The last meeting of our cooking club took place on August 12 and as we have a seasonal bent, we celebrated the tomato. Once again, I wondered how we would pull off 8 or so dishes with the same ingredient in common and not have it be “too much”, and once again, I needn’t have worried. From just-picked to barely cooked to long-simmered to roasted, the permutations were as creative as they were delicious. Sarah skewered fresh tomatoes with melons, basil and mozzarella for a salad on a stick. Molly puréed tomatoes from her garden with peaches and a little yogurt and garnished it with tarragon for a chilled summer soup, a riff on a Mark Bittman recipe. Amy, ever the fancy-pants (I say this with the utmost admiration!), stuffed squash blossoms with seasoned diced eggplant, fried them and set them on a bed of barely-cooked tomato sauce. Heavenly. Continue reading
Although I’m a busy gal, I try my best to find time to do a little something special for my friends on their birthdays. My best friend recently turned *ahem* 23, and although I didn’t get to make her a cake or dinner, I offered to have her for brunch and then go shopping. Everything was rather last-minute, but I managed to throw together a decent little spread with what I had on hand. However, I felt like a birthday merited something a bit more special than your run-of-the-mill omelette. Rooting in the fridge, I had a burst of inspiration when I came across some Meyer lemons I’d impulse-purchased the week before- I’d make lemon curd. But what to pair it with? She was coming at 11:00 and time was of the essence. Then it hit me. Crêpes! I could throw the batter in the blender and they’d only take seconds to cook up. The lemon curd would be used to fill the crêpes.
Fabulous idea, but by the time we had eaten our omelettes (and consumed generous amounts of mimosas), we were too full to think about eating anything else. I figured maybe we’d have the crêpes as a post-shopping snack, but we ran short on time. Over the next several days I guiltily ate my way through them, feeling bad that my friend had been deprived of her rightful birthday treat. But even after finishing them off, I still had a fair amount of lemon curd left over. The wheels started churning again… lemon curd, plus the egg whites left over from making the curd, plus graham cracker dough in the freezer from this Daring Bakers challenge= lemon meringue tarts! Better yet, I was meeting up with my friend again that weekend, so I got to deliver her a tart as a belated birthday surprise. I had enough dough and curd to make three individual tarts, so one went to her, one went to another birthday friend (lots of Aries in my crowd!) and the third was eaten greedily by myself and Marvin.
A few cooking notes: The graham cracker dough worked beautifully as pie crust. It was slightly challenging to roll out because of the high amount of butter, but I ended up just pressing in into the pans and it was fine. I actually preferred it as pie crust rather than eating it straight as a graham cracker because it’s so rich. The lemon curd I had made was too thin to be pie filling as-is, so I just warmed it on the stove, adding a bit of cornstarch (dissolved first in cold water) to thicken it, and it was perfect. For the crêpes I just smeared it on, throwing in some shredded coconut I had on hand. I’m not going to print a tart recipe here because I kind of pieced together three different recipes and ad-libbed things, but the graham cracker dough recipe can be found in the aforementioned Daring Bakers post. If you want a recipe for lemon meringue pie, my fellow MLFB pal Mom of Mother’s Kitchen just posted one that looks good.
A lemon tangent: I’m still not convinced Meyer lemons are so superior in cooked dishes such as lemon curd, especially given the price difference, but that’s what I had on hand. I will say, though, that they seem to yield a higher amount of juice than Eurekas so you can use less of them. Also, as another update to last year’s lemon post, my preserved lemons turned out great, I still have a supply in the fridge that I’ve been working my way through slowly. I’m glad I didn’t use Meyers for those as some recipes suggest, because the part you use is the skin, and the skin on Meyer lemons is so thin that you wouldn’t end up with much of anything to use.
2 large eggs
1 cup milk
1/3 cup water
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 Tbs rum, brandy, or other flavored liqueur that pairs well with your filling (optional)
2 Tbs butter, melted, plus 2-3 tsp for coating the pan
1 recipe lemon curd (see below)
sweetened shredded and/or toasted coconut, optional
Put all the crêpe ingredients in a blender and pulse until smooth, about 5-10 seconds. Scrape down the sides if necessary and pulse 1-2 more times. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour (2 is preferable) or up to 24 hours. (Note: I made crêpes from the same batch of batter over the course of several days and they were fine.)
Heat a nonstick crêpe pan* or skillet over medium-high heat. Gently stir the batter (it likely will have separated). When hot, lightly butter the pan (the best method I”ve found is to quickly go over the surface with a stick of butter). Lift the pan a few inches off the burner and pour just enough batter to coat the pan, quickly tilting and rotating it to distribute the batter. The volume of batter will obviously depend on the size of your pan but try to use the least amount possible while still coating the pan. (This recipe recommends ¼ cup for a 9-10″ pan.) If there are “holes” around the edges you can dribble a little more batter in those spots with a spoon. Cook until the crêpe is just set (about 1 minute), then flip and cook until golden- this should only take another 15-30 seconds. I use my fingers to grab the edge of the crepe and flip it, I find it much easier than trying to use a spatula, but if you’re doing this just be careful not to burn yourself! Set the crêpes aside on a cookie sheet s you go, keeping them covered with a tea towel or piece of foil. When assembling, you want the crêpes to be warm but not so hot that they melt the lemon curd and make it too runny.
Spread a thin layer of lemon curd over half of each crêpe and fold it in half. Spread another layer of curd, again over half the surface, followed by a sprinkling of coconut if using. Fold in half again. Spread one last bit of curd over half the crêpe and do a final fold, this time bringing the edge of the crêpe only halfway over (see photos). Sprinkle on more coconut and finish with a light dusting of powdered sugar. (You can obviously put the curd on however you like and it will taste the same, but I like all the layers this creates.)
*I own this crêpe pan and I like it. I also use it to make omelettes; the low sides make it really easy to flip / roll the omelette.
Place all ingredients in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Use a whisk to break up the eggs and moisten the sugar. Put the pan over medium-low heat and stir constantly until the mixture thickens (Dorie says 4-6 minutes but mine always seem to take longer). The curd is done when you can run your finger down a spoon or spatula and the curd doesn’t run into the track you’ve created. Don’t worry if it looks thin, it will firm up as it cools. Place plastic wrap on the surface of the curd and refrigerate. The curd will keep, refrigerated, for up to 2 months. Makes about 1 ½ cups.
As I had mentioned a few weeks ago, one of my goals for this year was to bake more bread. I had looked online at different bread cookbooks and decided that The Bread Baker’s Apprentice looked like a good place to start- it had gotten many good reviews- so I put it on my wish list and received it from my sister for Christmas. Basically the book gives three different recipes for starter doughs, which you have to make the day before, and then lots of “formulas” for different types of bread. I chose a farm bread recipe, and while it wasn’t terrible, it was an awful lot of work for a result that was a little disappointing. The main issue I have with this book is that there is no “troubleshooting” section. If you’re an experienced bread baker, this obviously doesn’t pose much of a problem. But I had thought the book was going to be an “all you’ll ever need to know on bread” sort of thing. What happened in this particular case is that my bread refused to rise during the final “proofing” stage. I went ahead and baked it anyway, and while it wasn’t necessarily bad, it definitely was nothing like the big crusty farm loaves I get from Zingerman’s or Avalon (go here for a debate on the Detroit area’s best bread). After having to practically babysit the damn thing for over 24 hours, you can understand why I felt just as deflated as my dough when the whole thing was over. Didn’t even take any photos.
Another thing I had been wanting to try since I had read about it a couple years ago was the now-famous no-knead bread recipe that Jeffrey Steingarten and Mark Bittman made famous. Although this also requires starting the day before, it’s a much more low-maintenance technique and I got a markedly better result than I had with the two-dough, three-rise bread. You start off with a very wet dough, which you let sit at room temp for 12-18 hours. It gets all bubbly and looks a bit like a science project:
After that, you shape it into a ball- it’s a bit difficult because the dough is pretty wet and sticky, but I managed:
The only slightly weird thing about this bread was that it was oddly moist when I cut into it, despite having let it rest and cool for over an hour. The crust was brown and crisp, and even a teeny bit overdone on the bottom, so I know it wasn’t an issue with not cooking it long enough. The bread had a nice large, open crumb as well. The only thing that could have improved it for me was having a slightly smaller container to cook it in (it calls for baking the bread in a dutch oven). Because of the large oval shape of my Le Creuset, the loaf came out flatter and thinner than I would have liked; I imagine a round (or smaller) dutch oven would produce more of a boule-shaped loaf. The flat thin shape is fine for eating on its own (and I actually like the higher crust-to-crumb ratio), but wouldn’t work so well for sandwiches. Still, overall, this is a great recipe that takes very little effort for a big payoff. And all the ladies at the soup swap gave the thumbs up! I still want to try my hand at making more of the breads in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, but it’s nice to know that I have this one up my sleeve.