I was talking to my mom
a couple weeks ago and she mentioned that she wanted to send my blog link to a friend, but it had been “so long” since I had last posted, that she didn’t have the link anymore (she gets the feed through email). Yikes! I’m certainly far from the days where I used to post two or even three times a week, but I didn’t realize it had gotten that bad.
The silver lining is that I’ve been occupied with other new and exciting projects, including some freelance writing for these publications, making jam and other treats for my fledgling company Beau Bien Fine Foods, organizing the first-ever (and I hope annual) Detroit Holiday Food Bazaar, and rehearsing and playing shows with Scarlet Oaks. Are you tired just reading that? Combined with house-hunting (we found one! More on this later…) and a full social calendar, I have barely had time to cook lately let alone photograph it or write about it.
When my good friend and Beau Bien business partner Molly organized a pre-Thanksgiving dinner at her place, I was determined not to let the opportunity pass since I had to cook a dish to bring anyway. I had some peeled, roasted chestnuts from the shipment of goodies that Oh! Nuts sent me a few months back and I knew I wanted to incorporate those. I recalled a recipe in Nigella Lawson’s Feast with brussels sprouts and chestnuts and used that as a guideline. The combination of pancetta and brussels sprouts was not new for me, but the addition of chestnuts, marsala and a generous amount of parsley intrigued me.
I got up nice and early (8am) to make sure I had plenty of time to run errands, cook, take pictures, get ready, etc, but was foiled by Michigan’s now-overturned law that you can’t purchase alcohol before noon on Sundays… ugh. That’s not the first time I’ve needed alcohol for Sunday cooking only to have to wait (I never said I was a good planner). I ended up being about an hour late to the party due to the rushing around, but my stress was soon soothed with a delicious glass of bourbon milk punch made by my friend Todd. If you’ve never had a milk punch, think eggnog-ish, but less cloying. As an added bonus, the milk was a delicious raw milk from a local cow share.
Dinner was a mix of old and new foods and friends. Molly’s sister and brother-in-law brought a turkey they smoked in their “egg”, with a subtly smoky flavor that didn’t overwhelm the other foods. The stuffing was made from wild rice and sausage, there was a green salad with fennel and orange, a fresh cranberry relish, and a great roasted cauliflower dish with capers and vinaigrette that, I’m sad to say, completely upstaged my slightly overcooked sprouts. I’m totally cribbing that for the next potluck I attend (don’t worry Evan, Ill give you your due credit!). For dessert, our friends Noah and Liz made sweet potato pie and apple pie. Where I found room for those I’ll never know, but I do know that if I ever make sweet potato pie I’m making it with graham cracker crust. Another idea to appropriate.
After dinner we walked across Lafayette Park (erm, there may have been a bit of stumbling along with the walking- see above) in the unseasonable 65°weather over to Supino’s in Eastern Market, where some friends had broken down a pig and were having a party of sorts. I’m regretting not taking the camera for that portion of the evening, and also regretting not having a second or third stomach to sample some of the treats that were being passed around (slices of pig kidney, anyone?). Hopefully they will feel the experience bears repeating at a later date. I still want to make blood sausage darnit! For now, though, you’ll have to settle for these brussels sprouts… (hey, at least there’s pancetta in there.)
Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts & Pancetta (adapted from Feast by Nigella Lawson)
2 lbs brussels sprouts
8 oz peeled roasted chestnuts
about 6 oz pancetta, diced (three medium-thick slices should yield this)
¼ cup marsala
large handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
salt and pepper
a couple Tbs olive oil or butter
Notes: The original recipe stipulates boiling the brussels sprouts whole and then adding them to the pan for a quick sauté, but my sprouts were a little on the mature side so I opted for the “shredded” version. If you have smaller, tighter sprouts, I’d maybe go with the original version as it looks a bit prettier. However, the shredded version does have a more homey, comfort-food appeal to it.
Wash and trim the brussels sprouts. Cut in half lengthwise and cut a small notch to remove the toughest part of the stem. Chop each half crosswise into three or four sections to “shred” them.
In a large skillet, sauté the pancetta over medium heat with the olive oil or butter. (The pancetta will render some fat, but the additional fat emulsifies with the marsala later to become a “sauce” of sorts.) When the meat is starting to brown but before it dries out, add the brussels sprouts. They will release some moisture which will enable you to deglaze the pan.
Sauté, stirring frequently, until the thickest parts of the brussels sprouts are al dente. Stir in the chestnuts, breaking them up with your spoon or spatula. Raise the heat a little and add the marsala, stirring well. As soon as it bubbles away, remove from the heat. Stir in the parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
Confession time: I’m not much for TV food personalities (I don’t even have cable!), but when I was first really getting into cookbooks, I was pretty into Nigella Lawson. There was just something in her breezy “if I can do it, anyone can” manner that was very appealing, and I enjoyed reading her cookbooks as much as I did cooking from them. Nowadays, I’m at a point where most of her recipes (with the exception of baked goods) are things I could whip up on my own without having to consult a cookbook. But there are a few dishes that have stuck with me and become part of my regular repertoire.
This soba noodle salad is one such dish. I’ve made it for countless potlucks and barbecues, and almost always get asked for the recipe. The two great things about it are that it’s ultrafast to make, and that it’s pretty healthy as far as “pasta salad” goes. The original just calls for noodles, scallions and sesame seeds (in addition to the dressing), but I’ve taken to add-ins such as the peapods pictured, or carrot matchsticks, or any raw veg you see fit, really, to make it a bit more salad-y and substantial.
Soba noodles are made with buckwheat flour, which can also make this salad a good gluten free option if you substitute tamari or Bragg’s Liquid Aminos for the soy sauce (I’ve been told tamari usually does not contain wheat gluten, but check labels!). It’s also vegan. I’m not gonna lie, it’s not really substantial enough to have as a main dish, but it makes a great component to an Asian-style meal. We had it the other night as part of a Japan-esque motley dinner of salmon sashimi with yuzu juice, an heirloom tomato, tofu and shiso salad from the Momofuku cookbook, and a mess of stir-fried purple-tinged leafy mystery greens we bought from one of the Asian produce vendors at Eastern Market.
8 oz dried soba (buckwheat) noodles
¼ cup sesame seeds
3-5 scallions, sliced thinly on the bias
6 tsp soy sauce (or sub Bragg’s Aminos for gluten free)
2 tsp honey (non-honey-eating vegans, just sub brown or regular sugar)
2 tsp rice vinegar
2 tsp toasted (dark) sesame oil
optional: 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
optional: additional vegetables, such as peapods or julienned carrot pieces
Notes: The soba noodles I buy come in little 3.5-oz bundles (see photos), so I just use two bundles- close enough. The ginger is optional but a nice touch if you have some on hand. If you’re using additional vegetables, depending on quantity you may want to lightly salt them or toss them in a bit more soy sauce prior to adding them to the salad. This recipe doesn’t make a huge quantity of salad, but it can easily be doubled if serving more than a few people.
Directions: Put a large pot of water on to boil. Toast the sesame seeds in a dry nonstick skillet over low heat, taking care not to burn them. Remove from heat when toasty and fragrant, and allow to cool. Combine all the dressing ingredients (including the ginger, if using) in a large bowl and mix well.
When the water reaches a rolling boil, add the noodles and stir them so they don’t clump. The noodles will cook VERY quickly- test for doneness after 3 minutes. The package instructions (and Nigella, in her version) say 6 minutes but in my experience this yields gummy, overcooked noodles. As soon as the noodles are cooked through, drain in a colander and immediately rinse with cold water until thoroughly cooled. Shake to remove excess water. Toss the noodles in the bowl with the dressing. Add the sesame seeds, scallions, and any other vegetables and toss again to distribute. If you have time, allow the salad to sit for 30 minutes or so before serving for the flavors to develop.
I had seen this “Daring Baker” logo around a few different blogs I frequent, but wasn’t sure what it was all about, so I decided to check it out. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s basically a group of food bloggers who all make the same recipe once a month and post about it on a pre-determined day. I had seen some of the completed challenges on fellow MLFB blogger Maggie‘s site, and they looked pretty difficult, but I thought it would be fun to challenge myself. I signed up at the end of January and almost laughed out loud when I got the challenge recipe- a flourless chocolate cake. Ironically, flourless chocolate cake is my “ace in the hole” dessert, the one I can make in my sleep, when I need something that is simple but tastes like a million bucks, and for which I will likely have all the ingredients without having to make a trip to the store. It’s probably the only recipe for a dessert that I have memorized. I like to switch it up by adding different flavors such as cinnamon and cayenne for a “Mayan” cake, espresso powder, or a little orange oil or hazelnut oil. Since the top of the cake caves in and is not much to look at, I usually pile billows of lightly sweetened freshly whipped cream on top. People go into ecstasies at this cake, and it’s only a few ingredients. Once you master the knack of folding the egg whites into the chocolate, you’re golden.
(We’ll pause here for a word from our sponsors: “The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.”)
I was intrigued by the recipe given to us since it varies from mine in that it uses no sugar, less butter and an entire POUND of chocolate!! If you’re feeding a crowd, maybe this is the recipe for you, but this is an extremely rich cake as it is, and I’ve never met anyone who could eat more than a small-to-moderate size piece. But, I was curious to see how the DB recipe stacked up to the one I was used to using. The final product was pretty similar to what I was used to, and may have even been slightly more chocolatey. (My recipe yields a smaller cake, and is a little lighter, less fudgy and more “crumbly” on the edges.) I didn’t make it for Valentine’s Day, but Marvin had invited a couple friends over for dinner last night so I decided that would be as good a time as any. And hey, it wouldn’t be in character for me to make anything more than a day before the deadline!
For the ice cream, our hosts provided a couple recipes for vanilla, but were gracious enough to let us pick our own flavors if we so chose. I was going to do hazelnut ice cream, until I got to the store and found out that hazelnuts were $7.99 for an 8-oz bag. Boo!! I changed tack and chose raspberry instead, seeing as how a bag of good quality frozen raspberries can be had for a few bucks.
If you’d like the Daring Bakers recipe for the cake, it can be found on either of the host blogs linked above. I’m going to give “my” recipe below. If you’re a chocolate lover, make them both and do a taste test and let me know what you think. I have a slightly sentimental attachment to my recipe, as it comes from the first cookbook I ever owned, a tome entitled France the Beautiful Cookbook. In the book, the cake bears the somewhat un-politically correct name “Le Nègre”, but if you can move past that, it’s a good recipe. The ice cream recipe comes from Nigella.
Flourless Chocolate Cake (aka “Le Nègre”)
7 oz best quality bittersweet chocolate
7 oz unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
Directions: Preheat the oven to 375. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Or, do what I always do and nuke them on really low power. I do 5 minutes at 30% power, give it a good stir and then another 3-5 minutes at 20% power. Set aside to cool.
While the chocolate is melting, separate the eggs, putting the whites in a metal bowl if you have one (I use my stand mixer). It’s important that the bowl be very clean and grease free, or the whites will not attain their full potential. (If you get any yolk in with the whites, start over, like I had to do, and save them for scrambled eggs.) Whisk the yolks with half the sugar (you can do this by hand) until mixture becomes pale in color. Whip the whites, gradually adding in the rest of the sugar, until glossy and forming stiff peaks. (This is another difference in my recipe- because the whites have sugar added, they are sturdier when beaten, and I think easier to fold in to the chocolate.)
Once the chocolate has cooled, stir in the egg yolks. Take a large dollop of the egg white and beat it into the chocolate to lighten the mixture. Gently fold the chocolate into the egg whites until completely incorporated and no white remains. The way I go about this is to pour the chocolate a little at a time down the side of the bowl and then stir with a spatula with a scooping motion, down the side, along the bottom of the bowl, up and over.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool on a rack. The cake will fall considerably, but c’est la vie. If you want to decorate it, you can turn it out on a plate so the flat side is on top and use a stencil and powdered sugar to do a design.
Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream (adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson)
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups raspberries
1 1/2 tsp best quality balsamic vinegar
Whisk together egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar. Heat the cream until almost boiling, then pour the hot cream into the egg mixture, whisking. Return to the stove over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the custard thickens. Let cool, and freeze in an ice cream maker according to instructions. (If you don’t have an ice cream maker, the Daring Bakers hosts give instructions with their recipes.)Make the raspberry sauce by putting the raspberries, balsamic and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a blender and pureeing until smooth. (The balsamic may seem like an odd ingredient, but it really amps up the raspberry flavor.) If desired, put through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the seeds. When the ice cream is almost frozen but still soft enough to stir, put it into a container a little at a time in layers, drizzling the raspberry sauce in as you go. Use a skewer to swirl the sauce through the ice cream. Freeze for another 1-2 hours until firm. I made extra raspberry sauce to drizzle over the top of the cake.
For the last several years I have been a regular consumer of pre-packaged “energy bars” like Clif, Luna, Balance, etc. Not being in the least a morning person, I would often find myself rushing out the door in the morning without having had the time for breakfast. But I’m not one of those people who can just skip breakfast either; I usually wake up pretty hungry. I always kept a stash of these energy bars on hand for those rushed mornings when breakfast was not an option, but I had been wanting to wean myself off them because I had been reading about how the highly processed soy by-products in them might not be so good for you. (Not to mention the fact that at over $1 per bar, they really add up in the grocery cart.)
No more! I am happy to report that I found a recipe for cereal bars courtesy of Nigella Lawson that is healthy, inexpensive, quick and easy to make and tastes better too. This would be a good recipe for kids to make because it’s so simple, all you have to do is measure and it doesn’t even really matter if you’re a little off. My sister thought this would also be a great snack to take in the car when she’s rushing the kids around to after-school activities!
Cereal bars (adapted from Nigella Express)
2 1/2 cups rolled oats (NOT instant); preferably organic (you can get these in the bulk section, along with most of the ingredients below)
1 cup each of the following: unsweetened shredded coconut, dried cranberries or other similar dried fruit, mixed seeds like sunflower or pumpkin, and nuts (I prefer walnuts or almonds, but if you want to go cheaper, use peanuts)
1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk (Trader Joe’s sells an organic one)
Preheat oven to 250 and lightly grease a 9×13 pan (I use this spray called Baker’s Joy, it works great). Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Put the condensed milk in a glass measuring cup or something similar and warm it in the microwave for a couple minutes on medium power (it gets runnier as you heat it and easier to mix in with the other stuff). Dump it in the bowl and mix WELL (you don’t want any dry spots). Smush it into the pan with a spatula so it’s all flat and even. Bake for 1 hour, let rest for 15 minutes, and cut into the size of your choice. (If you let them set longer, they’re harder to cut, but they don’t fall apart as easily.) I wrapped mine individually in wax paper and then stuck them in a Tupperware container. They will last quite a while and don’t need to be refrigerated or anything.
Variation: Tropical Cereal Bars
Substitute a combination of dried papaya, pineapple, or banana chips for the cranberries, and use cashews, Brazil nuts or macadamias for the nuts.