When my band plays live shows, it’s common for us to play certain songs faster than the tempo we record or rehearse them in. There’s an energy to a live performance that incites you to do everything louder, faster, harder. For some of the songs that are already up-tempo, the live versions are sometimes performed at breakneck speeds that make you feel as if you’re on a runaway train that could careen off the tracks at any moment. It’s nerve-wracking to think it could all fall apart, but exhilarating at the same time when you finish the song, looking around at your bandmates like “Did we really just pull that off?”.
This is the feeling that sums up my September- a frantic, energetic, delirious blur. It bums me out that I’ve gone the entire month so far- over three weeks- without posting here, even though I had the first week of the month off (the pork loin shown above was cooked up north over Labor Day weekend, the last couple leisure days I’ve had). Rest assured, I haven’t been neglecting this space out of laziness or lack of interest. I’ve become involved in a few different new projects that are kicking into high gear and keeping nearly every free moment occupied, so I do feel a bit neurotic. But like that song that just manages not to self-implode, I’ve been holding it all together by the skin of my teeth and feeling, for the most part, immensely satisfied.
A month ago, I convinced my job to let me cut my work week to 32 hours so that I could have some extra time for entrepreneurial pursuits. I was a little nervous about the reduction in pay, but I knew it was something I had to do and was ready to take a bit of a risk. Since then, I have started making products for a small business with a friend (more on this soon!) and have written my first freelance article for Model D (out 9/28). I’ve also been working on getting this blog redesigned and moved over to a new domain, which I hope to have done in October in time for its 2-year anniversary.
Meanwhile, my cooking has fallen a bit to the wayside. I’ve largely been subsisting off salads, bread, cheese, and very simply cooked vegetables from the farmers’ market- nothing to write home about, but nourishing to the soul as well as the body. As summer grinds to a halt, I’m spending massive amounts of free time processing various fruits and vegetables, something I haven’t done on a large scale before. I hope to get my blogging mojo back soon, but for the moment my other projects are demanding just about all of my attention. I hope you’ll bear with me as I transition into these new and exciting ventures!
Grilled Pork Loin with Garlic & Rosemary
I haven’t really made anything requiring a recipe in the last month, but I did make the grilled pork loin pictured above with my favorite sous-chef, my brother Jesse, on Labor Day weekend up north.
Take a pork loin and cut it for a roulade (or have the butcher do this if you don’t know how). Generously season the meat on both sides with salt and pepper. Lay flat. Make a paste out of generous amounts of garlic and rosemary with a little olive oil; smear this liberally on one side of the meat. Roll it up and secure with butcher’s twine. Grill over high heat until it begins to color and brown, then transfer to indirect heat and grill, covered, until internal temperature is 145°. Allow to rest for about 10 minutes tented with foil; slice and serve. We served this with a “sauce” made of fresh Michigan peaches peeled and macerated with a small amount of sugar, and the grilled sweet corn pictured in the new masthead.
When it comes to indulgences, I prefer to blow my “calorie budget” on an exquisite piece of cheese*, a succulent slice of fat-studded saucisson, or a glistening leg of duck confit (with accompanying duck-fat-roasted potatoes, of course). In fact, I’ll usually forgo the dessert course altogether, having sated myself on one or more of the above. But I was making Marvin a Valentine’s supper, and the menu didn’t feel complete without dessert. Things were going in a somewhat Italian direction (rabbit braised in red wine; polenta with roasted garlic & honey; broccoli raab sautéed with anchovy & red pepper) so I thought of an olive oil cake- not too rich, just a subtly sweet ending.
The recipe I chose was a plain, unadorned sponge cake, enlivened with the zest of a lemon and an orange, a slug of late-harvest dessert wine, and some finely chopped rosemary. This simple, clean flavor combination struck me as the perfect ending to a rich meal. (If it sounds a bit too austere, don’t forget that you’ll have that open bottle of dessert wine to sip along with your cake!)
This cake was especially appropriate for Valentine’s Day (or an anniversary for that matter) because rosemary symbolizes “remembrance and fidelity”. It’s often used in weddings for this very reason- in fact, I attended one wedding where rosemary plants were given out as favors for the guests to take home. I like to think that remembrance is meant not just in terms of looking back on something in the past, but rather in the sense that we should always keep our partner in our thoughts on a daily basis, remembering why we chose them and not taking them for granted. Fidelity has the obvious connotation of sexual fidelity, but it also refers to being loyal to your partner- letting them feel secure in the knowledge that you’ve got their back no matter what.
I can’t say that either of us were thinking any of these deep thoughts while eating our cake, but it was interesting to look up the meaning of rosemary and to know that it had a symbolic connection with what is supposed to be a day of celebrating romance. Although Valentine’s Day may be behind us for this year, I urge you to make this cake anytime you want to honor remembrance and fidelity, or anytime you want a simple, uncomplicated ending to a rich meal.
(*This cheese is pretty amazing with dessert wine too if you’re ever looking for something really special- it’s an artisan blue cheese wrapped in grape leaves that have been macerated in pear brandy. It’s pricey, but no more pricey per pound than really good chocolate- for 4 bucks I bought a small piece that we didn’t even finish.)
5 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
2 packed tsps rosemary leaves, very finely minced
zest of one lemon
zest of one orange
4 oz. fresh, whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Moscato, vin Santo, or other late-harvest white wine
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp sea salt
Preheat the oven to 375. Prepare a 9″ or 10″ springform pan by buttering the sides and lining the bottom with a parchment circle. Beat the yolks and sugar until pale. Stir in the citrus zest and rosemary.
In another bowl, stir together the ricotta, salt, olive oil and wine until combined. Add the ricotta mixture and the flour to the yolks, a third at a time, alternating the two.
Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold them into the batter. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and bake an additional 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Be careful not to overcook, as this is a cake that can quickly go from perfectly done to dry.
Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then unmold onto a plate and allow to finish cooling. DeBlasi suggests serving a few roasted nuts alongside the cake, as well as the dessert wine you used in the cake. If you like, you can decorate the cake with a sprinkling of powdered sugar as pictured. My favorite way to do this is to put the sugar in a mesh tea strainer and lightly tap it over the surface of the cake (use a cardboard cut-out for a “stencil”).
I’m just going to say this: there’s something downright sexy about roasted tomatoes. I think it’s a combination of their concentrated intensity; their meatiness; their blood-red color; their dripping juices. Whatever it is, they just feel somehow decadent and lusty. So does the fact that I bound them into these neat little tarts make me a prude?
Lest you get the wrong impression, I would generally concur that the ideal way to eat roasted tomatoes is warm from the oven, with some good crusty bread and maybe a little cheese alongside. But if you have some left over, these tarts rank a close second. If you’ve never had slow-roasted tomatoes, I beg you to try them. They couldn’t be easier to make, and if you’re really feeling lazy you can even buy them at some fancy grocery stores (sold at the olive bar). I’m later than I wanted to be in getting this post up, and I know tomato season is quickly coming to a close, but in a pinch you can get decent results using grocery-store Roma tomatoes year round.
However or whenever you get your hands on some roasted tomatoes, this is a wonderful way to showcase them. I made a cornmeal-rosemary crust, filled it with these gems, poured a simple custard over top and finished it with a little microplaned Grana Padano. Rien de plus simple. Pair with something green (a simple green salad, or some garlicky sautéed spinach) for a light supper, or some crispy bacon and a little fruit salad for brunch.
Have I convinced you yet? If only a photo could convey aroma, texture, and of course, flavor, we’d be all set. But while we’re waiting for Apple to pioneer the iSmell, you’ll just have to take my word that these little tarts are one of the best things to come out of my kitchen in a long time.
Little Roasted Tomato Tarts with Cornmeal-Rosemary Crust
You can, of course, make one large tart, but for some reason I was compelled to put these in individual tart pans. Yes, there is a “cute factor”, but also I wanted to be able to bake a couple at a time so as not to have soggy leftovers.
1/2 recipe Cornmeal-Rosemary crust (recipe follows)
about 1 1/2-2 cups roasted Roma tomatoes (recipe follows)
herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice, if tomatoes are plain
3-4 eggs (see notes)
3/8-1/2 cup light cream (see notes)
salt & freshly gound black pepper
Grana Padano or Parmesan for grating
6 small (5-inch)tart pans or 1 10-inch tart pan
Notes: I am using the custard ratio from the book Once Upon a Tart- 1 egg to 1/8 cup cream- so if you don’t have enough, you can make more based on this formula. The book calls for light cream, which I approximate by cutting heavy cream with a little milk. If you make your tart in a single tart pan, or if you don’t pack the tomatoes in, you may find you need a little extra. If your tomatoes have been kept in oil, blot them well with paper towel so you don’t end up with a greasy tart.
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400º. Roll out your dough and press it into the tart pan(s), putting them in the fridge as you go. Let rest in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes. Prick the crust with a fork. Set the tart shells on a cookie sheet, line them with foil and dried beans or pie weights and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake until golden brown all over, about 10 more minutes. (If you’re using a single tart shell, you may want to take it out when it’s about 75% cooked. For the small tarts, they cook pretty quickly, so it’s better to have the crust fully cooked first.)
Reduce the oven temp to 375º. Fill the tart(s) with the roasted tomatoes, cut side facing up. If your tomatoes are plain, you can sprinkle a pinch of herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice over the top. Whisk together the eggs, milk and cream, adding a couple dashes of salt and pepper. I like to do this in a Pyrex measuring cup for easy pourability. Drizzle the tarts with the custard mixture, making sure to fill the gaps in between the tomatoes. The upturned tomato halves will serve as little “cups” that will catch the custard as well. You’ll want to stop a little shy of the crust’s rim, so your custard doesn’t overflow when baked. Grate some cheese over the tops.
Place tarts in the oven and bake until puffed and golden, about 15-20 minutes (but peek in on them after 10). If you’re doing a full-sized tart, it’ll probably take closer to 30 minutes. When done, place on a cooling rack, removing from the pan as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Roasted Roma Tomatoes printer-friendly version
Perhaps you’ll recall that I had mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to try these? They didn’t disappoint. All I can say is that if I’d realized that 1 large box (1/2 a bushel, I think) would shrink down to a mere few cups, I would have bought at least twice as many. Live and learn, I suppose. I made three different “flavors”- one with thyme, rosemary and marjoram from my backyard (herbes de Ferndale?), one with coriander (as per Molly’s recipe) and one with smoked paprika. I put the latter two in some olive oil and into the freezer to enjoy later when the weather turns unfriendly and I need a reminder of the sun on my face (yes, tomatoes can do that). The tomatoes with the herb mixture went into the aforementioned tarts.
In reading up on the tomato-roasting method, many people recommended a much longer, slower roasting time (10-12 hours as opposed to the 6 suggested by Molly & Luisa). I decided to try this so I could do it overnight rather than heating up the house during the day. It would have been fine except my oven didn’t get down to 200º, it was more like 250º, so a few of the tomatoes around the edges of the pan had to be pitched. However, I do think there is something to be said for the slower roast. Judging by the photos, I think my tomatoes were a bit more concentrated than the 6-hour version; their flavor approached that of a sun-dried tomato but retained a little juiciness. I would say, start taste-testing them after 6 hours and see what suits you. If you’re using them in a sauce, you may choose to leave them a little juicier since they would be cooking down further in the sauce.
Roma tomatoes, the more the better, as they cook down quite a bit, and you can freeze leftovers (you’ll need about one tightly-packed cookie sheet’s worth to make the tarts)
herb(s) or spice(s) of your choice
Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise, removing the little stem end, and place on a rimmed cookie sheet. Brush or lightly drizzle with olive oil. Using your fingers, sprinkle with a little sea salt and any herbs or seasoning you wish to use. Remember that the flavors will become very concentrated, so less is better than too much. Place in a 200º oven for 6-10 hours according to your preferences. To store, you can keep them in the fridge for a couple weeks covered in olive oil, or freeze until hard on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a sealable freezer bag (this will keep them from clumping together).
Makes enough for two 9″ or 10″ tart shells. Half a recipe will make 6 individual 4″ tarts.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
3 Tbs semolina flour (cornmeal)
1 tsp salt
12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes (I stick it in the freezer for a few minutes after I cut it up)
3 Tbs cold solid vegetable shortening
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
glass of ice water
When I made my last batch of this, I didn’t have any shortening on hand so I used all butter, to no ill effect.
Directions: Place the flour, cornmeal and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening and pulse the processor in brief bursts until the mixture is sandy and there are no more visible chunks of butter. DO NOT overprocess or your crust will be tough!
Dump the crumbly mixture into a bowl and stir in the chopped rosemary. Sprinkle with ice water, one Tbs. at a time, coaxing the dough with a wooden spoon until it begins to come together. You want to add just enough water to allow this to happen; you don’t want it to be so wet that it becomes sticky or has white spots. If you’re not sure, go slow.
When the dough starts to come together, use your hands to gather it up and form it into two balls, taking care not to over-handle it. Wrap each half in plastic and flatten them into disks with the palm of your hand. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out.
When I worked at Book Beat, many of my co-workers were fine cooks and appreciators of fresh, organic and/or locally grown food. Conversation often turned to sharing ideas and recipes for whatever we had cooked recently, and especially in the winter, the topic was usually soup. I had the idea last winter that we should each make a big batch of something and then trade, since I would usually get tired of eating the same soup for a week straight. For whatever reason, it never came together, but I held on to the idea and finally decided that post-holidays was a perfect time to get a big pot of soup on and get together with a few girlfriends. There were four of us total, and we each made a 3-cup container of soup for each of the other participants to take home, as well as a bit extra for us to all sample that day. I made a loaf of bread and a salad, and we all ate small portions of everyone’s soup (and in my case, big portions of bread!). It was a wonderful way to spend a chilly winter afternoon. Dessert was courtesy of Marvin, who had just been at Shatila Bakery in Dearborn the day before.
All the soups were delicious and we had a great variety: from Michelle, a lamb, barley and escarole soup; from Sarah, an Eastern European-style vegetarian cabbage stew, and a creamy chicken noodle soup courtesy of Kate. I’m first going to post the recipes for the two soups I made (yes, I couldn’t help myself from making two… I already had all the ingredients and couldn’t decide!). The recipes for the other three will be posted shortly. I encourage you to organize your own soup swaps; it’s a great way to get a fridge full of great leftovers with only a little effort!
Note: Both of the soups below can easily be converted to vegetarian or vegan versions by using a good vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock, and by substituting vegetable oil where butter is called for. Also, both soups are adapted from a great little cookbook called Once Upon a Tart, which gets a good deal of use in my kitchen.
Tomato-Chickpea Soup with Rosemary (adapted from Once Upon a Tart)
This soup is ridiculously easy to make, and with the exception of the fresh rosemary, consists entirely of items I almost always have in my pantry. (I know, I need to grow some window herbs.) The partial puréeing gives it a rich, almost creamy consistency. If you wanted to, I bet cannellini beans would be a good stand-in for the chickpeas. It tastes great plain, but to take it to the next level, garnish with a little grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padana and some garlic croûtons.
1 28-oz can + 1 14-oz can diced tomatoes- I like the Petite Dice for this (see notes)
2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed (see notes)
1 large yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 large or 2 small sprigs fresh rosemary, needles removed from stem and chopped fine
4 cups chicken stock
3-4 tbs olive oil
salt, sugar and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Notes: If tomatoes are in season, by all means use fresh- you would need 4 lbs plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced. If you’d like to use dried chickpeas, soak 2 cups overnight in plenty of cold water. When ready to cook, drain and rinse the chickpeas and bring to a boil in 4 cups unsalted water. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered until tender; this will probably take about an hour.
Directions: Pour enough olive oil in your soup pot to generously coat the bottom, and warm over medium-high heat. Add the diced onions and a sprinkling of salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to reduce in volume (about 10 minutes). After the first couple minute, lower the heat to medium. After the onions have softened and cooked down a bit, add the garlic and rosemary, adding a little additional olive oil if necessary so nothing sticks. Let the garlic cook for a few minutes to infuse its flavor into the oil.
Add the drained chickpeas and stock and bring to a simmer. Let simmer gently for 20 minutes; then turn off the heat and add the tomatoes, a pinch of sugar, and a few grinds of black pepper.
If you have an immersion blender, ladle about 1/3 of the soup into another container. Purée the remaining 2/3 of the soup in the pan, and then recombine. If you are using a blender or food processor, remove 2/3 of the soup and purée, then return it to the pan to recombine. Either way, be careful not to burn yourself with hot soup! Taste for salt, sugar and pepper (you may not need any salt depending on how salty your stock and tomatoes were). Gently reheat. The soup may separate on standing, but just give it a good stir before serving.
Curried Corn Chowder with Coconut Milk (adapted from Once Upon a Tart)
This soup also uses the technique of puréeing part of the soup to give a creamy texture, and leaving part chunky. It is best served the day it is made, but I ate some leftovers the next day and it still was pretty good!
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 14-oz can light coconut milk
1 16-oz bag frozen corn, preferably organic, or 4-5 ears fresh corn if in season, kernels sliced from cob
4 cups chicken stock
4-5 small redskin potatoes scrubbed and cut into bite-sized dice (if substituting a larger type of potato, peel it)- about 1 1/2 to 2 cups
1 tbs Madras curry powder
3-4 tbs clarified butter or ghee (directions on clarifying butter are here)
1 tsp brown sugar
salt & freshly gound black pepper
1 small sprig fresh thyme, leaves removed and chopped
1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
thinly sliced scallion, for garnish
Directions: Sauté the onion and thyme in 2 tbs butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat, stirring to prevent burning or sticking. After 5 minutes or so, reduce heat to medium and continue cooking, about 10-15 more minutes, until onion is soft and translucent.
Add the potatoes, stock, and sugar, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the potatoes are tender (this will vary depending on the potato variety and the size of your dice; begin checking after 15 minutes).
Meanwhile, heat the remaining clarified butter in the smallest saucepan you have. When it is melted, turn the heat to medium low and add the curry powder, stirring well. Cook 2-3 minutes or until fragrant, taking care that the curry powder does not burn- it will become bitter.
When potatoes are cooked through, turn off the heat and stir in the coconut milk, 2 tbs of the cilantro, and the curry butter (use a spatula and swish a little stock in the curry butter pan to get it all out). If you have an immersion blender, use that to partially purée the soup- you’re aiming for it to be about 50% puréed, with bites of potato remaining. Otherwise, purée half the soup in your blender or food processor and return it to the pot.
Put the soup back on the stove on medium heat and add the corn. If you’re using frozen corn, cook long enough to heat the corn through; if you’re using fresh, simmer for about 10 minutes and taste to make sure the corn has lost any raw flavor. Add salt and freshly ground black or white pepper to taste, as well as a pinch more sugar if you think it needs it. Garnish each bowl with a generous sprinkle of the remaining chopped cilantro and a few slivers of scallion.