Tuesday, April 2, 2013

the cooking challenge (week 9): roasted cauliflower with kalamata olive vinaigrette

Driving up to Vermont this past weekend was like traveling back in time, leaving spring in Philadelphia


for the dull, gray dregs of winter farther north. This post is a time traveler, too—I’m just now telling you about the recipe I made in Week 9 of this cooking challenge/year, when it was still cold and gloomy everywhere. When cranking up the oven to roast vegetables was the perfect way to spend a Sunday afternoon: warm and indoors. This is a wintry dish, to be sure: cauliflower sliced thick like a steak, roasted in that hot oven, and slathered in a savory dressing. But I hear it snowed this morning in Vermont, it’s awfully blustery here in Philly, and even Hawaii is experiencing record low temperatures, so getting cozy with a cruciferous vegetable doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, and this is a delicious way to do it.

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The recipe calls for cutting a crown of cauliflower into slabs, which makes for a more dramatic presentation,


but I've made this with florets, too, and it was just as good. It’s the combination of roasting and dressing that’s key: The vegetable becomes tender, crispy at the edges, and wonderfully nutty in the heat; the dressing is salty, slightly acidic, slick. It’s so good, and easy, I’ll definitely take it with me into the future, eating it on these spring days that pose as winter, again next fall when the days grow short and the nights cold, and on into next year…it's a keeper.

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Roasted Cauliflower With Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette
Adapted from Gourmet

1 (2 1/2-to 3-pound) head cauliflower
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 small garlic clove
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (to taste)
1/4 cup pitted Kalamata olives, finely chopped

1. Preheat oven to 450°F with rack in lower third.

2. Cut cauliflower lengthwise into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Place in a large, four-sided sheet pan and toss with 2 tablespoons of oil and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Roast, turning once or twice, until golden and just tender, about 25 minutes.

3. While the cauliflower roasts, mince and mash the garlic to a paste with a pinch of salt, then whisk together with lemon juice, remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, olives, 1/8 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Serve cauliflower drizzled with Kalamata vinaigrette.


Friday, March 22, 2013

the cooking challenge (week 8): lemon pudding


I’ve never liked that “When life hands you lemons…” expression, because frankly, life is lemons. 



It’s also chocolate cake and chicken vindaloo and a hunk of cave-aged cheddar cheese. It’s Tater Tots and steak tartare. It’s peanut butter toast, a slice of watermelon, a bowl of rice and beans.

And life doesn’t just hand us lemons, we often stand under the tree, reach up, and pick the fruit ourselves.

That said, my own life has lately felt very lemony. Maybe it’s my marriage ending when I didn’t want it to, or being unable to write and unsure of what I’m doing with my life, or falling in love and breaking up and getting back together with someone new, or trying to find a job, or selling my home, or moving to a new city, leaving behind most of the people who held me up, both literally and metaphorically, as I stumbled my way through the past year and a half. Or maybe it’s just the where-the-hell-is-spring blues.

Whatever it is, there are lemons everywhere. Trees of sunshine-yellow fruit that I can’t resist picking. Lemons falling from the sky. Lemons littering the ground underfoot, making for very unstable terrain. And while I know that being alive is a fundamentally wobbly endeavor, I wouldn’t mind the illusion right now of some real solid ground beneath my feet. I’m shaky and scared and tired. I’m in a sour-lemon funk. And you know what they say: When life hands you lemons, make lemon pudding.

The original recipe was called Meyer Lemon Budino (budino is the Italian word for pudding), but life hasn’t been handing me Meyer lemons, so I used the regular kind, and an orange. 


This pudding is quick and easy to whip up, made with ingredients that you most likely have on hand (if life isn’t handing you lemons, check your refrigerator—there are probably a few rolling around in the crisper). Life is lemons. It’s flour and eggs and sugar and milk and salt and butter. Just typing those words was a comfort. So is knowing that such reliable staples—all you need to make this pudding— are sitting in the darkness of the refrigerator and cupboard in my kitchen.

So was making pudding on a Sunday afternoon. Squeezing the lemons and grating the rind, 



separating the eggs, whisking the yolks with the sugar 


and flour and lemon and milk, beating the whites with the salt. Pouring the batter into six little Mason jars 


and baking them in a water bath. The smell that filled my sunlit apartment.

The batter magically separates while baking: a layer of lemon-curd-like custard on the bottom, an airy poof of cake on top. I ate one straight from the oven with a wallop of whipped cream.



Now five little Mason jars of pudding. The cakey top sinks and shrinks a bit as the pudding cools, which was fine for my purposes. I capped the jars and walked around my new neighborhood delivering pudding to the few but dear friends I have here. 


I’m so, so grateful for those friends. For lemons and lemon pudding. For flour and eggs and sugar and milk and salt and butter. For the way a stocked pantry is a version of a solid life. I brought pudding and was invited to stay for dinner—life is gorgonzola-and-eggplant ravioli, and when we're lucky, a deep breath on solid ground.

Life-Is-Lemons Pudding
Adapted from Bon Appetit 

Note: The recipe calls for Meyer lemons, and I made it once this way and once with 1/4 regular lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of fresh orange juice, and didn’t notice a difference. According to the reviews of the recipe on Epicurious, plenty of people have successfully made it entirely with regular lemons.

Butter
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh regular lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon peel
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk
 1/4 teaspoon salt
Whipped cream (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter six 3/4-cup custard cups or ramekins or Mason jars.

2. Combine 1/2 cup sugar, egg yolks, flour, lemon juice, and lemon peel in large bowl; whisk until well blended. Whisk in milk.

3. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites and salt in medium bowl until frothy. Gradually add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and beat until soft peaks form. Fold beaten egg whites into lemon mixture in 2 additions.

4. Divide mixture among prepared custard cups. Place custard cups in roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of custard cups. Bake puddings until tops are golden and spring back when lightly touched, about 30 minutes. Remove cups from water. Serve warm or cold with whipped cream, if desired.


Monday, March 11, 2013

the cooking challenge (week 7): chocolate mousse

Last week, week 6 of the challenge, was more like week 666 in my kitchen (and elsewhere in my life, actually), so this week, to prevent further disaster, I made a deal with the devil. It didn’t involve eternal life or Chester’s soul or anything like that. Just some chocolate mousse and the ghost of Julia Child and the birth of a horned, cloven-hoofed baby. Anyway, I can’t really get into the details of my contract with Satan, but I can tell you a few things about chocolate mousse.

1. It’s far easier to make than chocolate brioche and so, so good: rich but also light and airy, chocolaty with hints of espresso and rum. You'll need to use most of the bowls you own and there's a fair amount of whipping, but this is why you own all those bowls, and that electric mixer. 

2. You must use good chocolate.

3. When you bring this chocolate mousse to a dinner party, one person won’t partake because there are raw eggs in it, which means there will be more mousse for you. Don’t be afraid to bogart the extra serving—you’re eating for two now! Yourself and the unborn spawn of the devil.

4. The person who won’t eat the mousse will eat a bowl of whipped cream.

5. Whipped cream is wonderful on mousse, but it shouldn’t be too sweet.

666. When photographed, mousse looks a lot like…poop. So there are no pictures of the finished product, just a few (homely) ones of the process.

Chocolate Mousse
From Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child via David Lebowitz 

6 ounces high-quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
 (I used Green & Black's 70%)
6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

1/4 cup espresso or strong brewed coffee

4 large eggs, separated

2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons dark rum

1 tablespoon water

pinch of salt

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Heat a saucepan one-third full with hot water, and in a bowl set on top, melt together the chocolate, butter, and coffee, stirring over the barely simmering water, until smooth. Remove from heat.

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2. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
3. In a bowl large enough to nest securely on the saucepan of simmering water, whisk or mix with an electric mixer the yolks of the eggs with the 2/3 cup of sugar, rum, and water for about 3 minutes until the mixture is thick, like runny mayonnaise.

3. Remove from heat and place the bowl of whipped egg yolks within the bowl of ice water and beat until cool and thick, then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks.

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4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not completely stiff, then add the vanilla.

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5. Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don’t overdo it or the mousse will lose volume.

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6. Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or divide into serving dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm.

Bon appétit!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

the cooking challenge (week 6): happily ever...no

Here’s a little story that typifies what happens when I try to bake.

Once upon a time, there was a recipe for chocolate-swirled brioche rolls, and this recipe called for a room-temperature egg and room-temperature butter. Why room temperature? No one knows why. But, fine, I’ll go along. Like most normal people, I keep my eggs and butter in the refrigerator; unlike most normal people, I don’t own a microwave. So to expedite their transition to room temperature, I did what most normal people would and set my butter and egg in a patch of sunlight on the rug in my bedroom. My dog, who thought all patches of sunlight on the floor were his personal, if itinerant and ephemeral, property, was pissed.

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So was I, when I walked through the bedroom a little while later and accidentally kicked the egg across the room.

But no matter. Eggs basically grow on trees. Or in refrigerators, anyway. A new one came up to room temperature on the countertop while I warmed half a cup of milk to between 110 and 116 degrees. Why between 110 and 116 degrees? Because baked-goods recipe writers are sadistic power-trip types who take great pleasure in making bakers submit to their will. But like I said, I’ll go along. I sprinkled a packet of yeast on the exactly 114 degree milk, but the yeast didn’t foam like it was supposed to. So I did it all over again, this time while cursing the egg on the counter, which was definitely smirking: warmed the milk, measured the temperature, sprinkled the yeast. This time there was a very subtle foam, so I made the dough and left it to rise. But it didn’t. Why? To fuck with my head. That’s why.

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Incredibly rude dough not rising.

I want pretty much more than anything in the world to be able to make chocolate brioche rolls. Actually, what I really want is to be able to eat chocolate brioche rolls at will, and you know what the lord, says: Teach a woman to buy chocolate brioche rolls, and she'll eat one whenever she’s near a bakery that makes them, which is not actually that often. Teach a woman to bake chocolate brioche rolls, and she’ll eat one whenever she wants, or maybe a couple of hours after she wants, because she’ll bake and freeze a batch and then when she wants a roll she’ll thaw in out in a of patch of sunlight on her bedroom floor. Anyway, fuck brioche.

I gave up and made scones. I’m not a huge fan of scones, but I was going to a brunch with some ladies and needed to bring something, and fuck brioche, and ladies like scones. But not these scones.

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The ladies didn’t even get to try these scones. These scones were so bad I “accidentally” left them in the car when I went to the brunch. Actually, calling them “so bad” is giving them too much credit. What they were was bland. So bland they don’t even deserve “so” as a modifier. They were the perfect texture (moist yet crumbly) but







that blank space is the taste of my scones.

The end.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

justin bieber and selena grapefruit


So I’ve been dating someone, which is odd—I mean, he’s not odd—well, he’s a little odd, but not more so than you and I. What I’m getting at is that it’s odd to be 41 and have a boyfriend. Because he’s not a boy, and I’m not in high school, and it’s just…odd. Anyway, we’ve been a little break-up-get-back-together lately, but at the end of last year, when we were together, we challenged each other to cook one new dish every week in 2013 and started a tumblr about it. Then we broke up. Now we’re back together! Kind of. Dating really should be left entirely to Justin Bieber and Selena Gomez and those who love them.

Anyway, it turns out that tumblr is also odd (among other things, the word tumbler is traditionally spelled with an "e," and the platform doesn’t allow commenting), so when we update our cooking-challenge bl*g, I’m going to link to it so that you can meet my kind-of boyfriend and read about what he's cooking, but I’m also going to repost my own posts here so you can comment. About dating or cooking or Justin Bieber.

My most recent post is below (you may notice that I'm way behind; see "we broke up" above), and you can read the rest here


Week 5: Grapefruit, Avocado, and Fennel Salad
I moved to Philadelphia in part for the weather, which I know sounds crazy to anyone who lives here, and it’s true, I think I was aiming low. But I moved here from Vermont (have you spent a winter in Vermont? Because that winter is still going on there). Before that I lived in DC for five years, which has a similar climate to Philly—four distinct seasons, none of which lasts forever: Summer in the mid-Atlantic is basically disgusting, but spring is a knockout, fall perfectly pleasant, and the winters not that bad, compared to where I’m from. Or they didn’t seem that bad until a couple of weeks ago, specifically Week 5 of this challenge, when I was no longer appeased by the absence of snow and subzero temperatures. I wondered why I hadn’t moved to the South. Or, better yet, the South of France. The view of gray skies and spindly, bare branches of trees from my bedroom window was destroying my already weak will to get up in the morning. The biting wind I met on my first walk of the day was bitter, as was I. Very, vey bitter.


I made lots of wintry foods that week—some new recipes, like a creamy cauliflower soup that didn’t actually have cream and braised beans that featured both bacon and beef stock as ingredients, and old favorites, too, like brisket. But it turns out heavy, rich foods were not the answer.

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The answer was grapefruits. And oranges. And lemons. Some thinly sliced fennel. Creamy avocado. Salad. A crisp, bright sunny day of a salad, imported from warmer climes. Which is where I plan to start spending my winters as soon as I marry the octogenarian retiree of my dreams. Any day now.


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Grapefruit, Avocado, and Fennel Salad
The recipe below is more or less the original, Bon Appétit version. I adapted it, but not in any exact way. Because this version serves eight and I was cooking for two, I used just one grapefruit, one fennel bulb, and one avocado. The arugula was measured in handfuls, not cups. I didn’t arrange anything in layers; I lightly dressed and carefully tossed it. And the dressing, which I made more or less as described here, was too sweet, so I added more lemon juice to taste, as well as the grapefruit juice that had leaked from the fruit when I peeled and pithed it. There was tons of dressing left over, but it goes well on all kinds of salads, beans, grains...

Dressing
1/3 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon minced shallot
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 teaspoon minced peeled fresh ginger
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon oriental sesame oil

Whisk the ingredients for the dressing in a large bowl to blend, or shake them vigorously in a jar. Season with salt and pepper.

Salad
2 large pink grapefruits, peel and white pith removed
1 pound fennel bulbs, trimmed, cut into paper-thin slices (I used my trusty mandolin; and when I say “trusty mandolin,” I mean the mandolin with which I am bit by bit amputating my right thumb)

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2 large avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, cut into thin slices
2 cups arugula

1. Using a sharp knife, cut between membranes of grapefruits to release segments.
2. Spread fennel slices over large platter. Arrange grapefruit segments and avocado slices atop fennel. Drizzle dressing over salad. Arrange arugula atop salad. 

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Saturday, February 23, 2013

are you there, bl*g? it's me, kate


Hi there. Long time no see. A year! It’s been a year to the day since the last time I posted here. A long and crazy-ass year.

Let me start off by saying that I’ve missed you terribly. I’ve missed cooking gruel for dinner and telling you about it. I’ve missed complaining about the weather and posting far too many photos of my dog. I’ve missed your comments and friendship and the little community we were making together in this quiet corner of the internet. I’ve missed writing—you gave me a reason to, and I haven’t much for the last 18 months. They’ve been tough ones. Real bitches, in fact (I apologize to all my bitches for taking your name in vain). And, in many ways, quite wonderful, too.

This bl*g was ostensibly about food, but it was also about my little dog and the man I was married to and the life we were making together in a little city perched on the edge of an ancient glacial lake surrounded by mountains in northeast Vermont. 


A life that felt as sure and inevitable as that lake. I slept on its shore, swam and was tossed and floated in its waters. For more than ten years that lake was my home.

If I were going to work this life/lake metaphor to the bone, and apparently I am, I’d make reference now to toxic sludge, or cyanobacteria, or whatever else irrevocably damages a lake. But instead I’ll tell you the good news: Chester is lying next to me on the couch as I write this, and he has not gotten one lick less handsome since you saw him last. We’re in front of the fireplace in my new apartment in…Philadelphia (I know: weird, right?). 



This is the view from my tiny back deck.



I’ve learned some things in the past 18 months that I wouldn’t have chosen to about impermanence and resilience, but I’m glad to know them. I’ve learned some things about friendship and family and community—lifesaving things—that I’m so, so grateful for. I wonder sometimes why we human beings are so rotten to each other. And I marvel at how we love and care for each other. How lucky we are that we all exist.

I don’t know if you’re still there, but I want you to know, one year after my last post, how glad I am that you exist. I have no idea what the future holds (it’s hilarious to me that I ever thought I did!), but I hope it includes more writing and cooking and reading, things I haven’t done enough of in the past 18 months. I hope it includes sharing those things with you, either here at GFD or in a new corner of the internet. Either way, I’ll keep you posted.

Love you, bitches.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

postcard from oaxaca

Wish you were here.

It's lime, bitches. For making tortillas.
She's making ice cream!
They're herding goats!

This video goes out to Face: Ask and ye shall receive, girl.
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One day soon I'll write a long letter instead of a postcard. But for now, your bl*g mistress went to Mexico and all you got were these photos and AWESOME VIDEO (the '80s are back; if hipsters can wear shoulder pads, I can use the word awesome like it's going out of style, which it did a long time ago).

P.S. I miss you. Lots and lots and lots.