Friday, February 29, 2008

Hot Cross Buns

Even though I was Catholic growing up, I probably never would have eaten a hot cross bun if it weren't for that cute little song (see the lyrics here), which I probably learned in pre-school or someplace like that. With such a catchy tune running through my head, I naturally wanted to eat a hot cross bun. Luckily, a bakery near our house made them during lent, and I remember liking the sweet little yeast rolls studded with bits of fruit and spices.

What we know as a hot cross bun became popular in Tudor England in the 1500s, but the pagan inhabitants of the British Isles probably made similar bread marked with a cross to honor Eostre, their goddess of light for whom Easter was named, according to the Oxford Companion to Food. This tradition of offering bread to the gods goes back to the Greeks and Romans and even further to the Egyptians who took a great leap toward modern civilization when they traded blood sacrifices for far less messy offerings of bread.

Today, hot cross buns aren't really an offering, but a traditional holiday food eaten on Good Friday (also known as "the day of the cross") and throughout Lent to remind us of Jesus' cross.

When I decided to recreate this sweet little catholic-school-girl memory, I was surprised that there weren't many recipes to choose from when I looked to my cookbooks and searched online. There's a needlessly complex one here on epicurious, and you can probably turn up a few more from less reliable sources via google.

I found what looked like a good straightforward recipe on from Emeril of all people. Unfortunately, his recipe did not come off without a hitch. The dough was so slack and sticky that it wasn't "kneadable" until I added an extra 1/2 cup of flour. The dough took 2 hours instead of 1 to double in bulk, but I was happy that it rose at all.

Maybe I should have had more faith (bad joke, I know) because my buns turned out very well in the end. The flavor was just right with cardamom at the forefront. I couldn't resist adding a little ginger and allspice, two spices that are often included in hot cross buns. With those aromatic spices, the buns were perfect with the rose petal jam I was raving about in this post.

Here's the link to Emeril's recipe. My changes are as follows: 4 cups of flour instead of 3 1/2, but add more only if you need it; 1/3 cup of currants instead of 1/2 cup raisins (currants are more traditional); I used a generous 1/2 tsp of freshly ground cardamom and 1/4 tsp each of ginger and allspice; 2 hours for each rise. I got 19 buns and they took no more than 25 minutes to bake. If I made these again, I would reduce the milk to 1 cup. For the icing, I used just 1 tbs. of milk, otherwise it is too runny.

This is the type of thing I want to bake for breakfast, so after the second rise, I cover the buns well with a kitchen towel and put them in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning I let them come to room temperature for 1 to 2 hours, then bake. They're really good warm.

Here's another hot cross bun recipe from Levain Bakery, they of ginormous chocolate chip cookie fame. It seemed less traditional, so I opted for Emeril. Then, after all was said and done, I was flipping through Feast by Nigella Lawson looking for something totally unrelated and found her recipe for hot cross buns. Why the heck didn't I think of consulting her in the first place? If you have access to the book, give it a look.

If you have a favorite traditional Easter food, tell me about it in the comments!

Monday, February 25, 2008

Lamb Stew with Creamy Eggplant Sauce

I love sitting at the table, eating a meal I’ve just cooked and saying, “If this is what I ordered at a restaurant, I’d be really happy.” I’m not suggesting I cook things that would be at home in a Michelin three-star establishment. They are usually more along the lines of dishes I would find in good Turkish restaurant or our favorite neighborhood Greek place. It’s the hearty, satisfying, often peasant-style dishes that I sometimes pull off really well.

With the help of Claudia Roden’s wonderful Middle Eastern cookbook, I made a simple lamb stew with a creamy eggplant sauce that tasted like some of the delicious dishes we’ve eaten at good Persian restaurants. It was the eggplant béchamel sauce that did it. All I did was roast a couple of eggplants, mash up the flesh and whisk it into a quick béchamel, the creamy white sauce made by whisking hot milk into a roux, or a mixture of butter and flour. Actually, Mike mashed up the eggplant while I made the béchamel. But even without two cooks, it’s easy enough to manage.

The lamb stew was just cubes of lamb leg, gently simmered with tomato and spices for about an hour and a half. The eggplant sauce is so much richer than just mashed eggplant (as in baba ghanouj), and you could also serve it as a dip or spread with pita bread. It would be a great addition to any lamb dish like grilled kebabs, but with buttery basmati rice it added a special component to this otherwise basic stew.

I may not be recreating dishes from The French Laundry or Alinea, but I’m plenty happy with meals like this.

If you liked this, you'll love:
Phyllo Triangles with Lamb, Onions and Pine Nuts
Herb-Marinated Lamb Kabobs with Garlic-Yogurt Sauce
Hummus, Baba Ghanouj and Yogurt Dip with Mint and Shredded Carrots
Curried Lamb and Lentil Stew
Spiced Lamb Patties with Minty Yogurt Sauce
Ana Sortun's Red Lentil Kofte and Pomegranate Salsa

Lamb Stew with Creamy Eggplant Sauce
Adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden
Though this dish originally comes from the Ottoman Place kitchens (the Turkish name translates to “Sultan’s Delight”), I think it’s very homey, just gussied up a little by the indulgently creamy, but incredibly simple, eggplant sauce. Roden’s stew does not include the dry spices, but I couldn’t miss the opportunity to add more flavor. The allspice especially is a good mate for lamb and eggplant. Have your butcher cut you piece from a leg of lamb (you want 1 1/2 lbs. of meat, so buy more if the bone is still in), or use shoulder or other stew meat. Serve with steamed basmati rice.

Serves 4 (You can make half this recipe to serve 2 generously.)

For the Stew:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 pounds lamb, cut into 3/4-inch cubes
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 (14 ounce) can diced tomatoes

For the Eggplant Sauce:
3 1/2 pounds eggplant (about 3 medium Italian eggplants)
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk, heated in the microwave
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Steamed basmati rice and fresh parsley for serving

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Make the stew: Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and lightly browned. Add the lamb, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until browned all over. Add the garlic, allspice, cinnamon and cayenne and cook for 2 minutes more. Add the tomatoes with their juice. Add just enough water to barely cover the lamb. Bring stew to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook for 1 hour stirring once or twice. Remove the lid and simmer for 30 minutes more, or until lamb is very tender and stew is slightly thickened. You can simmer longer if necessary to reduce the liquid to the desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and add more spices, salt and pepper as needed.

Meanwhile, make the eggplant sauce: Trim off the top and bottom ends and cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Place the eggplants cut side down on a baking sheet lined with foil and coated with nonstick spray. Roast until the eggplants feel very soft and cut side is browned, about 30 minutes. Set aside to cool.

When cool enough to handle, scrape the eggplant flesh into a fine colander and discard the skins. Squeeze out as much water as possible. Chop the eggplant and mash it with a fork to make a paste.

In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour, whisking constantly for about 2 minutes until smooth. Remove from heat and gradually add the hot milk, whisking constantly as you go. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and return the sauce to low heat. Whisk continuously until the sauce thickens, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the eggplant to the béchamel sauce, whisking vigorously until well blended. Taste for seasoning and keep warm until ready to serve.

To serve, spoon some stew over a portion of basmati rice on each plate with the eggplant sauce on the side. Sprinkle with fresh parsley.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Pear Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake

I definitely have cornbread on my mind. I loved writing about The Cornbread Gospels in my last post, and I’m still enjoying the results of the recipe I gave you – buttery Almond-Herb Biscuits. They freeze beautifully, and I’ve been defrosting them one at a time to eat with soup for dinner…so good!

You’d think I had enough corn-y recipes for a while, but when I saw this cake in the February issue of Gourmet, I had to make it. I’ve been clipping cornmeal cake recipes out of magazines for the last couple years. I’ll see one now and then, often served with a fruit compote, sometimes topped with cream or a sweet glaze. Some cornmeal cakes remind me of my favorite blueberry-cornmeal pancakes (I’ll post them for you as soon as I can snap a decent picture!). I could somehow justify the pancakes as a balanced meal, yet the cornmeal cakes felt too much like desserts that weren’t quite as indulgent as say, a flourless chocolate tart.

But with the novelty of the upside-down cake and my love of pears – especially sticky, warm, caramelized pears – this cake got me into the kitchen. It is very easy to make – minimal ingredients and not much mess. Peeling and coring the pears is only slightly fussy, and everything else is a snap.

The flavor is deliciously subtle. It’s not tooth-achingly sweet from pounds of sugar, but sweet with maple syrup, stone-ground cornmeal and caramelized fruit. You could serve it with whipped cream or ice cream, but I love a little sour cream to swirl around with a drizzle of maple syrup on my plate. I don’t see myself getting tired of cornmeal cakes, cornbread, corn muffins, corn biscuits or the rest of it anytime soon.

But wait, there's more!
Head over to NPR's website and read the story with recipes that I wrote for their Kitchen Window column. It’s the dramatic tale of my obsession with gourmet pizza. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry…you might even bake.

Pear Cornmeal Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from this recipe, Gourmet magazine, February 2008

Gourmet calls this a “johnnycake,” after the griddled cornbread-slash-pancake that is a Rhode Island specialty. I don’t disagree – it was just too much to fit in the title. This is a dessert with actual nutritional value, especially if use whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose. Stone ground cornmeal is the best choice because it is all-natural and has truer corn flavor. You can find it many supermarkets and natural food stores.

Serves 8

1 stick unsalted butter (4 oz.)
2 tablespoon granulated sugar
4 firm-ripe Anjou pears, peeled, halved lengthwise and cored
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg, divided
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose)
3/4 cup stone ground cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup milk (reduced fat or whole)
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
To serve: additional maple syrup and sour cream

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter over medium heat in a large cast iron or nonstick skillet. Pour all but about 1 tablespoon into a small bowl. Use about 1 tablespoon from the bowl to brush the bottom and sides of an 8- or 9-inch cake pan.

Return the skillet to medium heat, sprinkle the sugar over the butter and add the pears, cut side up. Sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon of the nutmeg and cook for 5 minutes. Flip the pears, sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg and continue cooking until the cut sides are lightly browned, about 8 to 10 minutes more. Transfer the pears to the cake pan, cut side down.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, maple syrup and reserved 6 tablespoons of melted butter. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and whisk just until smooth. Pour batter into the cake pan over the pears. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes or until the top is golden and sides pull away from the pan (it took 22 minutes with my 8-inch pan). Cool in pan on a rack for 15 minutes, then run a thin knife around the sides to loosen the cake. Invert onto a platter and serve with maple syrup and sour cream.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

The Cornbread Gospels Review and Almond-Herb Biscuits

I’ve never been a big fan of the single-subject cookbook. That is probably because I’ve never encountered one that totally charmed me like The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon, author of Passionate Vegetarian. What makes great single-subject cookbooks is a passion – or more accurately, an obsession – with your subject. If you can transfer that passion to your readers, you’re well on your way to a successful cookbook.

Dragonwagon makes such a case for cornbread and the people who make it, I wondered why I was never aware of its “specialness” before. Cornbread tells the story of America beginning with Native Americans who viewed corn as the foundation of life. It also tells the story of how people lived in different regions of the country, especially the Northeast and the South.

Dragonwagon spins the histories of cornbread with an engaging tone and unravels the associations and references to cornbread in folklore, music and literature. She also does an excellent job of setting things straight, like the differences – sometimes absolute, often with shades of gray – between northern and southern cornbread. In the south, cornbread was and often still is a “daily bread,” simple and healthful enough to eat regularly. And traditional southern cornbread isn’t sweet, while in the northeast, cornbread was a specialty baked good or a “sometime food,” as they’d say on Sesame Street.

The book is organized in a way that I’ve never had trouble finding the types of recipes I’m looking for. The first three chapters are on basic cornbreads by region: Southern, Northern and Southwestern. Next is an intriguing chapter on Global Cornbreads covering arepas, roti and other variations from Africa, Greece and more. Then there are several chapters on the other types of cornmeal-based foods: Babycakes includes muffins (I can't wait to try DK's Banana-Ginger Corn Muffins and High Desert Blue Corn Muffins with Sage and Toasted Pine Nuts), biscuits and other little things; Yeasted Cornbreads includes recipes for Herb-Scented Whole Wheat Cornbread and Glazed Maple Cornmeal Rolls; Soulful Spoonbreads is all about puddings and soufflé-type dishes; Both Sides Now is mostly pancakes and other griddled goodies like George Washington’s Favorite Corn Cakes, “Last Rows of Summer” Waffles and Newport County-Style Thin and Lacy Jonnycakes; finally, Crisped Cornbreads covers fried things like Hush Puppies and Fritters.

Every recipe has an introduction that not only describes very adequately what type – indulgent, healthy, heavy, light – of cornbread you're going to get, but reveals the source or history of the recipe, often in very personal terms. A good chunk of the recipes in the book were handed to or dictated to the author from friends and acquaintances who were only to happy to share “their cornbread.” The Southern chapter, for instance, has many recipes named after their source. Many of these recipes are similar save for a small but often critical variation; cornbread is such simple food that a small change like adding a tablespoon of sugar makes a difference.

Simplicity also requires good technique. Truman Capote’s Family’s Cornbread suffered from my lapse in common sense. It took no time to assemble the recipe, and while I was waiting for my oven to heat, my eggs must have separated from the other wet ingredients; not giving them a good whisk before combining with the wet ingredients resulted in a funky layer of egg in my cornbread. Having learned my lesson, Ronni’s Appalachian Cornbread, very similar to Truman's and basic – no flour, no sugar, 1 egg – was perfect right out of the oven, the ideal daily bread.

From the Global chapter, I tried Pan de Elote or Real Mexican Pan Cornbread, a very light, savory bread that formed a custardy layer on the bottom of the pie pan—delicious.

Dragonwagon’s recipes are easy to follow and don't skimp on useful details. She takes the pressure off by letting you know what substitutions work and which ones are not okay. She’s adamant about using stone ground cornmeal for its truer flavor and natural quality as opposed to “enriched” (read: heavily processed) versions that you’ll find in any supermarket. I am able to find a lot of “southern” ingredients in Florida, but my grocery store only had processed cornmeal - sad. Luckily, a natural food store like Whole Foods has plenty of natural options.

The last recipe I tried was sort of “fancy:” Savory Almond Herb Biscuits. I absolutely loved these – simple drop biscuits full of flavor from toasted almonds, sautéed onion and garlic and fresh herbs. There are so many recipes I’ve bookmarked, and I haven’t even gotten to the extensive section of Great Cornbread Go-Withs, full of vegetable dishes, beans and soups that make a happy pairing with cornbread; not the mention the Sweet Somethings with recipes that will please fans of bread pudding. One final note: if you’re set on buying this cookbook, make sure you have a cast iron skillet to prepare all those fabulous southern cornbreads as they were meant to be.

Savory Almond Herb Biscuits
Adapted from The Cornbread Gospels by Crescent Dragonwagon
You can use all AP flour instead of the whole wheat pastry flour. Lacking buttermilk, I used Dragonwagon’s suggestion for a substitution: thin some all-natural plain yogurt with water until it’s the consistency of thick buttermilk. It worked perfectly.

Makes 12

1/2 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted in a heavy skillet (toasting is essential) and coarsely chopped
6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, divided use
1 small onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup stone ground cornmeal
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/4 cup buttermilk or thinned plain yogurt
2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley
1 generous tablespoon assorted fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary or sage (I used mostly rosemary)

Preaheat oven to 450 degrees. Line one or two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Heat a heavy skillet (same one you toasted the almonds in) to medium. Add a scant tablespoon of the butter, then add the onion, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes more and set aside.

Combine the cornmeal, flours, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a large bowl. Cut the remaining butter into the flour mixture or quickly blend with your hands until the mixture is all shaggy bits and fine crumbs.

Scrape all the onion and garlic into the flour mixture. Add the buttermilk and stir just to combine, stopping when there are still a few dry clumps. Stir in the almonds and herbs, seeing that all the dry bits are moistened.

Drop the batter by scant 1/4-cupfuls onto the baking sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until golden on the bottom. Serve right away with butter.

I received this book as a review copy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Cardamom Waffles with Rose Petals

I think cardamom is a sexy spice. The word even rolls off your tongue in a sexy way...despite having the word "mom" in it. This sweet, slightly botanical spice is highlighted in these simple waffles, with only a hint of vanilla to play up the intensely aromatic flavor of the cardamom.

This is a perfect breakfast to celebrate Valentine's Day. It is light, but indulgent; familiar, yet exotic. Since there is just one main flavor note, I like to make it count with freshly ground cardamom. I've become so smitten with this spice that grinding it in my mortar is an absolute pleasure. I like to leave the mortar on the counter instead of washing it right away so I can walk by and smell the scent of cardamom. I may as well just dive into the hyperbole pool here and call it...intoxicating.

This recipe came from the February issue of Gourmet. I wanted to make it as soon as I saw it, but there are only so many opportunities for sweet weekend breakfasts, and things can fall by the wayside. Then I realized that these waffles would be perfect with the rose petal jam I recently bought at Whole Foods Market. I tasted rose petal jam a long time ago when I went to Nice, France. We went to the factory where the jam was made, and I fell in love with the experience of eating something so fragrant you could swear you were simply putting a rose in your mouth. I brought a couple jars home, but I never found the jam again after that.

Doing my Christmas shopping this year, I discovered Zingerman's, the Ann Arbor deli and gourmet food store that carries some truly unique products. They had rose petal preserves, but sold out of it before I could order any for myself. When I saw it at Whole Foods I was thrilled and immediately tried to think of something I could bake to eat it with.

The rose preserves and the cardamom waffles were gorgeous together. I'm a maple syrup girl all the way, but I couldn't stop talking about how much I loved the spiced waffles simply dusted with powdered sugar and a dribble of jam. Gourmet recommended lingonberry preserves and Mike ate his waffles with strawberry (I generously offered him rose jam, but he found it to be a bit of an acquired taste). Any dark fruit preserve (you know, not apricot or peach) will be delicious. The rose preserves I bought are actually available through the company right!

I figure if you're planning a Valentine's breakfast, you'll be holding out for the weekend when you can relax and enjoy something fabulous. I was so in love with these waffles that it didn't occur to me that they would also be wonderful with you can take that under advisement.

Have a sweet Valentine's Day!

Cardamom Sour Cream Waffles
Adapted from this recipe from Gourmet magazine
You can use all AP flour if you want. If you're using regular table salt instead of coarse salt, reduce quantity to a generous 1/4 teaspoon.

Makes 8 waffles

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground green cardamom (from about 12 pods)
2 large eggs
1 cup lowfat milk
1 cup reduced fat sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
Preserves and powdered sugar for serving

Preheat a waffle iron.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cardamom.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs slightly, then whisk in the milk, sour cream, vanilla, honey and butter. Whisk into the flour mixture until just combined.

Coat the waffle iron with oil or nonstick cooking spray and cook waffles according to manufacturer's directions. Sift powdered sugar over waffles and top with preserves.

Monday, February 11, 2008

He'd like my cookies...

Remember the Oatmeal-White Chocolate-Spice Cookies from my last post, aka the miserable failures? Well, I think I found someone out there who might appreciate them!

Click on the image above to go to and play this video. It's a new, exclusive interview with Cookie Monster that answers some burning questions, like will he really eat anything?

This video is about 5 minutes long, super-cute and probably safe for work, but Cookie Monster does say one very dirty word...

Coming Soon - Sexy waffles for your Valentine's breakfast (yeah, I said, "sexy waffles!").

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Cookies That Couldn't...

So, what do you think of those little beauties? No need to be kind - I think they're pretty ugly.

You might think that I live in a whirl of one culinary climax after another the way I rave about nearly every recipe I post. Either that, or you think I'm easily satisfied. The fact is that I'm really picky about what I consider tasty. Of course, I assess each recipe individually based on specific goals and expectations. Like, am I trying to make a decadent dish more nutritious? Is it my goal to make a streamlined, unfussy version of a complicated recipe? I try my best to explain these expectations so you can get a good idea of what the recipe will really be like. And then you'll be able to understand exactly what it is I'm raving about.

Since I'd rather write with near evangelical enthusiasm about food I love, I don't really talk about the things I make that aren't so hot. Why would you want to hear about cookies that just weren't worth the cost of the ingredients? But, whenever another blogger shares one of their spectacular failures I either learn something (like what not to do), or at least have a laugh.

I've got to admit that these cookies bummed me out. I envisioned a delicious variation on this fantastic chunky oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie that I posted about recently. I eat oatmeal for breakfast at least 4 days a week, and lately I've been making a version with sort of a South Indian flare - cardamom, vanilla, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon and a dash of cloves. I like a lotta spice. How could that combo not be spectacular in an oatmeal cookie? And instead of the more intense semisweet chips, I'd use mellow white chocolate. The shredded coconut would stay, but I'd use almonds instead of pecans. Voila - a whole new cookie that would be even better than the original!

Yeah, not so much. I am comforted to say that the spices were good. Strong enough that you could pick out the flavor of cardamom, ginger and even the sharp intensity of the cloves. The white chocolate was awful. I've never really cared for white chocolate, but I thought it would work here, for some odd reason. Yeah, not so much. The stuff just doesn't taste like anything to me! But the really irritating and ultimately puzzling part was that the cookies totally spread in oven, turning flat as can be. Maybe my butter was too soft or the I should have chilled the dough--for hours. This didn't happen in the chocolate chip version, and I didn't mess with any of the fundamental proportions. Who knows?

The overall effect was not tasty. I loved the texture of the old-fashioned oats in the first cookie, but here is was distracting and granola-like. Sure the cookies were edible, but for me, personally, not so much.

The point - besides giving you a break from the extravagant praise I usually give recipes on this blog - is this: if you want to experiment with new ideas and develop recipes worth raving about, you are going to fail occasionally. I'm definitely not sorry I tried. I enjoy baking, especially when I'm trying out an idea, not just following a recipe to the letter. And there are worse ways to spend a Tuesday night. If you don't screw up occasionally, you can't appreciate the truly tasty.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Want to Experience Death By Chocolate?

So what do you say? There are worse ways to go than being overcome by one of most delicious things on earth. I found out about a little contest being run by Culinate, a tasty website full of articles, recipes and other foodie insights. They are giving away two trips to Napa Valley for the Annual Death by Chocolate Festival.

One winner (and their lucky guest) will be chosen by random drawing, so that means YOU can win. The other trip will go to a food blogger. Because I love chocolate, and would love to win a trip to Napa (ahem, wine!), I entered the food blogger contest by submitting my favorite blog post focused on chocolate. But I need your help! The food bloggers who entered will be narrowed down to 10 finalists based on your votes from now until this Friday at noon.

To get yourself entered in the contest, click on the "Death By Chocolate" graphic at the top of my left sidebar (if you're reading this as an RSS feed, click here). You'll have to register to enter the contest and vote. While you're there, check out the list of over 70 food bloggers who entered, read some to-die-for posts about chocolate, and vote for me! You can vote for as many bloggers as you want, and there is plenty of delicious competition. If you've already entered, you can still head back to Culinate and vote for the bloggers you like-- including me I hope! If I win, I promise many delicious chocolate-centric posts for your enjoyment.

And because this is all about chocolate, it wouldn't be right to beg for your vote without giving you a little something. This is my favorite brownie recipe, which I wasn't going to blog about because it's really Anna's, and she posted it quite recently. But, since we are talkin' chocolate, and since I LOVE this recipe, here you go. The brownie base is actually King Arthur's "Best Ever Fudge Brownie," and it's topped off with a peanut butter cream cheese swirl. It's the easiest brownie because you don't have to fuss around melting chocolate or track down expensive chocolate of varying cocoa percentages. They are intensely chocolatey, and fudgy without being wet. Even if you don't want to do the PB swirl, these are the best brownies!

For the contest, I submitted my post about tempering chocolate for truffles...mmm, truffles.

So, you're going to go enter the Culinate contest and do some voting, right? Even if you don't usually leave comments, or just read this blog for the sparkling prose or the stellar photography (I wish), I need your vote by noon this Friday! And if we both win, we can meet up in Napa and see who can eat the most chocolate.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Healthy, Easy Spanish Tortilla

I can't really say breakfast is my favorite meal because I love ALL good meals. But, I do enjoy making breakfast food. I like waffles and crepes, but we don't make them too often, so it's all the more fun when we do. I love quick breads, especially scones. I adore pancakes, though this is probably the breakfast item that gets the most abuse. Don't give up on pancakes, even if you've been served one too many that had the weight and texture of a flat tire. Light, thin cakes mixed with a light touch and topped with maple syrup are one of life's great breakfasts.

When it comes to egg-centric breakfast dishes, there's hardly anything I don't like. One of my standards is eggs over easy with runny yolks, buttered toast and a roasted vegetable, preferably asparagus or zucchini. When we want something that involves a little bit more ceremony, my favorite thing to make is a frittata. I've written about frittatas before, and they're a mainstay in my cooking repertoire because they're incredibly easy, good for any meal, not only breakfast, and adaptable to any ingredients you have on hand.

It wasn't until just recently, though, that I got a handle on the Spanish version of frittata, known as tortilla. The traditional version doesn't need anything more than eggs and sliced potatoes, but you'll also see them made with some onion and maybe peppers. Usually, the thinly sliced potatoes are pan-fried in a skillet using a considerable amount of olive oil. Not only is this less healthy, but it takes time and vigilance over your hot stove. I never bothered making tortilla because it seemed like a lot more work than a standard frittata.

When I had a bunch of leftover red potatoes one day, I decided I wanted to use them for a potato frittata. I would slice and roast them in the oven, then just proceed with my usual frittata method. It dawned on me that the finished product would ultimately be a Spanish tortilla, but a lot healthier and simpler--perfect!

I had half a jar of piquillo peppers, the hot-sweet pickled chiles that are a common Spanish ingredient. I cut those up and used them to add some color, and their kicky flavor turned out to be a nice match for the bland potatoes. Now, I use this method to make potato frittatas with any ingredients I want. The last one I did was with sauteed spinach, caramelized onions and feta. The potatoes turn the otherwise light frittata into a more substantial dish. If you have potatoes lying around along with the odd hunk of cheese and some vegetables in the fridge whose time is limited, you've the got the makings of a great frittata for any meal.

Spanish Tortilla or Potato Frittata
This, like any frittata recipe, is an approximation, not a scientific formula. You can add or take away an ingredient to suit your taste. You can make it with 6 eggs if your skillet is 8 to 10 inches, but I would not go with any less than that. Any type of potato will work here. If you can't find piquillo peppers, either leave them out, try roasted red peppers, or saute some thinly sliced fresh red bell pepper with the onion.

Serves 6

Nonstick cooking spray
3 or 4 small red potatoes, thinly sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
8 eggs
1/2 cup drained and chopped piquillo peppers
Parsley, for serving

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spread the potatoes in single layer on a baking sheet coated with nonstick cooking spray. Lightly coat the potatoes with cooking spray and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 10-15 minutes or until tender.

Meanwhile, add the oil to a 9- to 12-inch oven safe skillet, preferably nonstick or cast iron, over medium heat. Cook the onions until soft and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and season with salt and pepper. Add the onion mixture and the piquillo peppers. Preheat your oven's broiler to high and position a rack about 6 to 8 inches away from the heat source. Generously coat the empty skillet with nonstick spray or olive oil and heat to medium-low. Arrange the roasted potato slices in overlapping concentric circles. Pour the egg mixture over the potatoes and cook until the eggs start to set around the edges. Tilt the skillet as you lift the edges of the tortilla with a spatula, letting the liquid egg run into the gaps. When most of the egg is set around the edges, transfer the skillet to the broiler. Cook until egg is just set in the center, about 2 to 5 minutes. It's fine if the tortilla browns a little on top, but watch closely because it can start to burn fast. Let tortilla rest for a few minutes, then serve sprinkled with fresh parsley.