Wednesday, March 30, 2011


I know it doesn't really count, but I made this last night (another miraculously delicious meal accomplished without any grocery shopping). It is so good, I am about to eat it again for breakfast.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pi Day:A Candied Bacon is Possible

I must begin my pie day post with two warnings. The first is: no matter how many pies you have made, you must never be cavalier about how much water you add to your dough. Wet dough won't roll out. It's as simple as that. The second warning is more dire: you might have the means of making candied bacon in your house right now. I know, you're thinking, "Candied bacon is a rare delicacy, reserved for artisan confectioners with booths at flea markets and bespoke neckties." But it is not. It is easy to make. And- unsurprisingly- it's a delicious addition to nearly anything.

I decided late in the game to observe the pun-influenced celebration of pie on March 14. Things have been pretty tough in my professional life lately and it seemed like a good way to blow off steam. And nothing makes a bad week shorter than coming home to a slice of pie every night. I wanted to do something fun and interesting, but I didn't want it to be too experimental. I thought about variations on crust and variations on filling. In the end, I was inspired by two recent desserts I've eaten. One was the promising, but ultimately disappointing Bacon Apple Cheddar Pie at The Blue Stove (it is a peril to my health that this store is so near my house) and the other was a simple but transcendent apple crisp at Dumont.

Over the course of the day I tossed around various apple pie experiments I might try. A part wheat crust. Cheddar cheese. Peanut butter. I remembered reading a recipe recently that described a simple method for making candied bacon. Eager to correct the failed crumble topping from my Pancake Bread Pudding, I began to dream up an apple pie topped with crumbled, salty-sweet bacon bits. Many of you know that I am no stranger to having a piece of bacon or two with a slice of apple pie. I can think of few breakfasts I would rather eat. I had never put bacon into a pie before because it seemed so likely to take a wrong turn (as in the case of the Blue Stove). By candying the bacon I could preserve it's crispy texture and prevent the fat from overpowering the other ingredients. I laughed a bit to myself, imagining crunchy bits of bacon and pecan all over toothsome, sweet apples. How was I the first to think of this??

I was pleased with the plan. A simple apple pie with a crumb topping. I began to make my crust, whirling the ingredients (I do half butter, half shortening) in my Cuisinart. Then I made my big error. My mother, who is my personal pie guru, swears that while the food processor is ideal for mixing your fats with your flour, you can only get a proper texture by adding the water to bind the crust by hand. I have gambled in the past and won, but yesterday I was not so lucky. The crust seemed softer as I put it in the fridge to chill, but I assumed that was because I had used room temperature shortening (oh vain mortal!). When I tried to roll it out the first time it got all over the rolling pin and was impossible to lift. So I added flour and chilled it again. Still the crust was completely impossible. I ended up finger pressing it into the pan, chastened by the experience.

As I mentioned the candied bacon was a total breeze. I took three strips of bacon from the freezer (I freeze bacon in individual servings because I am a lonely spinster) and let them defrost. I covered both sides of each strip with maple syrup and put them under the broiler. I turned them pretty regularly with tongs and took them out before they looked too crispy. Once it had cooled, the bacon was shiny and hard (do not try to drain it, it is very sticky when hot). I chopped it up into little pieces and mixed it with pecans, butter and brown sugar. I tasted the mixture to make sure it wasn't poison. It was not.

I used two apples (one granny smith, one red of some sort) tossed with a couple teaspoons of sugar and cinnamon (I repeated the process of mixing the cinnamon and sugar beforehand). I filled the crust and sprinkled on the topping. I baked the pie for about 25 minutes. The apples still had a bit of crunch. The topping didn't cover the pie tightly so I wanted to be sure that the filling didn't dry out too much. I have to say, this is one to repeat. The crust wasn't pretty, but the flavor was great. I really liked the texture of the apples (gotta slice em real, real thin). And the scant distribution of the topping kept it from getting too rich.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Beta Test: Pancake Bread Pudding

It seems writing this blog has inspired me to be a bit more creative in my kitchen endeavors. It will also (hopefully) motivate me to cook more methodically: try something out, see what works, try again. I read a lot of recipes. I guess my most recent experiment was inspired by pudding week on Food 52. Puddings are so delicious and, in many cases, you can incorporate leftovers. And I love cooking with leftovers. So there you have it.

Perhaps you have never had the problem of leftover pancakes? I must confess that I really don't like pancakes very much. 19 times out of 20 I will chose a savory breakfast over a sweet one (yesterday's breakfast was braised cabbage!). But on Sunday pancakes seemed like a good idea, mostly because it was rainy and I had all of the ingredients in the house. The simplest way to deal with leftover pancakes is obviously to heat them up and enjoy them for breakfast another day. But my mind was stuck on pudding and so I began to concoct a recipe.

I started out reading recipes for bread pudding. Mostly I was looking at milk and egg ratios, but I also noticed that Paula Deen (that minx!) puts a crust on hers. Crunchy, buttery edges on a bread pudding? Yes, please! Deen uses butter, pecans and sugar for her crust (a fun game is to start the sentence "Deen uses butter, pecans and sugar for her..." and see how many true statements you can make). That idea swirled around in my head and became a sort of paste of almond flour, melted butter and brown sugar. The forward thinking among you will realize that this is (a) not going to distribute evenly across the top of a pudding and (b) not going to crisp up without burning the shit out of the rest of the pudding. So, pudding crust is half baked idea number one.

I knew that this bread pudding was not going to rely on the pancakes soaking up eggy custard for its texture. But since pancakes are eggy already, I figured, "no big deal." I kept thinking of components that would create a really rich, heavy dessert. Since this was a Monday night project, I thought it would be best to scale back on richness. So I used whole milk where I might have used cream and decided to forgo the idea of mixing melted butter into the dairy mixture (you read one Paula Deen recipe and you start thinking about pouring melted butter into everything!). I used two eggs and one cup of milk (arbitrarily decided from glancing at the bread pudding recipe currently on my computer screen). I thought about parcooking the custard a bit so it would form up before I layered it with the pancakes, but ultimately made the lazy choice not to. I did have the epiphany that separating the eggs and beating the yolks with the sugar and spices, then adding the milk and finally folding in the beaten whites would produces some sort of alchemical velvety texture. Guys, this was not correct. Or maybe it could have been, had I been using a better ratio. Again, you forward thinkers may have already guessed that two egg yolks beaten with three tablespoons of sugar is not going to retain any of it's thickness when mixed with an entire cup of (pretty cold) milk. Additionally when I attempted to fold in the egg whites, they did not blend so thoroughly and ended up separating out again in the pan. Mistake number two was custard ratio.

I love cardamom. It is, however, quite strong. I used one green cardamom pod in the pudding. I discarded the husk and crushed the seeds with the back of a spoon.* I added a bit of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg. I mixed these spices with sugar so that the spice oils would bind to the crystals (this is the only advice I really took from the very comprehensive Food 52 pudding coverage). I had about a quarter cup of sugar in the spice bowl but only used two or three scant tablespoons. Mostly I was eyeballing to see that the sugar blended completely with the egg yolks. I did not remember to add vanilla extract, unfortunately. I think this would have rounded out the flavors a bit. The cardamom was pleasantly present in the finished product, but the flavor had an almost tonic quality. In my experience (with eating desserts) cardamom and vanilla show one another's best qualities: cardamom makes vanilla taste exotic and vanilla makes cardamom taste sweet. Next time I won't forget the vanilla.

Assembly and Cooking
I decided that 350 was the correct temperature at which to cook a bread pudding. I decided this not merely based upon the fact that is the default temperature for my oven, but also because it just felt right, you know? I cut all of my pancakes into strips that were about half an inch wide. I greased a small, ceramic casserole with butter and laid the strips along the bottom. I tore them to fit into a more or less even layer. Then I added the custard and pressed another layer of pancake scraps into the fluffy top (recall that the egg white separated out again). Then I sort of gobbed my "crust" on top. I really should have just left it off. It looked a lot like poop before and after baking. Some of the top layer of pancakes stuck out of the custard and created an alarming burning odor during the baking process. This led me to preemptively remove the pudding after less than 20 minutes. After I realized it was still very liquid-y I returned it to the oven until it was set in the middle. I imagine that it was about 35-40 minutes, but it's easy to tell it's done because there is no liquid when you push on the pancake pieces.

Some time during the cooking process- maybe after the first bought of baking- I realized that this recipe could as easily be a variation on kugel** as a variation on bread pudding. I decided that in the second round I will try to incorporate more kugel-like methods. Mostly in the custard creation. I have been toying with the idea of substituting one half cup of the whole milk for sour cream (or, let's be honest, Greek yogurt). I don't think am ready for using a cheese product, though I think we can all agree that ricotta would be heavenly. I think that this would solve the issue I had of white and milk separating. Though I might also add another yolk or two (they are, after all, the best part). I could also have benefited from more liquid or less pancake. In addition to the above mentioned addition of vanilla, I have thought that a tiny scrape of citrus zest (orange?) to brighten up the spices. My line of thinking goes something like: "I would totally order any dessert that said it was orange, cardamom, vanilla flavored." It is important to remember that I am not a pastry chef. Maybe this would be taking on too much? Finally, though I think that my flavors are much more suited to almond than pecans, the texture of my crust was woefully wrong. I think in version 2.0 I'll try slivered almonds tossed with some of the sugar-spice mixture. They'll spread evenly over the surface and maybe even toast up while the pudding cooks.

I was surprised by how much I liked eating it. It was sort of intensely egg-y warm, but I drizzled on some maple syrup and it was actually pretty nice. I enjoyed a piece cold the next day as well. Generally it is chewy and formed, rather than soft and gushy. Which is stylistically valid, I suppose. I would like it to be a little softer and less formed in future incarnations though. I am particularly interested in any feedback any of you might have.

Less successful than: Paula Deen's Best Bread Pudding

More successful than: Pudding and Yogurt cubes.

*Dear Santa: Please bring me a mortar and pestle.

**It must be noted that everything I know about kugel I learned from my goy of a mother. She's a beautiful, inspirational cook, but I have no idea if her recipe is authentic.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Pantry Pasta

I was talking to my roommate the other day about how I manage to cook so often. He likes preparing food and likes the idea of cooking for himself, but seems to lack the follow through. While there are basic recipes and methods you can learn to make cooking easier, I realized over the course of our conversation that I really like the process of cooking. I like that it's methodical and creative (and delicious). I even- increasingly- like the process of organizing and cleaning up after myself. I often recline on the sofa after a meal and survey the sparkling kitchen* from my position of satiated repose. But assuming you have that drive to cook and merely lack the will to go to the grocery store (this winter has brought about four day stretches during which I don't leave my apartment), this is a good recipe building on scraps.

The base of the dish was a bundle of chard stems I saved from Saturday. I had eaten braised chard stems before and it seemed they would cook down nicely to accompany pasta. I had a can of chickpeas, a shallot, some garlic and a bit of roasted red pepper (about half a pepper). As you remember (perhaps) I had lemon and parsley from a fish dish earlier in the week and I always have parmesean cheese on hand. I also always have wine around (a professional hazard) but broth or water would work fine.

I started out chopping everything up. I put on some water to boil and heated up a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a pan. I sauteed the shallot and garlic for a minute and then added the chard stems. After they were bright green on the edges I added the chickpeas and red pepper. I think that chopped canned tomatoes would have been even better in this and had a similar aesthetic affect, but I used what I had.

I added salt and black and red pepper (I love my little red pepper mill!), about a quarter cup of white wine and a squeeze of tomato paste. Then I covered the pan and turned down the heat. While the stems were braising themselves into an edible softness, I grated lots of cheese and a bit of lemon zest. I also chopped up some parsley pretty fine.

The trick at this point is to make sure that the veggies cook enough. Really, over cooking is not going to happen. The stems are very tough and have a sort of grassy bitterness to them. The chickpeas will also get softer and break apart a bit as cooking continues. I put (about 3/4 cup dried?) pasta into the salted water once the greens were pretty soft. When it was tender I drained it (saving a bit of the water) and put it right into the pan with the stems and chickpeas. Then I added the grated and chopped things and a bit of the pasta water and mixed it all together. That's all.

This dish made enough for two hungry people (or one hungry person who is happy not to have to make lunch plans for tomorrow). I grated more cheese on at the end, because it's technically a good idea when consuming that much fiber (whole wheat pasta, chickpeas and chard stems? try to contain your colon envy). I was very happy to have the brightness of the lemon zest and the freshness of the parsley to balance the richer braised flavor of the other vegetables. It took about an hour, start to finish, but there was nothing especially complicated. It's a balanced, satisfying (and vegetarian!) meal.

*This is poetic license. I live with three other people. The kitchen is never that clean.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

I thought I was your fish cake!**

Assiduous devotes of my Internet presence will remember that I have a particular fondness for making fritters with leftover fish. Over the weekend S and I cooked some Shad (so delicious! I'd never tried it before). We just broiled it for a couple minutes with butter and lemon. The fish was super tasty, but I just wasn't jazzed about eating a plain fillet leftover. Somehow the texture of reheated fish just doesn't appeal. And so last night I put together this easy dinner of fish cakes and salad.

Fish Cakes a la Rose

This can be done with any leftover fish. I've used sea bass, imitation crab meat and even swordfish. The rice works well as a binding agent and, conveniently, it is often my starch of choice for a fish dinner. You can get crazy with adding veggies, but don't go too over the top or you will ruin your texture.

Some leftover fish (we'll say 8 oz?)
Some leftover rice (we'll say 1/3 cup?)
3 Scallions (diced)
1 Clove garlic (a small one, minced)
Grated zest of half a lemon
2 tbs. chopped parsley
Bread crumbs*
An egg
Olive oil suitable for frying

-Flake the fish so it is in manageable chunks. If you're using something denser it might make sense to dice, but generally all cooked fish can be broken up with a fork.

-Mix in the rice, scallions, garlic and lemon zest.

-Adjust seasoning by tasting first, then adding salt and pepper (the fish is already seasoned, so you don't want to go overboard).

-Mix in the egg. The mixture will be wet and uniform.

-Form into balls of about 2 tbs. each. Flatten the balls into patties and drag each side through bread crumbs.

-Chill formed patties in the fridge for about 30 mins. (this step can be skipped, but it does really help the fish cakes stay together in the pan).

-Heat up some olive oil and fry the cakes.

-Serve with salad and maybe hot sauce. I made a little dressing for the cakes with three parts low fat yogurt, one part Dijon mustard, one part mayonnaise and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper.

The recipe made five fish cakes. Though I have to warn you, I measured absolutely nothing.

*I hate setting up my food processor for small tasks, so I made the bread crumbs using the end of a loaf of sandwich bread and a box grater. It was pretty successful.

**You are all so lucky I didn't call this post "Hanging Shad" or "Not Too Shaddy!" Additionally, I am the reigning queen of asterisks.

***This would be very easy to do gluten free by dredging the cakes in a rice (or whatever) flour.

****(Record postscript use!) Shad has tiny bones! Last night when I was flossing (maybe 4 hours after I finished dinner) I found a bone lodged between my teeth. So be careful!