December 22nd, 2010

Two for “2″ Italian Cream and Red Velvet Cake

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Gifts! More Gifts!

It’s just days before Christmas, and the hustle is on to fill in the missing pieces of the present-puzzle. I have to navigate with care getting those last minute goodies, and quell those did-I-get-enough-maybe-I-should-get-just-one-more-thing feelings.

Whew. Stop! There’s more the enough.

As we like to say in the South, there’s Gracious Plenty.

But I didn’t want to forget you this season. Wouldn’t think of it! You’ve been so nice to come along with me on these little culinary forays. And, since this is the Two Year Anniversary of Good Food Matters, (whoo-hoo! we are 2!) it seems only fitting that I offer you not one but two cakes. Please. Yes, you deserve them.

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This first cake, the lavish Italian Cream (sometimes called Italian Wedding Cake) has so many delicious elements–lemon zest, toasted pecans, shredded coconut–that combine to create a complex cake with terrific texture. People who do not like coconut like this cake. Layers are light, a little spongey–thanks to eggs that are separated, whipped, and folded throughout the batter.

I hadn’t made one in a long time, and remembered this tip, in preparation: Do not overbeat the egg whites—you want soft peaks that will fold with ease. Stiff egg whites will result in stiff (tough!) crumb. But otherwise, this is a simple recipe, elegant under a coat of lemony cream cheese. Enjoy.

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And then there is the Red Velvet Cake, the Enigma. It elicits an initial Shock of the Red, and speculation of what its flavor could be.

It’s a flavor that has nothing to do with its color, (eek! red food dye!) and cannot truly be described as chocolate or vanilla, even though cocoa and vanilla extract are recipe ingredients.

Buttermilk and vinegar make major contributions to its alluring tang.

Created at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in the 1920s, Red Velvet was popular for its regal crimson layers. In the times of scarcity that soon followed, Red Velvet was preferred over chocolate cakes for its modest use of cocoa. Sometimes beet juice was used as a coloring agent. The butter roux icing mimicked whipped cream. Somewhat.

It never made sense to me that I should like this nebulous concoction, but it has a beguiling je ne sais quoi.

Once, I thought I had pinpointed its mysterious appeal. I was leveling the tops of some Red Velvet layers, which left some thin slices behind. I slathered them with the icing, and rolled them up to eat. In this fashion, the Red Velvet reminded me of a cherished childhood treat, like a “Yodel” or a “Devil Dog.” Hmmmmm. Somewhat.

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ITALIAN CREAM CAKE

1 cup Butter, softened
2 cups Sugar
5 Eggs, separated
2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
1 cup Buttermilk
2 teaspoons Vanilla
1 teaspoon Lemon zest
½ teaspoon Salt
1 ½ cups shredded Coconut
1 cup chopped toasted Pecans

3-8” or 2-9” cake pans, spray coated, bottoms lined with parchment

Cream butter and sugar together. Beat in egg yolks, buttermilk, vanilla and lemon zest.
Sift flour, baking soda and salt together and beat into mixture. Fold in coconut and pecans. Whip egg whites until soft peaks form and gently fold into batter.

Divide batter between the cake pans.

Bake in preheated 325 degree oven for 20-25 minutes.
Cool, remove from pans, and frost with cream cheese icing.
Garnish with toasted coconut and pecans.

CREAM CHEESE ICING
1 1b. softened cream cheese
½ lb. softened unsalted butter
1 T. Vanilla
1 T. Lemon Juice
2 plus cups Powdered Sugar (to taste!)

Cream the butter and cream cheese together until smooth. Add vanilla and lemon.
Gradually add powdered (confectioner’s) sugar, a cup at a time, until you reach desired sweetness.

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RED VELVET CAKE
¼ lb. softened Butter
½ c. Canola Oil
1 ½ c. Sugar
2 Eggs
3 T. Red Food Coloring
3 T. Cocoa
1 t. Vanilla
1 c. Buttermilk
2 ½ c. All Purpose Flour, sifted
½ t. Salt
1 t. Baking Soda
1 t. Vinegar

Cream butter, oil, sugar, and eggs together. Make a paste of cocoa, food coloring, and vanilla, and beat into mixture. Beat in buttermilk and flour alternately, then add salt, baking soda and vinegar.

Pour batter into 2 -9” or 3-8” buttered and floured cake pans and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, if in 9’ pans, or 24 minutes, if in 8” pans. Allow to completely cool before frosting.

WHIPPED BUTTER ROUX ICING
4 ½ T. All Purpose Flour
1 ½ c. Milk
1 ½ c. Sugar
2 t. Vanilla
12 T. softened Butter (1 ½ sticks)

Stir flour and milk together until lumps are removed, and cook in a saucepan over medium heat. Simmer, continuing to stir, until thickened. Cover with plastic wrap (so that it will not get a “skin”) and allow to completely cool.

Cream butter, sugar and vanilla together. Beat in cooked milk/flour mixture until fluffy. Icing will become whipped cream-like.

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WISHING YOU ALL LOVE*PEACE*HEALTH*HAPPINESS*GOODWILL*GOOD CHEER!!
Have lovely holidays, and we’ll gather again soon. x Nancy

Posted in Desserts, Recipes | 26 Comments »




December 15th, 2010

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple-Sage Brown Butter

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In December, life moves at a crazy pace; it’s a giant snowball, hill-tumbling, avalanching to year-end. With all the demands of the season, it feels like I’m in a race to outrun it. This puzzles me, as my life is scads simpler than it used to be.

When I was full time-full blown catering, outrunning that avalanche was de rigueur for December. Any given day would be crammed with making countless appetizer platters, holiday luncheon spreads, and fruit, cheese, and petite sweet trays while orchestrating concurrent cocktail soirees, dinner parties, and dessert fetes…only to be repeated the next. Days were bleary, and days were Long.

At some point, in the course of this catering mania (We called it The Season We Love to Hate) I’d experience a meltdown. You know, one of those collapses into a tunnel of blind psychotic frenzy that would end with a bout of uncontrolled sobbing. You never knew when it would occur, or what might trigger it.

One morning, in predawn darkness, I spent forty-five minutes ransacking my home, front yard and driveway looking for my car keys—I had to get to the shop to scramble 200 eggs for a company breakfast and I was running horribly late—-only to find them lying on my dresser, under a scarf. Another time, I was talking to a client for the fifth time that day, as she revised her party’s headcount upwards (these late rsvps! we must have enough food!) and dozens of beautifully crafted yeast rolls burnt to a ghastly char in our oven.

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Once the meltdown happened, everything would return to normalcy—relatively speaking. Bill always hoped that “the episode” would occur early in the season. “Get it over with and move on.” I always hoped that it wouldn’t occur at all—wishful thinking. In fairness, we had a share of comedic moments to balance out the drama (like the time I ran over the baked glazed ham !) but I am grateful that those days are behind me.

Nonetheless, I have fallen behind this season–cooking, shopping, reviewing, blogging. I have been meaning to share this recipe with you that Maggie and I cooked up a couple of weeks ago! Maggie had much success growing sweet potatoes this year, and we wanted to try some different recipes. And because sweet potatoes are so versatile—you can pretty much interchange them with winter squashes or regular potatoes in many recipes—this gives you a wide range of possibilities. We chose gnocchi. These pretty little knobs are easy-peasy to make, and make an artful accompaniment to the holiday table.

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There’s not a terrible lot of ingredients. I put a little minced rosemary to the dough, along with cinnamon, salt, and pepper. I like the additional herbal note that it brings. It complements the maple’s sweetness and is a natural partner with sage. Bake your sweet potatoes ahead of time, and have them scooped out, ready to go.

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Working with this dough reminded me of making biscuits—-it takes a similar light (and messy!) hand as you quickly work the potato, egg, and all throughout the flour, massing it into a pliable ball.

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Divide the ball into 4, and roll each into long logs. There is a rustic, non-uniform look to gnocchi that appeals to me. It’s also child’s play! Cut them into bite-size pieces–they are ready to cook.

These are quite tasty, especially after being napped in the savory-sweet brown butter. They are rich, too. I think that you’ll enjoy them alongside smoked turkey, or roast pork, even a baked glazed ham, tenderized under the wheel of a whacked-out caterer’s truck.

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SWEET POTATO GNOCCHI
2 Sweet Potatoes, baked, insides scooped out
2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 Egg
4 T. Unsalted Butter, softened
1 t. minced Rosemary leaves
2 t. Cinnamon
Salt and Black Pepper

1 large pot for boiling the gnocchi

In a large bowl, place cooked and cooled sweet potato “meat” along with all the other ingredients and begin mixing them together by hand. It will be a little sticky at first, but continue working the dough, kneading, until it becomes a manageable ball. Beware not to overknead–keep a light hand! Cut the doughball into 4 pieces, and roll them into long log shapes. Cut into pieces.

If you are making these in advance, refrigerate until you are ready to boil them.

Drop the gnocchi into a large pot of lightly salted, boiling water. When the gnocchi float to the surface, (about 5 minutes( they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon or strainer to drain.

Dress with brown butter sauce and serve.

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MAPLE SAGE BROWN BUTTER SAUCE

6 T. Unsalted Butter
1/2 c. fresh Sage Leaves
2 T. Maple Syrup
Salt and Black Pepper

In a small skillet on medium beat, melt the butter. Shake and stir it around the skillet as it foams; you’ll notice the milky solids begin to get a toasty brown color. Add the sage leaves and continue stirring. When the butter gets bronzy, remove from heat and stir in the ample syrup.
Toss over gnocchi and garnish with additional sage.

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Posted in Pastas, Recipes, Vegetables | 29 Comments »




December 4th, 2010

Spinach Souffle, simply

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Dramatic, but daunting. The ideas we have about souffles, these grand poofs, these amazing gastronomic feats of egg magic, are indeed lofty. Unreachable. With the risk of failure seeming so great (oh no! deflated! defeated!) souffles are the stuff of the Cordon Bleu, the men in towering toques, reserved for the creme-de-la-creme.

Why bother?

But making a souffle is really not as mysterious or difficult or time-consuming as you might believe. Mais non, mes cheres. A French woman assured me of this.

A mother of three, Francoise has lived in many places around the world, due to her husband’s job. During her two years in Nashville, Francoise worked with us in the Culinary Arts Center at Second Harvest. We had fun cooking together, and I would ask her about the kinds of meals that she liked to make for her family. I was stunned when she told me that a favorite dinner was cheese souffle.

“It is so simple, my daughter often makes it,” she said.

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Her daughter was fourteen at the time.

Noting my wide eyes and dropped jaw, she smiled. “I’ll give you the recipe.”

Inspired by Francoise (and her daughter!), I made her cheese souffle. It was a dream, and all negative thoughts about the dish vanished.

Today, I had some fresh spinach from the market, and a lone leek snatched from Gigi’s garden. I also had a small piece of Comte’, an artisanal cheese crafted in the Jura Mountains of France. It is similar to Gruyere, but creamier. It was one of Francoise’s favorites; when I saw the cheese at the store yesterday, it made me think of her. And, Souffles!

A souffle recipe is very adaptable, and with a little preparation, you can transform kitchen staples–eggs, butter, milk, cheese–into something savory and cloudlike.

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The flavor base of all souffles is a roux, expanded with milk into a thick white sauce, or bechamel. To this, you add whatever vegetable saute or puree you would like. As I write this now, I’m imagining a roasted artichoke souffle or puree of asparagus, come spring. Hmmm.

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Once you’ve created your base, it’s time for egg magic! Beating the yolks into the cooled bechamel mix helps form a rich custard. And beating the whites into soft wavy peaks is the trick to expanding that custard into a cloud.

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A light hand is needed for folding the whites and custard together, but it does not have to be perfectly mixed. Some traces of white are bound to remain–it’s not a big deal.

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Do remember to have the oven preheated. And, you’ll enjoy the crust made from the breadcrumbs and grated parmesan on the sides and bottom of the souffle. When it’s time to serve, be sure to scoop out some of the soft interior with the crusty edges.

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Francoise also told me, “You must wait for the souffle, but it will not wait for you.” Patience is a factor, and yes, the souffle is best enjoyed right out the oven. But, no worries gathering everyone to the table. They will be eager to see your triumph, and dig their spoons into the savory ethers.

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SPINACH SOUFFLE with LEEKS and COMTE’ CHEESE
4 Eggs, separated
4 Tablespoons Butter, plus 1 Tablespoon Butter
2 T. grated Parmesan
2 T. Breadcrumbs
1 Leek, sliced
1 clove Garlic, minced
4 T. All Purpose Flour
1 cup 2% Milk
2 c. chopped fresh Spinach leaves
1/2 c. shredded Comte or Gruyere cheese
1/4 t. each Salt and Pepper
pinch Nutmeg

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat a 2 qt. souffle dish or casserole with 1 T. (or so) butter, and dust with grated parmesan and breadcrumbs.

In a saucepan, melt 4 T. butter. Season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg. Saute leeks and garlic for two minutes, until soft and translucent. Stir in flour and cook the mixture like a roux.

Slowly pour in the milk, and continue cooking until it becomes a thick, glossy white sauce. Stir in spinach and cook until the it is collapsed throughout the mixture.

Remove from heat and stir in the shredded cheese. Allow to cool somewhat before beating in the egg yolks, one at a time.

In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until soft peaks form. The whites should be stiff, but smooth, pliable—not chunky or granular. ( This happens if they are overbeaten.)

Add a couple of dollops of whites to the spinach mixture to lighten it.
Then, using a spatula, fold the spinach mixture back into the remaining whites in a gentle circular motion, until well incorporated.
(It’s okay if a few streaks or tiny lumps of white remain.)

Spoon into prepared souffle dish and bake in the center of the over for about 30 minutes.

Serve immediately! Serves 4.

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Posted in Breakfast, Casseroles, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes | 25 Comments »




November 23rd, 2010

Butternut Squash Bread Pudding with vegetable veloute

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Before I finish packing up our car with Thanksgiving goodies and go careening full tilt to my daughter and son-in-law’s for the holiday, I wanted to check in with you all, say hey, and share a recipe.

It had been on my mind for a while to experiment with the versatile butternut squash, mix it up with some leftover cubed bread I’ve been saving,
add leeks, sage, butter, eggs, and
voila!
turn it into a kind of savory bread pudding.

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I made this one up, with success, for our community potluck last Thursday.
And, while it emerged a bit denser in texture that I had envisioned, (more liquid and eggs, less bread for that!) it made a hearty and delicious vegetarian main dish casserole: one that you’d enjoy eating with a mixed green salad, or side of sauteed kale.

But I realized that this also would find favor—with vegetarians and turkey-eaters alike–on the holiday dinner table.

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The casserole imparts many of the aromas I associate with Thanksgiving: fresh sage, browned butter, earthy-sweet butternut, caramel notes from the onion family. Place a slice of roast turkey and gravy over a square of this bread pudding, and you’ve got one special serving of turkey and dressing! Equally delectable would be succulent pork roast and its rosemary and garlic enriched juices.

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And, for those of us who don’t partake of the noble bird (or beast!), I want to offer a vegetarian based “gravy”–a little something warm and saucy to pour over the bread pudding. Enter the Vegetable Veloute’: it’s a simple mirepoix cooked with vegetable stock, seasoned with fresh herbs, thickened with roux. Add some white wine to it, if you like, for added complexity. Everybody deserves dressing and gravy!

So, friends, that’s the word from this kitchen, for now. I just finished making garlic-sage butter for seasoning the turkey (a generous rub beneath the skin helps insure a juicy bird.) I’ve got a pumpkin and chocolate pie to get out of the oven. Then, back to packing— soon we’ll be DC bound!

To all of you, whether you are celebrating Thanksgiving or not, I wish you safe travels, cooperative ovens, and good times with friends and family at the table. May every day be an expression of gratitude.

See you next week!

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BUTTERNUT SQUASH BREAD PUDDING
6 cups diced, roasted Butternut Squash (2-3 butternuts, depending on size)
6 cups cubed Bread–from sturdy loaves, like baguettes, farmbreads, soudough
2-3 Leeks, washed, sliced, using white and some of the green
2T. Butter
6 large Eggs
2 cups Half-and Half
1 cup Milk
3 T. fresh Sage leaves
Salt and Black Pepper
1 c. shredded Pecorino Romano

Saute leeks in butter until soft, and toss with roasted squash pieces in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, whisk eggs with half-and-half, milk, 2 T. chopped sage leaves, salt and pepper. Pour over squash and leeks.

Add cubed bread, and toss until everything is well-coated.

Spoon into a greased 9×13 casserole dish and top with shredded romano.
Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes—until puffed but firm, and nicely browned.

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VEGETABLE VELOUTE
2 T. Butter
1 medium Onion,small dice
2-3 Carrots, finely chopped
2 stalks Celery, finely chopped
2 cloves Garlic, minced
2 T. all purpose Flour
3 Cups Vegetable Stock
2 T. chopped fresh flat-leaf Parsley
salt, black pepper, white pepper

Melt butter on medium heat in a 2 qt. saucepan. Saute vegetables togerher unto softened, slightly browned. Stir in flour and cook it into the vegetable-butter mix. When no traces of white from the flour remain, add the stock, while stirring. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce thickens. Add parsley, or other fresh herbs (thyme, or sage would be nice) and taste for seasoning. Add salt, black pepper, pinch of white pepper. The sauce will get a a glazy look when the flour is cooked into it, and thickens.

Serve on the side, like a gravy.

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Posted in Casseroles, Recipes, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 21 Comments »




November 17th, 2010

Savory Pear-Walnut Crema Tart

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Next month, I will be one of several chefs involved in a fundraising dinner for our food bank. To a group of 80 guests, we’ll be serving a multi-coursed Tasting Menu. Much fun, this allows for a wide swath of creativity on diminutive plates. I had been asked to prepare something salad-like, something to follow a soup course.

What to make?

I knew, of course, that it would be a seasonal dish. And, I wanted it to be meatless. Many of the chefs had picked a protein— beef, pork, tuna, duck, lamb, bison–for their centerpiece, so I wanted a departure from that. I also had a sense, with the wealth of good food ideas that I am connected to through blogging, that my inspiration was close at hand.

When I came upon this Pear and Walnut Crema Tart on Joyti’s splendid site Darjeeling Dreams, I got excited. Walnut crema! Her description of its taste and simplicity of execution sold me. Alone, the crema seemed incredible, but her presentation–layered with pears, thyme, mascarpone in a savory crust, would be nothing short of sublime.

I could envision a delectable sliver on a small plate, served alongside a ruffle of arugula, sheerly dressed. A drizzle of floral honey, perhaps, over the tart, or, better yet–a lemon-honey infused vinaigrette.

It was time to get to work, test out the recipe, and see how it would work for a large dinner party.

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Following Joyti’s direction, I made the walnut crema first. I didn’t have shallots on hand, as her recipe lists, only garlic, which I cooked in the pot with the walnuts. While the walnuts were simmering to tenderness, I made my pastry dough. Both crema and dough can be made a day in advance—and actually benefit from an overnight stay in the refrigerator.

The crema took on the look and texture of hummus, and the walnut flavor, surprisingly deepened in the simmer, had nothing sharp or acrid. This is the sort of sauce, or pesto, that would be quite delicious tossed over pasta or served over roasted vegetables, like asparagus.

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WALNUT CREMA
1 cup Walnuts
2 small cloves Garlic
pinch salt
4 T. Olive Oil

Place ingredients into a 2 qt. saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and let simmer for 12-15 minutes. Drain, reserving a little “walnut water.”

Place into a food processor fitted with the swivel blade and pulse until chopped finely. Add olive oil and process until smooth, adding a tablespoon or 2 of the walnut water as well, so that the walnut crema will have the look and texture of hummus. Taste for salt.

Refrigerate tightly wrapped for at least overnight so that flavors will develop well. Keeps about a week, wrapped and refrigerated.

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The following day, I gathered my ingredients. I peeled the pears–these were tough-skinned, from the country—but the pears that you use might have a delicate skin that will bake nicely. Use your judgement about that.

I made a few adaptations along the way.

Joyti’s recipe calls for mascarpone or cream cheese. I had a log of mild, tangy goat cheese that I thought could work well. (Use whatcha got!) I had no lemon thyme, but lemon and thyme.

I also compressed her recipe steps, somewhat. She calls for blind-baking the pastry shell, then filling it, and broiling it. For my large dinner group, I decided that it would be better for me to bake the shell and its filling all together.

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It didn’t take long to assemble this appealing tart.

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Before I placed it in the oven, I brushed some melted butter across the slices, to insure some glazy browning. Happy-Happy with the results.
The tart had a lovely crispened shell–sides and bottom. Walnut bits toasted across the pear-laden top. It cut easily, retaining integrity of layers, even when sliced into delicate pieces.

You’ll notice an inherent sweetness from the pears and bit of lemon, balanced by the tangy chevre, and anchored by the walnut crema.

It’s a simple, beautiful dish in all aspects–you could serve it as appetizer course, a fruit/cheese course in lieu of dessert. And, when paired with winter greens and honey vinaigrette, will be a stunning plate for the special fundraising dinner.

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SAVORY PEAR-WALNUT CREMA TART
adapted from Darjeeling Dreams, with thanks to Joyti

1 recipe My Basic Pie Crust (click here )

1 batch of Walnut Crema
4-5 oz Goat Cheese
2-3 ripe Pears (could be Bosc, Anjou, Bartlett–I used a rustic country pear of unknown name from Maggie’s tree!)
Lemon–for zest (1 T.) and Juice (to squeeze over sliced pears)
1 T. melted Butter
a few sprigs fresh Thyme
a few Walnut halves and pieces

10″ pie pan or quiche/tart pan

Roll out pastry dough, place into pan and crimp edges. Spread walnut crema over the bottom, and follow with crumbled goat cheese. Peel and core pears, and slice thinly.

Lay out the slices, one slightly overlapping the other, in concentric circles, pressing the pieces gently into the layer of crema and cheese.

Squeeze a little lemon juice over the slices, and sprinkle the zest. Finish with a sprinkle of thyme leaves and walnut bits.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 25 minutes.

Makes 8 generous servings, or 16 cocktail “tasting plate” servings.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Fruit, Recipes, Sauces | 19 Comments »




November 10th, 2010

Green Tomato Madness

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I have told you all about my friend Maggie and her place out in the country, where I take carefree breaks from my city ways to hang in her kitchen, drink coffee, visit, and cook. On a given day, we might bake bread, or stir up a pot of gumbo, or can tomatoes, or fix a grand salad, using her garden’s finest. All, I should note, with splendid results.

This time was a little different. I know, everything looks pretty nice in the picture. But, things went a bit mad, green tomato mad.

It was unintentional, this madness. Our initial plan had been to cook with pears harvested from her craggy, fruit laden tree–perhaps we would make pear butter, or pear butter coffeecake.

But, this fall had odd weather, super warm in September and October, and Maggie’s tomato plants had an unexpected resurgence. They were covered, almost as much as they were in summer, with fruit. When her husband Steve learned that a hard freeze was coming, he hastened to the garden to gather what he could. He returned with a 10 gallon bucket, piled with all manner and size of green tomatoes.

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So, outside of breading them in cornmeal and frying them crisp, what do you do with 10 gallons of green tomatoes?

Maggie and I decided to find out.

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Some ‘net surfing turned up ideas for charred green tomato salsa, green tomato ketchup, and green tomato cake. A few recipes called for slicing, salting, and sweating the tomatoes to remove excess water. Other recipes called for tying the slices up in cheesecloth, and letting them drain overnight.

Needless to say, this notion was rejected.

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We plunged headlong into green tomato projects, making things up as we proceeded. It would be some time later before certain aspects of a green tomato’s nature would be revealed.

We oven-roasted green tomatoes, jalapenos, garlic, and onions to a char for salsa.

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While those cooled, we chopped more tomatoes for the bundt cake, and improvised a quickbread style recipe, not unlike ones that you use for, say, carrot cakes, or zucchini cakes.

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Maggie had a small bundt pan. So, we used the excess batter for muffins. The muffins, we thought, would be our afternoon snack with coffee. Then, we turned our attention to the task of the green tomato ketchup.

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Whoa. We quickly cleaned, cored, and quartered a mighty mound, and tossed them into a big pot. For spicing, we used the same ingredients–cinnamon stick, whole clove, and allspice– as I had for my Real Red Ketchup.

At one point, Maggie surveyed the counters, covered with cake pans and batter, vinegars and spices, food mill parts, canning jars, and then the cauldron of green gurgling on the stove and said, “I feel like we’re mad scientists and this is our laboratory.”

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And, like any good mad scientists, we recognized that cooking in this manner was very experimental. And, our green tomato experiment yielded mixed results.

Our Assessments:
1. Charred Green Tomato Salsa: This had terrific heat and tangy flavor, not unlike tomatillo, which it resembled also in texture– that gelatinous mouth feel, the kind you notice, at times, with cooked eggplant. We decided that this would be better as a sauce baked over enchiladas.

2. There was likely a good reason to salt and drain the green tomatoes in advance. Our ketchup did not get as thick as we would have liked. The taste was surprisingly good, pretty ketchup-y, really. There was something visually jarring about the color. Close your eyes when you taste it.

3.Green tomatoes need to be chopped very very finely for the bundt cake. Or, pulse them in a food processor. When the muffins were warm, the larger pieces of green tomato were fine—they reminded me of apple, in a way–but as the muffins cooled, the pieces became weird, a little unpleasant–that same gelatinous texture thing. Otherwise, we gave this cake a thumbs-up. I’ve given you the recipe, with the appropriate remedies.

4. It’s always a good idea to find clever ways to use what you’ve got. (Think–there have been thousands and thousands of farm women who had bushels of green tomatoes and little else to work with.)

5. Mad or not, kitchen experiments are fun. And, we welcome any green tomato tips, tricks, or recipes! Suggestions?

GREEN TOMATO BUNDT CAKE
2 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour
1 t. Salt
1 t. Baking Soda
1/2 t. Cinnamon
1/2 t. Allspice
1/4 t. Clove
1/4 t. Black Pepper
2 Eggs
1 c. Brown Sugar
3 c. Green Tomatoes, chopped very finely
1/2 c. Buttermilk
1/2 c. Canola Oil
1 c. chopped Walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Measure and sift dry ingredients together.
Whisk eggs and brown sugar together. Stir in buttermilk and oil, then tomatoes. Stir in dry ingredients and walnuts. Pour into greased and floured bundt pan.

Bake 50-60 minutes. Allow to cool, and remove. Dust with powdered sugar.

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Beautiful collection! Maggie is ready for winter.

Posted in Breads, Recipes, Sauces | 28 Comments »




November 1st, 2010

Farro, for Spring or Fall

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This week I have been testing some recipes for an article for RELISH Magazine. It’s for a story that I’m writing about our Third Thursday Community Pot Luck that will run in May of next year (!)

With the many months that separate article submission and publish dates, it can tricky to test recipes, especially with peak of summer produce in the dreary heart of winter.

But, as luck would have it, this is a springtime story. And many of the vegetables that come to market in early spring also make a brief wondrous appearance in early fall.

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Like this gorgeous selection that I bought from Arugula’s Star of Neal Family Farms. Wide, crinkly leaves of Red Russian Kale, plump, oh-so-sweet sugar snap peas, and, without question, the prettiest-tastiest bundle of carrots I have eaten in a long time—if ever!

All of these lush veggies are the precise ingredients needed for one of our featured recipes, as created by Third-Thursday Potlucker Rhonda.

Rhonda is a self-effacing cook, loathe to recognize her talents in the kitchen. But she knows good food, and can craft some mighty tasty dishes.
It’s one of the benefits of being a part of the potluck: I get to sample so many good things, prepared with flavor profiles outside of my typical use.

I liked her dish so much, that I want to share it with you now, while you might have access to some of those early spring/early fall Cool Weather Crops. You won’t have to wait for next May to enjoy!

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Rhonda’s Farro Salad with Toasted Sesame-Sweet Garlic Dressing has a couple of those “outside-my-usual” elements: that nutty whole grain known best to the Italians, Farro, and a Far East flavor: toasted sesame oil.

That sesame oil is powerful stuff–a thimbleful imparts a rich roasted color and flavor to a dressing. Rhonda’s vinaigrette uses a tetch more than that, mixed with a neutral canola oil. She also sweats sliced garlic in gentle heat, to sweeten it, while toasting mustard seeds.

This results in a kind of sweet-sour dressing, garlicky, with a hint of the East.

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Farro is an ancient whole grain of the wheat family, long cultivated in Italy, and prized for its distinct nutlike flavor and soft but chewy texture. Some think it tastes like a combination of wheat berries and barley. I would agree, and say that both its texture and taste are superior.

If you can find Italian Pearled Farro, as I did at Whole Foods, I recommend it. You won’t have to soak it in advance, and it will cook easily in less than half an hour.

One cup dry will yield 2 cups cooked.

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The vegetable preparation is really a simple stir fry. Start with the sturdy kale on medium heat for a few minutes before adding the carrots. If you can find these burgundy colored carrots—deep red skins covering bright orange interior–buy them! They have a really earthy-sweet spiciness that is so delicious. Plus, their color just knocks me out.

Sugar snaps take no time to cook, so add them at the very last. Stir them around for thirty seconds–just long enough to brighten that green.

Combine all the elements—farro, veggies, dressing, by folding. This dish is terrific served warm, room temperature, or chilled. It tastes fantastic the next day. It travels well. And, with its vegan ways, it can satisfy a wide range of people. Like our Third Thursday Community Pot Luck friends.

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RHONDA’S FARRO WITH SPRING/FALL VEGGIES
and TOASTED SESAME SWEET GARLIC DRESSING

Farro and Vegetables
1 c. Farro, rinsed
6 c. Water, lightly salted
1 T. Canola Oil
8 leaves of Kale, stemmed and chopped
½ lb. Sugar Snap Peas, strung, and cut on the bias into threes
½ lb. Carrots, cut on the bias
Salt
Pinch Red Pepper Flakes

bed of Arugula, for serving

Add farro to a pot of boiling water and cook for approximately 25 minutes.

In a skillet on medium heat, sauté the kale until collapsed, about 2 minutes. Season with salt and red pepper flakes. Add carrots, and continue to cook—stir fry style—for another couple of minutes, then add the yellow pepper strips, and finally, the sugar snaps. The kale will be tender, and the other vegetables will be tender-crisp.

Fold into the cooked farro, along with the toasted sesame-sweet garlic dressing. Reserve a little dressing to enliven the salad later, or dollop on top when you serve it.

Delicious warm, room temp, or chilled over a bed of fresh greens, like arugula.

Toasted Sesame-Sweet Garlic Dressing
3 cloves fresh Garlic, sliced thin
1 T. Canola Oil
½ t. Mustard Seed
4 T. Cider Vinegar
1 T. Sugar
¼ t. Salt
1 Green Onion, coarsely chopped
10 T. Canola Oil
1 T. Toasted Sesame Oil

Gently heat a skillet and add 1 T. canola oil. Add sliced garlic and mustard seeds. Cook just enough to “sweat” the garlic—it will become softened, and sweeter. Remove from heat. In a food processor fitted with the swivel blade, place cider vinegar, sugar, salt, green onion, and cooked garlic-mustard seed mix. Pulse these together, then process, pouring in the canola oil, a little at a time. Finish with the toasted sesame oil. The dressing will emulsify nicely. Taste for seasonings and adjust. If you want peppery heat, add a pinch of red pepper flakes here too.

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Posted in Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes, Salads, Vegan | 23 Comments »




October 25th, 2010

Ketchup, for Real

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Ketchup!

That All-American condiment with Indo-Chinese roots is indeed much loved in our household, finding its way onto all the usual suspects: burgers, fries, and the like. And a few other less-than-usual items: Bill is a ketchup fiend, and his plates of scrambled eggs, stir-fried rice, or cottage cheese would not be enjoyed without a healthy slap of bright red. (Does anyone remember when the USDA labeled ketchup a vegetable?)

I have been wanting to make ketchup for some time. I’ve been told that it is easy-peasy to concoct a rich and zesty mix, and also as simple as canning tomatoes to put up. However, July and August came and went. I never got around to it, and thought that I had missed my window of Tomato Opportunity.

But, because we’ve experienced an extended Indian Summer in Tennessee, there’s been an astonishing burst of tomatoes at our markets of late –Bradleys, Beefsteaks, and Romas. The last vestige of glorious summer, these tomatoes! Though smaller in size, they are still intense with flavor.

Three weeks into October, who knew?

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An unlikely basket of romas (labeled San Marzano Style) at Smiley’s stand in our farmer’s market caught my eye last week. Ideal! Since our plan for the October Third-Thursday Community Pot Luck included grilling little grass-fed beef burgers, I decided that this was the right time to try my hand at ketchup-making.

I bought about 2 lbs. for my experiment.

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Into the pot, I also tossed in handfuls of cherry tomatoes, still diligent, productive in my guerilla garden, along with some garlic, onion, and sweet red peppers.

Recipe research turned up many variations, but I chose to use cider vinegar, brown sugar, and whole spices in the batch. A piece of cinnamon stick, a few beads of allspice, and bits of clove would impart more vibrant piquancy than dried-and powdered. And so, in they went, and in quick-time, my kitchen was filled with their heady aromatics.

(About halfway through the cooking process, I did fish out the spices. They had done their job well. For large batches, you could secure them in a bundle of cheesecloth for easy removal.)

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This is not the sort of cooking that you have to hover over and fret into perfection. It’s already perfect! Everything just needs its time to reduce and thicken. Keep the heat on low. Give it a stir and go about your business. Didn’t you need to water the plants and sweep the leaves off the front porch?

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Red-Red. You can see how nicely this reduced and thickened. Let the mixture cool a little bit before running it through the food mill.

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To extract all the flavor, be sure to take the throw-off of tomato skins and such, and run it through the mill again. It will result in a luscious bowl of rich red ketchup, like this one.

Not quite as thick as Heinz, but plenty thick.

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It’s the Taste that’s going to amaze you.

I felt certain that this would be Very Good, but, I must admit, the ketchup experiment far exceeded my expectations. Perhaps because I’ve spent too many years using a product made with high fructose corn syrup, but Ketchup, for Real is a Revelation. Tomatoey Sweet–but not too sweet–and layered with pungent spice; its complex flavors greater than the sum of its parts.

Almost worthy of that USDA vegetable label.

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KETCHUP FOR REAL

2 lbs. Roma style Tomatoes
1 Pimento or Red Bell Pepper
1 ripe Jalapeno Pepper
4 cloves Garlic
1 medium Onion
1/2 c. Brown Sugar
1/2 c. Cider Vinegar
1 stick Cinnamon
2 t. whole Allspice
6 whole Cloves
2 t. Salt
a few grinds of Black Pepper

helpful equipment: Food Mill

Place all the ingredients into a 5 or 6 qt. stock pot on medium heat, and add I c. water. Stir and cover. Let this simmer, covered, for at least an hour.
Uncover, stir, and simmer uncovered for another half hour, stirring occasionally.

Remove whole spices and continue cooking for about an hour.Mixture will become very thick. Allow to cool and run through the food mill. Run the “dregs” through a second time to extract more sauce. Put into clean, sterile jars.

If you increase this recipe to make a large quantity for canning, process in a hot water bath, as you would for canning tomatoes. (see my “Yes We Can Can” blogpost )

Makes Almost 2 Pints

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Posted in Recipes, Sauces | 24 Comments »




October 14th, 2010

Caramelized Onion-Chanterelle Tart

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It’s been a busy-busy two weeks since we last gathered at Good Food Matters, what with The 10-10-10 Wedding and all related pre-and-post preparations and festivities. I confess, part of it is a blur, a whirling happy extended dream sequence of flickering lights and flowers, dotted swiss organza, families, friends, more families, beautiful food, brilliant toasts, divine cake, crazy soulful dancing,

from which I’m only now awakening.

To be sure, I couldn’t have dreamt a lovelier occasion.

I figure my thirty years of working with food, catering countless receptions, was all for this moment. Friends and colleagues came together to help create a gorgeous event. So much love. So much gratitude.

In the midst of all the planning for the Big Weekend, I had decided to host a farewell brunch, especially for those who were traveling, on the morning after the wedding party.

I know what you’re thinking–what was she thinking?

But when you are a recovered caterer planning your daughter’s wedding, you feel invincible. You believe you can do anything. And, you know that you can do just one more thing. You think, Hey, it’s no big deal…Just a few people for bagels and schmear, a little fruit salad, maybe a quiche or two…

Towards the end of the wedding evening, as people were leaving, many with the same parting words, “I’ll see you at the brunch tomorrow!” it was clear that a much larger get-together was looming. And, in my rhapsodic mother-of-the-bride blur, it dawned on me: “What was I thinking?”

My, my. It would be a righteous early morning.

With the help of Bill and houseguest Carissa, we put together a pretty nice spread. One of the things I whipped up was this caramelized onion tart. Yep, whipped it up. You can too. It was much loved at the brunch of 35 guests; not a speck left. I didn’t (get to) eat any, but the word was Sublime, I was told.

I’ve recreated it today, so that you and I could enjoy it. And, guess what? Ours is even better! Because I found the delectable Chanterelle mushrooms at a discount (from $24 lb. to $16 at Whole Foods! sounds obscene, but you only need $4 worth) I decided to treat us. We deserve it!

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The tart combines all those elements that create Umami, the “fifth taste,” savoriness.

There’s gruyere cheese, with its salt, and milky caramel richness. Onions cooked down to almost candy. Background herbal notes from fresh thyme. Little bites of sharpness from coarse grained mustard. And, finally…the chanterelle. Hmmm. Golden trumpets that need just a hint of heat and butter to become sultry sirens of umami.

Wow.

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If you make your pastry up ahead of time, and keep it refrigerated, it rolls out easily—and thin.

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I learned this trick a long time ago–rubbing the mustard into the dough adds another layer of flavor.

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Eggs and Half-and-Half comprise the custard. If you find the cheese called Comte, try it! It is as complex and wonderful to use as Gruyere.

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CARAMELIZED ONION-CHANTERELLE TART

Crust:
1 c. All Purpose Flour, sifted
1 t. Salt
6 T. Butter, chilled, cut into pieces
3-4 T. Ice Water
later: 1 T. coarse grain mustard

In a food processor fitted with the pastry swivel, pulse together the flour, salt, and butter. Add water–3 Tablespoons to start–and pulse until the dough gathers into a ball. Add another Tablespoon of water if necessary.

Wrap the dough ball in plastic and refrigerate for at least one hour
—but does well to make in advance, and refrigerate overnight.Roll out dough on a flour-dusted surface until round, thin and pliable. Place into tart dish (I used a 12″ tart pan) and press onto the sides.

Coat surface with 1 Tablespoon Coarse Grain Mustard. Refrigerate until
ready to fill.

Filling:
1 Tablespoon Butter
4 medium Onions, sliced lengthwise
a few sprigs of fresh Thyme leaves
2 cups Half-and-Half
3 large Eggs
1 c. shredded Gruyere cheese
Sea Salt
Cracked Black Pepper
4 oz. Chanterelle Mushrooms, sliced lengthwise

Melt butter in a deep skillet on medium heat and slowly saute onions until soft, slightly browned, and very sweet. This may take fifteen minutes.

Season with salt and black pepper. When cooked, stir in the fresh thyme leaves, and place into a small bowl. In the same skillet, melt another tablespoon of butter and gently stir the sliced chanterelles until they are butter-coated, soft, and golden. Remove from heat.

Beat eggs and half-and-half together until well blended–no trace of egg yolk remaining.

Bring out the tart shell. Sprinkle a layer of shredded gruyere on the bottom.
(about half of what you have) Spoon in all the onions. Pour in the egg mixture. Place pieces of cooked chanterelle all over the top, along with the remaining gruyere.

Place into a 375 degree oven and bake for 40 minutes, or until golden brown, and mixture is set.

Delicious warm, or room temperature. Serves 8-10.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breakfast, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes | 32 Comments »




October 1st, 2010

Swirling Brownies Forever

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Of all the recipes I have posted, of all the recipes I have ever cooked, these brownies—marvels of rich marbled chocolate—are what I have made the most. Thousands of batches!!

Because of so many Auspicious Numbers—this marking the 100th Good Food Matters BlogPost, and 30 Years of Brownie Baking, all on the heels of 10-10-10 my daughter’s wedding—I wanted to share with you the recipe and the story.

It all started in an old warehouse in downtown Nashville.

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It was called Goodies: the brainchild of Barbara Kurland, who rented the three story brick Victorian warehouse in 1976 as an emporium for little eateries and retail shops, along with art galleries, and studios for artists and craftsmen.

Rent was Cheap.

More than true urban pioneering–our riverfront district was not to be “developed” for another decade or so—Goodies was a place for underdogs and their dreams. For $30 or $50 or $100 a month rent, you could try your hand at whatever business you’d fancy.

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Over its seven-year life, Goodies served as stage for more than 125 assorted ventures. Some were long standing–a stained glass shop, a photography studio, a museum card store, a saucy hot dog stand. Others, such as the painted pebble sculptor, the iris reader, the holograph artist, made their appearances and vanished, odd blips on the downtown screen.

When my daughter turned one year old, I was offered to take over a little food kiosk inside Goodies. Barbara’s daughter Amy had been running it, selling little quiches, chess tarts, and walnut brownies. She had decided to go the Culinary Institute. My sister and I decided to go for it.

Simply called “The Bakery,” the Kurlands had outfitted that warehouse kitchen sparely but to health codes specs. When my sister and I took over, we inherited two used refrigerators with defunct defrosters, a hand sink, a triple sink, a single hot plate and a relic of the sixties: an avocado green residential electric double oven that distinguished itself with its minimalist heating properties. The upper oven only operated at 400 degrees and the lower either on warm or broil.

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No matter. You’d be surprised at what good things you can make with limited and/or funky equipment. We expanded the menu with sandwiches, salads, cakes-of-the-day, and tweaked the brownie recipe to make these swirly cream cheese delights.

Back then, I used a 4 qt. glass bowl–”Duralex” made in France, tempered to withstand high temperatures–for melting the chocolate in that minimalist oven. Countless searing rounds had fused bits of chocolate and sugar to the inner diameter of the bowl, distinguishing it with the look of a spinning comet’s tail.

Today, a microwave will do the same work, without the same cosmic results.

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That funky kitchen and kiosk formed the foundation for a successful run in the catering business. And, the cream cheese brownies became one of the favorite treats–turning up in thousands of box lunches and on thousands of dessert trays. There are few ingredients and the basic recipe can be embellished with any variety of nuts. It can be mixed by hand for one batch, or multiplied by 8 (as we did years later when the business had grown and we had a 20 qt. Hobart mixer. )

The creativity comes in the swirling.

Globs of almondy cream cheese are spooned into warm batter, and with a chopstick or stem of beater, you can marbelize that creamy goodness throughout the chocolate. Tonya, who baked untold batches for us in the catering kitchen, always said she felt like she was writing a poem when she swirled. Or drawing a picture.

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This morning, I was writing a couple of cream cheese brownie poems.

I have been busy making and freezing swirly slabs in preparation for the wedding reception. They will be cut up into nice bites, served with some petite chocolate cupcakes, alongside a grand tiered Wedding Cake. The wedding day is fast approaching–Sunday October 10th—10/10/10 !!

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And so, dear friends, this 100th post will have to hold us for a few days–I invite you to make these brownies and swirl away. Craft your poem, paint your chocolate portrait. Have a warm brownie and cup of coffee. We shall visit again soon. I’ll post again, after the Big 10-10-10 doings! x Nancy

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NANCY’S BEST MARBLED CREAM CHEESE BROWNIES

The Brownie
4 oz. (squares) Unsweetened Baking Chocolate
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) Butter
2 c. Sugar
4 Eggs (at room temperature)
1 c. All Purpose Flour
2 t. Vanilla
pinch Salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees, convection oven (350 degrees conventional). Coat 9×13 baking pan with butter or pan spray.

In a heatproof (pyrex) bowl, melt chocolate, butter, and sugar together. Stir until you are certain that sugar is dissolved and no lumps of chocolate remain. Beat in eggs, One At A Time. Add vanilla and salt. Beat in flour. Do not overbeat. Pour batter into coated baking pan and add The Swirl.

Bake in the center of the oven for 25 minutes.
Makes 1 dozen big brownies.

Swirling Material
1/2 lb. Cream Cheese
1/4 c. Sugar
2 t. Almond Extract
1 t. Vanilla

Beat cream cheese well with sugar and extracts. Taste for sweetness, and intensity of almond, and adjust.

Using a tablespoon, gently but generously dollop several blobs of cream cheese mixture in spaced spots allover the top of the brownie batter. Take a “swirling tool” (like a chopstick, or the end of an electric beater) and begin rhythmically swirling and drawing the material through the batter, making your marbleized pattern.

Beware of overswirling—your design will disappear and you could lose the separation of the chocolate and the almond cream cheese.

After Baking: Maldon Finishing Salt
This is optional, but I found that a mere scatter of this chippy salt over the top (added after the brownies come out of the oven) brought another compelling flavor dimension to brownie.

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The One Hundredth Post!!

Posted in Chocolate, Desserts, Recipes | 28 Comments »