St. Patrick’s Day is coming right up! For us, this week generally means playing several musical gigs in a row, driving across a variety of high mountain passes in snowstorms, and drinking a lot of wine, but I realize that this isn’t most people’s idea of the holiday. However, to get in the mood in advance this year (and to provide photos for an article I was writing), I made up a batch of Irish soda bread and some beef stew to go with it. And damn if that wasn’t the best beef stew I have ever made! The bread wasn’t bad, either.
We were well and truly snowed in last weekend (still are, pretty much), and we did what most people do when stuck at home with a full refrigerator – we threw a dinner party and baked a cake. To be more accurate, my husband baked, and I took pictures and fussed around on the computer and made milk-braised pork and buttermilk mashed potatoes. The pork was good, but it was the tiramisu cake that really got the eye-rolling and moaning reactions from our dinner guests.
Toad in the hole, which generally involves neither toads nor holes, is really a perfect food. Browned sausages, nestled into a creamy batter with crisp, buttery edges – what is there not to like? And not only is it delicious – it’s both fast and easy. The other day we went out for a drink after work, came home and threw one of these together, and had dinner by 7.
I don’t claim that my toad in the hole is particularly authentic – I’ve never eaten anyone’s version but my own – but I think it’s pretty great. I learned recently that some people put sauce or gravy on their toad in the hole. I’ve always found it plenty interesting au naturale, but why not experiment? I did try tossing a bit of fresh chopped sage into the batter, and I loved how it smelled while it baked.
Some sort of soup or vegetable is recommended unless you, unlike me, can eat a plateful of sausages with butter on them and not feel guilty. I like a salad of mixed greens with a garlic-mustard vinaigrette, to cut through the richness. A glass of red wine or a bitter beer is a nice addition.
I’ll admit, I was a bit grumpy. I was coming down with my husband’s cold, and it gets dark so early these days, I didn’t feel like cooking, and yada yada whine whine. But I had already made the dough for rugelach, during the afternoon when it was still sunny and I had motivation. I felt far too guilty not to follow through, despite my pissy mood, so I went ahead and finished them. And what do you know…they were great! I was much cheered up. (I was also cheered by the extremely gooey cauliflower-cheese pasta that we decided to make for dinner at the last second, but you don’t want to hear about that, do you? We’re talking about cookies here.)
This was the first time I’d ever made rugelach, and I’m very pleased to report that they were quite easy, as well as tasty. They’re a very grown-up cookie, hardly sweet at all, with a lovely chewy-crumbly texture. I had studied recipes from both Dorie Greenspan and Cook’s Illustrated, and I went with Dorie’s because it seemed to make a much more reasonable amount. Plus, she observes that, when making rugelach, you practically have to deviate from the written recipe to put your own stamp on it – that’s my kind of cookbook writer. I made mine with apricot jam, dried cranberries and pecans, but you could just as well use raspberry jam and chocolate chips, or marmalade and walnuts, or rhubarb jam and almonds…hmmm, maybe I should make another batch. Continue reading
For some unknown reason, I had never tasted tarte Tatin until recently, and it was a revelation. I like apple pie, but often find it a bit bland. Tarte Tatin is not at all bland: the apples are soaked with caramel, chewy around the edges, and the crust has a wonderful shatteringly crisp quality that I’ve never encountered in a regular fruit pie. As soon as I tasted it, I vowed that I would try making one myself.
The basic concept really isn’t too complicated, and there seems to be some flexibility, based on the difference between the various recipes I looked up. The foundation is a caramel sauce made with sugar and butter, the apples are laid on the caramel, and pie crust is laid on the apples before baking, then the whole thing is turned upside down before serving. I found variations involving cooking the caramel in a separate pan, then mixing it with the apples, but I went with an approach of cooking the butter, sugar and apples together in a skillet, without stirring, until the sauce caramelized with the juice from the fruit. Continue reading
We had a pretty successful farmer’s market run on Saturday, so we’re trying to meal-plan our way through the week so everything gets used. This dinner was designed to use up a bag of truly splendid oyster mushrooms and a bunch of spinach from Frog’s Song Farm.
I wanted to do some sort of tart, to really feature the mushrooms’ flavor, so I took my usual approach of opening three or four different cookbooks and kind of combining ideas from all of them. Continue reading
Having a certain hankering for chocolate cupcakes, combined with a need to take dessert in to work, resulted in a flurry of baking at our house. I had fully intended to do the baking myself, but due to bad planning and needing to go to work (drat it), J ended up doing it all himself. Fortunately, he’s a better baker than I am (that attention to detail thing, you know).
I lifted two recipes off the internet: one for black bottom cupcakes (possibly my favorite type of cupcake EVER), that turned out to be from a David Lebovitz cookbook, and one for vegan coconut cupcakes, courtesy of Everybody Likes Sandwiches. Both were, I thought, wildly successful. The black bottoms were just as they should be, with a light chocolatey crumb below and a dense, sweet-tart, chocolate-flecked top. The coconut cakes were very light and moist with a delightfully delicate crust on top – they would be fantastic with fresh berries or a chocolate icing, but are lovely eaten plain, with a cup of coffee.
I’m going to print both recipes below, mostly so I can get to them when I need them. You never know when the need for a cupcake will strike. Continue reading
I’m cheating a little by posting this recipe today: I actually baked these muffins months ago. However, we just took the leftovers out of the freezer and ate them two days ago, so what was old is new again, right?
This isn’t a particularly avant-garde recipe. The original (written down many years ago) was a Williams Sonoma recipe for white-flour muffins with rhubarb and crystallized ginger, beloved by myself and my mother for its versatility – it can use yogurt, sour cream or buttermilk, depending what you have on hand, and it’s very good with tart apples or cranberries instead of rhubarb. I also like that the batter doesn’t need delicate treatment – often with muffin batter you need to fold the ingredients together until just combined, and no more – but this stuff can be stirred as much as you like and it still bakes up fluffy and tender.
For some reason this time I wasn’t in the mood for ginger (besides, we didn’t have any candied ginger in the house) and I wanted a bit more flavor in the muffin itself, so I added a bit of whole wheat flour and limited the additions to just rhubarb. It just occurred to me, though, this would have been great with a bit of orange zest added in with the fruit. Hmmm…maybe next time. Continue reading
I used to be a fanatical cake baker. If we went to a party, I made a cake – the bigger and fancier or more chocolatey, the better. My college friends and I stayed up late, baking things that would then disappear within seconds. It was my cooking signature.
Somehow, though, once I started cooking all my own meals, and discovering the huge world of savory flavors, I sort of lost interest in cake. These days when I bake it needs to be relatively simple, preferably producing something that isn’t too sweet. French yogurt cake (gâteau au yaourt) fits the bill. Continue reading
The rhubarb in the garden is coming along beautifully, and we’ve been hankering for a pie or crisp. I finally had time to make our first crisp of the season – just enough for the two of us.
I kept dinner really simple: some steamed asparagus with olive oil and salt, and a halibut fillet sauteed in a little butter, with a glass of verdejo. I was mostly looking to eat something light so as to save room for dessert, but this actually turned out fantastic – the halibut was incredibly tender and flavorful, like crab claw meat, and the verdejo matched perfectly. It was so good.
But then we got to eat rhubarb crisp! Continue reading