Tuesday, December 31, 2013

black-eyed pea cakes

It's the last day of 2013.  I normally feel weird and fussy on December 31, looking back over the year and inventing things I should've done more/less/differently.  This year I feel content.  I did my best.  Maybe that's the blessing of getting older, wiser, gentler on yourself.  I hope you feel content today. 

One of the many gifts of this year was in friendships, and I've learned to cook (you might have noticed) for friends with special diets, especially gluten-free and dairy-free regimens.

They say you're supposed to eat hoppin john for good luck in the new year.  As far as I can tell, that's just a spoonful of black-eyed peas.  I don't know anyone who does that.  Nothing against black-eyed peas.  I'm from the South, after all, and that's a legit vegetable.  (I also love pink-eyed or pink lady peas, if you can find those in your supermarket.)

What's better, and what can be modified to suit almost any diet, is black-eyed pea cakes.  They are hearty enough to serve as a vegetarian entree and flexible enough to modify for appetizers.  I've done both.  This recipe is as friendly as they come-- Try substituting ingredients you love.  What you are looking for is a semi-chunky, slightly wet patty before you fry.  Don't overprocess or it will be pasty.

This recipe grew out of modifications to suit the diet of a gluten-intolerant friend with an infant with even more rigorous restrictions.  It's vegetarian and uses garbanzo bean flour instead of all-purpose flour.  You can find garbanzo bean flour (made from chick peas) in most grocery stores now, if you poke around, or at Whole Foods and speciality stores.  It has a flavor and texture that work well in this recipe and doesn't get gummy the way regular flour might. 

Have a glass of champagne and toast to your best in 2013.  I'm so excited to cook for you next year.  The recipe for black-eyed pea cakes follows.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

brown sugar and spice pound cake

I have a favorite holiday tradition with a dear friend who lives nearby.  For years we've gathered on a Saturday in December to bake and catch up on the year.  

Usually cookies, but not always.  Sometimes it's sugar cookies from the roll or from scratch. Sometimes the recipes turn out great; sometimes utter disasters (like my caramels that never set up-- soft ball candy thermometer-watching is probably not the best to do while gabbing and distracted). Sometimes a family recipe, like my great-grandmother's pecan balls, which came out a little lot dry.  Sometimes something goofy. 

Sometimes it snows and it's magic.  

This year, this morning, we met at my house and I picked the most low-stakes recipe I could think of:  dog cookies.  We are tired.  And it wasn't snowing.  It was 70 degrees outside.  Maybe not the most holiday spirit we've enjoyed on our baking day.  But it was special to be together and going through the motions just the same, because we always do, because we are friends, because it's Christmas. 

My dog cookies turned out fine, or at least our dogs think so.  And they are great for gifting in mason jars tied up with string.  I'll share the recipe with you below. 

Saturday morning went by fast and we were on to the errands and routines of the day.  But I paused, while the kitchen was covered with flour and my apron was on, and baked a while longer by myself.  I was grateful for the reminder that we are still friends ten years later, still healthy, still able, with more days and experiences to connect us now. 

My neighbors will be the beneficiaries of this meditative project-- miniature brown sugar and spice pound cakes.  But the recipe bakes well in a full-size tube pan or two loaf pans, if that's what you prefer.  They are dense and moist like a pound cake should be, with bright lemon and cardamom flavor.  

Share them with a friend you haven't seen in a while.  Enjoy a quiet moment in the kitchen by yourself. Maybe start a new tradition. 

The recipes for giftable dog cookies and brown sugar and spice pound cake (for humans) are after the jump.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

unbelievable carrot cake

This cake will make you more popular.

Am I exaggerating?  Probably not.  Great carrot cake is hard to find.  This one is unbelievable.  Moist, flavorful, not heavy or greasy.  It once prompted a coworker to take a picture of me holding the rest of the cake after he ate a slice.

But, if I'm being fair, it might be the cream cheese frosting.

Before I get ahead of myself, let's talk about layers.  This cake recipe works well as 2 9-inch layers, with enough frosting to cover it completely.  Or it will work just as well for my preferred arrangement:  3 8-inch layers, stacked with frosting in between and the edges exposed.  I think the stacks are darling and this arrangement accomplishes the perfect distribution of frosting.

A few words about the carrots:  Scrub, peel, and grate by hand.  I know it's a pain.  I'll tell you why you should do it.  Scrubbing prevents any dirt, germs, and impurities from invading your cake, obviously.  Peeling removes the fibrous skin on the outside of the carrot, which can affect texture and turn to ugly greenish flecks in your cake while you're baking.  Grating by hand preserves moist texture and eliminates unwelcome toothsome chunks in your cake.  And it's probably easier than cleaning the food processor anyway.

I've spent enough time talking about the bad stuff you want to avoid.  Let's celebrate how incredibly easy this recipe is once you've grated had someone else grate those carrots.

The rest, truly, is a handful of baking essentials you have in your pantry, spices, plus your new best friend unsweetened applesauce.  The applesauce subs in for some of the oil you'll find in traditional carrot cake recipes.  It adds all the moisture without any of the weight.  Not to mention the grease or fat that are only worth it when, well, they arrive in something like cream cheese frosting. (More on that later.)  Maybe I'm not being clear:  the applesauce is better than the oil.  It's not just a healthy substitute.  If you don't have any on hand, it will cost you 2 dollars at the grocery store.  Totally worth it.

Don't forget the ground ginger taking the place of cinnamon's ordinary holiday companion, nutmeg.  The result is warmer, friendlier, and more flavorful.

As for the frosting, I've nailed my own version of cream cheese frosting with two packages cheese to one stick butter.  The ratio works.  The cake is unbelievable.  Your popularity is imminent.  Are you sure you want to do this?  The recipe follows.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

unthanksgiving turkey and and sides

It's unthanksgiving, y'all.  I'm so excited to share with you my version of the best holiday meal, just in time for the real thing.

I hosted "unthanksgiving" in February.  Sure it was out of season, but how you can you wrong?  I've dreamed for years about presenting this feast at my tiny dining room table.  Finally I realized that the month has nothing to do with it.  It's all about the food.  The smell of warm spices and melting butter.  Maybe some pumpkin pie.  And some excellent company.  So we invited dear friends over and went whole hog turkey.

Let me start this story with sides.  The most popular at our table, and the most uniquely tied to Thanksgiving (the November version as we know it), is the dressing (a.k.a. stuffing, if you're into that).

I started with stale sourdough bread, sliced and torn into cubes, and combined it with browned chicken sausage.  Of course, pork sausage, turkey sausage, or fauxsage would do just as well.  By the time you add some chopped vegetables and sweet-tart pear, you're nearly done with the best dressing you've ever had.  It's easy, impressive, and delicious.

Next I tackled jalapeno corn pudding, a recipe I learned from a friend.  I was surprised by how much we loved the spicy jalapenos and sweet corn kernels in this dish alongside traditional, savory Thanksgiving fare. It would be a perfect potluck dish for a BBQ or other (more seasonally appropriate) gathering.  I could hardly think of a way to improve upon it. Like a souffle, it takes a little extra work to whip the egg whites and fold them into the creamy batter.  But it's worth the effort.

In keeping with my spicy twist on traditional dishes, I recreated a sweet potato dish from Bobby Flay with three simple ingredients:  sweet potatoes, cream, and chipotle chiles.  Don't forget a sharp knife.

And Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without a few classics, so I called on Julia Child's cookbook for the real deal:  creamed spinach.

The recipes for all of these inspired sides follow.  Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Thursday, October 31, 2013

white bean chicken chili

It's still light outside at 6pm, but not for long.  The trick-or-treaters are on their way.  Football is in full swing and the first frost has already arrived.  Let's tackle the darkness together.

I'm sharing with you my easiest chili recipe.  It's delicious and it reheats well for Monday night games.

There's a technique buried in this white bean chicken chili-- making a roux-- but it's so simple, you won't even notice.  In less than 20 minutes, a pot full of stock thickens up to a hearty, belly-warming chili.  When I've served three different kinds of chili at a party, this is the first pot to empty and the most asked-for recipe. And it's so quick to make, I barely had time to take any pictures of it for you before we were ready to dig in. 

The only work involved in this recipe is chopping the onion, and you could even buy the pre-chopped stuff in the produce section to make things even easier.  I make use of a rotisserie chicken from the deli department, canned beans, and frozen corn.  This is a week night after all!  Keep it simple. 

I'm paying it forward, because I learned this recipe from my friend Kelly.  (Thanks, Kel!)  If I'm remembering right, it was survival food for her during winter exam time in law school.  It worked for her, so I'm betting it will work for you.  I've added a few twists of my own.  The recipe follows.

Monday, October 7, 2013

maple brown butter snickerdoodles

I'm from Vermont.  I do what I want. 

Friends, I've just returned from the most perfect week of fall in a land of cozy flannel, smoked cheeses, craft beers, and maple sugar.  Vermonters do what they want, and it's mostly delicious.  I borrowed that slogan from a bumper sticker we saw driving around the back roads (which were, by the way, gilded and ablaze with fall foliage colors).  I couldn't exaggerate it if I wanted to.

Don't adjust your settings.  These are all my original amateur photos and completely unedited and unretouched.  (Copyrighted and all rights reserved, btw.)  And yes, that's a hot air balloon in that first photo taken at our bed and breakfast near Woodstock, Vermont.  Central Vermont has a seemingly endless tangle of rural back roads, pilgrimy churches, and darling dairy farms that are all beautiful from all angles. 

Vermont is also known for sugar maples, of course, and rich maple syrup.  They sell pure maple sugar made from the same sap, which (I hope) is sold back home as well.  

If you can find it, please buy it, and make these cookies.  If you can't, sub in some good quality maple syrup and make them anyway.   I've included instructions for a successful swap-out in this recipe. 

Maple brown butter snickerdoodles are a quintessential fall and holiday cookie with a flavor that is so much more interesting than a typical white flour-white sugar cookie. 

I'm excited about this cookie.  It's everything I wanted it to be.  The recipe follows.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

peach and black pepper galette

I like a galette because it breaks the pie rules.  There's no special dish, no crimping and pinching and sealing with a fork, no disaster if it slumps.

I took a pie class recently at my favorite bakery in Durham from the owner and darling of the pie world, Phoebe Lawless.  Phoebe shared several recipes with us and tons of tricks from thousands of pies' worth of practice.  I learned my crust was way too wet all this time.  And I wasn't refrigerating nearly long enough in advance.  But here's another small thing she said that blew my mind: 

"Black pepper is wonderful with peaches."

Is she serious?  Talk about rule breaking.  

I created a recipe to try it out and get lots more practice with my crust.  The black pepper kick with sweet juicy peaches really is wonderful.

For this filling, I mix slices of ripe peaches with sugar, black pepper, a pinch of salt, apple cider vinegar, and a splash of marsala wine.  If you're a peach purist, you can skip this step and also arrange the peach slices decoratively on the pie dough and sprinkle with sugar.  I like the extra flavor from preparing the filling with salt, vinegar, and pepper to bring out the fruit and balance the sweetness.

(Phoebe also shared this trick that you may already know from Smitten Kitchen.  To peel peaches, pop them in boiling water for 20 seconds or so, then straight into an ice bath.  If your peaches are ripe, the skins will literally slide right off.)

A galette showcases a golden flaky crust, so it does take some attention.  Be sure to refrigerate your crust well in advance so it will be sturdy and ready to work.

Following the expert suggestion of the James Beard Foundation, I also used a ground hazelnut mixture to add body and flavor to the base of the galette.  It was easy to do in a little kitchen chopper and added a nutty, satisfying sweetness.  I'll save you about 5 hours I spent in the grocery store looking for whole blanched hazelnuts:  I found them as "filberts" in Whole Foods and Fresh Market in the bulk section.  (These are also delicious chopped in salads with feta, asparagus, and orange, and of course in chocolate desserts, if you end up with too many.)

Take Phoebe's word for it.  You will really be surprised at the combination of spicy black pepper and sweet peaches.  Don't forget to sprinkle the crust with sugar before it bakes.  

This galette is impressive to guests and fun to make.  I think you will love it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

low country boil

Once a year, in August when it's hot, we dig out our biggest stock pots and throw together a low country boil with crab legs, shrimp, corn, sausage, and potatoes.  Plenty of Old Bay.  It's a mess and it's fun.

If you love seafood, this is a perfect weekend party.  Invite your friends.  It's practically foolproof.  And with 5 or 6 of these under our belts, we can also say with certainty that the best part is what you can do with the leftovers the next day. 

I'm talking about a perfect breakfast frittata with crab, sweet corn, and spicy sausage.  Chives and swiss cheese on top.   Hash browns on the side.  Shrimp and leftover sausage with bell peppers and onions in a cream sauce over cheesy grits.

It's time for a low country boil, y'all.  Here are the recipes for the main event and the delicious leftovers that follow.