Monday, March 30, 2009

Orangette's Lemon Yogurt Cake

In case you hadn't figured it out already, I really like cake. I was once reading an interview with Duff the guy who runs Charm City Cakes in Baltimore and he said he eats at least one piece of cake every day for "quality control purposes." At that moment, I seriously questioned my commitment to journalism. The only problem with cakes is that so often they involve a lot of butter, so I always like to find cakes that have different bases like oil or yogurt. I've been reading Orangette's new book, A Homemade Life, and the cake that found her a husband is such a cake: French-style Yogurt Cake with Lemon. I have to say, it's pretty damn good.

Difficulty: Easy, does require a zester though
Eat Rating: Awesome. The cake is really light and fluffy. Really great if you like lemons. I might try it with Meyer Lemons next time though, since they are a little sweeter. The recipe says you can also substitute orange or tangerine.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
1/2 cup plain yogurt (LN: he says you have to use whole-milk, but mine turned out fine with nonfat)
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup, plus 3 tbsp lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan. Line the bottom on the pan with wax paper or parchment paper and grease the paper.

In a bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt and lemon zest. In a separate large bowl, add yogurt, sugar and eggs, stirring until well combined. Add the flour mixture and stir to combine, then add the oil and mix until you have a pale yellow batter. Pour into pan and bake for 35 minutes.

Cool the cake on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove from pan. Invert the cake onto the rack so it sits with the dome-side up.

In a small bowl, combine 1/4 cup powdered sugar and 1/4 cup lemon juice. Whisk until smooth and spoon the syrup over the top of the cake, allowing to soak in and dribble down the sides. Cool the cake completely.

Once cooled, combine the remaining 1 cup of powdered sugar with the 3 tbsp of lemon juice to make an icing. Spoon icing over the cake and serve immediately.

A slice of lemon-y deliciousness

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lemon Mint Artichokes

I've been very anxiously awaiting spring so I can have some new fruits and vegetables. I love winter squash and root vegetables, but they get old after awhile and the winter months always seem so long that I'm practically dying for something new when spring finally rolls around. So when I saw that it was the first week for artichokes this year, I bought some even though I had never cooked an artichoke in my life. Luckily, Gourmet magazine this month included a recipe on how to cook fresh artichokes for Passover.

Artichokes are hard work though what with all the cutting and peeling. This recipe takes about 1 1/2 to 2 hours total (although apparently you can split it up if you wanted).

From Gourmet Magazine, April 2009

Difficulty: Hard. The artichokes take a lot of preparation. You also need a melon baller and peeler.
Eat Rating: Awesome. After all the work, I thought there could be no way they would be worth it. I was wrong. These things are pretty amazing. The right amount of sour lemon and sweet mint. All that being said, I probably wouldn't make them again, unless someone specially requested for Passover or something.

2 lemons, cut in half
8 large artichokes with long stems
3 cups water
1/4 cup lemon juice (fresh or otherwise)
5 tbsp chopped fresh mint
3 garlic cloves, minced

Squeeze the lemons into a small bowl of cold water. Set aside. You will use this to keep your artichokes from browning later on.

Cut off the top 1 inch of the artichoke (the pointy part), then pull off the leaves until you reach the pale yellow leaves. Discard leaves (LN: we kept the leaves and steamed them to eat later.) Cut the artichoke off about 1/2 inch from the stem. Scoop out the fuzzy part in the bowl of the artichoke with a melon baller. Trim the dark green parts with a vegetable peeler from the base and stem of the artichoke. Trim down the stem to the pale green inner core. Rub the cut artichoke with the lemon to prevent browning and then place in the bowl of lemon water.

Once all artichokes are trimmed, place lemon juice, water, 3 tbsp mint and garlic in a heavy pot that is large enough to fit all the artichokes in one layer. Simmer, then stand artichokes stem facing up in the pot. Cover with parchment or silicone steamer mat. (LN: At this point, I put the extra artichoke leaves in and let them steam as well) Simmer for 25 to 30 minutes until the base of artichoke is easily pierced with a knife. Remove artichoke stems and set aside.
Simmer remaining liquid about 20 minutes until it is reduced to about 1/2 cup. Whisk to emulsify then pour over the artichokes and sprinkle with remaining mint.

Serve at room temperature.

Lemon mint braised artichokes

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge Challenge: Day 6 (Friday)

Delicious french toast

After a few beers, I am highly suggestible. Friday was yet another work happy hour for a departing colleague. As it had been a dreary day and it was still my birthday week, I had several beers then happy strolled through Dupont to catch the bus home. While I was waiting for the bus, I cracked open Orangette's book -- A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg -- and read the chapter about her father's french toast. This immediately made me want french toast. Her dad's trick was to use cook the bread in oil rather than butter. CCO was skeptical of this idea (or perhaps skeptical of semi-sober Leah and hot oil?), but it turned out pretty well. The oil sears in the flavor and makes the toast crispier than butter. Super delicious. See her recipe for details, but a good mix is 1 egg for every 2 pieces of bread. So we used 2 eggs for our 4 pieces of toast.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge Challenge: Day 5 (Thursday)

You may have noticed that there is no Wednesday. We cheated (sort of). When I got home from work, I ran into our upstairs neighbors. It came out that this week was my birthday, also that she had been home all day with her sick (not contagious) son and had spent the day cooking. So she invited CCO and I to dinner with her family. We had delicious Korean food. We did eat food from a fridge, just not ours. And in the spirit of EDF (and being good guests) we brought them a bottle of wine.

To make up for my lapse, though, I promised myself I'd be adventurous for Thursday's dinner. So this can of salmon has been around for awhile (don't worry, it doesn't expire till 2010). I think it was my mother's. She accidentally bought it one time, mistaking it for tuna, then got home and stuck it in the back of her cupboard. When I moved to my new place last summer, she brought me a bag of all this food to help fill my cabinets. It was supposed to be things I requested -- spices I had left with her after moving back from Chicago, important pots and pans like my pressure cooker. Instead I ended up with canned salmon. But never fear. I remembered we had a couple red bliss potatoes sitting around. Also, as used in previous recipes, tons of bread crumbs. So why not salmon croquettes?

Adapted from the New York Times

Eat Rating: Good. CCO commented that the croquettes were a little short on salmon. If I were making it again, I would probably use 2 cans of salmon.
Difficulty: Easy-to-medium (no strange utensils, but does require breading and frying)

3 medium-sized red-skin potatoes
1 can salmon, drained
1 shallot, minced
2 eggs
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1 cup sour cream
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh chopped dill (or about 1-1 1/2 tbsp dried dill)
1/2 tsp salt
Oil for frying

Boil potatoes in medium-sized saucepan until tender. Mash with masher or electric beaters until smooth. Mix in can of salmon, shallot and one egg. Shape into patties and place on a cookie sheet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Beat remaining egg in a small bowl. Place breadcrumbs in a separate bowl and spread several tablespoons on a plate. For each patty, cover with flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. Set aside. Heat oil in a frying pan until hot, the edges will just begin to bubble. Fry the patties in the oil until brown, about 3-4 minutes per side. Dry on a paper towel before serving.

Salmon patties, frying

While patties are cooking, mix sour cream, garlic, salt and dill to create a garlicky cream. Serve salmon croquettes with a dollop of cream.

With a dollop of garlicky dill cream

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge Challenge: Day 3 (Tuesday)

Turkey Burger

I have a bad habit of going to the store and buying ground meat.
I think this stems from my childhood where we practically ate ground beef every day of the week: tacos, goulash, Bisquick "pies" of meat and cheese. So I apologize for having a second day of ground meat, but that is what's really in my fridge.

Today we had a package of ground turkey. I had proposed empanadas. CCO thought it was a lot of work since the dough would take an hour to rise. * So we settled on turkey burgers, in that burgers would allow us to use the turkey, massive amount of nun cheese and some of the barbecue sauce I opened for the meatloaf.

Eat Rating: Pretty good -- for a turkey burger.
Difficulty: Super easy.

1 lb ground turkey
1/4 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, diced
1-2 tsp parsley
2 eggs
1/2-3/4 cup bread crumbs

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl with your hands until thoroughly combined. Shape into patties. Grill (we used the Foreman) or pan fry until cooked through. Serve between two slices bread, with cheese.

* Correction: An earlier version of this post attributed to CCO the thought that ground turkey is not flavorful enough for empanadas. He maintains this was not his objection. IL2E regrets the error.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge Challenge: Day 2 (Monday)

Butternut before

My favorite rediscovery this year is butternut squash. When I was a kid, my family always did acorn or spaghetti squash, probably because butternut is irritating with all the peeling involved. Recently I've been putting butternut in everything, whether that be roasted and chilled on top of salad greens or mixed with pasta and cheese. One of my all-time favorite dishes is quiche, so I decided to try it for meatless Monday. I couldn't really find a recipe, so I made one up.

Leah's Butternut Squash Quiche

Eat Rating: Delicious. The squash and the cheese both melt into the egg base, giving the quiche a delicate but awesome flavor.
Difficulty: Easy.

Butternut after

Savory pie crust, prebaked*
1 medium-sized butternut squash
1-2 tbsp olive oil
3 oz. goat cheese crumbles
1/4 red onion, minced
2 tsp rosemary (dried or fresh)
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

Peel and seed squash, then cut into chunks. Toss in 1-2 tbsp of olive oil to coat and cook for 25-30 minutes until soft. Allow to cool slightly. (This step can be completed ahead of time to reduce prep time.)

In a medium-sized bowl, mix roasted squash with onion and cheese. It should be mushy. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and milk together with a fork. Add milk and rosemary to the squash/cheese and mix thoroughly. Pour into prebaked pie shell and cook for 15 minutes. Reduce heat to 350 and cook an additional 15 minutes or until egg is set.

*Savory pie crust
I do not believe in store-bought pie crust. Here is an easy recipe for a low-fat crust:
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup oil -- olive or canola oil work fine
1/4 cup water

Mix flour and salt in a medium-sized bowl. In a measuring cup, whisk oil and water. Pour all at once into flour mix and combine with a fork. The mixture should begin to form a ball of dough about the size of a baseball. Add a few more drops of oil if necessary to make it come together. Remove dough from bowl and place on floured surface. With a rolling pin, roll the dough into a circle large enough to fit a pie dish. To prebake, cook for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees.

Eating Down the Fridge Challenge: Day 1 (Sunday)

Cheese from nuns

So Sunday officially began the Eating Down the Fridge Challenge, a week-long adventure where I will refrain from going to the grocery store and instead cook meals solely out of what I have stored up in my refrigerator and cupboards. CCO thinks this isn't really a challenge, but then again he thinks I keep too much stuff in the cabinets anyway.

So at one point last week, we happened to have 9 lbs of cheese from Cistercian nuns in our fridge. Yeah... Back in November, I was trying to find someone local to get some good quality cheese from, the idea being I could give half of it away as gifts and use the rest for my Christmas baking. Someone suggested the Our Lady of Angels Monastery down in Crozet. The monastery is run by Cistercian nuns (CCO tells me that its called a monastery rather than a convent because of their order). It had some good reviews and I figured I was supporting a good cause by giving money to nuns. So I ordered a bunch in mid-November. Their form said that as long as you ordered before Thanksgiving, you would be ok for delivery before Christmas. Not actually true. In their defense, it was a bad year (higher costs for stuff due to the crazy prices during the summer) so I got a postcard from them mid-December that I would not be receving my cheese until February or March. I was a little bummed, but figured I could at least give it away as Valentine's Day cheese... and in the meantime the nuns have been keeping me up-to-date on their goings-on. They sent me pictures of their visit to the Vatican earlier last year and frequently send me letters about how they are praying for me. They look like such nice nuns in the pictures that I haven't had the heart to throw away their newsletters and keep them on the fridge. (I freaked someone out a couple months back because one had a large picture of the Pope and the person began to worry that I was secretly devout) Anyway, the cheese arrived last week, all 9-lbs of glorious smoked gouda. I obviously can't eat 9-lbs on my own, so I took a wheel in to my office where it was promptly devoured by swarms of hungry reporters. The cheese is super good, a really light gouda flavour. This whole long story has really been to convince you to buy their cheese. Just make sure to leave plenty of time for delivery...

Grilled cheese

For lunch, we made grilled cheese sandwiches with the nun cheese and ate them with leftover carrot-ginger soup.


Leah's birthday meatloaf

For my birthday dinner, I really wanted meatloaf. Except my birthday falls on a Monday, which would violate Meatless Mondays. Instead I insisted on eating meatloaf on Sunday. The Pat Nixon meatloaf was good, but I was feeling lazy and didn't want to wait the hour it has to sit in the fridge. Instead I made up a barbecue meatloaf recipe.

1 lb ground bison (beef will do as a substitute)
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs
3/4 cup bread crumbs
3-4 tbsp barbecue sauce (LN: I used a Hickory-smoked blend)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Spray 9x9 inch square pan with cooking spray. Shape meat into loaf in pan. Bake 45-50 minutes or until meat is browned throughout. Serve with extra barbecue sauce.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Orangette's Chocolate Bourbon Cake

Friday was one of my favorite editors' last day at the office. It was one of those really bittersweet days. She had been with the company for 12 years, the sort of person who everyone loves for their friendliness and optimism. But she got offered a better job with another news org, so you couldn't really blame her for leaving.

As a going-away present of sorts, I offered to bake her something. She requested chocolate. I had been saving this Orangette recipe -- a whisky-soaked dark chocolate bundt cake -- on the list of "Cakes to Try" for my birthday. But I felt this occasion trumped my birthday.

The cake takes an enitre cup of whiskey. I used Knob Creek Bourbon because it was what I had on hand. Like Orangette suggested, I made the cake a day ahead of time to let the alcohol-taste mellow. But even with the extra day, it was super intense. The middle of the cake is rich and fudgey, almost like a gooey brownie, and this is where the alcohol seemed to settle. As one coworker noted, after she ate a piece it felt almost like she had taken a shot. So after trying a piece, I had a thought: This is a cake for whiskey lovers; if you don't like whiskey, you probably wouldn't like it, and that's too bad because dark chocolate and whiskey are a good combination.

So Friday night, after all the drunken after-work merriment, I decided to try again and make one for CCO, who always complains that it's not fair when I make cakes for work because he never gets to try them. I didn't really need another whole 10-cup bundt cake, so I halved it. And halving the recipe seems to be the magic touch. Because the cake itself is smaller, that center of whiskey fudginess is also smaller and less overwhelming.

Eat Rating: Awesome, even for non-whiskey lovers
Difficulty: Easy to Medium (special tools: Espresso maker -- or two shots from a coffee shop)

Half-size Chocolate-Bourbon Cake, from Orangette, via the New York Times

1 stick butter, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 oz. dark unsweetened chocolate (LN: I used 72% E. Guittard)
2 shots of espresso
1 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 cup bourbon
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tbsp vanilla
1/2 tsp baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using butter or spray, grease and flour a bundt pan. Over a double boiler, melt chocolate. Set aside.

Place cocoa in a glass measuring cup (Pyrex). Add the salt and two shots of espresso -- this should be up to about the 1/2 cup line. Stir until blended. Add bourbon. Set aside.

Cream butter, then add sugar until combined, light and fluffy. Add the eggs, then vanilla, baking soda and chocolate, beating well between each addition. Add about 1/3 of the whiskey-chocolate sauce and beat until combined. Add 1/2 cup of flour, beat again, then alternate between whisky and flour, finishing with the whiskey mixture. Scrape into pan and bake for about 45-50 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Cool of wire rack for 15-20 minutes, then remove from pan. Sprinkle a little more whiskey/bourbon - 2 or 3 tbsp - on top of the cake and then sprinkle with powdered sugar if you like.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Carrot Ginger Soup

I love it when the pictures capture the steam rising off my food. In my effort to be healthier, I picked up a 2 pound bag of carrots at the store last weekend. Then I got home and remembered that I hate carrots. The crunchiness is nice, I feel like I always get served carrots one of two ways: as little sticks that have sat in the fridge too long and leached away their flavor or as tasteless shreds covering limp lettuce in a pathetic salad. To prove that all carrots aren't bad, CCO suggested carrot soup, specifically his favorite Ginger Carrot Soup from the Moosewood Cookbook. Frankly, he was right.

Eat Rating: Great. The ginger gives it a kick of spiciness that lingers. Drizzle with a bit of buttermilk for extra tang.
Difficulty: Easy to Medium (requires a blender or food processor)

From The Moosewood Cookbook, 15th Edition by Mollie Katzen (Has anyone else noticed how all the good cooks are named Molly?)

2 lbs carrots, peeled and chopped into 1" pieces
4 cups of water (or broth)
1 tbsp butter or oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp ginger, peeled and grated
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground fennel
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp mint
3-4 tbsp lemon juice
1 cup lightly toasted cashews, toasted

Add water and carrots to medium sauce pan, boil and then cook carrots for 10-15 minutes until carrots are softened. While carrots are cooking, heat oil in a saute pan and saute onions about 5 minutes or until translucent. Add garlic, ginger, salt, spices. Continue cooking for about 5-8 minutes until thoroughly mixed. Add lemon juice to the onion-garlic mixture. Set aside. Once the carrots are sufficiently soft, add the onion-garlic mixture to a blender/food processor along with cashews and part of the carrots. Blend until carrots are pureed. Add puree to soup pot, then puree remaining water and carrots. Mix puree altogether and heat until warm. Serve with drizzle of buttermilk or dollop of yogurt.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Eating Down the Fridge Challenge

As several people noted on Friday, my house will be participating in the Eating Down the Fridge challenge sponsored by Kim O'Donnel's A Mighty Appetite blog. For seven days, you cannot go to the grocery store but must prepare all meals from things in your fridge or pantry. As I go to the store at least four or five times a week, this may be difficult. All of our meals for the week will be chronicled here, so send comments or suggestions. The challenge starts Monday, March 9.