Thursday, November 15, 2012

Smoky Amaranth Corn Chowder


What do you do when the city you love is rocked by its second 100 year storm in a handful of years?  If you're lucky like R and I were, you're thankful to be a bit of a square who lives uptown, and you end up staying inside and watching the hurricane on tv like the rest of the country.  You start riding your bike to work more and discover that you love it.  And you adopt a friend-cum-orphan for a week, who's building's entire electrical system was fried due to waist-deep water on the ground floor. 


At least, that's what we did because, as I said, we were some of the lucky ones.  I was even rewarded for my continued consumption of water and electricity by a week of slumber parties with one of my best friends from college.  Now it's possible that, with her building being uninhabitable for the foreseeable future, my friend wasn't as much in the party mood as I was, although my definition of slumber partying pretty much consists of cooking, eating, hanging out and then slumbering.  Not exactly a party.

 (View of Manhattan from Randall's Island after the storm)

And what we discovered is that warm, delicious, vegetable and nutrient rich food in a bowl is incredibly nourishing when your apartment building is under water and you've been relegated to a blow-up mattress on a strange floor.  So that's part of the background.  The other part is that I think I was a hemp-wearing hippie in another life because if there's anything to do with real food, whole grains, or pure vegetables, I'm all over it.  So this gorgeous new book from Liana Krissoff was right up my alley and I accepted it from the publisher without a moment's hesitation.  Whole Grains for a New Generation is the kind of cookbook I fall asleep with at night.  Replete with color photographs, it's also full of all of the things I like to eat.  Creative and ingredient-driven, you'll find recipes for using whole grains for every single meal, including dessert, snacks and condiments.  Perhaps my very favorite part is from the breakfast and brunch section: a four-page spread full of ideas for your morning bowl of steel-cut oats (I mean, who doesn't want to wake up to a bowl of slow-cooked porridge spiked with sugar, butter and a splash of Johnny Walker Red?  Don't worry, Krissoff isn't going to judge you if you go for the tamer suggestion of dried figs, honey and toasted pine nuts.)


The book begins, as you might expect if you're familiar with Krissoff's first book Canning for a New Generation, will a chapter on the basics.  If you're new to using whole grains, Krissoff has you covered, as she explains all the different kinds you're going to find in the book, along with pictures of each, how to cook them, from where they originated, and all the different types you're likely to ever come upon.  If one of those types is amaranth, I'm going to insist that you try this chowder.  Like I said, it was soul-soothing for us just after a hurricane, so imagine what it can do for you on any old winter night.  It's thick and becomes quite stew-like by the next day, as the amaranth swells and soaks up the broth, making it creamy and textured all at the same time.  R said he even preferred the left-overs, but I thought it was pretty special right from the start.  I doubled the recipe because, though we had power and electricity, I was afraid of starving anyway.  We finished it in a matter of days.

Smoky Amaranth Corn Chowder
Excerpted from Liana Krissoff's Whole Grains for a New Generation (Abrams, 2012).

Serves 4 - vegan, gluten free

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 rib celery, diced
2 tablespons chopped celery leaves
1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile flakes or 1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle
2 1/2 cups (600 ml) vegetable stock or water
2/3 cup (130g) raw amaranth
2 cups (340g) sweet corn kernels (from 2 or 3 large cobs, or frozen)
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
Salt and cracked black peppercorns
4 sprigs fresh basil

In a 3-quart (2.8-L) saucepan, heat the oil over medium-high heat.  Add the onion, bell pepper, and diced celery and cook, stirring frequently, for 5 minutes.  Add the celery leaves, chipotle chile flakes, stock, amaranth, corn, and sweet potato.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the amaranth grains are translucent and the sweet potato is very soft and falling apart, about 20 minutes.  Season with salt and plenty of black pepper. Serve with a sprig of basil topping each bowlful.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chocolate, Coffee and Orange Marmalade Tart


Lately R has been complaining that Americans take seasonal flavors way overboard.  Sometimes he doesn't want his chocolate/coffee/breakfast cereal flavored like pumpkin, and he wants to see some other vegetable beside squash.  Personally, I could not disagree more.  If I could eat cinnamon and pumpkin flavored asparagus, I would.  But if you feel the way that R does, it's worth remembering that orange and chocolate is a flavor combination every bit as of-the-season as pumpkin.  And it's classier.  This recipe comes from a new book by Ashley English called A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies, a copy of which I was sent to review.  If you want something show-stopping, and if you don't mind spending a little quality time in the kitchen for a dessert that for once doesn't involve a gourd, this pie is perfect.


A few words about the book.  English begins with a short history of pie, tracing the lore from ancient Egypt, to the Greeks and Romans, then to the arrival of "pye" in medieval England, through the appearance of the Pilgrims on the shores of the New World.  Next comes a section on the basics of pie-making, complete with color photographs of all of the essential and not-so-essential equipment so that you'll have no excuse to be anything but well-prepared.  This emphasis on beautiful, full-color photography continues for the rest of the book, with practically every recipe receiving a full-page picture.  The recipes themselves are organized by season, which is a format I always appreciate since shopping according to what's in season helps cut down on the cost, thus allowing you to splurge a bit on really great chocolate, for example.  Least you think the book is full of sweets, English also includes savory pies like a Winter Greens and Cornbread Quiche, a Mushroom and Chevre Galette and a Spiced Meat Pie.  And that's only from the winter section!


Now, about the most incredible chocolate-coffee-orange pie you're likely to come across: this is not a dump-and-bake affair.  You're going to make the orange marmalade yourself, from scratch, ideally the day before you want to serve your tart.  If you make it now, or at any time during the holidays, you'll be doing it when oranges are in peak season, when they're most flavorful and inexpensive.  Plus, it will be the best orange marmalade ever.  You're also going to make the chocolate cookie crust yourself, because why would you use a pre-made crust if you've gone to the trouble of making marmalade?  You wouldn't.  Especially when a press-in cookie crust is about the easiest thing in the world.  Then all that's left is a thick chocolate ganache flavored with coffee or Kalhúa. 

Chocolate, Coffee, and Orange Marmalade Tart
Excerpted with permission from Ashley English's A Year of Pies: A Seasonal Tour of Home Baked Pies (Lark Publishing, 2012)

Makes: One 9-inch tart

You Will Need:
Chocolate Cookie Crust (follows)
Muslin tea bag

1 pound oranges
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 vanilla bean
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 cup heavy cream
11 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably one with at least 60 percent cocoa content), chopped
3 tablespoons strong coffee or coffee-flavored liqueur such as Kalúa

Prepare The Marmalade:
Quarter the oranges.  Once quartered, separate the peel from the flesh.  Scrape out the pith with a spoon and discard.

Chop the flesh into small pieces, removing seeds as you see them.  Place the seeds in a muslin tea bag (they contain a good deal of pectin and will aid in thickening the marmalade).

Slice the peel into long thin strips, and then cut the strips into smaller, 1/2-inch pieces.

Put the seed bag, fruit flesh, sliced peel, and water in a large, heavy stainless-steel soup pot or stockpot.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Boil for 5 minutes, then cover and remove from the heat.  Allow to cool at room temperature overnight or for at least 8 hours.

Remove the lid from the pot and place the pot over medium-high heat.  Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer, then reduce the heat to low and cook 10 minutes.

Slice the vanilla bean open and use the tip of a paring knife, scrape out the seeds inside.  Add the seeds to the pot.

Add the sugar and lemon juice.  Stir to fully combine, then cook uncovered over low heat for 25 minutes, until the mixture begins to thicken.  Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare the Ganache:
Place 1 to 2 inches of water in a medium-sized saucepan and turn on the heat to high.  Put a metal bowl over the saucepan, creating a double boiler.  Combine the heavy cream and chocolate in the bowl.  As the water begins to boil, the chocolate will start to melt.  Whisk the mixture every few minutes, until the chocolate has melted and is thoroughly blended with the cream.  Whisk the coffee or liquer in with the melted chocolate.

Remove the bowl from over the saucepan and set aside.

Assemble the Tart:
Spread the marmalade venly across the surface of the cookie crust.  Pour the ganache over the marmalade, using a spatula to smooth the surface if necessary.

Refrigerate until firm, this should take between 1 to 2 hours.

Chocolate Cookie Crust

You will Need:
9-inch springform pan
10 ounces chocolate cookie wafers (about 2 1/2 cups)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Crush the cookies either by pulsing them in a food processor or placing them in a plastic freezer bag and rolling over them with a rolling pin.

Combine the crushed cookies and melted butter in a medium-size bowl.  Stir until fully mixed.

Press the mixture into the 9-inch springform pan, covering the bottom evenly and pressing the crumbs halfway up the sides.

Bake the crust 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and cool completely before filling.

UPDATE:  Thanks to a comment, I realized that chocolate cookie wafers aren't the most common thing in the world.  The brand I found was called Famous Chocolate Wafers from Nabisco.  Here's a link to the Amazon page so you can see what the packaging looks like.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Applesauce Spice Cake


And we're back.  Or rather, I'm back.  Back from Paris, back in New York City, and back in an apartment whose kitchen comes equipped with more than a mini-fridge and a hotplate (a hotplate that I should call a lukewarm plate, since its only capability was a grudging simmer, insufficient even for waterlogging vegetables.)  Don't get me wrong, there was a lot to love about a year abroad in Paris, but my 160 square foot apartment with a futon and a pretend kitchen was not one of them.  Lucky for me I was able to subsist on a diet of excellent dairy products, cured meats and whatever fruit I picked up at the marché.  Oh, and second-hand cigarette smoke. 

There's even more to love about being home.  For one thing, my NYC kitchen feels positively palatial in comparison.  And there was a small stack of cookbooks waiting for my return to the land of people who actually prepare their own meals.  So to celebrate, I'd like to introduce you to a book that is American, that utilizes the one kitchen appliance rarely found in a Parisian apartment (the oven), and that contains one of the easiest, and most delicious, applesauce cakes you can imagine.


Jodi Rhoden's Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition does just exactly what its title promises.  I'll admit right away that I kind of aspire to cake lady status.  As Rhoden says in her introduction, "almost every town in the South, large or small, has its cake lady.  These are the women who bake the cakes for their community's special occasions: weddings, birthdays, church barbeques, and even funerals."  With the increasing interest in preserving unique regional flavors and recipes, Rhoden's book steps up to help revive such classic Southern standards as Gullah Dirty Cake, Hummingbird Cake, Mississippi Mud Cake, Fig Cake and even a Ten-Layer Chocolate Cake, alternatively known as a Smith Island Cake in the Chesapeake Bay and a Doberge cake in New Orleans.

But best of all, each cake is prefaced by a section about the cook whose recipe it is.  In an age of prepackaged cake mixes and anonymous mass-production, sitting down at a table with each of these cake ladies is what makes the book especially appealing.  This Applesauce Spice Cake comes from Lois Mims of Pine Apple (!!) Alabama, a town which boasts a Pineapple Highway and a Banana Street, as though right out of a fairy tale.  Like most great cooks and bakers, Mims doesn't use recipes, and instead proclaims "You talking about a recipe?  I ain't got a recipe.  I just put my stuff in there, take my head, and use it."  I already love this woman.  Partly because she was willing to commit this recipe to paper, complete with measurements and instructions.  And Partly because this cake was nearly effortless, a one-bowl kind of affair, and yet the payout is huge.  Sweet, moist, redolent of applesauce and spices.  Definitely a keeper.

Applesauce Spice Cake
Excerpted (with permission) from Jodi Rhoden's Cake Ladies: Celebrating a Southern Tradition (Lark Publishing; 2011)

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Baking Time: 20 to 25 minutes
Cooling Time: about 1 hour

You Will Need
For the Cake:
     1 cup vegetable oil
     4 large eggs
     3/4 cup sugar
     1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
     2 cups self-rising flour, divided
     1 heaping teaspoon cinnamon
     1 heaping teaspoon ground clove
     1 cup applesauce
     1 cup whole shelled walnuts, coarsely chopped

For the Glaze:
     3 tablespoons milk
     1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350F.

Prepare the Pans
Spray two 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and set aside.

Mix the Batter
Combine the oil, eggs, and both types of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Beat until light, fluffy, and fully creamed.  Add 1 cup of self-rising flour, the cinnamon, and the clove, and beat until just combined.  Add the applesauce, combine, and then add your remaining flour.  Add walnuts and fold in with a spatula.  Beat until just combined.

Bake the Cake
Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans.  Place the cake layers in the oven, and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean and the sides of the cake pull away from the sides of the pan.  Remove from the oven and cool in the pans on a rack for 5 minutes before inverting onto racks to cool completely.

Make the Glaze
In a separate bowl, combine the milk and the powdered sugar.  Mix with a fork or whisk until no lumps of powdered sugar remain.

Assemble the Cake
When the layers are cool, place the first layer on a plate.  Drizzle 1/4 cup of the glaze over the first layer to cover the surface.  Allow the glaze to drizzle down the sides a little.  Place the next layer on top of the first and repeat with the remaining glaze.  Applesauce spice cake can be kept at room temperature, covered, for up to a week.