Archive for November 2011
This Thanksgiving didn’t exactly go according to plan. Of the three things I had intended to contribute to the table this year, I ended up making two: a flawed yet delicious chocolate-pecan pie (which I’m sure you’ll see around here if I work up the courage to make it again and work out a couple proportion mishaps), and potato-buttermilk rolls. Of those two things, it was only the pie that managed to (barely) make the deadline of actually being served on Thanksgiving day. So yes, not only did I succeed in producing only one dish for the holiday whose sole focus is on food, but I made Thanksgiving-material food after the actual holiday. Sometimes I wonder what the qualifications are for having the confidence to have a food blog. I might be missing the mark on a few.
But! As much as that lovely holiday revolves around food, that’s not really the real point of it. Because as trite or cliche as this sounds, I got a lot more happiness over Thanksgiving weekend from spending time with family, friends, and my boyfriend than from producing a delicious pie. Or even fresh (but late) potato-buttermilk rolls. When they finally came out of the oven on Friday night at around ten o’ clock, my family hovered in the kitchen waiting to break into the fluffy, warm rolls and slather on some butter and tart apricot jam. But it was the moment afterward when we all settled into the living room to watch TV, napkins with the piping warm rolls in our laps to munch on, that made me feel a lot more satisfied. Because let’s be honest: fresh yeast breads, straight from the oven, are almost always delicious. But they are always better when you’re in a cozy, warm place (home), around people you love. This weekend was a good reminder that sometimes the things that get in the way of the always-so-important plans are more important than what you were trying to accomplish anyway.
But as important as family and friends are, let’s not short-change these rolls. These things are pretty addicting: moist and a little hearty but incredibly fluffy. They have that fresh bread taste that I’m sure you’re familiar with, but with the background flavor of potato. This, by some miracle, makes fresh bread even more mouth-watering. These are great all-purpose dinner rolls, although I think next time if I were to make them, I’d arrange them in a pan to make pull-apart rolls, kind of like this. Also, note that depending on how many pieces you end up creating from the dough, you’ll end up with a size either closer to a dinner roll or a sandwich or hamburger bun. I wish I had broken mine into even smaller pieces to have more manageable portion sizes. But no matter how you decide to bake them, don’t forget to share! With the people who make sharing worthwhile. I promise you no matter the portion size, they’ll be eaten up quickly.
Potato-Buttermilk Rolls (Dinner Rolls or Sandwich Buns)
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking
1 large russet potato (about 1/2 lb or 250 g), peeled and cubed
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) water
1 1/2 cups (375 ml) buttermilk
2 packages (5 teaspoons) active dry yeast
6 cups (940 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading and dusting
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/2 cup (125 g) unsalted butter, softened
In a small saucepan combine the water and potato chunks and bring to a boil. Cook until the potato is soft and very tender when touched with a fork, about ten minutes. It won’t to harm to overcook the potato here–it’s all going to be mashed smoothly anyway.
Pour the cooked potato cubes with the water into a large bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer with dough hook attached, if using. Mash the potato cubes with a fork until smooth. Stir in the buttermilk and let cool until warm (about 110 degrees F). If the mixture is too cold, you can warm a proportion of it in the microwave until heated up enough. Once warm, dissolve the yeast in the potato mixture and let stand 5 minutes. Add the flour, salt, sugar and butter and stir with your hand or a wooden spoon until a shaggy mass forms. Scrape the dough out onto a floured work surface. Invert the bowl over the dough and let rest for 5-10 minutes. Uncover the dough and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes, adding enough flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking as you go. Alternatively, if using a stand mixer, after adding the flour, salt, sugar and butter, knead on low speed until dough is smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes, adding flour as needed for the dough to come away from the sides of the bowl.
Once kneaded, form the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, about 1 hour.
Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a clean work surface. Cut in half with a sharp knife. Cut each half into 8 equal pieces for rolls or 6 equal pieces for sandwich buns (for a total of either 16 or 12 pieces). Cover pieces with a kitchen towel and let rest 5 minutes before shaping. Line two rimless baking sheets with parchment paper, or alternatively, if you want pull-apart rolls, heavily butter two 10-inch cake pans. Roll each piece of dough against the work surface into a ball and place on/in prepared baking sheets/pans. Cover the rolls with a kitchen towel again and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot for about 15-30 minutes, or until they almost double in size. If you want a ligheter, airier texture for sandwich buns, let the dough rise until spongy and pillow-y soft when gently squeezed, 30-45 minutes.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Once risen, lightly dust the tops of the rolls with flour. Bake rolls until puffed and lightly browned, about 20-25 minutes. The bottoms of the rolls should just start to get golden.
No, this is technically not a Thanksgiving post. I know the whole blog world (and who am I kidding? the whole country in general) is buzzing with festive Thanksgiving posts and ideas, and even though I do have a couple plans of my own in mind, I’m not going to blog about them ahead of time. Don’t get me wrong, I love the holidays. I’m buzzing with festivity! Just today my boyfriend told me, “if there were such a thing as being overly festive, you would be it.” (He means it lovingly, don’t worry.) But the thing is, I have not been eating cranberry chutney, wild rice stuffing, or a pumpkin roulade around here–at least just yet.
So, today I am instead going to share what I have been munching on this past week: baked sweet potato falafel. I don’t think I’ve ever tried regular falafel–you know, the deep-fried, only-chickpea version–so I hardly feel qualified to draw a comparison on these. But what I can tell you is that though these may not be crunchy, nor filled with fat, they have that immensely satifsying texture that only smoothly soft carbs can achieve. And like Katie says, the fact that they’re not deep-fried allows for the flavors of the sweet potato to really stand out, while still being able to showcase the large dose of middle eastern spices, garlic and cilantro.
The simplicity of the recipe only adds to this comfort-food appeal–the whole process, though involving a little patience, relies on not much more than a little oven time, a little stirring and shaping, and then a final last bit in the oven again. It’s basically a one-bowl deal (and the importance of this should never be underestimated). As shown in the picture, I served mine with a serving of couscous, some sauteed kale, and a large glob of tzatiki sauce. However, I think these little falafel wrapped in some warmed-up pita with a drizzle of a lemon-tahini sauce would be best. If you end up making them you might want to play around with how you serve it–I thought the zing of the tzatiki, though delicious, almost overpowered the falafel.
This dish would require more than a stretch to try and be able to fit it in with the flurry of Thanksgiving-themed dishes flying around on the internet, so I’m not going to try (I respect the holidays too much anyway to try and attempt that). It is, however, a simple, comforting meal that deserves attention in its own right. It’s a dish easy enough to fall back on when the coming season’s chaos–or has that already happened? Either way, Happy Thanksgiving.
2 medium sweet potatoes (yams), around 700g or 1 1/2 pounds in total
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 small cloves of garlic, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 handful of fresh cilantro, chopped (optional)
Juice of half a lemon
1 cup (120g) chickpea flour
a few tablespoons sesame seeds, for sprinkling
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and place whole sweet potatoes directly on oven rack for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until just tender. Once removed from the oven, let them cool until manageable. Peel and discard skins–they should come off easily.
Mash together the cooled and peeled sweet potatoes, cumin, garlic, coriander, cilantro (if using), lemon juice and chickpea flour into a large bowl. Season for salt and pepper. Once well mashed with no large chunks remaining, stick in the fridge to firm up for an hour, or the freezer for 20-30 minutes. At this point, your mix should be sticky-smooth rather than wet. If necessary, add a tablespoon or more of chickpea flour (this varies depending on the water content of the sweet potatoes).
While chilling, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and oil a baking sheet (I used parchment paper but would go without it next time in order to develop a golden crust on the bottom). Using a couple of large spoons, scoop up a mound of the falafel mixture and shape it back and forth between the concave sides of the spoons to form a football-like shape. Press sesame seeds along the outside of the falafel and place on prepared baking sheet. Bake in the oven for around 17 minutes, until the bases are golden brown.
I believe there’s this one quote by Oscar Wilde that states, “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess.” When I first came upon this a few years ago I giddily scrawled it down in a notebook of mine (I have a habit of collecting quotes). Of course I was happy about finding it–I’m terrible at moderation. And what better way to reaffirm your personal view of the world than to find a famous person who is reiterating exactly what you want to hear?
Anyway, that quote has stuck with me. It justifies my lack of moderation when I go through the week eating like a Spartan, only to go out all weekend and eat quite a bit more cheesecake than any one other person should consume in one sitting. It also justifies how some days I work with mad efficiency, crossing to-dos off multiple lists with frenzy, only to waste the following days barely moving beyond 20 feet from my couch. My weekday mornings are spent (on-time, I might add) eating oatmeal or a couple pieces of toast (always with either almond butter or apricot jam). What can I say? I enjoy routine. But come Saturday or Sunday, I enjoy nothing more than lounging around all morning with absolutely no obligation to pay mind to. Once I gather enough determination for breakfast when the time nears closer to noon, I gawk at the idea of oatmeal.
I have, however, been on a real pancake kick for my weekend breakfasts lately. They’re not only warm, cozy and filling, but when you add a little pumpkin and a few pinches of spice they’re festive, too. I think they’re a great idea for a Thanksgiving breakfast, that is if 1) you have enough energy in you for the day that you’re not only going to prepare a feast for dinner but whip up some pancakes for breakfast too, and 2) you eat breakfast on Thanksgiving. Going back to my whole not-very-good-at-moderation thing, I like to nibble only at cereal or small snacks all day, in order to have the proper amount of hunger in store for the main show.
But Thanksgiving morning aside, these have been making me a fine weekend breakfast, one in which I’m still in my pajamas and combining two meals of the day. I’ve also been getting in the habit of making the whole batch and storing away the leftover ones in a zip-lock bag in the freezer. That way, during some weekday mornings (when I don’t have time for oatmeal or an appetite for toast) all I do is pop a couple in the toaster, and voila! They get crispy, toasty warm and require no syrup or even butter–the pumpkin spice flavor is really enough by itself. But weekend breakfasts? Yes, I think those require a nice slather of butter and syrup. After all, it is the weekend and we mustn’t let moderation get the best of us.
Pumpkin Spice Pancakes
Adapted from Crepes of Wrath
Makes about 10 pancakes
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup pureed pumpkin
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 egg, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 250 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, spices, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
Combine the milk, pumpkin, oil and egg in a medium-large bowl. Sprinkle the the flour mixture over and whisk until just moistened and combined; make sure not to overmix.
Melt a pat of butter or spray non-stick spray on a large skillet over medium heat. Pour 1/4 cup of batter at a time, leaving space between each pancake. When the pancakes look dry around the edges and bubbles form on top, about 3 minutes, flip the pancakes and cook for another 2-3 minutes. You may have to adjust the heat of your skillet depending on if the pancakes are cooking too quickly. When done, remove pancakes from the skillet and place on a baking sheet (or oven-proof plate) to wait in the oven until you’re ready to serve them.
If you were to ask me if the relationship I’m in is long-distance, my immediate response would be in the negative. After a few moments, I might qualify that with a few mumblings of something along the lines of a well sort-of, kind-of, but still–not really. But thing is, I live in a different state than my boyfriend. The drive to see each other is something along the lines of three and a half hours. I’m pretty sure this fits the standard description of “long-distance” but somehow I still don’t see it that way.
I think this has something to do with the fact that my boyfriend spent the last school year in Switzerland. Actually, I’m positive it has everything to do with that. Because let me tell you learning to deal with a nine-hour time difference and trying to balance out the act of waking up at seven in the morning to chit-chat after going to sleep only five hours earlier is not something you ever become entirely used to, no matter how often you remind yourself that it’s worth it (always, always worth it). So when this routine changes to one where you can call any time of the day (!), where you don’t have to schedule out times to talk (!), and where the only thing between you and him is a mere few hours away by car (!), things don’t seem quite so “long-distance” anymore. (Do any of you have either of these distance relationships? I know you’re out there…)
Anyway, it was Waylon’s birthday this last Thursday. Instead of me shipping him a little present across that Atlantic Ocean, he drove down to spend the weekend with me. In return, as his present, I made him drive yet another three or so hours to a small town in southern Oregon whose main feature is that it runs Shakespeare productions all year long; I bought us tickets to see his favorite play, Julius Ceaser. That may seem boring to some people–sitting in a car that long just to go see a play, but I really think that car ride was one of my favorite parts of the weekend. There’s something comforting, being in a warm car buzzing along the freeway with the pitter-patter of the rain sloshing on the windshield, sitting next to a person who feels so much closer than last year but still never close enough, enough of the time. It’s nice being close.
For dessert each night of the weekend we each had a thick slice of a birthday cake I made for him. The recipe is Alice Medrich’s, from her cookbook A Year in Chocolate: Four Seasons of Unforgettable Desserts. This cake is fittingly labeled under the fall section, though there’s nothing stopping this cake from being made any season of the year. It combines her classic chocolate sour cream layer cake with a peanut butter filling and a thick, ganache-like chocolate frosting. I’m going to go ahead and claim this cake as a classic: the crumb is moist, tender, but firm, and the flavor is pure chocolate. It gets a little messy making it, but the cake component is the hardest part. The peanut butter filling is (surprise) a perfect, perfect flavor combination against the chocolate, and the two-ingredient frosting on the outside firms up really beautifully into a sleek, firm ganache. If nothing else, I know I’m going to use the chocolate sour cream cake recipe again, any time I’ll need a classic chocolate cake.
The cake is intended for a decorative touch of peanut brittle–like shiny glass shards against the rich chocolate cake. Alice sticks the shattered pieces straight out of the cake, although I like the idea of patterning them on the sides like a mosaic. Unfortunately, I didn’t have time to try out the peanut brittle myself, nor did I pick some up at the store. Instead, I ended up pinning salted, roasted peanut halves around the sides: a half-hearted effort but an effort nonetheless. Besides, I don’t think Waylon would notice the difference–the poor boy doesn’t have much of an interest in any cake in general. But seeing as it was his birthday, I irrationally and somewhat selfishly decided that he needed a cake anyway.
But really, there is only so much he can complain about because it’s all relative, don’t you think? Sure, he may not be over the moon for cake, but the fact of the matter is he spent his birthday eating a treat I made for him. And there is something to be said for that when only a year before the only sign of birthday-affection from his girlfriend came in the form of a package in the mail and a happy e-mail. Yes, I think that maybe we aren’t so long-distance after all.
Chocolate Peanut Butter Layer Cake
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s A Year in Chocolate: Four Seasons of Unforgettable Desserts
Serves 10 to 12
Amy’s Notes: I made my cake in 9-inch cake pans, but I think 8-inch ones (as called for) are preferable, seeing as they create a taller cake. I increased the amount of frosting because I ran out and had to make more–this might have been due to the larger surface area of my cake, but you might as well make extra and layer it on then run out anyway. The frosting is pretty strong and seriously chocolaty, if you’re hesitant to extreme chocolate flavor, you might want to sub-in your favorite chocolate frosting.
2 layers Chocolate Sour Cream Layer Cake, baked and cooled completely (recipe follows)
2/3 cup natural smooth peanut butter (Alice recommends Adam’s
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted after measuring
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, slightly softened
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
1 cup sour cream
4 to 6 ounces peanut brittle, or dry, salted, roasted peanuts for decoration
Beat the peanut butter, vanilla, powdered sugar, and butter until just blended and smooth. Turn one cake layer upside down on 8-inch round cardboard circle or on a serving platter. Spread the peanut butter mixture evenly over the cake. Top with the second later, right side up. Set aside.
For the frosting, place the chocolate in a small bowl and set in a pan of barely simmering water (as a double boiler). Stir frequently until melted and smooth. Off heat, scrape the sour cream on top of the chocolate and stir until combined and the sour cream isn’t streaky anymore. Use immediately (really!) to frost the top and sides of the cake. If the frosting becomes too stiff to use or loses its gloss, set the bowl in a pan of hot water again for a few seconds to soften. Decorate with peanuts or shards of peanut brittle–as I mentioned earlier, I think creating a mosaic on the sides of the cake with the broken pieces of peanut brittle would be very pretty.
Cake keep at room temprature in a covered container for two to three days.
Chocolate Sour Cream Layer Cake
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder
3/8 teaspoon baking powder (sounds weird, I know, but I just went with it)
3/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sour cream or plain yogurt, at room temperature
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly softened (I zapped it in the microwave for a bit)
1 3/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 8-inch round cake layer pans with a round of parchment paper and lightly grease or spray sides with vegetable oil spray.
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together, or whisk very well. Set aside. Combine the sour cream with 1/4 cup water. Set aside.
In a standing mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter for a few seconds until creamy. Add the sugar in a steady stream and continue to beat at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
Meanwhile break the eggs into a cup or small bowl, add the vanilla, and whisk to combine the whites and yolks. Beat the eggs into the butter mixture gradually, taking 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, beating constantly.
Stop the mixer and add one third of the flour mixture to the bowl. Beat on low speed only until no flour is visible. Scrape down sides of bowl. Next, add half the sour cream mixture, beating again on low speed only until just blended and stopping to scrape down bowl afterwards. Repeat with another third of the flour mixture, followed by the remaining sour cream, and then finished by the final third of the flour mixture–stopping the mixture each time you add the ingredients and beating on low speed only enough to incorporate the ingredients after each addition. It’ll help to scrape down the sides of the bowl throughout as well. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans and spread evenly. Note here that the batter will be thick, almost like that of brownies. But don’t fret! It will bake up to a beautiful cake.
Bake until the cake starts to shrink away from the sides of the pan (it will especially start doing this once taken out), and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack for 5 to 10 minutes before unmolding. Invert each layer on a plate and peel of parchment liners. Turn the cakes right side up on a wire rack to cool completely. At this point the cake can be wrapped well and kept at room temperature for 1 to 2 days before using, or put in the freezer for up to three months (I froze mine about 3 days before using and it worked out great).