Saturday, January 24

Creamy Buckwheat Pasta with Wild Mushrooms

There's always a million excuses to indulge in a little something extra decadent, but thankfully these excuses are especially bountiful during the coldest winter months. It's been averaging somewhere in the low single digits around here, and in my book that provides a great reason to whip out the marscapone and make a pasta that I might usually pass on in months closer to shorts and tanks season. This is a quicky recipe from Food and Wine last month, and after tearing out the recipe the day it arrived in the mail, it only took me 2 days before I was roasting my wild mushrooms and watching with anticipation as the marscapone slowly melted into the pan, coating everything with a silky instant sauce.

I had a tough time finding buckwheat pasta, and briefly considering making it from scratch, but such ambitious ideas are quickly squashed on a weeknight. I ended up going with a dried chestnut tagliatelle I found at my local health food store, but by all means don't let a pasta hurdle keep you from making this. It would be delicious with any long, flat noodle (better to get coated in all that delicious creaminess).

Cheers to decadence! Hope you're keeping warm out there!

Creamy Buckwheat Pasta with Wild Mushrooms
Food and Wine, January 09

1/2 pound wild mushrooms, such as oysters and chanterelles, sliced in half lengthwise
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
6 large eggs
1 pound buckwheat pappardelle
1 leek, white and light green parts only, halved and sliced 1/8 inch thick
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup heavy cream (J Note: I used 1%)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (J Note: I skipped this!)
1 1/2 cups baby spinach
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 400°. On a nonstick baking sheet, toss the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 15 minutes.

In a medium pot of boiling salted water, cook the eggs for 5 minutes. Drain and cool under cold running water. In another pot of boiling salted water, cook the pasta until al dente and drain well.

In a medium skillet, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Add the leek and cook over medium heat until translucent. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the mascarpone and cream or milk, then stir in the butter, if using. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.

Add the roasted mushrooms, cooked pasta and spinach to the skillet and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper and mound the pasta into shallow bowls. Peel and halve the eggs, adding one to each bowl. Sprinkle the pasta with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and serve immediately.

Saturday, January 17

Braised Polpettone

I've never been all that taken with meatballs. It's been one of those foods that always sounds great, but is generally uninteresting, and sometimes just plain unappealing (in a crockpot, with toothpicks to serve). I've had my eye out for a recipe worth trying though, and when I skimmed past Molly Steven's "Polpettone Braised in Tomato Sauce", from her book, Braising, I spotted some serious potential. These big boys have a lot going for them in the tender department right out of the gate, by using ground veal exclusively - then add to that some delicious local whole milk ricotta, fresh breadcrumbs, parmesan and parsley, and I'm starting to think meatballs might be an undiscovered culinary crush.

What truly makes this dish though, is the quick tomato sauce you throw together in the pot, simmer briefly, then into which you delicately place your little meaty orbs. After mingling and getting to know one another, the sauce and meatballs happily swap some of their flavors - the meatballs giving a little of their heft to the sauce. I served these up with braised greens and bread for dipping into that divine sauce, and it was carnivorous perfection. The recipe made plenty of generously sized meatballs, so we enjoyed them during the week on sandwiches, on their own, and I even added a can of rogue chickpeas to them at work and decided beans simmered in a meat sauce would be an inspired pairing.

If you're a meat eater (so few of my friends and family are these days...) then you're going to love these. My recommendation for not just these, but all meat dishes, is to seek out the highest quality, most responsibly raised products you can find. It's better for the animals, better for the planet, and most certainly better for you as well. I used humanely raised veal from a local farm, which is blessedly easy to find in Vermont. If you find it difficult to good sources, and are willing to do some digging, there are online sources, and thankfully local producers are popping up all over the country right now, so look around!

Polpettone Braised in Tomato Sauce
Giant Veal and Ricotta Meatballs Braised in Tomato Sauce

Makes 12 very large meatballs, serves 6

The Braising Sauce
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk with leaves, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
2 cups tomato juice (I used more of a tomato puree)
2 cups chicken stock

The Meatballs
1 cup fresh bread crumbs made from day-old rustic white bread
1/2 cup buttermilk (or whole milk)
3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 1/2 lbs ground veal

For the braising sauce: Heat the butter in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the onion, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and barely translucent but not at all browned, about 10 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper, keeping in mind that canned tomato juice can be salty. Add the bay leaf, tomato juice, and stock. Bring to a simmer, stirring once or twice, and simmer for 15-20 minutes to meld and concentrate the flavors. Taste for salt and pepper.

While the sauce is simmering, make the meatballs: Combine the bread crumbs and buttermilk in a small bowl. Stir the bread crumbs around with a small spoon or your hands to moisten them. Let sit 5-10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmigiano, parsley, egg, salt and pepper. Add the soaked bread crumbs and buttermilk and stir everything with a wooden spoon or your hands until well mixed. Break off hunks of the ground veal and drop them into the bowl. Then gently knead the meat to work in all the other ingredients. The goal is to blend everything evenly without overworking the meat - if you overmix it, the meatballs can become tough and heavy.

Shaping the meatballs: Using a 1/3 cup measure, scoop out a heaping portion of the veal mixture for each meatball and shape it into a round ball. Again, take care not to squeeze or overmanipulate the mixture. Arrange the balls on a large platter or tray without touching one another.

The braise: When the sauce is ready, reduce heat to medium-low and one by one, lower the meatballs into the skillet using a wooden spoon. Once all the meatballs are in the pan, spoon a little sauce over the top of each one and cover the pan. Adjust the burner so that the sauce stays at a low simmer and bubbles lazily rising to the surface. If it simmers too fast, the meatballs will toughen and the full exchange of flavor between sauce and meat won't occur.

After 20 minutes, carefully turn the meatballs with a a large spoon. They're fragile, so work slowly. Spoon sauce over the tops again, cover, and continue to simmer until the meatballs feel firm to the touch, indicating they are cooked all the way through, 35-45 minutes.

Serving: Let the meatballs sit in the sauce for about 5 minutes off the heat. To serve, place 2 meatballs on each plate and spoon some sauce over the top.

Tuesday, November 18

Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

If you're a custard kind of person (if you said "yes", no explanation needed... if the world custard does not excite any reaction in you, then don't feel left out, but I highly recommend reconsidering the virtues of this culinary delight), like me, then its close cousin panna cotta is probably near and dear to your heart (or stomach, more likely).

Panna cotta is an Italian "cooked custard", consisting primarily of milk, cream, sugar, and gelatin to give it a sexy little wobble. As the peice de resistance at my birthday dinner last sunday night, I prepared the "Heavenly Panna Cotta" from Gina DePalma's Dolce Italiano, which is easily one of my favorite recent cookbook purchases. The panna cotta was only slightly different than the classic in that it had a healthy dose of ricotta to give it just a bit more textural interest on the tongue, and of course contributing a richness and smoothness that ricotta is so darn good at providing.

The final panna cottas were not quite flecked with vanilla bean (they all fell to the bottom, sadly. I think if I'd chilled the custard slightly, then stirred and poured into the final glasses I might have averted this, but maybe by then they'd be too set?), but they tasted indeed like heaven. I used some of the leftover raspberry sauce from my morning crepes as a topping, and highly recommend it. I like to have a little something to contrast against all that creamy, and very rich goodness, so a tart little fruit topping is just the ticket.

Heavenly Panna Cotta

1 cup fresh sheep's milk ricotta or whole cow's milk ricotta
1 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1 packet powdered gelatin*

Toppings: Chestnut Honey or vincotto was suggested, or try a quick berry sauce like I did

Place the ricotta and 1/2 cup milk in a medium bowl and whisk vigorously until the ricotta is smooth and lump free. Place the heavy cream and sugar in a medium saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean with the flat side of a small knife and add them to the pan along with the bean. Place the mixture over medium heat and bring just to the boiling point, whisking occasionally.

In the meantime, whisk the gelatin into the remaining 1/2 cup milk and set aside. When the cream mixture has scalded, turn off the heat. Whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup milk and gelatin mixture. Gradually pour the liquid into the bowl with the ricotta, whisking constantly until the mixture is completely smooth. Remove the vanilla bean an strain the mixture through a chinois or fine-meshed sieve. Divide the panna cotta among 6 dessert glasses and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours.

Before serving, drizzle the surface of each panna cotta with 1 or 2 teaspoons of warm chestnut honey or a few drops of vincotto. Or use the topping of your choice!

Cook's Note: * The recipe calls for 4 sheets of gelatin, but I couldn't find any so I substituted the powdered Knox gelatin, which worked just fine. I followed her cue that 4 sheets of gelatin is equal to one of the powdered packets.

Sunday, November 16

Crepes with Orange-Flecked Yogurt and Raspberry Sauce

I told you'd I'd planned food-related activities for my entire weekend, and here I present another piece of evidence. The buns of gluttony were Saturday morning (and again Monday morning, just as devishly delicious), and Sunday morning I took another recipe from Food and Wine as inspiration, and whipped up some yogurt-filled crepes. My first crepes ever, made with a crepe pan I got 3 years ago! My husband quipped "It's about damn time", and I agree!

Since I'm new to homemade crepes I can't speak to the perfection of the crepe recipe itself, but I'd imagine they are all fairly similar, and this one was tender and tasty, and made a nice little package for some thick Greek yogurt. The yogurt I mixed with grated orange zest, honey, and vanilla, which sounds rather ambrosial, doesn't it? to top it off, I used frozen raspberries we picked this summer and mixed them with some local raspberry jam and a squeeze of lemon, and cooked it just long enough for the flavors to get happy and jammy together.

These were so simple, and seriously good. I can't wait to make them again, and come up with some interesting new toppings and flavors for the yogurt... like lemon poppy seed, pomegranate and walnut, or even some seriously decadent options like creme fraiche and spiked berries. What flavors will you experiment with?

Crepes with Sweet Yogurt and Raspberry Sauce
Makes 8 crepes (4 servings)
Adapted from Food and Wine, December 2008

3 large eggs
1 1/4 cups milk
pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup raspberry jam
1 1/2 cup raspberries (frozen)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 cups plain Greek Yogurt
3-4 tablespoons honey
zest of one orange
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs with 1/4 cup of the milk and the salt until blended. Whisk in the flour until the batter is smooht, then whisk in the remaining 1 cup of milk and 1 tablespoon of the melted butter. Let the crepe batter stand at room temperature for about 20 minutes.

In a small sacuepan, combine the raspberry jam and the frozen raspberries along with the lemon juice and cook over moderate heat until jammy, about 10 minutes. Cover and keep warm.

In a bowl, mix the yogurt with the honey and orange zest.

Heat a 10-inch crepe pan or nonstick skillet over moderate heat. Brush the pan with some of the melted butter. Brush the pan with some of the melted butter. Pour in a scant 1/3 cup of the crepe batter and immediately rotate the pan to evenly coat the bottom. Cook the crepe until lightly browned on the bottom, about 45 seconds. Flip the crepe and cook until brown dots appear on the other side, about 15 seconds longer. Continue making crepes with the remaining batter, brushing the pan with the remaining butter as needed.

Spoon 1/2 cup or so of the yogurt into each crepe and roll them up or fold. Transfer to plates and spoon the raspberry sauce over top.

Note: The crepes can be made ahead, stacked, and rewarmed in a microwave oven for about 20 seconds.

Saturday, November 15

Pecan Rolls, Gluttony

It's my birthday weekend, and not surprisingly, everything I've planned revolves around food. It's supposed to be rainy and dreary, which means baking. And last week I was gone for a long and tiring week volunteering in New Orleans, so this weekend I'm all about relaxation, sweatpants and movies. I also had the flu at the beginning of the week, so I've earned the right to a little bit of pampering, and apparently gluttony as well. I'm usually so sensible, but apparently this trait does not apply to yours truly when presented with a big steamy plate of warm, soft cinnamon pecan buns.

A few things. These are made with cottage cheese in the dough, which makes them super soft and tender, and in my mind makes them a more respectable and wholesome version of a morning bun. There's protein to balance the sugar, so that makes it borderline healthy , right? These are made almost entirely in the food processor, then rolled out and sliced, which is the fun part of making this kind of treat, so it's hardly work at all. The dough is super soft and pliable, and couldn't be easier to work with. It's also spiked with vanilla and orange zest, so it tastes heavenly. And there's no yeast or rising involved at all, so they're friendly even to those of you who don't fancy yourselves bakers.

In the spirit of gluttony and with the knowledge that there's a long winter ahead (or just because they tasted so darn good) Dustin and I at half the pan of these. Really, it sounds worse than it was.

Cinnamon Pecan Buns
Food and Wine, December 2008
Makes about 12 Buns

4 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup pecans
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated orange zest (its says optional, but I wouldn't skip it)
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon fine salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the bottom and sides of a 10-inch springform pan with half of the melted butter.

In a food processor, combine the pecans with the brown sugar, cinnamon and koser salt; pulse until the nuts are almost finely ground. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and sprinkle a scant 3/4 cup over the bottom of the prepared pan. Wipe out the food processor.

Add the cottage cheese, buttermilk, egg yolk, granulated sugar, vanilla and orange zest to the processor and puree until smooth. In a medium bowl, combine the 2 1/4 cups flour with the baking powder, baking soda and fine salt; whisk to mix. Add the flour mixture to the processor and pulse just until the dough comes together; it will be quite soft and sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gather it into a smooth ball. Roll out the dough to an 11 x 16 inch rectangle, flouring the work surface as necessary. Brush the dough with the remaining melted butter, leaving a 1/2 inch border all around. Sprinkle on the remaining pecan-sugar mixture.

Working from a long side, roll the dough into a tight cynlinder and cut it into 1-inch slices. Arrange the slices cut side up in the prepared pan. Bake the buns in the middle of the oven for about 25 minutes, until lightly browned on top and slightly firm to the touch. Transfer the pan to a rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove the springform ring. Invert the buns onto a plate and carefully remove the bottom of the pan, scraping any of the pecan mixture that has sticked to the pan onto the top of the buns.

Serve warm.

Note: The buns can be prepared up to two days ahead of time and rewarmed in a 350 degree oven.

Sunday, October 26

Back in the Kitchen!

Not that I ever really left... but somehow I got sidetracked with things like getting certified to teach pilates, going to a year-long school in New York for holistic health, and moving to Vermont. Are these good excuses for leaving my blogging days behind? I'm not sure, but I hope you'll forgive me (anyone who might be out there... hello?). But I'm settled in Vermont, working for a great company, enjoying my new life here, and feeling pretty great about it all! I'm need to relax a bit though, and take time to do some of the things I love to do... which mostly revolve around life in the kitchen.

This time around I plan on more of the same - sharing delicious recipes. I'll also be talking a lot about the local scene here in Vermont, which is years ahead of all but a few other progressive food cities in the country. I have entered into a near-food-heaven, with local cheese, meats, breads and a dedication to supporting small farms and business the likes of which I've never seen. With such passion all around, it's hard not to get the bug and I'm sure I'll be showing off some of our great Vermont products from time to time, since they are often the center of my inspiration.

I hope you'll check in occasionally and see what's hot! Oh yeah, and check out the view below, from the beach right down the road from us. We love it here!

Monday, January 22

Sometimes you feel like a Nut

Months ago I was flipping through a new cookbook, The Cake Book, by Tish Boyle, and cried out, "Whoa, doesn't this look delicious?", which I often do, hoping that Dustin will agree with me and beg me to make whatever delectable treat I'm drooling over. Usually, he nods in agreement, and then I go on lusting to myself, wondering when the perfect moment will come in the future when I can pull the recipe out again. The recipe in question that warm October day was a chocolate cake....a chocolate and coconut cake - a chocolate and coconut cake with almond! It's not often I get to indulge in this combination, and I put a yellow sticky with an exclamation point on the page, and retired the book to the shelf, until my little chocolate coconut cake would spring back into my mind, demanding to be whipped up for some special occastion.

My special occasion is almost here - my father in law's birthday - and I jumped the gun and made the cake last weekend, since we'd be cooking dinner at their house saturday night. On the menu was red grouper, baked in a salt casing, served with a potato and artichoke gratin, which I whipped up, after an inspiring episode with Jamie Oliver's eggplant parmesan the week before (more on that later! it was so good, and I wanted to try the method with other veg... it works like a charm).

Back to business though. This cake started talking to me when I saw the thick unapologetic layer of coconut peaking out beneath a silky ganache top, resting on top of a rich and heady layer of almond-paste infused chocolate cake. And with just two little tablespoons of flour, I knew this bad boy was going to be dense and so moist. The batter for the cake was a snap to make, although my pan was about an inch too small, and so it took much longer to bake, and I impatiently pulled it out too early, so it sank quite a bit in the middle, but I had no fear. Because of the large crater in the center of the cake, the coconut layer was especially thick in the middle, but I'm pretty sure no one minded.

This is the best cake I've made in years. Seriously. Everyone was moaning over their dessert plates, having declared themselves "too full for dessert", then reaching for crumbs and slicing off tiny slivers as the night wore on. If you're thinking this cake looks rich, you're right, but it's not too sweet, and if you love almond, you're going to love the almondy chocolate cake layer - I'm already picturing some intense cupcakes, topped with a coconut frosting, or cream cheese center.... Yum! Tish Boyle's book has received much praise (especially here), and from what I can tell, all the praise is much deserved.

Chocolate Almond-Coconut Cake
From The Cake Book, by Tish Boyle

For Cake:
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons Dutch-process cocoa powder
12 ounces canned almond paste
1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg yolk
For Coconut Layer:
2 ⅔ cups unsweetened coconut
½ cup light corn syrup
For Chocolate Glaze:
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
⅓ cup heavy (whipping) cream
1 teaspoon vanilla

For the Cake Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 inch springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper and grease the paper.

Sift together the flour and cocoa powder into a medium bowl. Whisk to combine, and set aside.

Break the almond paste into 1-inch chunks and place it in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the sugar and 1 of the eggs and, using the paddle attachment, beat the mixture on low speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add the softened butter and beat on medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the remaining 3 eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Beat in the egg yolk. At low speed, add the cocoa mixture, mixing just until blended.

Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and stir a few times with a rubber spatula to ensure that the batter is evenly blended. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth it into an even layer.

Bake the cake for 40 to 50 minutes, until the top is firm and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with a few moist crumbs sticking to it. Cook the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes.

Remove the sides of the springform pan. Place a 9-inch cardboard cake round on top of the cake and invert. Remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment paper. Cool the cake completely on the wire rack.

Make the Coconut Layer Place the coconut in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add the corn syrup and pulse until the coconut is evenly moistened.

Make the Chocolate Glaze Place the chocolate in the bowl of a food processor and process just until finely ground. Leave the chocolate in the processor. In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a boil. Remove from the heat and add the chocolate to the pan. Stir until the chocolate until completely melted and the glaze is smooth. Stir in vanilla. Transfer the glaze to a small bowl and cover the surface of the glaze with a piece of plastic wrap. Let cool for about 10 minutes before using.

Assemble and Glaze the cake
Spread the coconut mixture over the cake in an even layer. Set the cake on the wire rack, over a sheet of wax paper. Pour the warm glaze over top of the cake and use a small offset metal spatula to smooth it evenly over the top and sides. Refrigerate the cake until the glaze is set, about 20 minutes.

Serves 6-10, depending on who's eating....

Vermont Farm Table