Run by the amazing and talented Rachel Crampsey, MBC is one of the best places in town. They've built a fantastic reputation as THE place for doughnuts. But their bread, holy shit is their bread out of this world!Read More
premixed cocktails kept in the freezer.
It's a goddamn REVELATION.
As in, make an enormous batch of manhattans in a mason jar and KEEP IT IN THE FREEZER ALL THE TIME. When you want a drink? Pour into a glass and top with a cherry. DONE AND DONE.
Now, manhattans are my jam for the colder months. But summer months? Negronis.Read More
Are super problematically good.
Was it not just two days ago that it was like 80 degrees? And now it's freezing on the east coast. And drizzly. And just has that fall chill settling into your bones. I love fall (cause hi, knitting, but no snow to shovel) and so I'm not complaining. Or rather, I wouldn't be complaining if I could find my damn slippers so my feet weren't cold. But still.
So on this cold and rainy day, I present soup. Specifically, leek and potato soup.
No pictures because I haven't made it yet, but I will this evening. And if I do say so myself, my leek and potato soup is freaking badass. And easy! Save for the peeling of the potatoes, which isn't hard, just annoying as hell.
Methods are key here, amounts less so. I mean, it's soup. Just wing it a bit, how bad will it turn out? I like my leek and potato soup pureed, because yum. But if you want it chunky, skip the pureeing part at the end and just smash it up some more.
- Start off with some leeks, or one leek plus a few onions and/or shallots. Leeks make for a milder soup and are more traditional, but an onion isn't going to hurt anything. If you don't have enough leeks, fill in with onions, they're cheaper.
- Then potatoes. Russets are stellar here, but white or red potatoes work fine, as do yukon golds. In my experience you just need to cook the white/red/yukon golds a bit more as they don't break down quite as easily as the russets. Maybe one or two pounds of potatoes for 4-6 quart soup? I like a potatoey soup though.
- Liquids. Stock (chicken or veg) is great if you have it, which most folks don't. Water plus a few boullion cubes is my go-to. I use a mix of chicken and veg, depending on what I have on hand. A bit of white wine or dry vermouth comes in handy. Your traditional vichyssoise is generally made with water, so it's not a problem if that's all you have.
- Garnish. I like dairy, cream, half and half, milk, full fat yogurt, sour cream--they all work on the individual serving level. I rarely add any to the big pot. Got something green? Chives or basil or something like that? Fine chop a bit.
- Fat. Butter, duh. Also olive oil, or a mix of the two. But come on, BUTTER. Also, if you're not vegetarian, bacon! Chop some up relatively fine, but not fussily so.
- Salt and pepper. I mean, what are you, a heathen?
So how do you make it?
Cut your aromatics. If you're using onions or shallots, peel and slice them relatively thinly. Start with the leeks: Take a thin slice off the root end of your leeks, and trim some of the tough green parts away from the opposite end. Then, take your knife and slice lengthwise down the leek shaft, to make two half-cylinders. Give both sliced lengths a good rinse in running water to get most of the grit out. Then slice relatively thinly into half moons. Dump those half moons into a bowl and cover with water. Swish around for a bit to let the remaining grit sink to the bottom. The half moons will float.
Grab a pot that holds about as much soup as you want to make. (I warned you it was a loose thing.) For me, I'll probably do a 4 qt pot with a few pounds of potatoes, 2 smallish leeks and an onion or two. Any more than that and I'd bust out the dutch oven instead.
If you're using bacon, chop it fine-ish, and cook on med high heat until the fat renders out. Otherwise, melt in a chunk of butter and a swirl of olive oil--about 2 tbsp butter at least? Once the foam has subsided, throw in the sliced onion and/or shallot if using. Using your hands, lift the leek half moons out of the water, and throw them in as well. Don't drain with a colander unless you want to dump your grit back over your veg or pick little itty bitty slices of leek out of the holes. Give the leeks/onions/shallots a big ass pinch of kosher salt--nearly 1/2 a teaspoon please--and a hearty stir. Lower the heat to med-low and let cook until translucent, stiffing occasionally, and maybe slightly starting to turn color.
Traditionally you're not supposed to let your aromatics color for this kind of soup. But for me? Color equals flavor so I let 'em brown a bit, depending on how impatient I am and how closely I've been paying attention to the pot.
While they're cooking, peel and cube your potatoes. You don't need to be neat about the cubes, but smaller pieces cook faster. So keep that in mind.
Are your aromatics aromatic and soft? Good. Crank the heat a bit, and throw in a glug of white wine or dry vermouth, and give a stir. Let it bubble and reduce a bit. Think you want some more of it? Throw in some more. Just let it bubble and reduce and you'll be fine.
Next, put in your cubed potatoes. Then add your stock or water to hit just about the level of soup you want to make. Pro tip: don't do what I do nearly every time and add the water then the potatoes, and nearly have overflowing soup. Throw in your bouillon cubes--I use maybe 6 for a 4 quart pot? And add a bit more salt. Even with bouillon cubes, you've got potatoes in there. They NEED salt.
Bring to a low boil, then reduce heat so it is simmering (more for overflow purposes than for burning things). Cook until the potatoes are falling apart tender, anywhere from 15 to 30 min. I mean, it's soup, you're not going to overcook the damn things.
Remove from the heat and puree. I use a stick blender (affiliate link) because holy crap is that thing awesome and easy to use. Whizz the soup up, and done. You can also pour a bit of the soup into a regular blender whizz that, then do some more, etc etc. Or just spend the $35 at Bed Bath and Beyond and get a stick blender and never look back.
Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper as needed. Serve.
I like mine topped with a plop of sour cream or yogurt and then some chives. Or some basil oil (whizz olive oil with basil leaves with your stick blender). Or a glug of half and half and a ton of pepper. Or some crispy fried shallot rings (or French's deep fried onion rings from the can, don't be proud, those things kick ass). Oh, and buttered toast. Yum.
The soup keeps well in the fridge, and will pretty much gel into a potato-y sludge when cool, because hi potato starch. It loosens as it heats up though. It tends to separate when frozen, which means when you defrost it you need to stir the shit out of it. And don't freeze if you've added dairy to the whole batch. It get nasty.
Man, I really have to get better at this blogging more than once a week thing. I blame fall, with it's cooler weather not making the world feel like march through the desert and therefore making me want to, you know, do stuff.
But then also fall brings pretty good blog fodder, like the best ever apple cake you will ever have (that is also a GREAT way to use up the ton of apples you seem to have acquired through various methods, hopefully legal, but whatever, I don't know your life).
Every year, we are inundated with apples in the CSA, apples and pears, actually. This is not really a problem for me, as I love apples and apple pie and apple crisp and all things apple. However, we have already discussed the fact that my darling husband is not a fan of cooked fruit (because he's wrong, that's why), and so rather than bake an apple pie and then be the only one to eat it, I set out to find out what cooked fruit he WILL eat.
Results? Applesauce (boring), and this apple cake.
The cake is essentially a traditional Jewish apple cake, and, this one is a variation of the Smitten Kitchen recipe (SHOCKER). I do a few things differently. First, I load that thing up with as much fruit as it will hold. None of this 2 or 3 apples bullshit--we are talking 4 pears and 5 apples. I like my fruit desserts to have FRUIT. Second, I've tweaked sugar levels and a bit of methodology to adjust to the massive amounts of fruit I pack in this sucker.
I made this nearly every week last year, and am already on track to do the same this fall. One forewarning--the recipe makes a massive cake. It calls for a tube pan, which is huge, for a reason. I've done it in a bundt pan (and had near overflow twice), and I've split it into two loaf pans as well, but it's not quite the same. If you can, go for the tube pan.
Also, I have yet to meet anyone who does not like this cake (or my friends are all very kind people and don't want to tell me to my face that it's awful, which is also just fine by me. I enjoy living my delusions), and routinely give enormous slices away to folks. I have it on good authority that if you are say, having renovations done on your house, it makes a fine bribe/encouragement/thank you to the folks doing the hard work. And having lived through renos, you really really want those dudes on your side.
First step, peel your apples and pears. I can't be the only one who changed her apple-peeling method after seeing Sleepless in Seattle and hearing about how Tom Hanks' wife used to peel the apples in one long curly unbroken string of peel, can I? That up there, under the pile of pear peels? Are six long, curly, unbroken strings of apple peel. 20 years of practicing right there.
Smitten Kitchen chunks her fruit up, but I'm not a fan of chunks. I like myself a hearty slice of apple, not too thin, not too thick. If my apple peeler whizmo worked better on butcher block countertops, this would be the perfect application for that thing--peel, core and slice all in one then just cut the spirally apple into quarters and voila. Instead, I slice these babies by hand, but I've gotten pretty fast at it by now.
Then you toss the fruit with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and 5 tablespoons of sugar. When using pears, I usually grate in a bit of nutmeg, because nutmeg. And of course, I use the vanilla sugar here, because der. Toss that stuff all together and set aside for later so it gets all nice and juicy.
I prefer my cakes to be of the one-bowl variety, because I am lazy. But barring that, I try to minimize the dishes I can when I can. And so the flour is weighed, then the baking powder and salt are on top of that. And I use the 4-cup measuring cup as a bowl, and measure first the oil, then the oj, then add in the sugar (which almost always goes with the wet ingredients), and last the 4 eggs and vanilla. Beat the crap out of that with a fork and then dump into the drys and stir.
I've cut down the sugar a bit here from 2 cups in the original recipe to 1 1/2, mostly because I use a shit ton of fruit in this cake. If the apples or pears are a bit tart, you can go up a bit. I've also swapped out half the sugar for brown sugar or maple sugar for a bit of variety.
One last thing about the OJ--it's a great flavor and traditional in this kind of cake, but still somewhat unexpected for something so apple-y. But if you don't have oj, try cider, apple juice, lemon juice, or anything else relatively flavorful. Booze might be a bit much, but why not try it?
See? One bowl, one measuring cup (and we'll just pretend the apples and pears aren't in another bowl).
Spray or butter the tube pan, otherwise it'll be a bitch to get out. Ask me how I know!
In the original method, you pour in about half the batter, layer on half the fruit, then top with the rest of the batter, and then the rest of the fruit. But I like my fruit scattered throughout, so there are a few ways to do that.
The first way, and the one I wind up doing the most, is to add more layers. Spread a little batter, scatter some fruit (including the sugary juices!). Do it again, spreading the batter a bit with a spatula before adding the fruit. Keep doing it, adding layers until you run out, but be sure to finish up with the last of the fruit.
Alternately, pour a bit of batter in the bottom, then dump most of the fruit into the remaining batter, reserving a few handfuls, and give a stir. Pour that mixture into the pan, and top with the remaining fruit. I don't love how the sugary cinnamony juices incorporate into the batter, leaving it somewhat homogeneous and not streaking the final cake with delicious streaks of sugar and cinnamon, so I don't usually go this route.
This pan right here? Weighs about a ton.
And then the sucker bakes in a 350 degree oven for--no joke--an hour and a half. And frankly, longer. The more fruit you add, the longer it will take to fully set, so don't be shy with a cake tester (or toothpick, or skewer, or sharp knife) and poke that cake to see when the tester comes out dry. Because of the amount of fruit you've packed in there, it's very hard to overbake this cake and have it come out dry.
The cake keeps exceptionally well for several days, also because of the amount of fruit you've packed in there. It only gets better and more moist. Which is good because it is MASSIVE.
Here's the recipe!
Jewish Apple (and Pear) Cake
- 6 to 8 (to 10) apples and/or pears, peeled and sliced
- 1 1/2 cups sugar, plus 5 tbsp, divided
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 cup oil (sunflower, canola, melted coconut oil, melted butter etc)
- 1/4 cup oj
- 2 tsp vanilla
- 4 large eggs
- 2 3/4 cups flour (345 grams)
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 tsp table salt (or 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt, give or take)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and spray a large tube pan (or bundt pan, or two loaf pans) with non-stick spray. Set aside.
Toss the peeled and sliced apples and pears with 5 tbsp of sugar and 1 tbsp of cinnamon. Set aside.
Mix the oil, oj, vanilla, remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar, and eggs until well combined.
Stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Dump in the wet ingredients and mix until well combined.
Assemble the cake: spread a bit of batter into the bottom of the pan, add a layer of apples and their juices. Spread a bit more batter on top, layer on more apples. Repeat until all batter and apples have been used up, ending with a layer of apples. Alternately, pour a bit of batter into the bottom of the pan, stir most of the apples into the remaining batter, reserving some for topping, and spread into pan. Top with remaining apples.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 and 1/2 hours to 1 hr 45 min, or until a cake tester inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Let cool, then remove from pan. Keeps very well in an airtight container, and is better second and third days.
We're nearing the end of the CSA tomato season, which is a bummer. I mean, hi, New Jersey tomatoes are the best tomatoes, no if ands or buts. But it can still be a struggle to keep up, and at the end of the season, not get beat down by the abundance.
Last week, the day before CSA pick up, I decided to make Smitten Kitchen's stuffed tomatoes with rice, because I realized that I still had a few tomatoes left from the week prior, and I also had arborio rice on hand. As I was making the filling, which is essentially rice cooked in the tomato innards whizzed up with a stick blender, I realized I'd made too much rice to stuff in all the tomatoes (that's what happens when you eyeball amounts when cutting down a recipe). As the stuffed tomatoes finished in the oven, I finished the leftover rice stuffing on the stove, and dumped a bunch of cheese in it.
The stuffed tomatoes were excellent, as nearly all Smitten Kitchen recipes are, but I realized that I far preferred the leftover rice that was finished on the stove to the stuffed tomatoes. I always like the idea of stuffed veg--tomatoes, peppers, squash--but I never actually am all that pleased with the end result. There's something about the veg holder-of-stuffing that bugs me, and I am always happier just picking the sausage stuffing out of the mushrooms in the end.
But that's when I realized that for this recipe, the stuffing alone was already a dish in itself--risotto. Why bother with sticking the good stuff into the tomato when I could just eat the good stuff as is, but you know with cheese and butter thrown in?
So this week, when the tomato bounty came due, I made tomato risotto, and immediately wondered why the hell I hadn't done this before.
Because I wasn't going to stuff anything, I didn't bother keeping the tomatoes intact, but instead buzzed them all with a stick blender in a glass jar. (BTW, love these tall wide mouth glass ball jars for everything from impromptu blending to snack storage to water glass. ) I did peel the tomatoes though, but since they were ripe-to-overripe the peels just pulled right off and I didn't bother with ye old "score the bottom with a knife and drop into boiling water for a second" tomato peeling trick. Also, I didn't care if they looked pretty or not because hi, blending.
I added a shit-ton of salt and pepper to the buzzed tomatoes. I got a head start on the recipe and did this around lunchtime, and so I popped a lid on the jar and stuck it in the fridge to wait for dinnertime. Since it was going to be a while, I threw in a smashed garlic clove, because hey, garlic. All told, I had about 2 cups of seasoned tomato goop.
Finally, dinnertime rolled around and for the life of me I could not remember "proper" risotto proportions, so I did what anyone would do: googled it. (It's 1 cup rice, to about 4 cups liquid, by the by. )
I still winged it though, because hi, I'm lazy and while precision is necessary for baked goods, just say fuck it when it comes to the savory side of things. It'll be fine, just err on the side of slightly less cause you can always add more liquid if need be.
I've made risotto before, the truly traditional way, where the liquid is stock that's simmering on the stove beside the risotto pan--which is always tall--and you stir stir stir stir after each addition until it's absorbed and yadda yadda yadda. I get it. It works that way, but it also doesn't need to be so damn involved.
America's Test Kitchen has tested it, and so has Kenji Lopez-Alt, of the damn fine The Food Lab at Serious Eats (he also has a cookbook, just out, The Food Lab--affiliate link--which I just got for JBB for his birthday and it is AWESOME). If you're into it, check out Kenji's post on risotto methodology which is a quick and interesting read.
So along their lines, but nowhere near as methodical, I did my own lazy girl's risotto method. First, I used my beloved saucier. The best pot in the kitchen, for sure--wide sloping sides that curve into a flat bottom, perfect for things to be stirred.
I melted a chunk of butter and a solid glug of olive oil in the saucier, while I chopped a small onion. I sauteed the onion with a big pinch of salt, then a few smashed cloves of garlic, and then dumped in a cup of arborio rice and gave it a good stir to coat with the oil and aromatics, and turned the heat to low to let it toast a bit.
While the rice was toasting, I threw the glass jar of tomato goop into the microwave for a few seconds to take the chill off it. Don't judge, it's FINE. Room temp liquid worked just as well, and one less pot to wash.
Once the rice had the pale edge taken off it, and it smelled a bit toasty but didn't have much if any color, I poured in about a cup or so of wine--whatever was open in the fridge, in my case some rose. Give a stir, let that simmer a bit on very low until the rice absorbed most of the liquid. Then I added about 3/4 of the tomato goop, gave a stir, let it simmer. I topped off my jar of goop with some water, and threw in two decent bouillon cubes since I didn't have any stock on hand. If you want a truly vegetarian main, use veg bouillon. I used chicken, cause that's what I had.
Once the rice has sucked up the liquid in the pot, but isn't totally dry, give a good scrape on the bottom, and dump in some more liquid and stir again. I did the rest at this point, cause why not. I came back and stirred every once in a while, just to keep the rice from sticking on the bottom, but also to test the texture of the risotto. I like a fairly stiff risotto, not too soupy, but I don't play with any kind of crunchiness of the rice at all.
When all was said and done, the risotto was done at about 20-25 minutes on the stove. The real key to good risotto isn't the cooking method, per se, but all in how you finish it. Me? I took it off heat, threw in a good sized lump of cold butter and grated a shit ton of parmesan on top with a microplane. Top that with a ton of black pepper, and a good stir, and you have successfully "mounted" your risotto, and it's ready to serve.
I ate my bowl of it too fast to bother with the toasted breadcrumbs I'd thought about but not actually made. Ah well, next time.
All this, plus a thumbs up from the peanut gallery, even the non-tomato fan. (I am not stupid. I did not tell him it had any tomatoes in it.)
inspired by Smitten Kitchen's rice stuffed tomatoes
4-6 medium tomatoes, peeled
- 1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
- 4 cloves garlic, divided. 1 smashed, 3 chopped (or garlic pressed, I won't tell)
- 4 tbsp butter, divided (2 tbsp for finishing)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped (or a big shallot if you have one)
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 1 cup wine
- 1-2 cups water or stock (or water plus bouillon cube)
- 1-2 oz grated parmesan (for finishing)
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, plus 1 tbsp butter (optional)
Blend the tomatoes into a puree with a stick blender or a regular blender. Add 1 tsp salt, and one smashed garlic clove. Set aside.
In a saucier, wide saucepan, or deep skillet, melt 2 tbsp butter with 2 tbsp olive oil on medium heat. Saute the chopped onion or shallot until translucent; add the garlic and saute just until fragrant. Add rice, and stir to coat. Cook gently on low heat, stirring occasionally until rice is fragrant and just toasted.
Add in wine, stir, and cook on a bare simmer until wine is mostly absorbed. Add in tomato liquid, stir, and cook until mostly absorbed. Add in half the water or stock, stir and cook until mostly absorbed. Test rice for doneness by tasting it. If it's not done, add the rest of the water or stock, stir and cook until mostly absorbed. Check texture of risotto, if too loose for your taste, cook a bit longer. If too stiff, add a bit more liquid.
When risotto is your desired texture, remove the pan from the heat, and stir in the remaining 2 tbsp of butter and the grated parm. Taste for seasoning and salt and pepper to taste.
If desired, melt a tbsp of butter in a skillet, and toast the breadcrumbs, stirring often, until golden brown. Top risotto with breadcrumbs.
bread + avocado + tomato + salt + pepper
Actually, I should be more accurate: this looks fancy pants but isn't really. And it's no secret that the way to get "fancy" food things that are really dead easy is to just go to Trader Joes. I mean, that's what their frozen aisle is for, right?
In this case, I'm falling back on a favorite trick of mine for summer cooking: their frozen puff pastry (all butter, yo!). It's the quickest, easiest way to make a fancy veg tart, or fruit tart, or food-item-on-top-of-flaky-butter-pastry-for-me-to-eat. Just defrost, unroll, top with something, and bake.
Because we were on the dredges of the zucchini and yellow squash from the last few weeks of CSA boxes, and I only had one sad little overripe tomato left, I decided against making my summer standby with puff pastry, a tomato tart. Instead I went fancier! and busted out the mandoline to slice the zucchini and squash into thin little rounds.
A note on mandolines: I freaking love them. Mine is awesome, though a pain in the ass to store (affiliate link to a very similar one as mine from the same brand. Mine is a decade old, and this new one looks easier to store, actually). But I prefer it to the smaller hand-held ones, because I am less likely to slice off my hand since it has not just a stand, but also a slider guard thing and a holder guard thing. Plus it makes satisfying little piles of veg.
I cut the tomato by hand because it was seriously overripe and so so soft. I used the handy dandy serrated paring knife--which for real is the best $10 I've spent in ages (affiliate link. Mine's yellow). Serrated knives are great for slicing things that are firmer on the outside than they are on the inside--like, say, tomatoes and bread. And this knife is a major workhorse in my kitchen because hi, tomatoes and bread.
I defrosted the frozen puff pastry by leaving it out on the counter for a few hours, though if you plan ahead better than I do, you can also just leave it in the fridge overnight. I really like the Trader Joes brand because not only is it all butter and therefore tastes way better, but the rolls of pastry are individually wrapped. This way, you can open the box (which generally contains two rolls), and not have your unused roll dry out on you when you forget about it in the freezer for two weeks. Ahem. Not that that's happened ever.
Cause I like crust, I cut the pastry into a few smaller pieces to make smaller tarts (using scissors, but a sharp knife works well too), and popped them onto a baking sheet. I've also just unrolled the whole thing onto a baking sheet and used that for a larger tart (works well with tomatoes). Using the back of a paring knife, I gently scored a line about 3/4 inch inside the edge--this not only gives you a visual guide of where to put the toppings, but also helps the edges of the tart puff up a bit more evenly.
For an all tomato tart, I generally just lay on the tomatoes, with no base layer. But I wasn't sure how well the zucchini and squash would do with that, so I added a thin layer of cheese. We were all out of goat cheese, so I grabbed some cream cheese (maybe a tablespoon or two?), doctored it up with salt, pepper, a glug of olive oil and grated a clove of garlic into the mix. Had I thought about it for more than a second, I probably could have added some chives and parmesan, too. Alas, next time.
I spread a thin layer of the cream cheese mix onto the dough with the back of a spoon, and then layered the slices all pretty-like. I started in the lower left, and going clockwise, you can see how the pretty-like devolved as I went along. The cheese helps keep the slices in place. Give each tart a giant sprinkle of kosher salt, a ton of ground black pepper, and a little drizzle of olive oil, and you're nearly ready to go.
Half the time I do anything with puff pastry, I forget to do the egg wash, which makes the pastry all shiny and pretty. Sometimes if I remember, I do a halfhearted wash with some milk or half and half, which isn't a bad second option. But this time, THIS TIME, I remembered! I beat the shit out of an egg with a splash of water, and used a wee little silicone pastry brush (from sur la table, love this thing), to brush it on the pastry before baking.
The tarts cooked at 400 degrees for about 30-35 minutes, until dark golden brown. Don't skimp on the cooking time. Light brown is bullshit. Go for the dark golden brown like a boss.
Eat warm, or room temp. Both are good. But do it quick: the only caveat for these savory zucchini/tomato/squash tarts is that they don't keep well. They're a eat right now and don't wait until tomorrow kind of thing. The pastry gets soggy and chewy after a stay in the fridge. But that's ok, because honestly, if you can not eat all of them in one sitting, you are a far better person than me. (And also crazy, just saying.)