Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tiny Chocolate Tortes for Easter or Passover Dessert--Tortino di Cioccolato

Folding in the egg whites could be a new skill.

There's just something about individual desserts that make people hop around.   Think how big cupcakes have been.  How big donuts are now.  Creme brulee, ice cream sundaes, cookies.  Whatever's for one seems to be "in."  Or fun.  If you have an invite for Easter or Passover ( try -ahead- using ground almonds instead of bread crumbs to avoid leavened bread) and just have to bring dessert-lucky you-, you might want to try this little ditty I made from MY BREAD by Jim Lahey.  This is the book with the wonderful No-Knead bread recipe made famous by Mark Bittman in the NYT.  In fact, we visited that recipe right here in the blog not long ago.
Remember this?

I adore any light end to a big meal that is chocolatey without being chocolatey.  Tortino di Cioccolato (practice saying this so you sound great) is, without doubt,  bowl-scraping scrumptious and I gilded the lily by added a bit of Haagen Daz (5 ingredient) Vanilla Ice cream (not too much) and a squiggle of hot fudge (not too much again.)  You could, instead, add a tiny dump of whipped cream or creme fraiche.
Even a dab of sour cream and a few tiny berries.  Just don't lose the simplicity of taste in this dessert. 

Or Chocolate Torte  (Recipe by Jim Lahey with Alyce's twists.)
I literally took a page out of Mr. Lahey's book.

  • 1 stick or 8 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold is ok)
  • 4 oz semi-sweet chocolate, chopped coarsely (I used a 4oz bar of Ghirarddelli**)
  • 1 cup plus 1 T (this is divided in use; careful)
  • 4 eggs, separated (make sure they're at room temp)
  • 1/4 c fine dry (plain, unseasoned) breadcrumbs (homemade if possible-start a day ahead*)
  • Pinch of table salt
  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. In a small saucepan over low heat (or in a bowl in the microwave), melt the butter.  Combine the chocolate with 2/3 cup plus 1 T of the sugar (you'll use the rest beating egg whites) in a medium bowl, add the hot melted butter, and stir a few times.  Let sit for 3 or 4 minutes to melt the chocolate, then stir until smooth.  (My chocolate would not melt; I had to put my pot on the stove and let it melt over low heat.  If you chop the chocolate finer, I think Mr Lahey's method might work. )
  3. Put the egg yolks in a large bowl and slowly whisk in the chocolate mixture until thoroughly combined.  Mix in the bread crumbs very thoroughly.
  4. Put the egg whites and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a medium bowl if you're using a hand mixer.  Whip at medium speed until the whites are foamy, then reduce the speed to medium-low and gradually add in the REMAINING 1/3 CUP OF SUGAR.  Raise the speed to medium and continue whipping until the whites form stiff, shiny peaks (if they become too clumpy or dry, they're overwhipped; dump them and start over with new egg whites.)  Use a rubber spatula or whisk to fold a large scoop of the meringue into the chocolate mixture until incorporated (this will lighten it up), then gently fold in the remaining meringue.
  5. Line 12 muffin cups with paper liners. (Or lightly butter oven safe coffee cups, custard cups, bowls or ramekins--these will take longer to bake.) Fill each cup approximately 3/4 full.  Bake the tortini for about 10 minutes until they are puffed up and just set in the middle.  Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack.  The tortini will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for three days.
  6. If you use baking dishes, it may take 20 - 30 minutes.  Also, these are full of uncooked egg whites.  I like to make sure they're done in case I am serving the young, the old or those with impaired immune systems.  
Serve with a bit of whipped cream, ice cream, (nondairy whipped topping or nondiary sour cream if you're eating meat at Passover), hot fudge or berries.   Makes 12 small, 8 very generous servings -- or you can bake it all in a pan, though Mr. Lahey says it doesn't cut well.  

**You can choose Valrhona ( I like this French chocolate; I was out of it.) or even American Baker's Semi-Sweet --don't use chocolate chips unless you're desperate.) 

These are underdone and runny inside.
I liked them with this great crust on top and tender inside. Use a small spoon!
Have fun baking for an occasion and taking care of yourself (and others),

Friday, April 15, 2011

Vegan Chili with Cilantro Brown Rice and Spinach with Lime Vinaigrette

 While I adore chili (my kids will attest to this), I find that as time goes on I'm interested in many different kinds of chili.  My mom made what I think of as "Irish chili" simmered with her made-every-summer home-canned tomatoes, onions, green pepper, and, I think, a little less meat than I'd wish for.  My mother-in-law tells a similar story:  her mom bought a pound of ground beef and used 1/3 for chili, 1/3 third for spaghetti, and I forget what the other 1/3 was for.  That's skinny chili.  Still, it was tasty, filling, easy, homey and did the trick for a big family.  I, for years, made a similar sort of pot and was never happier than when the spicy smells wafted through the house.  I felt rich.  A whole dinner (with extras) in one pot.

Then SILVER PALATE came along and I made that chili .  Later, living in Texas for nearly four years pushed me toward
If you know beans about chili, you know there's no beans in chili.
Last spring, I tested an incredible Texas-style chili  (make your own chili powder) for Cooks' Illustrated and, while I liked that, too (Dave adored it), I thought it totally lost its flavor the next day.  And what good is chili if it's no good the next day?  If I go to make chili without thinking about it, I guess that by now it's a hybrid of some sort---probably closer to SILVER PALATE.  Some of that is in this chili (Dijon mustard, citrus, vinegar) if you compare the recipes. 

But the recent move toward more vegetables in my life got me thinking about veggie, in fact, vegan chili.  I think I've eaten it somewhere, but I didn't know how it was made.  To make myself smart and inventive, I did not look up a recipe; I just chopped and cooked, looking for an easy version.  I made it two slightly different ways and ended up combining the ideas, though serving it with cilantroed (definitely not a word) brown rice and a limed spinach salad stuck in the final roundup. 

Hearty, inexpensive (hey, no meat), quick (hey, no meat) and healthy, this is a filling, warm weekend lunch or dinner that really works if you've brought home a friend who's a vegan.  While it makes a little bit (limited by can sizes here), it's great for a couple of days in the frig and you can freeze it for a month or so.  I had a friend for lunch today to try it out and neither of us missed the meat; we were stuffed.   Who do you know who's vegan?

 Vegan Chili with Cilantro Brown Rice and Spinach with Lime Vinaigrette  4-6 servings

1 cup brown rice
2  cups water
Pinch salt; several grinds of pepper
A splash of olive oil
1/2 c chopped cilantro, reserved for later

Bring water  to a boil in a 2 or 3 qt. saucepan.  Add other ingredients; stir.  Lower heat, cover, and cook at a medium simmer for 45-55 minutes.  Test for doneness and leave covered to stay warm while you cook the chili.  (You can cook the rice while you cook the chili, of course.)  You'll add the cilantro at serving time.

1 T olive oil (no need for extra virgin)
3 t chili powder, divided
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper, divided

In a small stockpot (4 qt), heat oil.  Add  1 tsp of the chili powder and black pepper. Let cook a minute or two.
1 medium onion, chopped
1T finely minced jalapeno pepper
3 stalks celery, minced 

Add onion, jalapeno and celery to the seasoned hot oil and saute 4-5 minutes, stirring often.

2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 ea red and yellow sweet peppers, coarsely chopped
1 each small zucchini and yellow squash, cut into 1" pieces

Add garlic, peppers and squashes to the onion mixture and stir well.  Cover and simmer 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, lowering heat if it starts to burn.

 1 15 oz can chopped tomatoes,
1/2 cup each:  water, red wine (or 1 cup of either)
1/2 t cumin
1t each oregano and basil, dried
Big sprinkle of cinnamon (I like Vietnamese)
1/4 t kosher salt
1 t Dijon-style mustard
1 can of no-salt pinto (or black) beans, drained
3-4 drops Tabasco (or to taste)
2 t red or white wine vinegar

Stir in tomatoes, wine, water, spices, the other two teaspoons of chili powder, mustard and beans.  Carefully shake in Tabasco.  Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer.   Let cook fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally, adding water or wine if the chili becomes too thick or sticks.  Add vinegar.  Taste and adjust seasonings.

4 oz button mushrooms, optional
1 t butter, optional
  If you like them, in a small skillet, saute mushrooms five minutes or so in the butter.  Add to the chili.

6 cups fresh spinach
1 lime, sliced
1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 green onions (scallions), sliced thinly (white and green)
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
1 cup tortilla chips

In each of 4-6 shallow bowls or plates, place a cup- or a little more-of spinach.  Squeeze the lime over each salad and drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Dust salad with salt and pepper.  Add 1/2 cup rice next to the spinach.  Garnish rice with cilantro.   Next to the rice, ladle in the chili.  Sprinkle sliced green onions over all and place a slice of lime in each bowl.  Garnish with a few tortilla chips.

Note:  For South Beach, skip chips and rice!
Sounds more complicated than it is.  What a meal.

Wine?  Jury's out.  Some say a fruity zinfandel; one friend insists Champagne.  I'm thinking beer.
  Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I'll Take the Beef Stew, Please

I cook my rice with bay leaf and pepper. I add a bit of fresh parsley, salt, and sometimes butter at the end.
On diner menus-- or even Crack Barrel menus--meals like chicken and dumplings, meat loaf, or beef stew are always favorites.  Even if they know the food won't taste like their grandmother's, people order it anyway.  Chicken and biscuits.  Ham and beans.  Homey comfort food that has its roots in what could be made out of local (as in back yard) ingredients and could fill up a bunch of hungry folks.  These meals were typically stretchable, meaning a little meat with a lot of vegetables or starch.  Even when the children of these I-can-feed-anyone-with-anything cooks left down on the farm, they took the favorite meals with them.  Which is why we have boeuf bourguignon in Paris, bangers and mash in London, ham hocks and sauerkraut (or corned beef and cabbage) in St. Paul and chicken and dumplings Memphis.  And so on.  Of course, with our transient world (and a great movie called "Julie and Julia"), we also have an American version of boeuf bourguignon in Minnesota.

Since these foods were casseroles or huge pots of food, it isn't easy to cut them down to one portion. (Though in some cases it is possible.)  But we don't have to make ten or twelve servings and die of boredom for two weeks.  We can make four servings.  If we're hungry, we might eat two servings at one sitting.  We share or freeze the other good-sized portion(s).  (Or just eat it for lunch.)
Making rice a la pasta.  Lots of water and drain the rice at the end.  Easy.
 I make beef stew in several ways and, while they all have something in common, they're each quite different.  The first involves cutting up meat, browning it, adding vegetables, broth/wine and seasonings, and letting it cook a couple of hours.   The second, the one my children know best, uses leftover pot roast, gravy, and vegetables (adding broth) for a second day (and some say better) replay.  A third is a typical boeuf bourguignon a la Julia, adding separately cooked pearl onions and mushrooms at the end.  Yet another is the following...where I throw in other root vegetables  sitting around the kitchen and add a scoop of rice or noodles to round out the meal the second day--or the first, if you like it that way.  See above photo.  Brown food:  it just doesn't photograph well.  Sorry.

 Solo Cook's Note:  In the interest of saving money, many people skip the butcher counter experience and opt for pre-packaged or frozen meat.   For solo cooks, there is no place better than the butcher counter.  You can buy one 6oz steak, 1/4 # hamburger, two boneless chicken thighs, 2 polish sausage, 1 4 oz salmon filet, please---and so on.  You can also buy 1-2# of pot roast, which is what you want for beef stew.  Unless you're having company or want to eat it for a week.  Cooked potatoes aren't great in the freezer, so eat this up unless you have no choice but to freeze some.
Beef Stew with Root Vegetables and Rice on the Side Later 4 - 5 servings

1T olive oil
1-2 lbs pot roast, cut up into 1" pieces
3 cups beef broth, unsalted or low-sodium (or 2 cups broth, 1 cup red wine)
1 tsp dried thyme, 1/2 bay leaf
1 onion, cut into 1 " pieces, divided
2 carrots, cut into 1" pieces, divided
2 stalks celery, cut into 1/2" pieces, divided
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 small turnip, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
1 potato, peeled and cut into 1" pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
 optional:  1 tsp flour and 1/4 cup water whisked together well**

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350*
  2. In your  4 qt pot (oven-safe, if possible),  heat the olive oil and place the pieces of pot roast into the oil to brown well.  Turn meat over and brown thoroughly on the other side.  At the same time, add a bit each of the onion, carrots and celery to flavor the meat.  Sprinkle with lightly with salt, but pepper generously.  Add a pinch each of thyme and bay.
  3. Add broth/wine and bring to a boil. Immediately lower heat, cover, and place in oven to cook for an hour or so.  (*Alternately, cook on stove top, covered, at a simmer.)
  4. Remove from oven and add  remaining vegetables and herbs.  Stir well and return to oven (or stove top) to cook another 30-50 minutes, covered, until meat and vegetables are tender.  
  5. Taste and adjust seasonings.    Ladle into large bowls (with rice at side, if desired or on second day) and serve with baguette (French bread).  A little salad would be nice, too.
**If you'd like a thicker stew, whisk together well the flour and water.  Add that mixture to the stew when you add the broth/wine.  You could also use some of the starchy water from the rice for a thickener.

Note:  For South Beach Option, skip potatoes.

Wine:  If you'd like wine with this, an Oregon Pinot Noir or an inexpensive (yes, they exist) French Burgundy would be best.  Ask your wine shop about some good values.  They do exist.  Good French Burgundies are out of most people's range; a French Cotes du Rhone might be a good substitution if you're bent on a French wine and there are no burgundies you can afford.  Cotes du Rhone is also a lovely cooking wine.
I know it's spring and spring foods are coming, but there are still a few cold days left for a warming stew. 

Have fun cooking and taking care of yourself,