Monday, November 7, 2011
Yee ha! There were definite upsides to the whole thing, of course. It did bring out the best in most of us. So many people shared their homes and hearths, as well as their fridge and freezer space. And I think it's motivated most of us to just finally bite the bullet and buy a darned generator, since it looks like the weather is only going to get freakier from here on in. And lastly, my love affair with a certain farro became even more passionate.
If you're thinking that I've been getting busy with some ancient Egyptian tyrant, you not only need to check my spelling. You also have to get on the bandwagon with the rest of us who have raised farro--an ages-old Italian grain--to near-rock-star status in the U.S. these days. A little bit like barley, with a nice firm bite and slightly nutty taste, farro is actually an ancient variety of low-yield wheat that is high in fiber and--if you give a hoot, which I don't--low in gluten. It's showing up on restaurant menus and in cooking columns everywhere these days, adding chew to soups, body to stews and starring big-time in salads.
I'm even more smitten with my fair farro than I am with quinoa, which is saying a lot. Here's why: First: It's sturdier and starchier, without being too earthy, so my pasta-loving teenage boys not only eat it. They adore it. Second: It's a perfect side dish but is nutritious and satisfying enough to stand in as a main course when snuggled up to a gorgeous salad. And third: My favorite way of preparing farro is tailor-made for Armageddon cooking. All you need do is boil the darned stuff, toss it with some sauteed mushrooms and cheese and you're in business. What you end up with is a sort of dryish risotto, with a dose of fiber for good measure. I brought bags of farro up to Lake George this year and it it became our go-to stove-top meal when the wood was too wet to build a fire. And this week, when the power went out, I didn't have to think for even a second about what I was going to make for dinner. A little old match to light the stove and we'd be in business. Not just surviving but surviving deliciously and oh-so in style.
The only possiblly tricky thing about making farro is actually finding farro, and the right farro at that. I know, for example, that Whole Foods carries it, but the type they carry is a little too dark and earthy for my pasta-loving boys. My local Kings also has it, but again I'm not crazy about the brand. Our favorite farro is the semi-pearled variety that goes under the no-frills Roland brand, which Fairway carries, as do numerous web retailers. Because it's semi-pearled, this type doesn't deliver as much fiber as the whole grain farro. But it's got a less oatsy-groatsy texture and taste to it, which is what lures my kids in. You choose whichever kind turns you on. My mother-in-law regularly ferries farro out to us from the Upper West Side. And my girfriend Gail (who turned me on to farro in the first place) is always happy to plop a few bags on my doorstep after one of her sojourns to the Fairway on Rte. 17. Make a few calls and see who carries it in your neighborhood. Then fill up your cupboard and sigh with relief. Armageddon may come. But you'll know what to serve!
Gail's Perfect Farro
1 17-ounce bag semi-pearled farro (preferably Roland brand)
1 basket fresh cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced up (white button fine, too)
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 Tbs. or so fresh chopped herbs of your choice (I usually substitute 1/2 tsp. dried herbs de Provence)
1/2 cup or so dry white wine (I just tip in whatever I'm drinking at the moment)
1/2-3/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (or even more, to taste)
Bring a big pot of lightly salted water to a boil. While the water is doing its thing, heat large skillet over medium flame. Add olive oil to the skillet. When the oil is warm (but not too hot), add garlic and saute until soft. Add mushrooms and herbs and saute all of this until it cooks down. Add wine, bring to a gentle boil and allow to reduce so there is about a tablespoon or two of liquid left in pan. Off heat.
Now, dump the whole bag of farro into the boiling water. Boil for about 21-23 minutes, testing every so often for doneness. When cooked perfectly, farro is tender but still offers a little bit of resistance when you chew it through. It shouldn't be hard, though. Drain farro and return it to the pot you boiled it in. Do not turn flame back on. Now, dump the mushroom mixture and its liquid into the pot with farro, along with the parmesan cheese. Stir it all up. Add more cheese, as well as salt and pepper, to taste. Serve with roast chicken or all on its own with a big salad of bitter greens, diced bosc pear, crumbled gorgonzola and a dijon mustard vinaigrette. As a main dish, one bag of farro should serve about 4. As a side, you'll have plenty leftover for another night.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
I know that citrus is a winter thing and that we're all supposed to be fawning over strawberries right now, but there is just something about lemon that says "summer" to me. It's bracing, refreshing--sort of like a culinary air-conditioner. And nothing screams louder to me on a balmy evening than a slice of this luscious-yet-light lemon chiffon cake. I baked three of them this holiday weekend and still am not tired of it.
I tore the recipe for this beauty out of some magazine while I was languishing in the waiting room at my gyno's office years ago. I kept it in my recipe folder for probably a year and never got around to making the cake, however, because I couldn't get past the fact that the recipe used oil instead of butter. And you know how I feel about butter and baking. One afternoon, when I had absolutely nothing in the house and I needed to bring a cake for some occasion, I whipped this cake up. It was so extraordinary I was stunned. I think four people asked me for the recipe that very night. I've made it countless times since and it never fails to turn out fabulously--moist, moist, moist, delicate, and positively regal looking. I can't recommend it enough.
If you've never baked a chiffon cake, be not afraid. It really isn't tough at all to pull off. You will, however, need a few key tools: An angel food cake pan or a tube pan with removable bottom, something to whip up those egg whites, cream of tartar (which you can and will buy at your local supermarket even if you have always been mystified and just a little intimidated by it because you don't know what the heck it does), and the courage to turn your pretty cake upside down in order to let it cool properly. Oh, and one more thing: You'll need to stay just a little bit humble when everyone swoons all over you and tells you what an amazing cake you've baked. Here's the 411:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 Tbsp. Baking powder
1 tsp. Salt
3/4 cups water
7 egg yolks
1/2 cup vegetable oil
Grated zest of 2 lemons
2 tsp. Vanilla
8 egg whites
1/2 tsp. Cream of tartar
1 1/2 cups confectioners' sugar
2 Tbsp. Plus 1 tsp. Fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Melted butter, cooled to tepid
1 tsp. Grated lemon zest
1/2-3/4 cup sweetened, shredded coconut (utterly optional)
To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 325. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center; add the water, egg yolks, oil, lemon zest, and vanilla. Whisk the dry ingredients into the yolk mixture until the batter is blended and smooth. Set aside.
In a large mixer bowl, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar at medium-low speed until foamy. Gradually increase the speed to high and beat the whites until stiff (but not dry) peaks form. Gently fold 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the batter with a rubber spatula just until blended. Fold in the remaining whites just until combined. Pour the batter into an UNGREASED 10-inch tube pan (I use a tube pan with a removable bottom.)
Bake 1 hour, or until the top springs back when lightly touched with a fingertip and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Immediately invert the cake, still in the pan, onto the neck of a wine bottle or a large funnel. I personally set my cake to cool on three, stout overturned juice glasses. Cool completely.
To make the icing: In a medium bowl, whisk together the ingredients until smooth.
Remove the cake pan from the bottle or lift from inverted juice glasses and turn right side up. Run a long, thin knife around both edges of the cake pan. Transfer cake to a serving plate and remove the pan. (If you are using a tube pan with a removable bottom, lift cake out by the cone of the pan, invert over a serving plate, run knife around the bottom of the cake to release.) Spread the icing gently on top of the cake, allowing some of the glaze to drip down the sides. If you are a coconut fan (which I am) press generous amounts of coconut onto the top of the icing and sprinkle a little around the serving dish. Expect compliments.
Monday, April 4, 2011
I don't care if you celebrate Passover, Easter, or just the fact that you are alive every day. This little meringue recipe will provide you with an unparalleled religious experience this Spring. I promise.
For what it's worth, I have absolutely no business posting right now. I should, in fact, be writing about one illness or another for one deadline or another that is coming up way too soon. Or at least paying attention to my kids, who were largely ignored this past weekend because "mom had a deadline" and dad was slaving away in, ahem, Las Vegas. (No, really he was working. He hates that place.)
But I have my priorities. And when I see that Passover is right around the bend, I feel duty bound to get this recipe out into the ether. I call these miraculous meringues for many reasons. First and foremost, if you are used to those heinous chalky blobs that plague just about every seder dessert table, these gooey, toothsome, fragile beauties will be a downright revelation. Second, these meringues are so yummy--imagine a slightly melted marshmallow, with a crisp shell on the outside and flecks of coconut and chocolate chips within--they will even win converts among the Easter crowd, who have absolutely no need whatsoever to be eating crappy, flourless desserts on their big holiday. And third, you can whip these up on the fly absolutely any time, since their basic ingredients are so humble even old Mrs. Hubbard is likely to have them in her cupboard. I mean, four measly egg whites make about a million cookies. And you don’t even need flour in the pantry! I toss in coconut along with the chocolate chips, since the combination ranks among my all time favorites. But if you fall into the coconut-hating crowd, you can stick with chips and live happily ever after.
Give these a shot this holiday season. You might very well end up making them all year long. A few words of wisdom to keep in mind:
* These are best if eaten the day you bake them. You can get away with baking one day ahead if you must. But be sure to taste one about 20 minutes after it comes out of the oven so you can experience utmost bliss, if even fleetingly.
* Tie children and maybe even adults to the dining room table while they eat these unless you want meringue flakes all over your house.
* Don't even think about mailing these anywhere. Your recipient will call asking why you sent them a box of sand and chocolate chips.
* Don't make these when it is raining torrentially or super super humid. They won't turn out very well. Good rule of thumb (at least for me): If it's a bad hair day. It's a bad meringue day.
* Oh, and Julie, if you live 80,000 feet above sea level, I don't know what to tell you.
4 large egg whites, at room temp
1/8 tsp. Salt
1 ¼ cups sugar
1 tsp. Vanilla extract
½ cup semisweet chocolate chips
½ cup sweetened, flaked coconut—or more to taste
1. Preheat the oven to 300 F. Lightly grease several cookie sheets with butter. Sprinkle flour over the sheets and shake to distribute the flour. Then turn the sheets upside down over the sink to knock off any excess flour. (Alternatively, go out and buy parchment paper. I know it sounds like a big serious step, but just go to the aisle where you find Saran Wrap and aluminum foil and boldly pluck a roll of parchment off the shelf. No one will ask for your diploma from the CIA, I promise. Then skip all that silly greasing and flouring and just line each cookie sheet with a nice neat rectangle of parchment. The meringues are so dry, you can just brush off the parchment and reuse it when you make your next batch. Which I suspect you will be doing soon thereafter.)
2. Using an electric mixer with the whisk attachment on medium-low speed, beat the egg whites with salt in a medium-size mixing bowl until frothy, about 40 seconds. Gradually add the sugar, then raise the mixer speed to high and add the vanilla. Beat the mixture for 50 seconds, stop to scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula, then continue beating until the mixture forms very stiff peaks--should take a few minutes longer. Then gently fold in the chocolate chips and coconut with the rubber spatula.
3. Drop the mixture by slightly rounded teaspoons (or with a small ice cream scoop) about 1 inch apart onto the prepared cookie sheets.
4. Bake the cookies until they turn a very light beige, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool the cookies on the cookie sheets. Again, make the kids eat them at the table, unless you want white crumbly stuff all over the house. Makes about 40 cookies.
Sunday, March 6, 2011
For the Cakes:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
(Dutch process, if possible, but not at all mandatory)
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 large egg
For the Filling:
(This is enough for two batches of Whoopies)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
2 cups marshmallow cream such as Marshmallow Fluff
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Whisk together flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt in a bowl until combined. Stir together buttermilk and vanilla in a small bowl.
Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a handheld, then add egg, beating until combined well. Reduce speed to low and alternately mix in flour mixture and buttermilk in batches, beginning and ending with flour, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, and mixing until smooth.
Spoon 1/4-cup mounds of batter about 2 inches apart onto 2 buttered (or parchmented) large baking sheets. Bake in upper and lower thirds of oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until tops are puffed and cakes spring back when touched, 11 to 13 minutes. Transfer with a metal spatula to a rack to cool completely.
Beat together butter, confectioners sugar, marshmallow, and vanilla in a bowl with electric mixer at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Spread a rounded tablespoon or so of filling (not too much!!) on flat sides of half of cakes and top with remaining cakes. Cakes can be made up to three days ahead, separated by wax paper in airtight containers and kept in a cool-ish place or in the fridge (and let them warm up a tiny bit before serving).