20 March 2011

RECIPE: ginger muffins.


Simplify—I'm always trying to simplify.

Before moving to London, I reorganized my things, ruthlessly discarding clothes, papers, and errant adapters for electronic devices long since dead. I packed a suitcase and a small backpack of clothes (enough clothes to produce twenty-one outfits with creative mixing and matching), most of which are so worn out by now that I may soon need to perform another closet purge.

But if I derive a small degree of satisfaction from simplifying my material life, the sense of achievement that comes with tackling the complexities of the intellectual world I inhabit is immeasurably greater. As those who have subjected themselves (out of institutional obligation, out of interest, or out of moral support) to any first draft I've ever written know well, sorting through reams and reams of research notes—identifying patterns in the archive, transforming those patterns into a coherent argument, subordinating supporting material to starring material, keeping in sight the larger stakes of the project, etc.—takes time and patience. It is a monumental process of simplification, of streamlining all the raw material until the piece of writing—its language, its structure, its tone, its use of the archive—seems (to an outsider, anyway) effortless and inevitable.

And so, if you will excuse this heavy-handed transition from work to food (such is my day-to-day these days), let me just tell you that the simplicity of these muffins—their texture, their flavor, their spicy sweetness—is what I like most about them. This is not to say that they're a cinch to make, as it takes a little bit of time and labor to extract that delicate balance of lemony-gingery-ness from the raw ingredients. But once they come out of the oven, the choice between eating just one and eating, um, four in one sitting is, indeed, simple.



GINGER MUFFINS
adapted from Marion Cunningham's The Breakfast Book via Orangette.

INGREDIENTS.

fresh ginger root, peeled and minced to make up 1/4 cup
3/4 pure cane sugar
2 tbsp lemon zest
just less than 1 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup whole milk plain yoghurt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

HOW TO MAKE.

Grease a muffin tin, and preheat the oven to 375F.

Heat a small skillet over medium heat before adding the ginger and 1/4 cup of sugar. Stir constantly until the sugar has melted and the mixture is hot and syrupy, about two minutes. Set aside.

Whisk the lemon zest with a couple tablespoons of the remaining sugar in a small bowl. Then add the ginger mixture until well combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk the rest of the sugar with the vegetable oil. Add the eggs and yoghurt, and continue to whisk until well combined. Add the flour, salt, and baking soda to the wet mixture and stir with a strong wooden spoon until the dry ingredients have been completely absorbed. Finally, stir in the lemon-ginger mixture.

Fill each cup of the muffin tin about three-quarters full and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the muffins are a golden color and/or a tester comes out clean.

This recipe makes about a dozen regular-sized muffins.

22 February 2011

RECIPE: roasted aubergine with a saffron yoghurt dressing.


February is laboring by, as only February, despite its meager twenty-eight days, knows how to do. But my mind is already in June, on the thought of sitting on the front porch with Jonathan at dusk eating this salad.

On one of the bleakest days of the winter, I made this salad from the Ottolenghi cookbook and it brought me joy—the juicy pomegranate seeds, the toasted pine nuts, and the earthy fragrance of the saffron-infused dressing. I always tend to forget about (nay, ignore) aubergine because the supermarket kinds tend to be tough and tasteless. But these ones were tender and sweet and from a new greengrocer at Borough Market.

The recipe makes enough for four starter or two dinner portions. If you're cooking for one, keep the leftover ingredients in separate containers in the fridge and you'll have a brilliant lunch in store.




ROASTED AUBERGINE WITH A SAFFRON YOGHURT DRESSING
adapted slightly from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook

INGREDIENTS.

3 medium aubergines, cut into 1/2" slices length-ways
2 tbsp pine-nuts, toasted in a dry pan or under the broiler
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
about 20 basil leaves, whole
sea salt and pepper to taste
olive oil to brush aubergines

a pinch of saffron
3 tbsp hot water
1/3 cup Greek yoghurt
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil

HOW TO MAKE.

Preheat the oven to 425 F. Arrange the aubergine slices on a baking sheet or roasting pan and brush them on both sides with olive oil. Season the slices with salt and pepper. Roast them for about 25 minutes, or until they are golden and beginning to crisp around the edges. Remove the tray from the oven and let the aubergine slices cool to room temperature.

While the aubergine slices are roasting, you can make the dressing. To do this, pour the hot water over the saffron strands in a small bowl and let infuse for about five minutes. In the meantime, whisk together the yoghurt, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, and a pinch of sea salt in a medium-sized bowl. Pour the saffron infusion into the mixture and whisk again until the dressing is smooth and golden. Season as needed and then chill in the fridge.

Once the aubergine slices are at room temperature and the dressing is chilled, arrange the aubergine slices on a serving platter and drizzle the dressing on top. Sprinkle the pine nuts and the pomegranate seeds scatter the basil leaves evenly on top.

15 December 2010

RECIPE: rugelach.


Today in London the sky is blue. Today is also Sunday, and I have just eaten a Jonathan-made egg sandwich with a strong cup of self-brewed Monmouth Balmaadi Estate coffee. The egg sandwich and the strong coffee mean that Jonathan is here in London Town after three months of trans-Atlantic apartness.

A couple of weeks ago (when he was home in New Jersey settling our cats into their temporary—luxury—place of residence for the holidays), Jonathan informed me over Skype that his parents' friends had brought a box of rugelach from a local Polish bakery to a dinner party. He said rugelach was one of his favorite desserts, and when I said I didn't know what rugelach was, he described the flaky pastry and the sweet filling with such care and whimsy that I knew that I had to do my homework and make a batch to welcome him to the purple palace, my temporary home in this far-flung corner of NW1.

At present, given the amenities of my kitchen here compared to our idiosyncratic yet well-equipped kitchen in Philadelphia, the key to a good recipe is simplicity. When it comes to baking, I have to be able to make the dough or batter without a hand or stand mixer. I have a sturdy wooden spoon, a less reliable spatula, and my own bare hands. This recipe, adapted slightly from Gourmet, is fairly straightforward. The dough is a little bit finicky, but well worth the fuss—well worth it for the satisfaction of sharing the finished product on a cold winter afternoon over some warming milky tea.



RUGELACH
adapted from Gourmet, May 2004.

INGREDIENTS

for dough.
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened but not melted
10 oz. full fat cream cheese

for filling.
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp cane sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup apricot jam
1 cup sultanas, chopped
1 cup pecans, chopped
milk

HOW TO MAKE

To make the dough. In a large bowl, whisk together flour and salt. In another large bowl, beat or whisk together the butter and cream cheese. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and combine with a wooden spoon (or your hands) until the dough comes together. Gather the dough into a ball and wrap it loosely in cling film. Work the dough into a 5"-by-7" rectangle and chill for at least 8 hours.

To assemble. After the dough has chilled, preheat the oven to 350F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper. (You should cut four extra pieces of parchment paper and set them aside.) Remove the dough from the fridge and cut it into four pieces. Wrap three in cling film and return them to the fridge. On a well-floured surface, use a floured rolling pin to roll the remaining piece of dough into a 12"-by-8" rectangle. (Don't worry if it's not perfectly rectangular. There's quite a big margin for error here!) Transfer the rolled-out dough to a tray lined with parchment paper and chill in the fridge. Repeat this process for the next three pieces of chilled dough, stacking them on the tray, each separated by a piece of parchment paper.

Whisk 1/2 cup sugar with cinnamon and get all your filling ingredients ready. Place one rectangle of dough on the work surface with the long side of the rectangle nearest to you. Spread 1/4 cup of apricot jam over the dough. Then, sprinkle 1/4 cup sultanas and 1/4 cup pecans over the jam followed by 2 tablespoons of cinnamon sugar. Roll the dough tightly into a log and place, seam side down, on the parchment-lined cookie sheet. Pinch the ends of the logs shut and fold under the log. Make three more logs and place them on the cookie sheet. (You make only be able to bake two at a time if you have a small oven. If this is the case, make sure you keep the third and fourth logs chilled while baking the first two.) When you are ready to bake your first batch, brush the logs with milk and sprinkle with some left-over sugar. with a sharp knife, slice the log three-quarters of the way to the bottom at 1" intervals. Finally, bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden. Cool for about half an hour and slice the cookies all the way through.


01 November 2010

RECIPE: quince spice cake.


The first harbinger of winter is here. This evening, as I packed up my ailing computer and returned my books to the librarians for safe passage back to the strongroom at the British Library, I glanced up through the high-eve windows of the reading room to see a quickly darkening sky. The clocks turned back on Saturday, which meant an extra hour of sleep but less light come evening.

When the nights get like this, I get a craving for winter food—not necessarily creamy soups or substantial stews but rather the deep flavors of fruit pies and holiday cakes. After trying a quince tarte tatin at The Modern Pantry last weekend, I went to the Islington farmers market on Sunday morning with quinces on my mind. Among the ugliest of fruits, quinces smell like Christmas, like citrusy apples, and after picking up two from the Chegworth Valley stall, I spent the walk back along Regent's Canal daydreaming about cinnamon, cloves, and quinces.


Most recipes for quince cakes call for baked or stewed fruit. This cake is much less involved. Modified from an apple cake my mom has been making for years, this recipe calls for a combination of grated quince and cooking apple. Walnuts and a dose of all-spice make this cake the perfect autumn-to-fall breakfast/dessert/pre-dusk snack.



QUINCE SPICE CAKE

INGREDIENTS.

1 1/4 cups peeled, grated quince
3/4 cup peeled, grated cooking apple
1 cup pure cane sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 tsp pure vanilla essence
1/2 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp all-spice
1/4 tsp salt

HOW TO MAKE.

Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a 9" pie dish or pan. In a medium bowl, toss the fruit with the sugar. Mix the egg, oil, vanilla, and walnuts in with the fruit mixture. Then, in a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until all the dry ingredients have been absorbed. Pour the cake batter into the prepared dish or pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick, inserted into the middle of the cake, comes out clean. Let the cake cook in the pan and serve with vanilla whipped cream or ice cream.

29 October 2010

RECIPE: quick garlic and broccoli pasta.


When I moved to London at the end of September, I expected to have a lot of time—the time I was wont to spend in the kitchen and curled on the couch with Jonathan and the kittens and in the company of friends over lunch, coffee, beer, and animated conversation. But as my three-week absence from this space suggests, my days have been full—awake at dawn to go to the gym and up until midnight preparing for the next day at the library. Maybe I'm working too hard. But if I am to write a chapter of this dissertation by January, if I am to have a real break at Christmas time, if I am to treat myself to a full day off every week to play tourist in this sprawling city, this is just how it's going to be.

Thankfully, I've had time to cook several nights a week. Before I left Philadelphia, Jonathan and I were cooking slow, complex, delicious food—paella, saag paneer, paratha, chili, etc. Of late, however, I've been experimenting with quick recipes that don't dispense with big flavor. A couple of weeks ago I bought a brace each of onions, shallots, and garlic from a French man with an allium-laced bicycle in Marylebone. Using these instead of over-packaged supermarket produce alone has been sufficient to enhance the flavor of my ad hoc cooking of late.


Start to finish, this pasta dish takes about 20 minutes to throw together. Be warned, though: you will sweat garlic the next day. Just the way I like it!


QUICK GARLIC AND BROCCOLI PASTA

INGREDIENTS

3/4 pound farfalle or penne
1 large head broccoli, cut into florets
1/4 cup olive oil
6 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 hot red pepper, minced
1/4 cup basil leaves, shredded
salt and pepper

HOW TO MAKE

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. (You will need more water than is required to cook the pasta as you will be adding the broccoli in a bit.) Add the pasta to the water. Four minutes before the pasta is done, add the broccoli florets. After four minutes, the pasta and the broccoli should be cooked through.

While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil looks shimmery, add the garlic and sauté until it starts to turn golden. Stir in the hot pepper and sauté for a few more minutes. Finally, stir in the basil and after about 30 seconds, remove the skillet from the heat.

When the pasta and broccoli are done, drain and transfer to a large bowl. Pour the olive oil mixture over the pasta and toss with salt and pepper to taste.

12 October 2010

RECIPE: cinnamon plum muffins.

It would be an understatement to say that I like plums, and I would be lying if I said I hadn't been scheming for some months now to recreate the whole wheat plum muffin from Metropolitan Bakery that I ate on Rittenhouse Square one hot Monday afternoon over the summer.

The London supermarkets are full of plums at the moment—ritzy organic ones and basic run-of-the-mill ones. For these muffins, I used "basic" plums. Despite their lowliness in the hierarchy of prunus fruits, these particular plums were perfect for baking: firm, juicy, sweet-tart, beautiful.



This was the first time I had baked in my new little oven (or, I should say old, dirty oven). A little scrubbing did a lot of good. As did English buttermilk, conveniently sold in one-cup containers.


These muffins are not super sweet, but they are flavorful. The plums are lovely with the cinnamon and just a dash of vanilla. Another good way to start the day.

CINNAMON PLUM MUFFINS

INGREDIENTS

4 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
5 plums, pitted and diced

HOW TO MAKE

Preheat the oven to 350F and grease a muffin tin.

To assemble the muffins, begin by beating the butter and sugar in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about three minutes. Then, whisk in the buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla until well combined. In a medium bowl, mix together well all the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir until all the flour has been absorbed. Fold in the plums.

Fill each muffin cup about 3/4 full. Bake for 25-30 minute, or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the biggest muffin comes out clean. Let the muffin pan cool for a few minutes before turning the muffins out onto a cooling rack. Enjoy them warm or at room temperature, and make sure to store the extras in an airtight container.

This recipe makes a dozen regular-sized muffins.

02 October 2010

RECIPE: plum compote.

At present, I'm eating the very last of the Cashel Blue I bought at Borough Market last week. I intend to scrape as much of the cheese off the rind as I possibly can before surrendering. It has lasted well—almost a week—which is more than I can say for the plums I acquired from the Chegworth Valley stall. Upon inspecting the plums last night, I saw that they were starting to get squishy. I thought of making a plum crumble, but I haven't yet figured out the oven in my surrogate apartment. (Good thing, too, because when I turned it on later to roast some vegetables I was met with a burning smell and an efficient billow of smoke. Oven off. Extractor fan high. Windows open. Crisis averted.) My pantry, growing day by day, is still limited. Thus, my options for what to do with the borderline plums were limited. I had two lemons and raw cane sugar so a compote it would be.



As I chopped the plums and squeezed the lemons, I had visions of plum compote over English yoghurt with a sprinkling of sunflower and pumpkin seeds. A perfect breakfast, methinks, for a long morning at the British Library. The compote turned out perfectly—tongue-smacking tart and just slightly sweet. And my breakfast? Well, it was as good as I had imagined.


PLUM COMPOTE.

INGREDIENTS

12 plums, pitted and cut into 1/2" pieces
juice of 2 large lemons
1/3 cup raw cane sugar

HOW TO MAKE

Toss all the ingredients in a bowl and let them sit for a few minutes. Then, add the mixture to a small, heavy saucepan and bring it to a boil over medium-high heat. Once at a steady boil, turn the burner down to medium-low and let the plums stew for about 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Let the compote cool completely before transferring it to a glass jar with a functioning lid. It will keep like this for about a week in the fridge.