Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Ringing in the New Year with A Beet and Apple Salad

I was going to try and make a challah bread recipe from Cooks Illustrated, but then I realized that I don't know how to bake at altitude, so I abandoned that idea. Here in the Mile High City (my new adopted hometown), certain adaptations have to be made when baking because the altitude interferes with leavening. There is a book called Pie in the Sky, and it's supposed to help you navigate through these baking concerns. Unfortunately, my copy hasn't arrived yet. I heard rumors that Hungarian flour helps with the altitude problem, but I don't really know much about it. So before I delve into baking here in Denver, I'm going to get more informed. 
That leaves me with a vexing question: What will I make for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, which starts this week?
In addition to consuming tons and tons of challah bread, there is also a custom to eat apples. More specificially, apples that are dipped in honey-- which symbolizes the desire of adherents to have a sweet New Year. I came across this recipe for Beet & Apple Salad and decided to give it a try.
The recipe is a creation of George Mendes who was named one of the country's top chefs by Food & Wine Magazine. I like the idea of using apples this way...and it will do the trick while I figure out how to get this challah bread going. There's also horseradish in the vinaigrette and that works with the holiday too. 
I also plan on making a Honey-Spice Cake (Lekach) but that will have to wait until my new Bundt Cake Pan arrives.  Hopefully, it will come sometime real soon or I'll be making the cake for the solar new year!
In the meantime, shana tova u'mitukah!
Beet and Apple Salad (Courtesy of George Mendes, by way of Food & Wine Magazine)
4 large beets (2 1/2 pounds)
5 thyme sprigs
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons prepared horseradish (I used slightly less, opting for 2 tablespoons instead.)
1/3 cup salted pistachios, chopped
1 green apple, thinly sliced
Preheat the oven to 375°. In a baking dish, lightly drizzle the beets and thyme with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and roast until the beets are tender, about 1 1/2 hours. Let cool, then peel the beets and cut them into 3/4-inch dice.
In a large bowl, whisk the vinegar with the mustard. Whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of oil until emulsified. Add the horseradish and season with salt and pepper; toss with the beets and pistachios (I dressed the beets, but there was LOTS of left over dressing.  Just store it and use it again!)  Transfer the beets to a platter, top with the apple and serve.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Moosewood's Spanakopita

Spanakopita: spinach, cheese, and filo dough flakiness. I love it. It's the kind of thing I could eat for lunch and dinner- on the very same day. If I could only eat one thing for the rest of my life, spinach pie would be in the running. I think you get the picture. I'm pretty serious about this dish. I've made spanakopita  (Greek spinach pie) many times before and I thought my go-to recipe was really good. That is, before I tasted this Moosewood recipe, which is pretty much perfect.
The first time I had this Moosewood version was at a going-away party some friends threw for us right before we left Brooklyn. The gathering took place in a penthouse apartment overlooking Grand Army Plaza and Prospect Park. The views were spectacular and you could see the city skyline and the harbor from the roof deck. There were lots of friends sharing stories and yes, I shed a few tears that night. It was a wonderful way to spend the evening- and it was bittersweet to be leaving such great people, but also really exciting to be relocating and trying something new in Denver, Colorado.

The food at the party was incredible. There was pasta, cheese plates, salads and our friend Beth made this spinach pie. The meal was capped off with an amazing devil's food cake soaked with salted caramel, layered with whipped chocolate ganache and frosted with a classic French buttercream (holy delicious!) made by friend Kathryn of Cooking Inside the Box. But I'm not really a baker so I knew there was no way I was going to be able to replicate the perfection of the aforementioned cake.  I was confident, however, that I could make the spinach pie, so I asked for the recipe.

This pie is not hard to make, but chopping 2 1/2 pounds of spinach does take some time. In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you that I now routinely use frozen organic spinach in this recipe.

You can buy good quality frozen filo dough (phyllo dough) at most supermarkets in the frozen section near the pastry shells- just don't forget to take it out of the freezer when you start prepping. It must be completely thawed otherwise it will break and flake and, well, just become a mess. You want the sheets to be malleable and intact.  

This dish can be made a day or two in advance. Keep it uncooked, covered and refrigerated until you want to serve it. Then put it in the oven, uncovered, and cook for 45 minutes.

Enjoy this recipe. And trust me, this spanakopita is worthy of the (Greek) Gods...

(Courtesy of The Moosewood Cookbook, adapted ever-so-slightly)
Yields: About 8 servings
2 Tbs olive oil 
2 cups minced onion
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
2.5 lbs fresh spinach, stemmed and finely chopped (or 2.5 lbs frozen organic spinach)
5 medium cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbs flour
2 to 3 cups (packed) crumbled feta cheese (about 1 lb)
1 1/4 cup cottage or pot cheese
Black pepper, to taste
1/3 to 1/2 cup olive oil, for the filo
1 lb filo pastry leaves (approx. 20 leaves) -- thoroughly defrosted 

Preheat oven to 375 F. Oil a 9 by 13 inch baking pan.

Heat 1 Tbs olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add onion, salt, and herbs, and sauté for about 5 minutes, or until the onion softens. Add spinach, turn up the heat, and cook, stirring, until the spinach wilts (5 to 8 minutes). Stir in the garlic.
Sprinkle in the flour, stir, and cook over medium heat 2 to 3 more minutes. Remove from heat.

Mix in the cheeses. Taste to correct seasonings, adding lots of black pepper (and some salt).

Place a sheet of filo in the oiled pan, letting the pastry edges climb up the sides. Brush lightly with oil, and add another sheet. Keep going until you have a pile of 8 oiled sheets. Add half the filling, spreading it to the edges, then repeat with 8 more sheets of oiled filo, followed by the remaining filling. Layer the rest of the filo over the filling, brushing oil in between. Oil the top, tuck in the edges, and bake uncovered for about 45 minutes or until golden and crispy. Cut into squares and serve hot or warm. 

{Note: After making this recipe several times, I think the best results were obtained when the pie was baked for 30 minutes COVERED and then an additional 5 minutes UNCOVERED. The filling was much creamier and the top was not quite as dark. I recommend doing it this way.}  
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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Chocolate & Zucchini Cake

I made this Chocolate & Zucchini Cake about a month ago but with all the chaos surrounding the move West, I never got to posting it. So here it is...better late than never.
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I'd been thinking about making this kind of cake ever since my friend Jenni brought some zucchini bread over to our place following Lil' Theo's birth.  I searched for a recipe and decided to go with one that was posted on Chocolate & Zucchini- the French food blog. 
I had gotten some zucchini squash from our CSA, and I had flour, cocoa powder and light brown sugar in the cupboard.  I had eggs and butter too-- and some left over bittersweet chocolate (the good stuff) which was purchased when I was making (my favorite) Marlow & Sons Chocolate Caramel Tart.  Basically, I didn't have to buy anything in order to make this recipe.  And that's very helpful when you have a full and, I'll call it, a lively house! 
My friend Yana  stopped by, so I gave her slice. She suggested making some unsweetened whip cream to serve on the side. Duly noted.  
I would definitely sprinkle it with some confectioner's sugar. Sometimes I think that powdering a dessert with confectioner's sugar is superfluous and adds nothing to a cake.  But in this particular case, it is wonderful and works well. My only criticism of this recipe is that the zucchini flavor isn't more prominent. I guess I'll have to be happy just knowing that there are some veggies mixed into the chocolate cake. Bon appetit
 Chocolate & Zucchini Cake (Courtesy of Chocolate & Zucchini)
Serves 12
240 grams (2 cups) all-purpose flour
60 grams (1/2 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
180 grams (1 scant cup) light brown sugar
115 grams (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature, or 1/2 cup virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules or 2 tablespoons strong cooled coffee -- this is just to deepen the chocolate flavor, you won't taste it in the finished product
3 large eggs
350 grams (2 cups) unpeeled grated zucchini, from about 1 1/2 medium zucchini
160 grams (1 cup) good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips, or chopped chocolate
Confectioner's sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F). Grease a 25-cm (10-inch) round springform pan or a 22-cm (8 1/2-inch) square pan.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a mixer (or by hand in a large mixing bowl), beat the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate chips, and about a third of the flour mixture, making sure the zucchini strands are well coated and not clumping too much.
Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick.
Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without overmixing. Pour into the prepared cake pan, and level the surface.
Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer onto a rack to cool for 10 minutes, run a knife around the pan to loosen, and unclasp the sides of the pan. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Sprinkle with confectioner's sugar or a chocolate glaze if desired.
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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Sweet Home...Colorado: Sweet Corn Chowder

The boxes have (mostly) been unpacked and we decided to hit the ground running. I had an intense desire to check out the food scene here in Denver and I was really excited to try new places and a different cuisine. We got right down to business and ate the ubiquitous smothered breakfast burrito with green chiliIt was delicious- great heat, wonderful flavor. 
I'm lucky because I live in the Highlands neighborhood, right near Burrito Giant. Normally green chili is made with pork and it's hard to find the sauce without any meat product. But Burrito Giant has an out-of-this-world vegetarian chili (which can also be spelled chile- both ways are acceptable.) Theirs is one of one of my favorites so far. 
The weather here in Denver is almost always sunny and you can get really hot when you're standing in the sun. I found that Little Man ice cream is the perfect way to cool down. I also sampled some Liks Ice Cream inside my local bookstore, the Bookery Nook. Not too shabby. 
Alright, so we had great Mexican food, local dairy treats but I needed to be sure I could find Italian provisions and sweets. Coming from Brooklyn I wasn't sure anything could live up to L&B Spumoni or Lioni's. But we checked out the local Italian neighborhood called Wheat Ridge, which is right over the Denver city line-- so not too far if I need fresh mozzarella, tiramisu or a killer tomato sauce. We found an extremely authentic place called Dolce Sicilia Italian Bakery. I'm happy to report that their cannolis were dynamite! 
We also went to one of the local farmers market on Saturday. It was crowded, but there was plenty of space to move around. The market has ready-to-eat food (from trucks and stalls), cheese, crafts and locally produced fruits and vegetables. I saw this really cool food stand and wound up getting a fantastic pinto bean and cheese pupusa to start things off. It was served traditionally, with curtido- a lightly fermented cabbage slaw with red chilies and vinegar, and a watery tomato salsa. Then I got some fresh fruit and one of the best freshly squeezed (organic) lemonades I've had to date. And I drink a ton of fresh lemonade!  
I picked up tons of farm-fresh vegetables including, arugula, beets, tomatoes, potatoes and corn. The corn was sweet as could be and I decided that I wanted to make a chowder. I remembered seeing this recipe (below) and decided to make it. Potatoes, sweet corn, thyme and cream. It's fantastic! Enjoy.

And now for the Sweet Corn Chowder...

Sweet Corn Chowder (Courtesy of Tyler Florence)
2 tablespoons butter
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
6 cups canned vegetable stock
2 cups heavy cream
2 Idaho potatoes, peeled and diced
6 ears corn
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley leaves
Heat the butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme and cook until the vegetables are good and soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Dust the vegetables with flour and stir to coat everything well. Pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Add the cream and the potatoes, bring to a boil and boil hard for about 7 minutes, until the potatoes break down (this will help to thicken the soup and give it a good texture).
Cut the corn kernels off the cob (I always cut them into a big bowl) and add to the soup. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the corn is soft, about 10 to 12 minutes. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve. Stir in the parsley and give it another little drink of olive oil. 

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And here are a few shots from our first week in Colorado for those of you who are checking in on us from New York City. We took two excursions, one to Red Rocks and one to Garden of the Gods...

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