Chopped Challenge #3: Bourbon chocolate ice cream “sliders” with spiked, salted praline

Course: dessert

Ingredients: Hawaiian rolls, chocolate syrup, bourbon, sea salt.

For my first foray into dessert, N. gave me a list of ingredients that, at least in two cases, were deviously chosen with ulterior motives. As he’s currently training for a marathon (twenty-six miles and change! My brain can’t even fathom how long that is!), he is consistently hungry, and always looking for protein-laden snacks. He goes through chicken thighs, hard-boiled eggs, and toasted tempeh at alarming rates. Recently, he decided chocolate milk would be a fantastic mid-afternoon pick-me-up indulgence, and thus the chocolate syrup was assigned. As for the Hawaiian sweet rolls, he let me know in no uncertain terms that the leftovers would be “great for pulled pork!” so, of course, that was also added to our menu for the week…

I have to admit that this quartet stumped me for a while, though perhaps not in the way you might expect. In fact, as soon as N. handed me the post-it note on which he’d written his choices, I had an answer in mind: this screamed bread pudding. The rolls could be toasted, and would be perfect for absorbing a bourbon-spiked custard mixture. The chocolate would make it extra indulgent, and the sea salt could get sprinkled on top, as with my favorite cookies, for a briny unexpected crunch.

But I couldn’t make bread pudding. I couldn’t. As easy as it would be, and as well as the ingredients lent themselves to it, doing so would make me a hypocrite. As N. (or anyone who has had the misfortune to watch the show with me) can attest, bread pudding is one of the dessert choices contestants make that instantly evokes bellows of protest from me. “DON’T MAKE BREAD PUDDING!” I yell. “YOU DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME!” And they usually don’t! Their custards don’t set, their bread isn’t properly soaked, and they usually wind up with runny undercooked messes. I say other things about their choices too, which are even less nice. But we don’t have to talk about that here.

So even though I am not restricting myself to a time frame, I just don’t think I can get away with making bread pudding – not with as rude as I’ve been to the television about it. Neither can I make French toast, nor panna cotta, nor crepes (though this last one is less about not having enough time, and more about me explaining, tiredly, over and over, as if they can hear me, that “of COURSE your first couple are going to be disasters; that’s what crepes DO! Try again!). I had to go with something I don’t, from the safety and anonymity of my living room, routinely take contestants to task for, as natural as the choice might be.

I’m not sure what made me come around to ice cream, but from that point I realized the small size of the Hawaiian rolls might make the dessert a play on sliders. The scoop of ice cream, spiked with bourbon and browned with chocolate, would stand in for the burger patty. There would need to be something bright and acidic to break up the richness, so smashed raspberries might make a fun alternative for a slice or tomato or a slick of ketchup.

As for the sea salt, the only thing I could think of was salted caramel, and this dessert didn’t really need another creamy, drippy, sweet component. I was stumped until I remembered an episode of The Great British Baking Show in which the contestants made hazelnut dacquoise, an elevated meringue cake sweetened by praline, essentially toasted hazelnuts encased in hard caramel that had been reduced to a powder. That would be the perfect place to put the salt and another glug or two of the bourbon, and the powder could be rolled around the edges of the ice cream, like a more sophisticated sprinkle lining to an ice cream sandwich.

So here’s how it went: the ice cream was without question the best component. I’m using here a version of a recipe I’ve played with before – a no-churn, egg-free miracle from Nigella Lawson that, sure, takes about six hours to freeze up and requires one specialty ingredient, but hey, with chocolate and bourbon in there, and since I’ve always been able to find that specialty item at Whole Foods, was no big deal, really. I’d just make the ice cream the day before.

The praline was delicious and surprisingly successful. As I was making the caramel, using bourbon rater than water to help the sugar dissolve, things start to crystallize a bit, but rather than dumping the mess out and starting again, I added about a tablespoon of water, stirred it up, and magically the crystals dissolved and a gorgeous caramel the color of maple syrup bubbled its way into being. With no added dairy, it solidified into a sheet of colored glass around the hazelnuts, and the powder turned out to be equally delightful paired with the ice cream as it was an indulgent sweetener for oatmeal a morning or two later.

As for the Hawaiian rolls, while they made a reasonable vehicle for getting the other ingredients to our anxious mouths, I couldn’t help but feel as though they weren’t really needed. This could just as easily have been an ice cream sundae: smooth, luscious scoops dollops with smashed raspberries, generously sprinkled with praline, then topped with freshly whipped cream. And the rolls… well, since they had to be included, perhaps I could have toasted them, ground them up, and mixed them into the praline.

A project for another month, perhaps. Regardless, my judge says I am “on to the next round,” and now that I’ve done one of each course, April’s challenge is unknown. N. might give me an entrée, or an appetizer, or he might drop another dessert in my lap, considering he’s got twenty-six miles to run and a continually growling void in place of a stomach. We’ll just have to wait and see…

 

Bourbon chocolate ice cream “sliders” with spiked, salted praline
Ice cream adapted from Nigella Lawson
At least 6½ hours, counting time for ice cream to chill and harden
Makes generous 1 pint ice cream and approx. 1 cup praline
For bourbon chocolate ice cream:
⅔ cups sweetened condensed milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
6 ounces double cream (I found mine at Whole Foods)
2 tablespoons bourbon
¼ cup chocolate syrup
For spiked, salted praline:
¾ cup whole hazelnuts
½ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon
1-2 tablespoons water, if needed
¾ teaspoon sea salt
For serving:
Split Hawaiian sweet rolls, one per person
1 pint raspberries (or fewer, depending on how many are enjoying), smashed with a fork (add a sprinkle of sugar if you want, but the rest of the dessert is pretty sweet)
Additional chocolate syrup, if desired, to decorate the plate

 

  • To make the ice cream, add sweetened condensed milk, whipping cream, double cream, 2 tablespoons bourbon, and ¼ cup chocolate syrup to the bowl of a stand mixer. You could do this in a regular mixing bowl with a hand-held mixer too.
  • Using the whisk attachment (or regular beaters), whip on medium speed until soft peaks form. For me, this took only 3-4 minutes. It may take more or less time for you depending on the speed of your mixer.
  • Using a rubber spatula, scrape the fluffy clouds into a freezer friendly container – I used a clean empty Greek yogurt tub – and freeze for at least 6 hours to let the mixture harden up.
  • While the ice cream chills, make the praline. Roast the ¾ cup of hazelnuts 10-12 minutes in a 350F oven, until they are slightly darker in color and have begun to release their oils. If you wish, dump them into a clean kitchen towel and rub vigorously to help remove their skins.
  • When the hazelnuts are roasted (and skinned, if desired), stir together the granulated sugar and the bourbon in a small pan or skillet. Cook over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is the color of dark maple syrup and almost smoking. If the mixture seems to seize up and crystalize while the sugar is dissolving, stir 1-2 tablespoons water. I found this eliminated the crystals handily.
  • Remove from heat, stir in the sea salt and the hazelnuts, then spread onto a piece of parchment paper and let cool for at least 1 hour.
  • Break up the solidified mixture into smaller pieces and whiz them into a powder in a food processor. Don’t go too far, though; since the nuts contain fat, if you continue processing eventually the powder will turn into a paste.
  • When the ice cream is set and the praline is ready, assemble your “sliders”: place a scoop of ice cream on the bottom of one of the split Hawaiian rolls. Sprinkle it generously with praline on all sides. Spread a dollop of smashed raspberries on the top half of your split Hawaiian roll, then smash together over the ice cream. If you wish, decorate the plate with additional chocolate syrup and maybe some whole raspberries, and eat immediately.

Chopped Challenge #2: mole inspired lamb and sweet potato chili with corn chip cornbread

Course: entree

Ingredients: lamb, sweet potatoes, chives, corn chips

The first thing I thought of when N. issued me this “mystery basket” was meatballs: the lamb and chives would be pressed lovingly into a tender little sphere perhaps reminiscent of these beauties from my meatball challenge year, and instead of pilaf, I would nestle them into a bed of softly cooked sweet potato noodles. Spoodles?

But there were those corn chips. As with last month, one of the players stubbornly refused to fit in. I thought halfheartedly of nachos, but then, remembering a play on mole spices crusted onto roasted sweet potatoes I’d attempted a few years ago, I suddenly envisioned a chili. Ground lamb, cubes of sweet potatoes, black beans, a roasty dark beer, all swimming in a sauce resounding with the flavors of that most famous player in Oaxacan cuisine.

Of course my mole is an approximation. It’s an adaptation of an adaptation of one of Rick Bayless’s recipes, and I can claim no authenticity. But mole and its flavors correspond well with chili: the peppers are there, of course, though lending more fruitiness than heat in most cases, and the warm spices play so nicely with lamb, taming its gaminess. Mole gets its thickening power (as well as flavor, of course) from toasted nuts and seeds, and I realized these would make an excellent thickening agent for the chili, as well as adding tasty, toasty depth. It felt like cheating to just sprinkle on the chives at the end, so I decided I would make a chive oil to drizzle on top, for a little fresh onion flavor and a bright burst of contrasting color.

Now that I knew I was making chili, the corn chips became easier to deal with. Again, as with the chives, serving them simply as dippable garnishes to the main event sounded delicious, but too easy. Since they are essentially cornmeal and salt (with a few extras), I wondered if I could grind them up and use them as a base for cornbread, which is our typical accompaniment to chili.

After about two bites, N. told me that “the judges” thought I would definitely progress to the dessert round, so I’m going to call this a successful experiment. Lamb and mole are meant to be together, and as so many makers of bean-based brownies have already discovered, black beans and chocolate – that most recognizable of mole ingredients – complement each other very well. There’s just enough heat to prevent the sweet potatoes from getting too saccharine, and the chive oil, though we agreed it was negligible in terms of flavor, was a very striking drizzle: bright emerald against cocoa-dark.

The cornbread turned out well too, although it was a touch sweet and not particularly strong in corn flavor – adding whole kernels of corn helped, but as I’ll also note in the recipe below, subbing in stone ground cornmeal for a portion of the chip powder would likely produce a cornier end product (or, you know, just use cornmeal…). Something about the flavor and the softer-than-usual texture reminded me of those scoops of corn cake you get at Tex-Mex restaurants, which made me forgive its otherwise regrettable lightness in flavor. In an effort to make it a little more savory, and get good use out of all of my ingredients, I whipped up a little chive butter in case we wanted to top the cornbread. We agreed this was probably unnecessary – the cornbread was nice and moist on its own – but tasty all the same, and how lovely to be able to do the whole thing in the food processor!

I’m including the recipes for both here, and the chive components, though I have to admit that with the chili, I wasn’t timing things too carefully. My directions about how long the recipe takes to make are… let’s kindly call them an approximation. I’d say you should make this, if you’re going to, over a leisurely afternoon, so you have plenty of time for things to simmer.

Corn chip cornbread with chive butter
Makes a 9x9x2 inch square loaf
About 40 minutes
For cornbread:
1 cup corn chip powder, from about 2 cups corn chips, loosely packed (note: this will produce a less corn-y tasting bread. For stronger corn flavor, use only 1 cup of the corn chips, and add ½ cup stone ground cornmeal. If you do this, you may have to add just a touch of salt)
1 cup all purpose flour
¼ cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, cool but not refrigerator cold
1 cup buttermilk (or just shy of 1 cup milk with a splash of vinegar stirred in)
1 egg
1 cup defrosted or fresh corn kernels
For chive butter:
3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature (what remains from the stick you used for the cornbread works very nicely)
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
salt to taste
  • Preheat your oven to 375F and spray or grease a 9-inch square baking dish. Buzz the corn chips in a food processor until they become a fairly fine powder (they won’t go completely to dust because they do already contain fat, so stop processing before they become wet). Add the flour, the sugar, and the baking powder and process until well combined.
  • Cut the butter into roughly tablespoon sized chunks and add to the food processor; pulse 2-3 times for 2 seconds each until the butter is distributed in small to medium chunks. Add the buttermilk and the egg and pulse again in 2 second intervals until the mixture is combined – at first it will look quite liquid, but then suddenly thicken an puff (this is the baking powder activating).
  • Add the corn kernels and pulse once or twice just to distribute, not to break up the corn.
  • Scrape and pour into the prepared baking dish and bake at 375F until golden on top and cooked through: about 25 minutes.
  • Let cool at least 10-15 minutes before slicing, though we like ours completely cooled to room temperature.
  • To make the chive butter, use a spatula, spoon, or small whisk to combine the butter and chopped chives. Season with salt if desired. Serve with the cornbread.

 

Mole inspired lamb and sweet potato chili with black beans
Makes a large pot – at least 6 hungry diners
Approximately 2 hours
For chili:
3 dried ancho chiles
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup pumpkin seeds
¼ cup sesame seeds
½ cup skin-on almonds
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons dried oregano
½ teaspoon ground cloves
3 dried bay leaves
1 medium red onion, peeled and diced
1 medium poblano or pasilla chile, stemmed and diced (take the ribs and seeds out if you don’t want the thrill of potential spice)
5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 pound ground lamb
1-2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼-½ teaspoon ground red pepper (cayenne)
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 15 ounce can black beans, drained
1 12 ounce bottle dark beer, such as a stout or porter
1 28 ounce can low-sodium peeled tomatoes (I like whole, but you can use diced or even fire-roasted, if you prefer)
optional: up to 1 cup low sodium beef broth or water
1-2 tablespoons lime juice, if desired
For chive oil:
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons roughly chopped chives

 

  • In a dry pot over medium high heat, toast the dried chiles 2-3 minutes, until fragrant. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
  • In the same pot, heat the 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat, then add the almonds, the pumpkin seeds, and the sesame seeds. Toast until they are beginning to brown, then remove these as well, keeping as much oil in the pan as possible.
  • Again in the same pot, add the cumin, coriander, allspice, cinnamon, oregano, cloves, and bay leaves, and toast until fragrant, stirring frequently. If the pot seems very dry, add another tablespoon of olive oil. After just a minute or two, add the onion, garlic, and fresh poblano, stirring to integrate well into all of the spices, and sweat until the onion and pepper are softened, 8-10 minutes.
  • Add the ground lamb, the salt, and the black and red pepper and raise the heat to medium high. Cook, breaking up the lamb with a wooden flat-sided spoon or spatula, until no longer pink, around 10 minutes.
  • Use a spice grinder or small food processor to grind the reserved dried chiles, almonds, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds into a paste. Add this to the pot along with the cocoa powder, stirring well to fully integrate.
  • Add the sweet potato chunks, the drained black beans, the bottle of beer, and the can of tomatoes. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium or medium low, keeping the mixture at a simmer. If at this point the mixture seems way too thick, stir in some of the beef broth. Keep in mind, though: it will loosen up as it cooks.
  • Continue to simmer the mixture for at least an hour, until the sweet potatoes are very tender and the flavors have had time to meld.
  • Shortly before you are ready to serve, taste for seasoning. It may need more salt. If it feels a little flat, add a squeeze or two of lime juice.
  • To make the chive oil, combine the olive oil and the chives in a blender and blend until uniformly liquid. Swirl on top of the chili before serving.
  • Other topping options: freshly chopped cilantro, greek yogurt or sour cream, crumbled cotija or queso fresco cheese, cubes of avocado, more of the corn chips, or fresh chopped chives or green onions.

Drunken Fig and Honeyed Walnut Sundae

As I type this, I am sitting in my parents’ backyard, at a table in what I’ve been calling their “redwood grove,” sipping a glass of prosecco and thinking about vacation. I think there are a few different levels of vacation, and with them come differing levels of indulgence. The good old “staycation,” a concept that has been around for decades but which only became an official word in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2010, seems to call for something humble – homey – perhaps a slice of pound cake with some berries or a smear of jam and not much else. A heavy-duty vacation – the kind that requires airline travel or a passport – requires something more indulgent. On a voyage up and down the East Coast that N. and I took a number of years ago, we unexpectedly ended up in a first class train cabin on a leg from Boston to New York City, and as we sat back and wondered at our luck, an attendant suddenly, unexpectedly, dropped off two gleaming glasses of lush, impossibly light chocolate mousse. That’s a big vacation dessert. Indulgent. Rich. Not the first thing you’d choose from a cookbook. Big vacations are opera cakes and crème brûlée and napoleons.

But there are also in between vacations: those that require only a day trip, or when you lie around in your rented beach-house-for-the-weekend with no agenda besides thinking all day about what will be for dinner, and then scrapping all your plans and going to get tacos instead. There are the ones that consist of living with friends for a week because you only get to see them once a year, or dropping by the family’s house for a few warm evenings to shake off the spent semester, or grabbing a hotel room unexpectedly because the glory of the afternoon wore on so long you can’t bear the idea of the drive home, and besides, you’re on vacation.

This dessert is for one of those in between kinds of vacations. The idea came from Judy Rodgers’ red wine figs in her Zuni Café Cookbook, a thick tome spilling with interesting combinations that I’m still working my way through, and a garam masala laced bowl of walnuts I whipped up for a last minute happy hour a month or two ago. The result is a glorious trifecta of textures and temperatures: ice cream, chewy figs steeped in warm, orange-spiked red wine, and toasted walnuts tossed in spiced honey. It’s a very adult sort of sundae – no sprinkles, no bright berries, no whipped cream or chocolate of any sort. Yet it’s also indulgent – wine-drenched figs intense enough you’ll only want a few, and warm walnuts dripping with honey, so reminiscent of baklava, slowly melting the rich, cold, sweet ice cream underneath. And if you are lucky enough to choose an ice cream that is studded with dozens of tiny, crunchy seeds scraped from that precious pod, well, all the better.

And now that you have this on a Monday, you’ve got something to dream about (and get going: the figs need a few days to steep and soak up that wine) until you get to your weekend, and whatever kind of vacation it holds.

Drunken Fig and Honeyed Walnut Sundaes
Makes 4 sundaes
About 40 minutes active time, plus at least 2 days for figs to steep
For Drunken Figs:
1½ cups red wine
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier
2 bay leaves
1 strip of orange zest, about half an inch wide, taken from stem end to navel end of orange
8 ounces dried black mission figs
1-2 teaspoons honey
For Honeyed Walnuts:
1 cup walnut halves or pieces, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons honey
¼ – ½ teaspoon salt (we found ½ teaspoon was right on the edge of being too much)
½ teaspoon garam masala
To serve:
Vanilla bean ice cream, about two scoops per person

 

  • To make the drunken figs, heat the wine and orange liqueur in a small saucepan with the bay leaves and boil until it has reduced to ½ cup. This will take around 20 minutes.
  • While the wine reduces, stem and halve the figs (cut from stem end to belly end to expose all of the seeds) and place them in a 2 – 4 cup vessel with a tight fitting lid. Add the strip of orange zest.
  • When the wine has reduced, stir in the honey, then pour over the figs and zest. Cover and shake, “leave to swell for a few days,” shaking periodically (for me, this ended up being 2 days), then refrigerate until ready to use. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.
  • To make the honeyed walnuts, preheat the oven to 300F and scatter the walnuts on a baking tray. Bake until lightly browned and fragrant; 10-15 minutes. While they toast, combine the honey, salt, and garam masala in a small bowl with a whisk. When the walnuts come out of the oven, immediately scrape and pour the honey over them and toss to coat. The hot walnuts will heat and thin the honey, making it easier to combine.
  • To serve, place two scoops of ice cream into a dish of your choice. Scoop and drizzle about ¼ cup of the walnuts over the top, then add 5-6 fig halves plus a little remaining liquid, if there is any. Eat immediately.

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Zucchini Crepes with Mascarpone Almond Cream

food-blog-february-2017-0288There is no way I can connect this recipe with Black History Month. I’ve tried. The transition just isn’t there. But when this issue of The New Yorker showed up on our doorstep, with this beautiful new imagining of the iconic Rosie the Riveter staring confidently back at me on the front, I wanted to make sure you saw her. Clearly a response to the Women’s March, she is also a powerful image of intersectional feminism, replacing the white WWII era working woman with an African American marcher, pink pussy hat and all. And though the cover doesn’t bear Rosie’s original accompanying phrase – “We can do it” – there’s no way to divorce that message, with all its connotations, from this new version.

There is so much to do, but we can do it.

food-blog-february-2017-0260These started not as crepes but as a desire to modify my favorite zucchini spice bread recipe into a pancake (I told you there was no transition. I just wanted to show you my magazine cover and remind you about the history we should be celebrating this month). There would be nutmeg and cinnamon, there would be caramelized crisp edges, there might be golden raisins… and then I made the mistake of searching for “zucchini bread pancakes” online, and of course the first hit was Deb’s recipe, deepening, as ever, my intense love-hate relationship with her and her site. Let me be clear, before you start emailing me: I adore Smitten Kitchen (look, Deb, I’m even giving you traffic!). I have the cookbook, I went to a signing and thoroughly embarrassed myself, and I trawl through her archives all the time, because she has tried everything! But there’s the hate part (or, at least, the jealous part): she’s tried everything! I certainly wasn’t going to make zucchini bread pancakes if she already had the consummate version (which, of course, I just automatically assume she does. Being a jealous fan-girl is weird).

food-blog-february-2017-0263food-blog-february-2017-0267So I had to go with something different, and somehow something different became crepes. I wasn’t sure how they would work, given the sodden heaviness large quantities of shredded zucchini often contribute to a dish, but the zucchini were already in the fridge and the milk on the door was begging to be used, so the experiment had to move forward.

food-blog-february-2017-0255I’m calling these crepes, but they don’t share ratio or ingredient quantities with other crepe recipes. My grandfather called them Swedish pancakes, probably more because he was Swedish than due to any recipe authenticity. They are a bit moister than some crepes – a little less papery around the edges, maybe a bit heavier, and we’ve never been particularly fussy about getting them wafer thin. Here, the addition of the zucchini makes these qualities important, since the batter has to be substantial enough to hold up to the extra weight of the vegetation.

food-blog-february-2017-0268food-blog-february-2017-0272As I always yell at food competition contestants when they scrunch or tear or mangle their first crepe, the first one probably is going to be ugly. Maybe the second one too. But you have to persist. Crepes require a bit of a rhythm – you have to get a feel for how much batter goes into the pan, how steeply to tilt your pan while you swirl to get an even coating of batter, and how long it really does need to cook before you can flip that delicate, eggy circle. And ultimately, really, it’s okay when that first one rips, because now you get to eat it surreptitiously and make sure it’s good. Cook’s prerogative.

food-blog-february-2017-0277These were indeed good. The zucchini is mild, so don’t worry if it’s not your very favorite vegetable flavor, but it cooks so quickly that every bit of grassy rawness was gone. They could go in a sweet or a savory direction, but I opted for sweet, whisking mascarpone cheese with some honey, some lemon, and roughly chopped toasted almonds for a bit of crunch. Lemon and zucchini play well together, as do zucchini and almonds, and it’s nice to have some texture in with the softness of the cheese and the pliable delicacy of the pancake.

food-blog-february-2017-0280We had these for dinner as a decadent response to a rainy day, but they would make an indulgent breakfast or a superb brunch course as well. You can fold the crepes up into a triangular, handkerchief-like packet with a mound of cheese inside, or you can roll up into a cylinder, which is what my family has always done. I found I liked a few almonds sprinkled over the top, and an extra drizzle of honey as well. Any extra crepes keep fine covered in the fridge for a day or two, until you take them out, reheat them with a bit of salted butter, and smother them with cinnamon sugar, because some days require that kind of solid self care, so you can get out there and keep going.

food-blog-february-2017-0293

Zucchini Crepes with Mascarpone Almond Cream
Makes 10-12 crepes in a 10-inch skillet
30-40 minutes
For the filling:
½ cup whole raw almonds
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons honey
zest of one lemon
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
additional honey, to drizzle
For the crepes:
2 cups shredded zucchini, from 2 medium zucchinis
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
3 eggs
1½-1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt

 

  • First, make the filling. Preheat the oven to 350F. While it heats, roughly chop the almonds – it’s okay to have some uneven sizing. Spread them out on a baking tray and toast in the oven 10-15 minutes until they are golden brown. Start checking at 10 minutes; keep in mind they will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven.
  • In a bowl, whisk the mascarpone cheese and the heavy cream together until light and fluffy (I used the whisk attachment of my stand mixer). Add the honey, the lemon zest, and the lemon juice, whisk again and taste for seasoning – you are looking for something lightly sweet, and rich but not overwhelming. When the almonds cool, fold ¾ of the amount into the mascarpone mixture, reserving the remainder to sprinkle atop the crepes.
  • To make the crepes, shred the zucchini in a food processor or with the large holes on a box grater. Collect them on a clean kitchen towel and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible. Let it sit for 2 minutes, then squeeze once more.
  • Warm the milk slightly in a bowl or large glass measuring cup and add the melted butter, stirring to incorporate. This ensures the butter will integrate evenly, rather than hardening back into chunks. Let cool to room temperature and whisk in the eggs, then 1½ cups of the flour, the sugar, and the salt. Finally, whisk in the zucchini shreds. You should have something like a thin cake batter, probably thinner than your average pancake batter. If it seems too liquid, add the remaining ¼ cup of flour.
  • To cook the crepes, heat about 2 teaspoons butter in a 10-inch skillet or crepe pan over medium-high heat. Pour in about ⅓ cup of batter, turning and swirling the skillet as you do so to allow for a thin layer of batter to coat the entire surface. Try to spread out the zucchini a bit – it has a tendency to clump up in the middle, which results in uneven cooking.
  • Cook 1-2 minutes per side, until golden and almost dry. Don’t be alarmed if the first crepe tears or is otherwise mangled – they are delicate, and you have to get a rhythm going. After every two crepes, add another few teaspoons of butter to the skillet.
  • As you finish cooking each crepe, remove from the skillet to a covered plate to keep them warm. They won’t stick together – there’s enough fat in them to prevent clinging.
  • To serve, spread out one crepe on a flat surface and spread a few tablespoons of the mascarpone and almond mixture in a line a bit to the left of the center. Use the tines of a fork or your fingers to lift the edge of the crepe over the mascarpone filling, then continue rolling up into a tight burrito shape. Remove to a serving plate and continue with remaining crepes and filling. Sprinkle the finished rolls with the remaining almonds, and if desired, drizzle with more honey before serving.

Almond Raisin Roasted Cauliflower

2015 Blog September-0517This week, Los Angeles finally had some mercy on us and allowed the temperatures to drop just a bit. My building at work turned off the air conditioning in our offices. I didn’t change into shorts immediately upon getting home. In fact, I actually – and you might be shocked here, so get ready for it – I actually put on a sweatshirt and wore it quite comfortably for several hours. I dug my bedroom slippers out from the dust-bunny-laden corner of the closet and slid grateful, almost chilly, feet into their old embrace.

2015 Blog September-0501Of course, since this relief might not last very long, I did the only sensible thing I could, which was to buy a head of cauliflower and shove it into a high-temperature oven. Cauliflower and I were never friends in childhood, but Mark Bittman changed all that for me by offering a high-heat roast, rather than a steam or a boil, as the plan of attack. In fact at this point, I think N. and I would happily eat a tray of roasted broccoli and cauliflower three or four nights a week, without much to accompany them.

2015 Blog September-0502On occasion, though, a bit of accompaniment is nice. Though my typical procedure is just salt, pepper, and plenty of olive oil, I wanted to give the cauliflower some friends to play with as it bronzed slowly over the flames. The vegetable itself has such a mild flavor that it can easily go in a sweet or a savory direction, and I decided I wanted to play with these borders. Adopting a vaguely Mediterranean direction, after the first blast of roasting I scattered a handful each of golden raisins and sliced almonds over the cauliflower. Back it went just long enough for the florets to brown and the almonds to toast, but not quite long enough to burn the nuts or the delicate raisins. On the contrary, the raisins plump up a bit as they suck in some of the oil and moisture released from the cauliflower. A quick shower of chopped parsley as the tray leaves the oven, and the dish is ready.

2015 Blog September-0506The flavors here are perfect, and it’s hard to describe perfection, but my unexpected favorite thing about this dish was the play of textures. The cauliflower gains an almost-crisp crust on its exterior, but the inside is meltingly soft in an entirely pleasant way. The raisins don’t stay plump for long after exiting the oven, but they provide a subtle chewiness I enjoy, and the almonds are a perfect crunch.

2015 Blog September-0509I usually try to give you pairing suggestions, and while I think this would be good with everything from turkey to lamb, I feel no shame in admitting that, since I was dining solo, I just ate the whole tray and called it a night.

2015 Blog September-0511

Almond Raisin Roasted Cauliflower
Serves 2-3 as a side, 1 as a main
45-50 minutes, mostly unattended
¼ cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
1 medium head of cauliflower
generous ⅓ cup golden raisins
generous ⅓ cup sliced untoasted almonds
¼ cup roughly chopped fresh parsley

 

  • Preheat the oven to 450F with a foil-lined 9×13 inch baking tray inside. We want to preheat the cooking surface as well as the oven to start the cooking process immediately.
  • While the oven heats, whisk together the olive oil, salt, and pepper in a large bowl. Cut the cauliflower into medium florets (a large bite-size) and toss in the seasoned oil for even coating.
  • Carefully remove the preheated baking tray from the oven and dump on the oiled florets, arranging them in a single layer. Return to the oven and roast for 20 minutes, during which time you can assemble and prep the remaining ingredients.
  • After 20 minutes, take the tray out of the oven and, using tongs, flip over the florets. Yes, each one. Yes, it’s tedious, but it will make for a better end product. Push them back into the oven and roast for another 10 minutes.
  • Remove the tray from the oven again and scatter the raisins and then the almonds over the cauliflower. This protects the raisins a bit and ensures the almonds toast nicely. Back into the oven once more for a final 10 minutes, then remove, scatter with chopped parsley, and serve hot or warm.

 

 

Carrot Ginger Soup with Coconut and Turmeric

I threw away my bathroom scale today. Before you applaud me, this isn’t some kind of new-year-new-me-self-acceptance resolution. No, it’s because unless we have had a 46 pound ghost living in our bathroom for the last month, the scale has stopped working. No amount of fiddling with the dial on the bottom has had any effect, aside from bulking up our imaginary squatter to 77 pounds.

Food Blog January 2015-0205Though I realize there are probably many videos, tutorials, and step-by-step Pinterest boards devoted to fixing this problem (how to evict your imaginary scale-ghost!), I decided it was easier to just throw it away. Then I went out and had chicken and waffles for lunch.

Food Blog January 2015-0210All that being said, it is the time of year when, if we’re invested in this sort of thing, we tend to pay a lot of attention to what our bodies look like and what we put into them. Usually that involves eating less and eating lighter, which is ironic and unfortunate, because so many places in the country this January are having such a harsh winter. We need comfort, we need warmth, we need rich food to sustain us through snow and low temperatures (well, perhaps not in Los Angeles).

Food Blog January 2015-0199The answer to both of these problems seems, to me, to be vegetable soup. I don’t mean a minestrone type concoction, with chunks of various veggies floating in broth, but a pureed soup, featuring a single vegetable star, with minimal back-up supporters and just a bit of spice to keep things interesting. After a recent episode of Top Chef on which one of the contestants made a deep, sunset inspired roasted carrot soup, I knew what my star would be.

Food Blog January 2015-0201Carrots work well with many flavors, but ginger is a particularly nice pairing; carrots are sweet and hearty, and ginger is a warm, spicy kick that keeps it bright. Rather than chicken stock, which I find can muddy flavors a bit, I opted for water as my liquid, with a generous splash of coconut milk to add some richness. Then, on a whim I’m pleased I followed, I sprinkled in a good teaspoon or two of turmeric, which bolstered both the orange glow of the carrots and their earthy flavor.

Food Blog January 2015-0213As I watched my pureed mixture burble in a pot, I started thinking about texture. I’d stopped short of pureeing the carrots to total velvet smoothness, but I still wanted something crunchy to break up the potential monotony of my soup. During the pumpkin madness of autumn, I experimented with some yet-to-be-perfected turmeric-spiced pumpkin bars that featured a pistachio and walnut crumble topping. Pistachios seemed like a good choice again here, and to play with the hint of citrus flavor they carry, as well as add a slight sourness the soup might benefit from, I tossed the nuts with lemon zest before sprinkling them over my vivid orange lunch.

Food Blog January 2015-0209Despite our less-than-wintery weather, this was a comforting, warming bowl. Roasting the carrots brings out their sweetness and concentrates their flavor, but the spices keep it dancing between decadent richness and brightly refreshing. I used some leftover naan to mop up the edges of my bowl, but a crusty piece of baguette or hot pita would, as you might expect, be just as nice.

Food Blog January 2015-0214This is a thick soup – almost passable as a vegetable puree, and you can play with it as you please. Add more or less liquid, replace the pistachio and lemon topping with another toasted nut, or lime zest rather than lemon, or maybe even fried sage and crumbled gingersnaps, to play with the fresh ginger in the soup. My quantities here produce an assertively gingery mix – reduce to just a teaspoon or two for a milder spice.

Food Blog January 2015-0207

Carrot Ginger Soup with Coconut and Turmeric
Serves 2-3
1 pound carrots, tips and tops removed, peeled if desired (I usually don’t – just scrub them off)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon grated ginger (or less, to your taste)
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 cup light coconut milk
1 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
additional salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup roughly chopped, toasted pistachios
2 teaspoons lemon zest

 

  • Preheat the oven to 425F while you prep your carrots. Remove their tops and tips, then split down the center for two long half cylinders. On an aluminum foil lined baking sheet, toss the carrot halves with the olive oil and the ½ teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper for a gleaming, even coat. Roast in the 425F oven for 40 minutes, until nicely browned and quite tender. Set aside to cool slightly.
  • For a standard blender: add the roasted carrots, coconut milk, water, grated ginger, and turmeric to a blender and blend until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. As noted above, I chose to leave mine with a little texture, but you can blend until completely smooth if desired. Pour the mixture into a medium pot.
  • For an immersion blender: add the roasted carrots, coconut milk, water, grated ginger, and turmeric to a medium pot with high sides (otherwise the soup spatters a bit during blending) and blend with an immersion blender until the mixture reaches your desired consistency. As noted above, I chose to leave mine with a little texture, but you can blend until completely smooth if desired.
  • For both methods: once the soup is your desired consistency in the medium pot, place it over medium-low heat until it is heated through. Be careful – because this mixture is thick, if it comes to a boil it will spit.
  • Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve topped with a scattering of chopped pistachios and lemon zest.