2.28.2012

Mississippi Mud Pie


I have a huge collection of cookbooks, and I seem to always be adding to it. Some books are great for flipping through to get ideas; some I've bought just to try one particular recipe; some are the kind of books you curl up with in bed and read like novels. And some are books I really connect with and end up turning to over and over again. One such book is Baked Explorations, which my sister got me for Christmas two years ago.

The recipes in Baked Explorations come from the Brooklyn bakery Baked (which I plan to go to as soon as I have time to get to Brooklyn). I've made a bunch of recipes from this cookbook and from the first cookbook from the bakery too. I've found the recipes reliable, interesting, creative, and, above all, delicious. Some of my favorites have been the black and white cookies, the stump de Noël, the carrot scones, and now... this Mississippi mud pie.

This pie, also known as muddy Mississippi Cake (which I think suits it better), starts with an Oreo cookie crust.


A rich, flourless chocolate cake, flavored with espresso powder and brewed coffee, is baked inside the cookie crust.


The cake sinks as it cools...


...making room for the most luscious chocolate pudding I have ever made.


The three chocolate layers are then topped with lightly sweetened homemade whipped cream.


This combination makes for one of the most decadent pies (or cakes) I've ever had. The three chocolate layers provide three different textures: crunchy, soft and cakey, and silky. The whipped cream is just the thing to balance all of the chocolate.


This recipe alone makes Baked Explorations a worthwhile investment.

What rich desserts have you been enjoying?

2.26.2012

Brussels Sprout Salad


I've mentioned in the past (and I'm sure you know this anyways) that it's difficult to come up with interesting winter salads. In the summertime, it's so easy to stroll through the farmers' market grabbing various ripe, tasty veggies, but in the winter, one needs to be a little more creative to come up with something as flavorful. It also doesn't hurt if you can work a splash of color into a winter salad.

When I made that hearty lamb shank dish I shared the other day, I knew I wanted to pair it with something light and fresh, and a brussels sprout salad came to mind. I searched for some recipes, landed on one from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef that featured a Dijon-based dressing, and adapted the recipe to suit my tastes.

I started by thinly shaving the brussels sprouts using the slicing blade on my food processor. Just before serving the salad, I tossed the sprouts with some thinly sliced shallots and the dressing, and then I topped them with segments of Cara Cara oranges and goat cheese. (I go nuts for Cara Cara oranges in the wintertime. They have a gorgeous pink color.) The bright citrus paired with the crunchy sprouts, vibrant dressing, and creamy goat cheese made for an amazing winter salad -- one that I'll be making over and over again with different tweaks.



Brussels Sprout Salad (adapted from Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef)

Ingredients

24 brussels sprouts
1 thinly sliced shallot

3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

9 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard 

Kosher salt and pepper
2 Cara Cara oranges, sectioned
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

Preparation

Core the brussels sprouts (I usually make a v-shaped cut in the bottom) and then shred them using a food processor fitted with a slicing blade.


Combine shredded sprouts with shallot in large bowl.

Whisk together apple cider vinegar, olive oil, mustard, and salt and pepper in small bowl or measuring cup.

Toss the brussels sprouts and shallot with the vinaigrette. Transfer to a serving dish.


Top the brussels sprout mixture with the orange segments and goat cheese. Serve.


I think this salad would also be wonderful with toasted pecans or walnuts and pomegranate seeds, grapes, or cherries. You could try different cheeses as well, though I'm partial to the creamy texture of the goat cheese to complement the crisp texture of the raw brussels sprouts.

What sorts of salads do you make during the winter?

2.24.2012

Braised Lamb Shanks With White Beans And Tomatoes


This past weekend I hosted my final lamb dinner sponsored by the Tri-Lamb Group. I've really enjoyed getting a lamb shipment every couple of months and trying new lamb-based recipes. The first shipment was a leg of lamb, which we grilled up with friends. The second shipment was ground lamb, which I turned into lamb pizza and shared with even more friends. And this last shipment contained four hefty lamb shanks, which I braised with white beans and tomatoes and served as a dinner for four. It's been a lot of fun trying these different recipes and sharing them with friends.

I hope throughout the course of my lamb dinner posts you've been inspired to make lamb at home too. It's no more complicated to cook than chicken or beef, and it's actually a pretty lean protein boasting tons of nutrients. We loved this last recipe, which is a heartier, more wintry lamb dish.

Braised Lamb Shanks With White Beans And Tomatoes (from the Tri-Lamb Group)

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 lamb shanks, trimmed
Salt and pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
2 celery ribs, sliced crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 tablespoons herbs de provence
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup dry red wine
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes and juice
1 (19-ounce) can cannellini beans

Preparation

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Add the shanks to hot oil and cook, browning each side, about 4 minutes per side (if necessary, cook in batches). Transfer shanks to a clean plate and set aside.


Add onion, carrot, celery, tomato paste, herbs de Provence, garlic, 1/8 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.



Add wine, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan.


Add broth, tomatoes and beans; bring mixture to a simmer.


Nestle browned lamb shanks into broth mixture; cover, transfer to oven, and cook until meat is tender and easily falls off the bone, about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours depending on size of shanks.


Serve. (I suggest cutting the meat off the bone and combining it with the vegetables in a serving bowl, so everyone can take a little of both. The shanks are huge and, I think, easily serve more than one.)


The best part of this dinner is that after we were done eating, my friend turned to me and said she would definitely make something like this at home. It looked easy. And it was really good.

Thank you to the Tri-Lamb Group for providing me with the lamb and other ingredients for this recipe and for inviting me to participate in the supper club.

How often do you eat lamb?

2.22.2012

Casa B Restaurant, Somerville, Mass.



Casa B, a tiny tapas restaurant, recently opened near us in Union Square in Somerville. A few Friday nights ago, I mentioned to Jeff that they had a dish with beef tenderloin, sautéed onions, and crispy shallots on the menu, and using that as leverage, I convinced him that we should head over that night. 

We walked over, and after we were greeted by the hostess, we were led downstairs, which made me happy because I had heard there's a good view of the kitchen. My sources were right, and we even saw co-owners Alberto and Angelina preparing some dishes throughout the evening. 


Once we settled in at our table, we glanced around the restaurant. I loved how open the small space looked and felt. Displays of wine bottles and greenery provided a tranquil setting. And the tea lights hanging above the tables cast a soft, romantic light.



When I looked down at our table, the first thing I noticed was the teeny tiny silverware. I may have squealed with delight.


We each started with a glass of wine. Jeff isn't much of a wine drinker (yet), but he enjoys a sweeter white wine like Riesling or Pinot Grigio. While neither was on the menu, the bartender came over and helped him select something similar and poured him a couple of wines to try. He ended up going with a Sauvignon Blanc.

I was leaning toward Malbec, a red I often turn to during the winter, but I spotted a Rose de Malbec and was intrigued. It was a darker red than any rose I've had before but not so dark that it looked like a red. (Honestly, it was pretty close in color to cranberry juice.) It had more body than any rose I've had as well and had light berry flavors. I was definitely happy with my choice... and the diminutive carafes and glasses our wine was served in.


Wine decisions made, we looked over the menu. Eventually, we each chose something we really wanted and then two things to share.


Once we placed our order, our waitress brought out some complimentary fried plantains and an asparagus dip.


And within moments, my crispy avocado rolls arrived. These tiny rolls were filled with avocado and tomato and served with a prune and cilantro dipping sauce. I found them heavenly.


Jeff's choice, the sandwich de bistec, a beef tenderloin, onion, and shallot pincho, came out next. As much as I loved the avocado rolls, I think he had the best pick of the night. The meat was tender and perfectly seasoned.


And I had fun watching him cut the sandwiches with the tiny silverware.


We shared a dish of bunuelos. These Colombian cheese fritters were delightfully crisp and paired so well with the roasted red pepper aioli. I was expecting them to have cheese in the middle, but it seemed more like it was dispersed in the batter. They were sort of like savory, cheesy doughnuts.


Last but not least, we split one of the entree specials. While the dish looks small, there was more than enough in there for the both of us after everything else we ate. And what did we try? The Puerto Rican pot roast with yucca gnocchi, chorizo, and sage. Jeff thought the yucca gnocchi was potato gnocchi, and I admit that I let him think that just so he would try them (he liked them). I loved all the sage and little bits of chorizo as well as the gnocchi. While we both loved the flavor of the pot roast, we wished it was a bit more tender.


Once we got the dessert menu, the meringues with passionfruit curd caught my eye, and I convinced Jeff to try the tres leches cake. The cake, which was incredibly moist, came served in a pool of Taza chocolate ganache and topped with a sort of homemade marshmallow creme.


My dessert featured a beautiful presentation of a stack of meringues and passionfruit curd in a pool of raspberry sauce with wisps of Taza chocolate ganache and fresh blackberries. I ate every bite of meringue with a little of the raspberry sauce. The combination of crunchy, sweet meringues with the sort of citrusy, tropical curd and tart sauce was heavenly. I definitely recommend trying this dessert.


We both really enjoyed our impromptu evening out, and I know we'll be headed back to Casa B soon.

Have you been to Casa B yet?


Casa B on Urbanspoon

2.20.2012

Haddock And Fingerling Potatoes In Tomato Sauce


Making good on my promise to myself to cook more fish this year, I flagged a couple of fish recipes in the February issue of Bon Appetit and adapted one for a recent dinner. The original recipe (Roasted Potatoes and Haddock Puttanesca) calls for anchovies and olives to flavor the sauce. Jeff wasn't keen on either of those, but I convinced him to let me use anchovy paste, which I find a little more pleasant to work with than actual anchovies. Then I cut back the recipe to make just the right amount for two and adjusted the method a bit to suit the lesser amount of ingredients.


We ended up with a super-flavorful, salty-sweet mixture of haddock, fingerling potatoes, and tomato sauce. The anchovy paste and some capers added complex flavor to complement the sweet tomatoes, and red pepper flakes provided a little heat. The end result was a filling but not heavy dish that could definitely qualify as winter comfort food.


Haddock And Fingerling Potatoes In Tomato Sauce (adapted from Bon Appetit, February 2012)
Serves 2

Ingredients

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 (14.5-ounce) can whole peeled tomatoes and juice, coarsely processed
Salt and pepper
1/2 pound fingerling potatoes, halved
2 small shallots, peeled and quartered (leave root end intact)
1/2 pound haddock fillet, cut in 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon drained capers
Parsley sprigs (optional)

Preparation

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in small pot over medium-low heat. Add garlic and cook until soft and lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in anchovy paste and red pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in tomato puree.


Simmer over low to medium-low heat until sauce thickens, 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often. Season with salt and pepper.


Meanwhile, place a wire rack in a rimmed baking sheet. Toss potatoes, shallots, and 1/2 tablespoon oil together in medium bowl and season with salt and pepper. Spread in single layer on prepared rack.


Roast on top oven rack for 18 minutes, turning pan halfway through. Leave in oven. Place fish in 8-inch square baking dish. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil over fish and season with salt and pepper.

Roast on rack under potatoes and shallots until center is just opaque and shallots are crispy, about 7 minutes.


Spoon a little of the sauce into a serving bowl.


Place potatoes and shallots in sauce, and arrange fish on top.



Spoon remaining sauce over fish.


Garnish with capers and parsley sprigs, if desired, and serve.


How are your cooking resolutions going?

2.18.2012

A Family Visit And A Feast

My family came up to Boston last weekend for my sister's track meet at BU. Since she goes to school in Ithaca, which is quite a trek, it was nice to have the opportunity to see her run here. We watched her run on Friday night and then my mom, dad, sister, brother, and Jeff and I spent the day together on Saturday, playing cards, watching UConn basketball and the Bruins, and cooking and eating.

Having everyone over was just the excuse I needed to try out some new recipes. On Saturday morning I got up and started by baking some chocolate cake layers for a German chocolate cake. Then I worked on getting a brisket in the oven. It was my first time making brisket, and I chose a recipe from The Cook's Illustrated Cookbook. Technically, the brisket should have been made the day before, but since my sister ended up running Friday night (we originally thought she'd be running Saturday), I had to make do with the timing I had. Luckily, the recipe included some same-day instructions too.

While I prepped the meat, I had my dad cut onions for me. I browned the meat in a skillet and then made a sauce for it with the onions, red wine, broth, and spices. When the sauce was ready, I had returned to cake making, so I had my mom spread the sauce in the baking dish and nestle the brisket in it. After that, it was super easy to just let the brisket slowly cook away in the oven. After 4 hours, I took it out, left it to sit on the counter, and set about preparing some sides.

I roasted fingerling potatoes, sauteed brussels sprouts, and, using a recipe from Cook's Country, made an asparagus gratin. Then I turned back to the brisket, finished the sauce for it, and had my dad cut it into 1/4-inch-thick slices. I set everything out, and everyone filled their plates. We truly had a feast.



Then I broke out the German chocolate cake for dessert. This recipe was from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking. The cake consists of dark chocolate cake layers, a sweet coconut-pecan filling, and some milk chocolate frosting. While the chocolate frosting was meant only for decorating the top, I couldn't help spreading some between the layers too. The cake was moist, rich, and decadent and the perfect end to a perfect meal.


What was the last big family meal you enjoyed?