brussels sprouts and chestnuts in brown butter – smitten kitchen

Every so often, a recipe crosses my browser’s threshold and I know immediately that it Must Be Made. Surely, you know the feeling. This happens a lot more in the fall, because I simply love the cooking this time of year–warm, soupy, stewy and rich. We haven’t yet succumbed to hibernation and meals scraped from whatever was in the pantry because the famers’ markets looked so paltry, and you seriously cannot deal with another butternut squash.

chestnutschestnuts

Today’s New York Times dining section’s Thanksgiving feature had exactly that effect on me, times 16. Seriously, look at this slideshow! The photography is stunning, and the recipes… I want to try them all.*

shallotsbrussels

But I started with the Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts in Brown Butter Sauce, touted elsewhere in the section by Flo-Fab for it’s ability to pair seamlessly with wine. (She didn’t mention the rose we were drinking, but I had no complaints.) And seriously, what are the odds that I would have just happened to have picked up some chestnuts in Chinatown this weekend on the street, waiting to be roasted at home? Exactly nonexistent, I’ll tell you, and yet still it happened.

shallots in butterbrussels and chestnuts

It’s hard for me to say anything bad about this recipe because our apartment currently smells like browned butter and shallots which, trust me, is a very good thing. We loved the Brussels as well as the chestnuts but something went wrong with the (delicious) veloute. The recipe wasn’t clear on this whole “thickened” thing and when it hadn’t happened after five minutes, and the recipe said nothing about cooking it for 20 or something, I considered it done. It wasn’t. The final dish was tasty, but swimming in this sauce. We threw it over some egg noodles (in possibly the best sauce for egg noodles, ever) but I still suspect that this is not the way the dish was supposed to go.

So, to summarize: flavors = amazing, ingredients = delicious, preparation = a little fussy but manageable, sauce = decadent, but the wrong consistency. Thus, the recipe needs some work before it’s ready for your Thanksgiving table, but I do think it’s worth salvaging. Just perhaps not tonight. The rose is making me sleepy.

brussel sprouts and chestnuts in brown butter

* Actually, one of them I already have. Highly recommended.

Q&A? Seeing as I’ve made to the halfway point of NaBloPoMo (woo!) I was thinking about throwing a Q&A post in there to give our kitchen (and the handsome dishwasher) a one-day rest. Of course then I realized that it is entirely possible that nobody actually has a question they want me to answer, and I obviously have an inflated sense of self-importance to presume that people would. And then I thought of the dishes, all the time with the dishes that never stop, and have decided I’m not too proud to beg. But I hope it doesn’t come to that.

One year ago: Tomato and Sausage Risotto

Brussels Sprouts and Chestnuts in Brown Butter Sauce
New York Times 11/14/07

Serves 8

Salt
2 pounds brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup very thinly sliced shallots
3 tablespoons flour
2 1/2 cups hot chicken stock
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup roasted, peeled chestnuts, halved if large.

1. Bring 4 cups salted water to a boil, add brussels sprouts and cook 10 minutes. Drain and refresh under cold water. Drain again.

2. Meanwhile, melt butter in a 3-quart saucepan. Add shallots and cook over medium heat, stirring, until light brown. Pour contents of pan through a fine strainer into a dish, pressing to remove as much butter as possible from shallots. Place shallots on paper towel to drain. Return butter to saucepan.

3. If serving immediately, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place saucepan over medium heat and cook until butter has a nutty aroma and is turning brown. Whisk in flour and cook until mixture is light brown. Whisk in stock and cook until sauce has thickened. Add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, and nutmeg. Add chestnuts and brussels sprouts, folding ingredients together.

4. Transfer to an 8-cup baking dish. Scatter shallots on top. Bake about 15 minutes. Serve.

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q&a, vol. II – smitten kitchen

[Q&A Vol. I] Phew! You guys really came through with that Q&A request, so thank you. In the interest of not writing The Longest Food Blog Entry, Ever I’m going to handle these in batches of ten, in the order they were received, and pepper them throughout the next month or so. (Only on days where the task of cooking seems ludicrous–can I hear it for the day after Thanksgiving? I mean, seriously. That was the only day last November that I was skeptical about the value of daily posting.)

1. Jenifer from Houston asks: What’s your favorite messed up dish that turned out fabulous?

I suppose it goes without saying that even an undercooked, overflowing, cracked or, heck, fallen on the floor dessert is incapable of tasting bad. Fine, I’m just kidding about that floor part. What? Why don’t you believe me? That said, I have to admit that although there was too much stock/brown butter/lemon/shallot sauce in last night’s brussels and chestnuts, it was absolutely delicious over a bowl of egg noodles. I mean, I might actually make the sauce again, for that purpose alone. Total Eastern European comfort food–is it possible to feel your gene pool smiling? No Deb, that’s just weird.

2. Amy asks What is your very favorite tool in the kitchen? Which kitchen tool has the most interesting story (how you got it, something funny that happened while using it, whatever)?

I am a huge fan of the humble pastry blender. I know that some people like to use their fingers to rub butter into flour for crusts, others swear by the food processor (which I agree works splendidly) or the KitchenAid (haven’t gotten the hang of this for crusts yet) but I love the simplicity and fewer dishes involved in this simple tool.

I brought it home three Thanksgivings ago, actually, and Alex–wary of my mounting kitchen purchases, oh, if he only knew how bad it would get!–questioned whether something of such limited use would actually be worth owning. That night, we made three double-crust apple pies together and by the end of the night, he was a whiz with it. Since we were noobs back then, I didn’t say ‘I told you so.’ But I’m not above saying it now, heh heh. Even though I have a food processor and a zillion fancier tools now, I still go for it first.

I bet you didn’t know that someone can write 165 words on a pastry blender, eh? I aim to baffle, people.

3. Sarah wants to know what advice I would give to someone who was interested in starting to cook–where should they start? She lives alone and says she rarely has the gumption to cook for one after a day’s work.

I would start with the thing that is a constant disappointment to you whenever you eat it out. Nothing will be so satisfying when you conquer it at home, even imperfectly, and you might find the process addicting.

More practical however, if your interest is having something that will last for a week’s worth of meals, try a stew or hearty soup. Me, I’m addicted to eggy things, like quiche or a tortilla patata. That’s the kind of thing I’d make and reheat throughout the week with a green salad or cup of soup. But it’s got to be something you get excited about enough that you won’t mind the extra steps needed to do it yourself.

flour shaker godsend thing

4. Do you have any suggestions for what you absolutely need to have on hand in your kitchen?

There are a lot of lists out there, and I’m reluctant to add to them. But think basics–a cast-iron skillet, a large saucepan, a big mixing bowl (in fact, I love the 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup, because it does a double-duty in the bowl/measuring department), wooden spoon, silicon spatula. You can get surprisingly far with few things, and a little creativity. I try not to buy something for the kitchen until I’ve cursed at least ten times that I didn’t own it. Then again, we have significant space limitations, but even in a bigger space, moderation is good practice.

5. Mary asks a few questions: What was the first thing you remember eating and loving?

Gah, pinwheel cookies? Artichokes… Mm… tapioca pudding… Breyers Neopolitan. No one thing stands out more than others, but I remember loving all three of these things at a young age.

6. What do you always have in your refrigerator?

Something old that needs to be thrown away that Alex and I are in a stand-off with. Also: something pickled, often some extra-sharp cheddar cheese, butter, seltzer, eggs, nearly a dozen types of nuts/seeds and two types of yeast. An old bottle of wine we bought, didn’t like, and I am saving for cooking.

7. What do you think about the word “foodie”?

Not a fan. Food as an identity? Yawn. I know what you’re thinking–but aren’t cooking, photography and babbling about foods your hobby, Deb? And my response is, of course they are. But they are not my life. Also, I think the term has been long been attached to the sort of people who chase shards of thousand dollar white truffles around the city, something that scares me tremendously.

8. What is your favorite cooking trick (you know, that thing that makes you proud you know how to do it)?

Homemade bread. I love finally getting feel for it, so I don’t have to be daunted by recipes. I wish I could convince everyone to try it, at least once. No matter how good a bread bakery, it’s never as good as when it comes from your own oven because you miss out on the baking aroma.

artichokes

9. What is your favorite food?

Artichokes.

10. Is there something that you’ve always wanted to make but haven’t yet (either because you haven’t gotten around to it or because it’s just so daunting)?

Yes. Marrons glaces. I swore I’d make them last year and I am swearing it again this year. I know they’re very difficult and time-consuming to make (why they’re typically a few dollars apiece), but I can get past that. What I have a harder time overcoming is that I lack a recipe I feel utmost confidence in, and fear that the chestnuts widely available may not be a high enough quality to candy.

Bored yet? Stay tuned tomorrow for my often-promised but rarely delivered Pie Crust 101. It involves vodka. You’re welcome.

I Hear It’s All Teh Rage: Smitten Kitchen, in an effort to connect with the “cool kids” now has a Facebook page. Come by, say hello and dork out with us over there!

One year ago: Mushrooms Stuffed with Sun-Dried Tomatoes</a

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pie crust 101 – smitten kitchen

To begin, I want to make a note about the zillions of pie dough recipes out there: I barely buy it. Not the value of a recipe, mind you, but that new ones will ever come to pass. At their very base, they’re all just some type of solid fat (butter, shortening or lard) cut with powdery ingredients (flour, sometimes salt and sugar) bound with a liquid (usually water, but some folks get creative with milk, cream, buttermilk or vodka), and I’m amused that every year, so many cooking publications feel a need to pronounce that By Golly, They’ve Got It! They’ve found the perfect pie dough. In my mind, it was never lost.

That said, Cooks Illustrated is really onto something grand this year, so thank you to all who pointed me in this recipe’s direction. That thing is vodka, my friends. Yes, I think they’re brilliant too. But really, vodka, because it is 80-proof, will mostly evaporate in the oven, meaning that your crust gets the liquid it needs but much of it will not stay. Worried about a boozy vibe to your pie? Vodka is, by definition, colorless and odorless, so once it’s baked, you’ll forget it was ever in there. Of course (aheeeeem) if you are the sort that likes to pick up small scraps of raw dough and eat them because, mm, butter is awesome, let’s just say that things can get a little messy and leave it at that. Really, it’s not always a bad thing.

pie crust 101, step onepie crust 101, step twopie crust 101, step threepie crust 101, step four

So let’s get started shall we? As I noted yesterday, I am a fan of the humble pastry blender–it’s simple, lo-fi, and uses minimal dishes–so I’ll be using that today. However, these same steps could be taken with your food processor or Kitchen Aid, if you’re partial to them.

First, measure your flour. Measuring cups work just fine, but since I had a lot to measure, I weighed it, which makes my life much easier. You’ll need 2 1/2 cups* for one double-crust pie, plus one teaspoon of salt and two tablespoons of sugar. Whisk all of these dry ingredients together.

pie crust 101, step fivepie crust 101, step six

Now is the point where I suppose I should jump in on the Great Butter versus Shortening, but yawn, you can get that elsewhere. I tend to go the all-butter route but this year put my trust in the CI recipe, which calls for some shortening. Feel free to use all of one or the other, if that’s your preference, simply by swapping out the ingredient with the same volume of the alternative.

Dice your butter and shortening–cold from the fridge–into smaller bits with a knife, toss them into the dry ingredients bowl and start cutting away with your blender.

pie crust 101, step sevenpie crust 101, step eightpie crust 101, step ninepie crust 101, step ten

The first picture shows the dough after a few cuts with the blender, i.e. big chunks. The second picture shows it a minute later, and you can see the chunks getting smaller. In the third picture, you’ll see that the dough is beginning to align itself with the blades, becoming more of a solid mass–you’re almost there. Another minute later, it should resemble a coarse cornmeal. You’re almost done! Wasn’t that easy?

pie crust 101, step elevenpie crust 101, step twelve

Next comes the moment you have all been waiting for: vodka. Add 1/4 cup vodka (we keep ours in the freezer, like good Russians, so it’s always icy) and 1/4 cup very cold water to this cornmeal-textured mixture and fold it all together with a rubber spatula. It should easily come together in a mass with a little stirring. This CI recipe is on the sticky side, to compensate for the vodka that will burn off.

pie crust 101, step thirteen pie crust 101, step fourteen

Mound the dough into one pile, and divide it into two balls. If you are OCD, as I am, you might weigh the dough to make sure you are dividing it evenly, but this is not mandatory. Flatten the balls into discs, wrap them in plastic and chill them in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes and up to two days. (If you want to store it longer, triple wrapping them and then sliding them into a freezer bag in the freezer is recommended.)

Aren’t you proud of yourself? You have made a pie dough! Pat yourself on the back and leave others to wonder how you got the floury handprint! The mysteries never cease…

pie crust 101, step fifteenpie crust 101, step sixteen

At this point, you can prepare your pie filling, be it apples or pumpkin or something even awesomer that I hope you’ll share with me. Set it aside.

Once your dough is thoroughly chilled, and I mean thoroughly–my fridge is on the warm side and I didn’t feel that 45 minutes was sufficient. The dough should feel as firm as a cold stick of butter–it’s time to roll it out.

Rolling the dough out between two pieces of plastic is a great trick, as it keeps your counter clean and keeps you from having to flour and re-flour and, if you’re me, scrape and flour again because it keeps sticking anyway. Make sure you pull any folds out of the plastic every few rolls to ensure that the dough remains smooth.

To fit this in a standard 9.5-inch pie dish, you’re going to want roll it out to a 12-inch circle. I find that a ruler, or the side of the plastic wrap box which just happens to be 12 inches, is helpful to have around. If your dough has gotten soft or warmer in the time you have been rolling it out, I find it helpful to slide it onto the back of a tray and into the freezer for 10 minutes to get it firm again.

preparing a tart shell

Carefully transfer your dough to the pie plate by peeling off the top piece of plastic, and rolling the dough around the rolling pin, leaving the bottom piece of plastic on the counter, and unrolling it into the pie plate, or by folding the dough gently into quarters and unfolding in the pan. Working around the circumference of the pie plate, ease dough the dough into the corners by gently lifting dough edges with one hand while pressing around pan bottom with other hand. If you’re making a single crust pie, crimp the edges decoratively with your fingers at even intervals and add the filling according to your recipe’s instructions. If you’re making a double-crust or latticed pie, leave dough that overhangs the lip of plate in place and refrigerate dough-lined pie plate, proceeding according to that recipe’s instructions, or, heck, mine.

And if you’re me, and decided at the very last minute to mess with you guys by using a tart pan instead and par-baking it, but not telling your what I actually put in it until tomorrow, you’ll do just that. Nya-nya! I can assure you, it was amazing.

One year ago: Jacked-Up Banana Bread and fiittingly, How to Make a Lattice-Top Pie

NaBloSlackerMo Yes, peeps, it was a late night. Did I mention I had a wee dinner party? And there was wine, so much of it? And it was late? And because a great time was had by all, I’m not sorry? Fine, a tiny bit. But I wouldn’t take it back.

Update 11/25/08: New year, new tutorial. I have added some additional tips and a vodka-free crust recipe in Pie Crust 102: All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough. Check it out!

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch slices
1/2 cup cold vegetable shortening, cut into small bits
1/4 cup cold vodka
1/4 cup cold water

1. Process 1 1/2 cups flour, salt, and sugar in food processor until combined, about 2 one-second pulses. Add butter and shortening and process until homogeneous dough just starts to collect in uneven clumps, about 15 seconds (dough will resemble cottage cheese curds and there should be no uncoated flour). Scrape bowl with rubber spatula and redistribute dough evenly around processor blade. Add remaining cup flour and pulse until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up, 4 to 6 quick pulses. Empty mixture into medium bowl.

2. Sprinkle vodka and water over mixture. With rubber spatula, use folding motion to mix, pressing down on dough until dough is slightly tacky and sticks together. Divide dough into two even balls and flatten each into 4-inch disk. Wrap each in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days.

* Note: I was making a double recipe, because, well, I make a lot of pie and wanted a stash of dough, so don’t freak out if your dough is smaller than mine. It’s supposed to be.…

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nutmeg-maple cream pie – smitten kitchen

Before I can tell you about this recipe, I need to ask you a few leetle questions. It will only detain you a minute or two, I promise, but it essential that we get some facts out in the open before we can proceed. I wouldn’t want to lead you astray.

Do you love maple syrup?

Do you flood your pancakes/waffles/French toast with so much maple syrup that you at times question whether they are simply a vehicle for your favorite sweetener, and have nothing to do with breakfast at all?

Do you wonder why, oh why, more desserts are not sweetened with this cozy ingredient, instead of granulated sugar, which is really so boring in comparison?

make the fillingreduce maple syrupwhisk in creamadd nutmegpour into shellcool outside weather

Have you tried to swap maple syrup for sugar in a dessert in the past, such as Pumpkin Pie, only to end up sorely disappointed that the maple flavor wasn’t pronounced at all?

Come, sit down next to me. [Hat tip.] Pull up a chair, let’s brew a strong espresso and stay for a while, because I have the dessert that you–and by you I mean we–have been searching for our whole lives.

nutmeg-maple cream pie

There is no greater homage to the goodness of maple syrup than this Nutmeg Maple Pie (though I used a tart pan, because I am a rebel) from the New York Times archives. Yes, I worried that the nutmeg would distract us from the main event, too, yet it folded so eloquently into the final flavor, I entirely forgot it was there. I just knew there was something unrecognizably better. This tart is spectacular. It is breakfast, it is a late afternoon coffee break, it is calming, centering dessert after an elaborate dinner. It is that Thing, that recipe you’ve been searching for to bring to Thanksgiving this year, something so fall flavored, people won’t realize they’re breaking with tradition to eat it, but so innovative, you’ll get a break from the predictable.

nutmeg-maple cream pie

It is one of the best dessert surprises I’ve had in a long while. And now, I’m off to bake the extra custard (because I had to be a rebel with the tart shell, which holds less) into a new crust. I can’t wait.

nutmeg-maple cream pie

One year ago: Orangettes

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special thanksgiving edition – smitten kitchen

For once this month, I actually have a few really great recipes in the queue that I haven’t gotten to (as opposed to a frantic “I guess I have to make dinner tonight so I’ll have something to NaBlop!”) but I’ve received so many Thanksgiving questions in my Inbox and in comments on previous posts, it seems far more useful today to bring them up to the top of the page. Thus, I’m going to answer a few questions as best as I can, but feel free to weigh in on these concerns in the comments, or add your own between now and Thursday. Any newer questions I receive I will answer in the comments. Finally, I’ve rounded up some Thanksgiving recipes at the end, so be sure to skip to that if it’s all you’re really looking for.

piecrust101)

Leslie asks about how much the butter and shortening should be combined in a pie dough? She notices when she is rolling hers out, she sees flecks that weren’t incorporated–is this okay?

Depending on the size of the flecks, it is most certainly okay. In fact, it is that melting of the butter/shortening bits engulfed in fine layers of flour that create the holy grail of pastry: flakiness. See any significantly bigger pieces that were saved from the slicing blade? Pinch or cut them into smaller pieces.

bourbon pumpkin cheesecake

Kalle had asked me about converting my bourbon pumpkin cheesecake to miniatures a couple weeks ago. I just bought the Norpro Mini-Cheesecake Pan with 12 cups with the intention of making this same conversion this year but hadn’t worked out the math yet.

Unfortunately, to the best of my rusty math abilities I now have, and realized that a cheesecake baked in one 9-inch springform would yield enough batter to make 24 cupcake-sized cheesecakes, which means I will have to do the much-dreaded two batches of baking if I don’t halve the recipe.

ocd dough-dividing

Lana says she tried the pie dough last night with a “hippie brand” shortening and found that the dough never got to the cornmeal stage, and once the liquid was added it got very sticky. She is certain she “screwed it up.”

Because I have no experience with this hippie shortening you mention (heh), so I won’t be very helpful in determining if that’s where it went wrong. But I did want to remind everyone that this pie dough–with the extra liquid to compensate for the vodka that burns off–is stickier than other pie doughs. However, it bakes up just fine, and miraculously, seems to shrink less than others I have used.

piecrust101 (11)

Lots of vodka questions: Can I use cheap vodka? Can I use flavored vodka?

Answers, which are really just my humble opinion, yes and no. I wouldn’t worry about using cheap stuff. Vodka is vodka. In your martini, you might want something fancier, but for baking? I can’t even imagine using Grey Goose only for the purpose of evaporating it. Seems a terrible waste. That said, I really deeply dislike flavored vodkas; their artificial flavor horrifies my inner chef. The idea of cooking off the decent part–the vodka–and leaving behind the ick part–loud, artificial flavors–seems wrong to me, especially when we work so hard to fill them with fresh and delicious ingredients. Want a lemon crust? Add some zest. Want a vanilla crust? Add a 1/4 teaspoon of extract, or a scrape of a fresh bean. However, like I said in the caveat, on this vodka stuff, my answers reflect my views only.

cranberry caramel tart

What am I cooking this year?

One pumpkin cheesecake, two cranberry, caramel and almond tarts and one apple pie. I will need to nap for three days shortly thereafter, but at least my apartment will smell heavenly.

If I were hosting my own, however, I’ve got all sorts of recipes from the archives I’d consider, and hope you do too.

Appetizers and Sides

Soups

Dessert

pumpkin bread pudding

Feel free to ask any cooking questions you run into between now and Thursday in the comments, and I’ll respond as best as I can.

One year ago: Miso Carrot Sauce With Ginger, Hoisin and Honey Pork Riblets

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moules frites, redux – smitten kitchen

In the comments of yesterday’s post, someone asked why she feels a need to make so many dishes for Thanksgiving when she’s only feeding a few people and always ends up with leftovers that end up getting thrown out four days later. Now, I’m sure the question was rhetorical yet I can’t help but chime in because I’ve been mulling this over a lot lately: Why is it that hosts feel so compelled to over-feed? Why is it that I feel bad when I only have served just enough food?

potatoes on the ready

Yes, I know these are first world problems, but they’re not bad things to consider in this season of indulgence. The average American’s Thanksgiving intake measures about 4,500 calories, or over twice the recommended daily allowance of a full-grown adult. Our tables flow with an amount of food that would feed most families in the world for a week, many longer. We stumble away from them drunk, stuffed, our waistbands snug. We actually think that what the potatoes might benefit from another stick of butter.

baked pommes fritesbaked pommes frites

I’m not trying to be a pill. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year, and always has been. But when friends came over for dinner last Friday, the thought of one of those typical, multi-course, showy heavy meals was appalling. (Also, we only had about an hour to put the whole thing together.) As always, Julia Child’s mussels steamed in white wine and my baked pommes frites–along with a big salad and that tart I’d baked the night before–saved the day, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that I hadn’t cooked enough. Even though everyone left here full. Even though nobody really enjoys leaving a meal feeling like they put on 10 pounds. How ridiculous have we become?

mussel brothmoules mariniere

What I should have been more concerned about was excess of the wine variety. I mean, seriously people. When in the history of Ever has Alex and friend running out to the liquor store for more bourbon and, oh, a bottle of prosecco at 11:15 p.m. ever been a good idea? Is it any wonder that I “broke” NaBloPoMo that night? I feel exhausted just thinking about it.

Ah well. At least one dinner this week wasn’t over-the-top.

steamed mussels

[Recipes for Moules a la Mariniére and Baked Pommes Frites from the archives]

Thanksgiving Q&A: Between now and Thursday, I’m still answering, or trying to answer, as many Thanksgiving-related cooking questions you can throw out at me in yesterday’s entry. Keep ’em coming!

One year ago: Mom’s Chocolate Chip Sour Cream Cake

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chile-garlic egg noodles – smitten kitchen

We’re going to do this short and sweet tonight, because I’m at the halftime of two cranberry tarts, one apple pie and one pumpkin cheesecake. Yes, I have gone mad. But this is no time to discuss the obvious. I actually have sugar melting on the stove.

[Pause!]

garlic shallot oilhoney

Okay, it’s not ready yet. Wow, that takes a while. I am sure the last thing you want to see tonight is Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s chile-garlic eggs noodles, but alas, that is what we made for dinner on Monday night after I saw it on Serious Eats and could not resist the recipe’s tractor beam.

[Pause!]

chile-garlic peppersegg noodles

Getting there, but not yet. I probably should have seen this coming (hello, Jean-friggin-Georges!) but the recipe was pretty fussy. First I had to roast a pepper and a chile, technically no real labor, but still–an extra step. Then there was the garlic-shallot oil. All of those gorgeous allium ingredients? Yeah, they get strained out, only flavoring the oil. That’s a lot of oil, too, more than we’d ever knowingly use in a noodle dish, even though it was delicious.

[Very, very long pause!]

Okay, we are now at the three-quarters mark, thank goodness. Back to the noodles: Because I have been on an udon kick lately, we broiled two small boneless pork chops smothered with Thai garlic chili paste (not nearly as hot as it sounds) and sliced them thinly aside our noodles. The dish was tasty and certainly different from what we’ve made before. However, I can tell already that we won’t be making it again. I suspect there are other chili-garlic noodle recipes out there that require much less labor, and if you know of one, do send it my way.

chile-garlic egg noodleschile-garlic egg noodles

And also a new dishwasher, because mine needs a nap.

I hope you all have a restful Thanksgiving, and that your kitchens smell as warm and cozy as ours does right now.

[Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Chile-Garlic Egg Noodle Recipe on SeriousEats.com]

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an apple pie tale – smitten kitchen

About five years ago, I brought an apple pie to Thanksgiving from some recipe I had made up while I was going along–feh, who needs a recipe for apple pie?–and my aunt declared it the best apple pie she had ever tasted. While this should have been the best news in the world, in the years since, in my mind, at least, it has brought nothing but chaos because, without having written down my “little of this” and “little of that” approach, I’ve had a terrible time recreating it.

apple pie

Fairly certain I had used only yellow delicious apples, as I had heard that they have the lowest water content and therefore spare the pie sludginess, I used them again the following year only to have an overcooked and not tart enough pie. The next year, my New Boyfriend Alex and I made a slew of stunning pies (so I could send one to his family, too, oh, I was in deep) with a mix of apples, but these ended up slightly undercooked. The following year, unbearably short on time, I used one of those Pillsbury unroll-and-bake doughs (more on this later, or another time if it gets late), but found the inner contents not to be heavy and gushy enough. Yeah, gushy is an acceptable word to describe pie, okay?

apple pie

Last year, realizing I was flopping around, creating chaos and confusion where neither need be, I turned to good ol’ Cooks Illustrated, the pinnacle of reliability and sound practices in cooking and baking. I used shortening in the crust, even though shortening makes me cringe; I used their suggested mix of apples; I used lemon and lemon zest because they said I should, but I insisted upon keeping the lattice top because I think it’s just the prettiest. In the end, I still cringed from shortening (but admitted the crust was very flaky), didn’t like the lemon and felt there was not nearly enough spice. I realized that the pie kept getting dry because there was too much openness in the lid. At least this time I took notes.

rejectsapple

This year, I opted for a tightly woven pie lid, requiring nearly double the amount of dough, skipped the lemon, doubled the spices and used Cooks Illustrated’s new-and-improved vodka pie dough.

Oh, I’m sorry, you wanted to know how it turned out? People, its only 10 a.m.! Even my family doesn’t eat that early. But I have high hopes. Fine, moderate hopes. Okay, I’m just plain nervous. So while I am all fidgety, I need to make a confession:

I am sorry to all who were harmed in the making of that vodka pie dough. After making two pies with it now, I have to admit: I simply hate it. It’s too sticky and difficult to work with. No matter how cold it was, it never firmed up enough (because, duh, vodka doesn’t freeze) and each dough had to be messily peeled from its plastic after being rolled out. That said, it does appear to be the flakiest dough that I have ever made in the history of Deb’s Apple Pie. But it was a royal pain in the butt and I am not sure I’d suggest it again without that caveat.

Whew, I feel much better now. I hope this good karma can be leveraged in that lopsided pie on the counter. I think five years is long enough to wait.

apple pie

I hope you all have a warm, relaxing and charmingly lopsided Thanksgiving.

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tiramisu cake – smitten kitchen

Last Saturday was my darling Jocelyn’s birthday and you just know I wasn’t going to even think about showing up without birthday cake. Fortunately, just about everyone we know agrees that two of the best desserts on earth are cannolis from Venieros on First Avenue and homemade tiramisu. I was actually kind of obsessed with figuring out a way to make a cannoli cake, but in the end copped out, not feeling daring enough to invent a recipe and having waited until the very last minute (3 p.m.) to actually start baking.

Not for the first or last time, Dorie Greenspan came to the rescue. As if Baking: From My Home to Yours wasn’t awesome enough, it actually includes two cake sections, one devoted solely to “Celebration Cakes,” or the exact type you’d want to bring to a birthday party. But all are so much more exciting than just yellow cake and butter cream frosting, such as Black and White Chocolate Cake, Big Carrot Cake, Perfect Party Cake and Tiramisu Cake. I stopped right there, and started this:

tiramisu caketiramisu caketiramisu caketiramisu cake

Which ended up like this:

tiramisu caketiramisu cake

And was received like this:

tiramisu caketiramisu caketiramisu caketiramisu cake

I’m very particular about tiramisu, by the way. It’s one of my favorite desserts yet most times I order it, I find it disappointing. Typically, I don’t think there is enough of a recognizable coffee flavor to it. I think it tastes best with marsala or brandy, not Kahlua. Often the tiny cakes are not soaked enough. I think that the chocolate layers should be a bed of almost crinkly shaven very bitter chocolate. This cake, however, knew I was coming and made everything just right. And the guest of honor? It looks like she concurred. I couldn’t be more proud.

 jocelyn versus tiramisu cake

[Photo by our friend Lexxie.]

Tiramisu Cake
Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

For the cake layers:
2 cups (255 grams) cake flour
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 sticks (10 tablespoons or 140 grams)) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) sugar
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 ml) pure vanilla extract
3/4 cup (175 ml) buttermilk

For the espresso extract:
2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
2 tablespoons (30 ml) boiling water

For the espresso syrup:
1/2 cup (120 ml) water
1/3 cup (65 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon (15 ml) amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy (Deb note: I used brandy)

For the filling and frosting:
1 8-ounce (225 grams) container mascarpone
1/2 cup (60 grams) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoons (8 ml) pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon (15 ml) amaretto, Kahlua, or brandy (Deb note: I used brandy)
1 cup (235 ml) cold heavy cream
2 1/2 ounces (70 grams) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped, or about 1/2 cup store-bought mini chocolate chips

Chocolate-covered espresso beans, for decoration (optional)
Cocoa powder, for dusting

Getting ready:
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9×2 inch round cake pans, dust the insides with flour, tap out the excess, and line the bottoms of the pans with parchment or wax paper. Put the pans on a baking sheet.

To make the cake:
Sift together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for another 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, and then the yolk, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla; don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the dry ingredients alternately with the buttermilk, adding the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the milk in 2 (begin and end with the dry ingredients); scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed and mix only until the ingredients disappear into the batter. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and smooth the tops with a rubber spatula.

Bake for 28 to 30 minutes, rotating the pans at the midway point. When fully baked, the cakes will be golden and springy to the touch and a thin knife inserted into the centers will come out clean. Transfer the cakes to a rack and cool for about 5 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the cakes, unmold them, and peel off the paper liners. Invert and cool to room temperature right-side up.

To make the extract:
Stir the espresso powder and boiling water together in a small cup until blended. Set aside.

To make the syrup:
Stir the water and sugar together in a small saucepan and bring just to a boil. Pour the syrup into a small heatproof bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon of the espresso extract and the liqueur or brandy; set aside.

To make the filling and frosting:
Put the mascarpone, sugar, vanilla, and liqueur in a large bowl and whisk just until blended and smooth.

Working with the stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a hand mixer, whip the heavy cream until it holds firm peaks. Switch to a rubber spatula and stir about one quarter of the whipped cream into the mascarpone. Fold in the rest of the whipped cream with a light touch.

To assemble the cake:
If the tops of the cake layers have crowned, use a long serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion to even them. Place one layer right-side up on a cardboard round or a cake plate protected with strips of wax or parchment paper. Using a pastry brush or a small spoon, soak the layer with about one third of the espresso syrup. Smooth some of the mascarpone cream over the layer – user about 1 1/4 cups – and gently press the chopped chocolate into the filling. Put the second cake layer on the counter and soak the top of it with half the remaining espresso syrup, then turn the layer over and position it, soaked side down, over the filling. Soak the top of the cake with the remaining syrup.

For the frosting, whisk 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the remaining espresso extract into the remaining mascarpone filling. Taste the frosting as you go to decide how much extract you want to add. If the frosting looks as if it might be a little too soft to spread over the cake, press a piece of plastic wrap against its surface and refrigerate it for 15 minutes or so. Refrigerate the cake too.

With a long metal icing spatula, smooth the frosting around the sides of the cake and over the top. If you want to decorate the cake with chocolate-covered espresso beans, press them into the filling, making concentric circles of beans or just putting some beans in the center of the cake.

Refrigerate the cake for at least 3 hours (or for up to 1 day) before serving – the elements need time to meld.

Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with cocoa. I cut a star shape out of waxed paper and placed it lightly over the cake, and shaved a layer of chocolate over it with a microplane, before carefully removing the star to leave a stenciled shape.

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curried lentils and sweet potatoes – smitten kitchen

I dusted this recipe off for the first time in a while in early 2020 and wanted to add a few things I noticed: First, it can be very easy for the sweet potatoes to overcook and lose their shape in the time that the lentils need to cook; these days, I’d recommend adding the lentils 10 minutes sooner than the sweet potatoes. Second, I adore greens but this is … a lot of greens! I could barely fit mine in the pot. Using half would be just fine. Third, I am much more loose with measurements than the recipe suggests — I do measure the lentils but never the cilantro or scallions (a “handful” of each will suffice). Finally, I love all the garnishes but I don’t think the dish needs each of them. I wouldn’t dare skip the lime. But, you might not find that you need almonds and cilantro and scallions with so many other flavors going on. I am loathe to change this recipe in any significant way in 2020, however, as it’s been a popular recipe here for so long so I’m leaving my notes up top and will point to them throughout the recipe.

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped small
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded if desired, then minced
  • 4 to 5 cups vegetable broth as needed
  • 2 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
  • 1 1/2 cups dried lentils (shown here are lentils de puy)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 pound Swiss chard, center ribs removed, leaves thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lime
  • Juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped roasted or tamari-flavored almonds, for garnish (optional), available in health food stores
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions, for garnish
In large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add onion and saute until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic, ginger, garam masala, curry powder and jalapeno. Cook, stirring, for 1 minute.

Stir in 4 cups broth, sweet potatoes (see Note up top), lentils and bay leaf. Increase heat to high and bring to a simmer; reduce heat to medium, partially cover, and simmer for 25 minutes. (If lentils seem dry, add up to 1 cup stock, as needed.) Stir in chard and salt and pepper, and continue cooking until lentils are tender and chard is cooked, about 30 to 45 minutes total.

Just before serving, stir in cilantro, lime zest and juice (see Note). Spoon into a large, shallow serving dish. Garnish with almonds, if desired, and scallions.

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