Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Buttermilk Fig Cake

When most people think of figs, they think of dried Calimyrna figs, those light brown sticky figs that my grandfather used to bring home along with bags of assorted nuts. While an excellent snack (and all the more so because, dried, they're available any time), in my opinion they are nothing compared to fresh black Mission figs. Not very sweet, these have an almost musky taste and, in all honesty, often pair better with savory foods than sweet.

That said, upon deciding one day that I had a hankering for figs, I decided to use them in a sweet preparation -- namely, a buttermilk fig cake. Now, I'm a very nervous (and inexperienced) baker, so I'm always wary to diverge from a recipe. However, I just couldn't find a recipe that incorporated everything I wanted! You see, the older I get, the more my sweet tooth disappears. So I couldn't have a cake that was terribly sweet (sacrilege, I know). And that meant I wanted a mix of fresh figs and dried. I also wanted lots of spices, since gingerbread is one of the few cakes the vegetarian is truly fond of. And some nuts to cut the sweetness.

I ended up combining several recipes and, much to my delight (because I kept muttering under my breath that it would never work), the cake was both delicious and not very sweet! More like a spice cake than anything else, it would be wonderful with afternoon tea. We shared it with friends, who were big fans as well. I hope you agree!

Buttermilk Fig Cake
adapted from Fresh and La Mia Cucina

The Glaze
Preheat oven to 350F. Beat eggs and egg whites in a mixing bowl until frothy. With beaters still running, add in granulated sugar, vegetable oil and fig preserves. Sift together flour, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, kosher salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add sifted dry ingredients and buttermilk, alternately adding a little of each, to egg mixture. Mix very well (it helps if you have an extra set of hands -- one person adds ingredients while the other mixes). Mix in vanilla extract. Fold in fresh figs, pecans and dried figs. Spray a 9-inch springform pan with cooking spray. Pour batter into pan. Bake 55-65 minutes, until a chopstick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine buttermilk, powdered sugar, baking soda, cornstarch and butter. Bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes, stirring. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Stir in vanilla extract and Grand Marnier. Remove sides from springform pan. Drizzle glaze over cake. Enjoy!

Make It a Meal: So your guests still have room for dessert, precede this cake with a light dish of Olive Oil Roasted Eggplant with Lemon, served over fresh pasta. The cake is wonderful topped with vanilla ice cream or even whipped cream.

Drink Pairings: A Zinfandel, such as 7 Deadly Zins was great with the main meal, but, since you've already opened the bottle of Grand Marnier, why not spice things up a bit and make Sangria? I recommend White Zinfandel Sangria; it would even work with the cake!

Leftovers: Leftover cake makes a wonderful breakfast the next morning. It also works as an afternoon pick-me-up, particularly with a cup of tea!

Links to other fig noshes:

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Watermelon and Tomato Salad

Watermelon and Tomato Salad
How did it get to be October already? And me with a backlog of summer recipes! Luckily, heirloom tomatoes are still beautiful and all over the greenmarket and watermelon is in abundance at Fairway.

When I was a kid, watermelon (and cucumbers) were the only two foods I refused to eat. Their high water content diluted the flavor so much as to make it unpalatable to me. Lately, though, I've found that, when it's terribly hot out, I crave these watery fruits. Probably my body seeking to rehydrate itself as much as possible.

But, because I have a low tolerance to sweet, I needed to add something salty to the watermelon and tomatoes. Mark Bittman recommends goat cheese, but I was more interested in feta, as suggested by Josh in his Heirloom Tomato and Watermelon Salad. Some basil (from the plant that's still growing nicely on our terrace!), a sprinkling of sea salt and a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and we had ourselves a delicious salad. Enjoy!

Watermelon and Tomato Salad
adapted from How to Cook Everything and The Food Section

  • 3 heirloom tomatoes, assorted varieties, cored and thickly sliced
  • 1/4 watermelon, seeded, peeled and sliced as thickly (or thinly) as tomatoes
  • 1/8 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper, freshly ground
  • 4 ounces feta, crumbled
  • 8 leaves basil
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
On a large platter, lay down first a tomato slice, then a watermelon slice, overlapping slightly, until all used. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and feta. Crumble basil leaves on top and drizzle with olive oil. Serve immediately.

Salad, Corn and Shrimp
Make It a Meal: Keep the summer theme going by serving the salad with corn -- rather than just steaming it, try Roasted Corn with Parsley Butter. If serving a vegetarian, and since the oven's already on for the corn) finish out the meal with some Roasted Vegetables. If not, go for Salt Roasted Shrimp instead. And to drink? Riesling, especially if you can find a local one like Treleaven Riesling from the Finger Lakes. Bon appetit!

Leftovers: Unfortunately, this isn't a salad that saves very well, so eat it the night of, if at all possible. If not, mix leftovers with falafel (if you don't make your own, I highly recommend Trader Joe's frozen variety) to make a more substantial salad. Yum!

Links to other watermelon salad noshes:

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pineapple Jalapeno Poppers

Far and away, my favorite part of going to the Greenmarket is, when I have absolutely no idea what to make  for dinner, to allow myself to be surprised and inspired by whatever delicacies I find waiting for me. Of course, being a planner and mildly OCD, this rarely happens. In fact, I almost never allow myself to go shopping without a list; otherwise I end up going crazy and coming home with various delicacies that have no relationship to one another so then I have to go back out to get whatever missing pieces I've neglected. And some of that produce invariably winds up in the trash, neglected and forgotten.

No thank you. So, in an effort to cut down on waste and generally practice more sustainable practices in my kitchen and my life, I use lists. But, also wanting to cook seasonally, I let myself be inspired by what's available. And, sometimes, I cheat.

How do I cheat, you ask? When I have work in the morning (but know I'll get home with plenty of time to go back out to the Greenmarket before they close), I first survey everything at the Greenmarket (it's right next to the subway station), file away what looks most exciting, then go home, put together a list and venture back out, this time with Ozzy and a plan.

Not long ago, I did exactly this. What piqued my interest, you ask? Jalapeno peppers. While I've occasionally seen these gems downtown at the large Union Square Greenmarket, I'd never seen them at my little Tucker Square Greenmarket, across the street from Lincoln Center. Being so excited, I wanted to highlight them as the main course of my dinner, not merely a seasoning. I'd seen a recipe for BBQ Jalapeno Poppers in The Pioneer Woman Cooks, so I figured that was a good enough place to start. Armed with 18 jalapenos (yes, I counted them), I went home and set to work.

Unfortunately, though, I'm actually quite a weakling when it comes to spice. So I needed something (other than the cheese I was stuffing inside) to cut the bite of these peppers. Mandy had made some Jalapeno Poppers with Pineapple, so the cut-up pineapple in the fridge that had been destined for my morning yogurt went into the poppers instead. I also opted to bake these rather than fry them. And, wanting to showcase the freshness of the jalapenos, I decided against breading as well. Make sure everything's at room temperature before you get started; it makes the mixing of the stuffing components much easier. I topped half the poppers (mine) with fresh bacon but it could very easily be left out. Enjoy!

Pineapple Jalapeno Poppers
adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks and Home with Mandy

  • 18 jalapeno peppers
  • 8 ounces cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup cheddar, grated (I used a Mexican 3-cheese blend that was very good)
  • 1 green onion, sliced
  • 1 container pineapple, chopped
  • 18 slices fresh bacon, cut in half (optional)
  • Barbecue sauce, to taste
Preheat oven to 275 F. Wearing rubber gloves (and after having already taken out your contact lenses for the night -- yes, I did learn that the hard way), slice jalapenos in half lengthwise. Scrape out seeds and membranes with a spoon. If you are less heat-sensitive than I (or if your jalapenos are mild), leave some seeds in; that's where the heat is.

In a large bowl, combine cream cheese, cheddar, green onion and pineapple. Now stuff a heaping tablespoonful of mixture into each jalapeno half. Press down well, so there's very little chance of the stuffing falling out (especially important if you're not using the bacon to hold it in!). Arrange jalapeno halves on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet. If you are using bacon, lay it on top of the open jalapeno half, pressing down to secure it to the filling. Drizzle barbecue sauce on top of either the bacon or cheese filling, depending on which option you're making. Use a pastry brush to spread it around more easily.

Bake in the oven for 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Make it a meal: Serve with plain steamed corn -- an excellent antidote to the spicy jalapenos and a bottle of Riesling. I recommend Nein Lives.

Leftovers: These are very rich, so there will probably be leftovers. To repurpose them for another meal, serve over kasha.

Links to other jalapeno poppers noshes:

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Coriander and Cumin-Rubbed Chickpeas, Charred Corn Relish, Steamed Okra and Fried Onions

Coriander and Cumin-Rubbed Chickpeas, Charred Corn Relish, Steamed Okra and Fried Onions
Corn is, to me, one of the most quintessential summer foods. While it is available year-round, I buy it almost exclusively during the summer when it seems to be at every Greenmarket booth. As I see it, it's a great, simple addition to almost every meal (as you can see from many Make-It-a-Meal suggestions). Normally I just steam it, enjoying the corn fresh with butter. Every so often, however, I get the urge to do something more creative. At those times, I turn to cookbooks -- in this case, Courses: A Culinary Journey. A complicated book (by a chef on a cruise line), I find it's best for inspiration. In there, I found a recipe for Charred Corn Relish. That seemed simple enough, but certainly not enough for a meal. It was served with catfish -- not an option when cooking for the vegetarian, though, if you're so inclined please feel free to try it out! Instead, I opted for chickpeas, one of my favorite legumes. I have to say, these battered and fried chickpeas were one of the best things I've ever made. While they were great with all the accompaniments, they'd also be a wonderful appetizer, served with drinks.

Wanting to include a green vegetable, I decided to go with okra, one of the few green vegetables that the vegetarian is extremely fond of. Being lazy, and knowing how flavorful the rest of the dish would be, I steamed the okra and tossed it with butter (similarly to how I usually cook corn). However, in order to up the flavor quotient of the rest of the dish, I allowed myself to be inspired by Stir-fry Okra, Chillies & Shallots from. So even though my okra was simple, I used lots of spices for the rest of the dish.

This "dish" is actually several different components. Feel free to make only one part, or several -- whatever works for your time constraints and tastebuds. Everything works well together or separately. At the end of the post, under "leftovers", there are some suggestions for how else to use each component. Bon appetit!

Coriander and Cumin-Rubbed Chickpeas, Charred Corn Relish, Steamed Okra and Fried Onions
adapted from Courses: A Culinary Journey and Ahaar

For a non-vegetarian alternative, you could substitute catfish filets for some or all of the chickpeas.
Drain chickpeas. Pour in a large bowl and squeeze lemon juice on top. Season with mustard, cumin and coriander seeds. Toss well to combine. Make seasoned flour by combining flour, salt, turmeric, paprika, cumin and cayenne pepper in a large bowl. Add chickpeas and toss well until coated. Remove chickpeas, reserving remaining seasoned flour. Heat grapeseed oil in a heavy saute pan and fry chickpeas for 6 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and let drain. (If you were to make this with catfish, now would be the time to cook it -- treated the same way as the chickpeas.)

Charred Corn Relish

Heat a heavy pan (cast-iron if available) until very hot. Add corn kernels to pan and allow to char, cooking undisturbed. Add bell peppers and cook, stirring, 5 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic and shallot. Cook 2 minutes. Remove from heat, add black beans, jalapeno pepper, olive oil, lime juice, lemon juice, cilantro, parsley, salt and chile powder. Keep warm.

Separate onion rings and dredge in seasoned flour. Heat grapeseed oil in heavy saute pan (the same one used to fry the chickpeas) and fry onion until lightly browned. Season with salt and pepper and transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Let drain and keep warm.

Clean okra and trim stems. Steam 8-12 minutes, whole. Once cooked, chop into 1/2-inch chunks. Toss with butter, salt and pepper.

Serve chickpeas topped with corn relish and fried onions, okra on the side. Enjoy!

Make it a meal: This dish (or dishes, depending on how you see things) is really a meal in itself! Serve with
Separate dishes
 a rose -- I'd recommend a 2010 Biohof Pratsch. Bon appetit!

Leftovers: Because there are so many components, I'm going to suggest leftovers for each one. Toss leftover okra and fried onions with kasha. Combine corn salsa with chopped kumato tomatoes to freshen it up. Serve with tortilla chips. Finally, combine some cultures (and add extra seasoning to packaged food) by heating leftover chickpeas (or catfish) with creamy polenta with spinach & carrotscourtesy of Trader Joe's.

Links to other fried onion noshes: 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Chickpeas with Black Bean Sauce

Stir-Fried Chickpeas, in the Wok
Sorry for the extended silence -- I went on tour to Minnesota and then came home to a hurricane! We're fine now, the MTA is up and running and, in Manhattan at least, it's back to business as usual. Getting back on-track with work reminded me -- I've been cooking and not sharing the delicacies. So, here's a summer stir-fry for ya!

In trying to adapt my cooking styles to jive with a (mostly) vegetarian lifestyle, I've found myself most inspired by non-vegetarian recipes that I then adapt to my own purposes. These Chickpeas with Black Bean Sauce is one-such recipe.

Cleaning out the refrigerator, I discovered a jar of black bean sauce. It hadn't expired yet, but I also knew I hadn't used it more than once, when making a stir-fry from The Breath of a Wok. So, rather than throw it out, I decided to use it. Last time, I had used it with crabs. So first I found a stir-fry with crabs in it, Danny Chan's Ginger and Scallion Crabs from Yohana's Culinary JourneyUsing that as a jumping-off point, I added in the black bean sauce. Then it was time to think of a new protein. A recipe for Chick Peas and Tuna with Spicy Black Bean Sauce came to the rescue. Eliminate the tuna, combine the recipes and ... voila! Dinner was served. My only complaint was that it was a bit dry. If anyone else has experience (and advice!) stir-frying chickpeas, please let us know in the comments. Bon appetit!

Chickpeas with Black Bean Sauce
adapted from Yohana's Culinary Journey and Goons with Spoons

In a small bowl, combine cornstarch with water. Set aside.

Heat wok over high heat. Swirl in grapeseed oil, add ginger and white part of green onions. Stir-fry 10 
Stir-Fried Chickpeas
seconds. Add black bean sauce and stir-fry another 10 seconds. Add soybeans and stir-fry 20 seconds. Add chickpeas and stir-fry another 20 seconds. Add broth, cover and cook 3 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, pepper, cilantro and green onion greens. Cover and cook 1 minute. Swirl in cornstarch mixture and egg. Stir-fry another 30 seconds until combined. Serve warm.

Make it a Meal: This is actually a meal in itself. If desired, you could serve over rice. For dessert, make an avocado milkshake. To drink, I recommend a rose, such as a 2010 Biohof Pratsch. Enjoy!

Leftovers: Make soup by pureeing leftovers with warm chicken or vegetable broth. Yum!

Links to other black bean sauce noshes:

Friday, July 29, 2011

Black Bean and Cucumber Salad

Black Bean and Cucumber Salad
I don't know how this summer's been for you but, here in New York, it's been hot, hot, hot! Last week there were several days over 100F and, while I know that's mild for some it certainly isn't for us. I'm not terribly heat sensitive but, while our air conditioners made a valiant effort, it was still far too hot in the apartment to cook.

Cucumbers, Peeled, Seeded and Diced
During this heat wave, I found that I was craving different foods than usual. For example, I usually prefer cooked vegetables to raw but cucumbers (a vegetable I usually dislike) actually sounded quite appealing. See, when I'm really warm, I crave foods with a high water content in a constant effort to keep myself hydrated. I also crave spicy foods, probably because they make me drink more. So I started looking for cucumber recipes. I first stumbled upon a Shrimp and Cucumber Salad but that certainly wouldn't feed the vegetarian. And just leaving the out the shrimps would turn it into a side dish.

So then I found a Black Bean Cucumber Salad. That convinced me to use black beans so I went back to my original shrimp idea and was delighted to find Kalyn's Spicy Shrimp and Cucumber Salad with Mint, Lemon, and Cumin. With some substitutions and a little imagination, we were all set. Enjoy!

Black Bean and Cucumber Salad
inspired by SparkRecipes and Kalyn's Kitchen
Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir well. Adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Make it a Meal: To celebrate summer and keep the meal light, rather than making a traditional grain, go for
Cucumbers, Corn and Wine
some corn, simmered for 10 minutes (if you can bear to keep the stove on for that long). A great wine we recently discovered is Beach House. Mostly Sauvignon Blanc, it's very easy to drink and perfect for a hot summer's night (and, I'm sure, even nicer if you're lucky enough to be by the beach!). For dessert, chocolate (or vanilla or almond) milk! Bon appetit!

Links to other cucumber salad noshes:

Friday, July 15, 2011

Summer Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Soup

Summer Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup with Phyllo Dumplings
 Like everyone else in the food world, my favorite part of summer (aside from not having to wear a jacket outside) is the produce. Trips to the greenmarket become wonderful discoveries of fresh summer bounty and I have to force myself not to come home with everything I see.

Lately, the vegetarian and I have been traveling a lot so we haven't had time to enjoy the greenmarket as much as we'd like. Our travels took us to Hancock, NY, where we were costarring in a new play that about the founding of Laramie, WY. While this was a lot of fun, culinarily it left something to be desired (aside from an amazing restaurant we discovered on the way home, in Ellenville, NY).

The other thing that's been going on is that, do to some lingering behavioral problems, we had to send Ozzy to boot camp for 2 weeks. Now he's home and we're training him pretty hardcore. It's taxing but, ultimately, will be worth it.

So on our trip to the greenmarket yesterday, we wanted something fresh, non labor-intensive and that we could make into comfort food. There were beautiful baby eggplants at the greenmarket and we picked up several (white and purple). To stick with my theme of miniature produce, I grabbed two pints of cherry tomatoes as well. And, because our basil plant had died while we were away, a bunch of lemon basil came home with us as well.

My favorite way to prepare eggplant is to roast it. This concentrates the flavors without leeching out too much moisture. A quick internet search found a recipe for Roasted Eggplant with Tomato and Feta. I loved the flavors but wanted something more comforting than a warm salad. A quick cookbook search found me a recipe for Summer Roasted Tomato Soup. I put on my thinking cap, combined both recipes, and -- poof! Summer Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Soup was born. Enjoy!

Summer Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup
Freshly Pureed Soup
adapted from A Slob in the Kitchen and Green Lite Bites

Preheat oven to 400 F. Toss eggplants, tomatoes, olive oil (at least 1 teaspoon), garlic, salt, basil, chickpeas and feta together.on an aluminum foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast 45 minutes, stirring halfway through and adding more olive oil if eggplant has dried out. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a stockpot, heat 1-2 teaspoons olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and cooking, stirring, 5-10 minutes, until onion has turned translucent. Add roasted mixture and stock. Cover, raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Remove cover, lower heat to low and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and puree with an immersion blender. Season with additional salt and, if desired, black pepper, to taste. Serve warm.

Phyllo, hot out of the oven
Make it a Meal: While you can serve this as an appetizer in a multi-course meal, it is also heavy enough to be a wonderful main dish. While everything roasts, make some phyllo dumplings (a wonderful stand-in for croutons) by wrapping basil and/or feta cheese in phyllo packages. While soup cooks, bake phyllo 15 minutes in a 375 F oven. Serve in soup or alongside. To drink, I'd recommend a rose, specifically a 2010 Biohof Pratsch. A sauvignon blanc would be nice as well. And for dessert? Pomegranate seeds. Bon appetit! 

Leftovers: Make a pound of pasta and pour over as much soup as you want instead of a prepared sauce. Yum!

Links to other roasted eggplant noshes:

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Falafel and Baba Ghanoush

Pita with Falafel and Baba Ghanoush

How often do you cook dinner? Lately I've been finding cooking an entire meal more and more daunting. It's summer and far too nice out to spend unnecessary amounts of time in the kitchen. I also don't have the time to put extra energy into meal planning these days. And never mind trying to make more than one meal if I want non-vegetarian fare. However, much as I'd often like to, we can't have pasta every night!

So I've started, slowly, moving out of my comfort zone and explore foods from other cultures -- cultures that are naturally more bent towards vegetarian-friendly foods than Jewish and French cuisines (where the majority of my cooking experience lies). My first stop on this voyage is Middle Eastern, a cuisine the vegetarian and I frequently indulge in when eating out but, other than a few examples, one I never cook at home. But no more!

Lettuce, Tomatoes, Cucumbers and Onions 
First up was falafel, a ball or patty traditionally made from ground chickpeas and/or fava beans. We opted for chickpeas and, rather than relying on various hot sauces for flavoring, we added lots of spices right in with the beans. The flavor was delicious. The texture, unfortunately, left something to be desired. The falafel patties never quite stayed together so we ended up with fried crumbles more than we did patties. Inside a pita, all was soon forgiven. But any suggestions to improve the texture are much appreciated!

Falafel is traditionally served with tahini, a paste of ground sesame seeds, but, always looking for an excuse to sneak extra vegetables into our diet, I took that a step further and served it with baba ghanoush, a spread made of roasted eggplant with tahini. Enjoy! 

adapted from How to Cook Everything and One Perfect Bite

Put chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with water. Let soak for 24 hours. They will double/triple in volume. Drain the beans well and transfer to a food processor along with all other ingredients through the lemon juice. Pulse until very finely minced but not pureed. Heat a large skillet over a medium-high flame and pour in safflower oil until it coats the pan by at least 2 inches. Heat oil until it flows like water in the pan and a pinch of batter sizzles immediately. Take heaping tablespoons of batter and shape into small patties, using a spoon to shape them as tightly as possible to give them the greatest chance of staying together. Fry in oil, until nicely browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Stuff pita with lettuce, falafel, tomatoes, onion and cucumbers. Drizzle with baba ghanoush. Serve immediately.

Baba Ghanoush
Baba Ghanoush
adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone and One Perfect Bite
Preheat oven to 425F. Slash eggplant in several places so it won't explode in the
oven. Place on a baking pan and bake 40 minutes. Let rest until cool enough to handle. Peel off eggplant skin and discard. Squeeze flesh a bit if very watery. Transfer to food processor and puree with rocambole, sesame paste and water. With motor running, drizzle in lemon juice. Add salt. Transfer puree to a bowl. Drizzle olive oil on top and garnish with parsley.

The Whole Spread
Make It a Meal: This is really a meal in itself. I'd recommend it with a rose or sauvignon blanc. Perhaps some yogurt for dessert. Bon appetit!

Leftovers: Make some big couscous and mix in the baba ghanoush and falafel. Yum!

Links to other falafel noshes: