Smitten with Smitten Kitchen

It’s been a minute. I recognize this blog may as well be one clever sister. But, alas, I am back!

Many, many months ago I was over at a friend’s house and she was making Slow Cooker Black Bean Ragout by Deb Perelman from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Now I love black beans. Love love love. I also love a slow cooker recipe. So I  decided to check it out at the library. So often, I buy a cookbook and only use one or two recipes from it. Checking it out from the library is almost like a screening process. See if I like it and if I even use it before I have to turn it back in.

I loved the cookbook. I found that the ingredients in the cookbook were ingredients I loved to cook with, but there was always a new twist on the recipe. It passed the screening process.  Don’t worry. It’s not overdue at the library. I talked it up so much that my mom bought it for me as a present! Thanks Mom!

I am so overdue for talking about this cookbook that I will just list a couple of the recipes I have tried with a short description of why I love them so.

Honey and Harissa Farro Salad- The best. This salad incorporates farro, carrots, parsnips and feta with a little mint. This is my first tasting of harissa, a Tunisian hot pepper sauce that provides a great kick in a salad. Also, what I love about this recipe is that it makes me eat a vegetable that I hate.  This recipe calls for one pound of parsnips. Yech! But, actually, YUM! It asks that you cut them  into two inch lengths and then roast them at 400 degrees for twenty minutes. The roasting of the parsnips along with the carrots make it just the right amount of crunchy to top the salad. An added bonus is that they are great for my little baby to eat with her hands and she hates spoons!

Emmentaler on Rye with Sweet and Sour Red Onions- Love this fancy, schmancy grilled cheese. I had some friends over a few months ago and I loved serving them these sandwiches. Quick and easy, but the best part of these sandwiches are the caramelized  onions. To make them I just mixed butter, balsamic vinegar, red onions and brown sugar. So delicious.  This part of the recipe really makes you feel like you are eating a sandwich from a restaurant, not a thrown together one from home.

Black Bean Ragout- This is the reason I was interested in the cookbook to start with. I know Deb Perelman is known for lots of interesting vegetarian dishes and I think this is a classic example. As with all her recipes, the steps in this recipe are fairly simple.  This dish is fantastic because you just throw all the ingredients in and let it cook in a slow cooker for about four hours. The black beans, onions and various spices could be enough to satisfy me, but in addition there are all sorts of sides that make this dish just a tad different from your average black bean stew.  Instead of being served in a bowl it’s served on top of  sliced ciabatta bread ( or french bread will do) with garlic that is rubbed on top after it is toasted in the broiler. There is also a crema to put on top which is just cumin and sour cream (or yogurt). Even though it’s just the addition of one spice, it makes the meal.  The other fabulous side dish is the onions which is just sliced red onions with a tablespoon of lime juice. This adds a great balance to the sort of subdued flavors.

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Golden Sheet Cake with Berry Buttercream- I made this cake for my daughter’s 1st birthday. The cake was extremely easy. A sheet pan is all you need for equipment, plus parchment paper to help get it out of pan if you want to put it on a serving plate.  The frosting looks difficult, but really it’s just about getting a variety of berries and splitting the frosting in four batches. The ingredients are simple: 1 cup of confectioners sugar,  4 tablespoons of butter and about a tablespoon of berry puree. I pureed about a cup of each fruit (blueberry, raspberry and blackberries), but I knew I’d have leftover. If you decide to make this, the extra fruit is great in smoothies.

Probably the most annoying thing about making this frosting is that you have to do it in batches so expect a large load of dishes.  It is actually only three batches of frosting because the blueberry batch is doubled.  Once you make the blueberry frosting, you have to split it in half and add just a touch of blue dye to one. This gives you four distinct colors. Oddly enough, Deb Perelman suggests doing this because blueberries pureed actually don’t look blue, but more pinkish. Also, if you let the blueberries sit long enough after being pureed they will turn into a weird gelatin like substance. Very strange.

After I got four batches of frosting ready go to (and several, several taste tests– raspberry is by far the tastiest), then I prepared my frosting bag with a 1/4 inch frosting tip. To do all one color at once, I followed the instructions in the recipe of applying one line, and then counting over three more lines with my tip at the top of the cake. This worked fairly well, but as you can see in the picture below I sometimes allowed for too much room and sometimes didn’t allow enough. This, I am sure gets easier the more times you do it. After all the lines are done, I simply took a butter knife every inch and dragged it slightly over the top of the frosting. And that’s it! Everyone was very impressed with the cake and many people thought it was store bought, custom made! The hardest part of the entire process? Cleaning out the frosting bag after each of the four batches of frosting. However, if you are thinking of making this frosting and contemplating just using a plastic bag, I would strongly urge you to just go out and buy a nice frosting bag. The frosting in the plastic bag has a tendency of getting stuck which prompts you to push the frosting out harder and then you have a mess when it comes out in a blob on your cake. I know this because I tried doing one color of this cake with the plastic bag out of pure laziness of not wanting to wash out my bag. Now I know.

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I have been told that Deb’s website is really fantastic and has tons of great recipes that aren’t in her cookbook. So, if you are inspired, check it out!

http://smittenkitchen.com

Poached Quince Galette

Some hunt for the elusive pair of shoes; come the colder months I keep my eyes peeled for quince.

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Besides the rarity (which we all know significantly increases attractiveness–sort of a “playing hard to get” theory), quince have a good backstory. The Romans would stuff them into jars and pour over honey, where their tannic, acrid fruit would soften over time, producing both a candied fruit and a fragrant syrup.  I’ve even read that they may have been the fruit that got Adam and Eve cast out of the garden of Eden (though since you can’t eat quince raw, that story may be, perhaps, apocryphal.  Straight off the tree, in fact, I doubt it would have been all that tempting). Quince are also, surprisingly, the fruit that originated the marmalade (the Portuguese name for the fruit is marmelo) and you may have seen it at the cheese counter in the form of membrillo, which pairs perfectly with manchego. (Yes, this may be ringing a bell: I blogged about making membrillo two years ago. I’ll spare you my reminiscing about Spain right now, which membrillo always induces).

Nonetheless, perhaps the extra work to prepare quince today, vis-a-vis other fruits, has made them fall out of favor, or perhaps it’s that they are not so photogenic. If you saw it in a fruit bowl, you’d probably leave it there. I showed one to my son, who guessed it was an apple or pear, which is not far off, as they are in the same family.  But I had to stop him when he tried to filch an uncooked slice and was put off the fruit for good.

Poached Quince Galette (1 of 12)

Poached Quince Galette (2 of 12)

So yes, you’ll often find that you need to poach quince before using it.  While this is a dreaded extra step, it’s quite easy:  just put in the oven for a few hours and relax while your home fills with a warm perfume.  The poached slices keep in their fragrant syrup for around two weeks in the fridge, so you can really space things out.  Prepping the quince is a bit tricky–while much like slicing apples, the seeded core of the quince is hard and must be cut out.  This, along with the slicing, must be done gently–not surgery here, but not as quick as slicing apples for pie.  The flesh is slightly grainy (only when raw) and the slices otherwise have a tendency to break on you.  Imagine a very dry apple.  Nonetheless, this is mainly an aesthetic consideration, and isn’t meant to scare you off!  The fruit is sweet, supple, and a lovely rosy hue when cooked.  It’s going to look pretty, and taste great, no matter what.

Poached Quince Galette (3 of 12)

Poached Quince Galette (7 of 12)

I simply spiraled the quince slices on a rolled out piece of pie dough, and folded the edges over to make a rustic galette.  (Galette:  the fancy sounding but much more relaxed version of pie–herehere, here, and way back here).  We brought this to a friend’s for brunch where it was happily received.  While you might have to explain again what quince is if you do the same, you’ll find that while unusual it’s readily approachable and easy to love.  Extra poached quince could be spooned over oatmeal, eaten straight, or used in other recipes–such as this Gingerbread Quince Upside-Down Cake from the lovely Apartment 2B Baking Co., which I made for New Year’s Eve.

Poached Quince Galette (9 of 12)

And on that note, Happy New Year!

Poached Quince Galette (12 of 12)

Poached Quince Galette
Ingredients
  • Poached Quince (makes extra)
  • 3/4c sugar
  • 3c water
  • juice of one lemon
  • 1/2 vanilla bean or 1t vanilla extract
  • 4 medium quinces (1 1/2 pounds), peeled, cored, and sliced.
  • Galette
  • [url href="http://threecleversisters.com/2011/07/22/perfect-pie-crust-by-hand/"]1 disc of pie dough[/url]–use your favorite. (I used spelt flour mixed with all-purpose here).
  • Poached quince (from above)
  • 2T sugar
  • melted butter or half-and-half
  • 1 1/2 T sugar (preferably sanding or turbinado sugar)
Instructions
Poached Quince
  1. Preheat the oven to 300F.
  2. Put all ingredients into a baking dish and cover with foil or a lid, and bake for 1 1/2 hours until rosy and tender. Your kitchen will be warm and perfumed.
  3. Let cool and store the quince in its poaching liquid.
Galette
  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.
  2. Roll the pie dough into a 14-inch circle. Starting in the middle, arrange the quince slices in a spiral. When you have a rough 1 1/2 to 2 inch border, fold this over. (It’s going to overlap here and there and double over itself–that’s fine).
  3. Brush the crust with melted butter, cream, or half-and-half and sprinkle with sugar.
  4. Bake on the bottom of the oven for 45-50 minutes, until the crust is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack.

 

Collaborative Baby Shower Quilt

Clearly, it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Clearly.    While I don’t have the excuse of an adorable addition, like Ms. Marie and her little one, Mattie, I can draw on her experience to post:  The threecleversisters host a baby shower!  Last winter, we descended upon Marie’s Brooklyn, NY apartment for a baby shower without the standard baby games but with a little craft time – quilt making!

A few years ago, I attended a baby shower in which the guests all decorated scraps of fabric that included quotes, images, or messages for the little one and his family.  The host then used those fabric scraps to create a flag decoration for the nursery.  It was such a charming idea, that I promised myself that I would do that for someone.  When Marie and I hosted Sara’s baby shower, I was in law school and there wasn’t any creative energy.  Marie, then, was the likely recipient.  I offered to do a flag or a quilt. She did the quilt.

The activity required a bit of coordination and fortunately I flew JetBlue to NYC so I could check my bags, with all the supplies, for free.  I bought some stencils from Lotta Jansdotter and Martha Stewart along with Martha Stewart’s paints.  We did some test squares – using my mom, aunt, cousin, and grandma as guinea pigs over Christmas.  It was a great way to get some of them involved since Gami, Kate, and Aunt B weren’t able to attend the actual shower.

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kclever & GG

kclever & GG

GG's contribution to the quilt.

GG’s contribution to the quilt.

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I also contacted several of Marie’s college friends and some of her husband’s extended family about decorating squares.  So many people were invited to the shower and so many people wanted to participate, the quilt was larger than the typical lap quilt.

The shower was held in January in Brooklyn.  That means there wasn’t a lot of space for 15+ people who were invited.  Fortunately, the weather was on our side, and though it was a bit chilly, we expanded the craft portion of the shower to patio.  No baby games on this one — what mom really wants to do the circumference of her belly anyway?  We CRAFTED!

Supplies 8404379025_8c12f8a399_o 8404377917_0204d83792_o8405471582_75f663659c_o

 

By the time I had collected all the pieces, I had 32 squares.  I planned to make a piece with the baby’s initials or name once she was announced, but 33 square does not make a normal looking quilt — 11×3?  Nope.

Instead, I chose to make a square for each of her initials.  I printed out MASSIVE font each letter from my handy Microsoft Word program and used that as an applique.  I was thrilled by how nice it turned out.

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The number was 35, 7 x 5, and with the borders and 62 x 96 in (approximately)!

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The Baby Quilt!

The Baby Quilt!

 

Chocolate Pistachio Sables

I could try to write a long post here:

  • about how my sister-in-law introduced me to the wonder of a versatile cookie that is a sable last Christmas, a tender French sugar cookie that can be endlessly varied and which never wears out its welcome-

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (6 of 6)

  • about how I finally managed to make beautifully circular roll cookies rather than flattened tires (wrap your cookie roll tightly in parchment, cut the inner tube of a paper towel roll, slide your misshapen cylinder inside and roll it to cookie perfection and chill on a flat surface in the freezer, turning a bit in the first half hour or so to make sure it sets)-

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (2 of 6)

  • about how these cookies are beautiful and festive all on their own–studded with glistening chocolate and green pistachios–without need of mixing up seven shades of frosting nor a steady decorative hand-

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (3 of 6)

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (4 of 6)

but we know I’m not so diligent about my posting these days.  I trust you prefer a slightly abbreviated post now to a mid-January missive, so it’s time to get to the point and get you the recipe (from this month’s Bon Appetit).    Absolutely a must make.

Chocolate Pistachio Sables (5 of 6)

Chocolate Pistachio Sables
Recipe Type: cookies
Author: Adapted from [url href="http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/chocolate-pistachio-sables"]Bon Appetit[/url]
Ingredients
  • 2½ cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1¼ cups (2½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1¼ cups (lightly packed) light brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg white
  • 5 oz. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 cup unsalted, shelled raw pistachios, coarsely chopped
  • Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon salt).
Instructions
  1. Whisk flour, cocoa powder, kosher salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.
  2. Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat butter, brown sugar, and vanilla until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Reduce speed to low and gradually add dry ingredients; mix just to combine, then mix in the egg white. Fold in chocolate pieces and pistachios. (While you want these to be roughly chopped, don’t worry if you have a few larger chunks. When you slice the cookies you’ll cut through any too-large pieces of chocolate or nut).
  3. Divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into an 8”-long log about 1½” in diameter, pushing dough together if it feels crumbly. Wrap tightly in parchment paper and chill until firm, at least 4 hours. (The colder your dough, the easier it will be to slice.) As I noted above, roll inside a paper towel tube to get a uniform shape, and chill immediately.
  4. Place racks in lower and upper thirds of oven; preheat to 350°F. Working with 1 log of dough at a time and using a serrated knife and a sawing motion, cut logs into ¼”-thick rounds and transfer to 2 parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing ½” apart. Be extra careful to keep up the sawing motion near the base of the cookie log as it otherwise might tend to break off with an uneven rough finish.
  5. Sprinkle cookies with sea salt and bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through, until set around edges and centers look dry, 10–12 minutes. Transfer to wire racks and let cool.
Notes
Per Bon Appetit, the dough can be made 1 month ahead; freeze instead of chilling. Slice frozen logs into rounds just before baking.

 

Czech Plum Dumplings

I’ve never been a big fan of fresh plums.  I have always wanted to like them, little orbs of summer that they are, and occasionally would try one or two from the fruit drawer in the fridge where my mom stored them.  Like the peaches we got, they always disappointed, but we also knew that the produce that made its way to our local grocery stores was also the most lackluster.  But even now, when I’m able to grab a few from a farmer’s market (so, as tree-ripened and as sweet as one could hope for), I never have any desire to eat them raw.  Cooked, roasted, baked, simmered, or jammed, however, they’re, at least for me, perfectly irresistible.

Czech Plum Dumplings (2 of 11)

Over ten years ago now (ugh) when I lived in the Czech Republic, I soon learned that plums were such an important fruit there that different words existed for the different varieties–to a Czech’s mind, then, an Italian prune plum and a sugar plum are perhaps as different as a peach and a nectarine.  And that late-summer-to-early-fall Italian prune plum is the key component to a whole range of delicious things:  from slivovice (plum brandy) to povidla (plum butter) to plum dumplings.  I’ve made the first two from that list, and have long been meaning to make the final entry.

Czech Plum Dumplings (11 of 11)

I’ve made them before, in fact, but not on my own.  The village I lived in for one year as an English teacher had previously housed a Czech language school for foreigners.  During the old communist days, students came from the so-called “nonaligned” countries to study at Czech universities–usually technical subjects like engineering–but needed an intensive crash course in Czech before they started.  Hence they lived in language school’s dorms for a year before they were off to Prague, Brno, or other Czech university towns.  Today the institute runs preparatory courses (for Czech students) to prepare them for their college entrance exams.  If I remember correctly, you sit for an exam in the program of your choice–medical, legal, general studies.  If you don’t get in, you can come to this program and spend another year preparing to retake the exams.  (Yeah, no pressure). Anyway, “Cestina pro cizince” (Czech for foreigners) is no more, but one of the program’s teachers, Alena, still live in the town–and lucky for me, she took me on for lessons.  Not bad to have “CSL” (“Czech as a second langauge?) teacher with twenty years of experience introducing you to the insanity that is Czech grammar. Since I was there in the evenings, Alena also took it upon herself to make sure I had a good grounding in Czech food.  She was one of those people who can whip up any number of things from scratch (of course she was!) and while I sadly must admit I haven’t retained all that much, I do remember making these dumplings with her.  A big bowl of blue-purple oval fruits, tvaroh (Czech “farmer’s cheese”, also known as quark), milk, flour, and butter.

Czech Plum Dumplings (1 of 11)

Czech Plum Dumplings (3 of 11)

First we mixed and kneaded the soft pillowy dough–me and Alena by hand, today me and little H with the stand mixer–

Czech Plum Dumplings (4 of 11)

An assembly line was set up, and we wrapped each fruit in its own little package–

Czech Plum Dumplings (6 of 11)

moistened the edges to create a seal–

Czech Plum Dumplings (7 of 11)

and set them aside while we waited for the water to boil.

Czech Plum Dumplings (8 of 11)

We slipped them into  boiling water to poach, and a few minutes later, carefully fished them out, hot and slippery.

Czech Plum Dumplings (10 of 11)

Drizzled with butter, powdered sugar, and poppy seeds.  My favorite type of lesson about culture–via the stomach.

Czech Plum Dumplings (11 of 11)

Note:  you’ll notice that it took me a while to get this post up as these plums, even if early fall fruits, are no longer in season. However, you can use other fruits so you don’t have to wait until next September.

Czech Plum Dumplings
Recipe Type: breakfast, dessert
Cuisine: Czech
Serves: 4-6
Ingredients
  • 2T butter, softened
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup “pot cheese” (farmer’s cheese, quark, tvaroh, tvarog).
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 cups cake flour or a combination of cake and regular flour. (I used 240g cake and 30g regular flour).
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 – 1 1/2 pounds fruit (prunes, apricots, cherries, apples or other firm fruit; I used 16 plums)
  • melted butter, poppy seeds, additional quark, and powdered sugar for serving
Instructions
  1. Cream butter, egg and cheese together. It’s OK if it’s a bit lumpy. Add the salt, flour, and milk to make a medium firm dough. Depending on the firmness of your cheese, you may have to add more milk. Allow to rest for 30 minutes.
  2. Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a boil while you make the dumplings.
  3. Break off pieces and form into balls–you’ll want 16 or so. Let rest 15 minutes to allow the gluten to relax. On a floured surface, roll dough out into rounds and place a pierced fruit in the center. Dab the edges of the dough to create an adhesive edge, wrap around the fruit, and pinch together, sealing the edges well. Set aside on a floured surface, sealed side down, while you make the other dumplings.
  4. Gently slip into boiling water one at a time but as quickly as possible. Cook for 5-8 minutes turning once. Remove with a skimmer or slotted spoon.
  5. To serve, tear open a dumpling with two forks, and drizzle with melted butter, more cheese, poppy seeds, and powdered sugar

Martha Stewart’s One-Pan Pasta

The promise:  a pasta sauce and a pasta that can be cooked in one pan.  I was intrigued, but skeptical.  No initial sautee of onion and garlic in olive oil to bring out flavor?  Cooking pasta in a mere four cups of water?  I’m usually sheepishly conscious I am not using enough, thanks to my impatience at waiting for the watched pot to (seemingly never) boil?

One-Pan Pasta (2 of 7)

The result–not bad, not bad at all.  When finished I was worried that the abundance of pasta relative to the flecks of tomato and onion would result in a bland dish.  The oil evenly coats every silky strand, infusing eat forkful with plenty of garlic, basil, and onion, and a surprising (but welcome) bit of heat from the pepper flakes. Because everything cooks so quickly, all the constituent parts retain their freshness, meaning this works well as a nice summery dish, and is brighter than just dumping out a jar of pasta sauce over a bowl of spaghetti.  And it might just be faster to prepare.

One-Pan Pasta (3 of 7)

This is not a household that can usually manage both primi and secondi:  we’re talking one main dish here.  And this pasta is more first course than main event, though with a few sides (would that be contorni since we’re doing the foreign language thing?)  it would manage that just fine.  Yet it’s so easy I can imagine myself adding this in as a first course even without having to summon up too much ambition.  And I’ll certainly keep it in mind if we ever manage to get ourselves organized enough to have another dinner party.  As I’ve learned before, pasta dishes can be a lifesaver at such events.

One-Pan Pasta (4 of 7)

I’ve made this with both the cappellini shown below, as well as with penne, and it’s worked out nicely both times.  Both times as a spur of the moment type thing.  It’s so nice to just breezily “whip something up” like that.

One-Pan Pasta (5 of 7)

 

Martha Stewart’s One-Pan Pasta
Author: adapted from[url href="http://www.marthastewart.com/978784/one-pan-pasta"] Martha Stewart Living[/url]
Prep time: 15 mins
Cook time: 10 mins
Total time: 25 mins
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 12 ounces linguine (or other pasta)
  • 12 ounces chopped tomato (if using cherry or grape tomatoes, halve or quarter depending on size).
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
  • 2 sprigs basil, plus torn leaves for garnish
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 4 1/2 cups water Freshly grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Instructions
  1. Combine pasta, tomatoes, onion, garlic, red-pepper flakes, basil, oil, 2 teaspoons salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and water in a large straight-sided skillet. Bring to a boil over high heat. Boil mixture, stirring and turning pasta frequently with tongs, until pasta is al dente and water has nearly evaporated, about 9 minutes.
  2. Season to taste with salt and pepper, divide among 4 bowls, and garnish with basil. Serve with oil and Parmesan.
Notes
I have found that the amount of water called for may be a touch too much. This may depend on the type of pasta you use, but I’ve been scaling down amounts from the original recipe (which quantities are included here).

One-Pan Pasta (6 of 7)