Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sides that Sparkle: Day 4 in a Marathon of Side Dishes
What’s cooking? Mashed Potatoes with Kale-Collards Pesto

It has come to my attention that many if not most of you people have already decided on your menu for Thursday. Well, bully for you. And so that you can all feel just a little bit superior, I will confess that the Kitchen Goddess has not.

I don’t mean to sound bitter or grumpy. It’s mostly a question of too many choices. And wanting something fun and different. And not too much work. And... and... and... The list goes on.

I did, however, find one final recipe to pass along, that for me is a real keeper. And I’ll admit that it’s a bit on the different side. Ok, a lot on the different side, but it works well for me, in the spirit of finding a fresh take on a classic dish.

So, you’re probably all having mashed potatoes. The same old mashed potatoes that you’ve always had. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But how about this: take a small bunch of Tuscan kale (the stuff that looks like elephant skin) and a small bunch of collard greens, and make a pesto with them. Then, instead of adding a big pat of butter to your mashed potatoes, fold in some of that pesto. Oooeee – makes my mouth water just thinking about it. I gave my hubby a taste of the mixture this morning and he pronounced it “thumbs up.”

The pesto is much more mellow than basil or arugula, my other faves in the pesto world. But there’s a great mouth-feel, and a mysteriously lovely green veggie taste that I think you’ll like. So here it is.

Kale-Collards Pesto

Adapted from Bon Appétit, July 2015

Makes about 2 cups.

1 small bunch Tuscan kale (about 5-7 ounces), stems cut out
1 small bunch collard greens (about 5-7 ounces), stems cut out
table salt for the cooking water
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1½ ounces grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (not quite 1 cup)
½ cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¾ cup good quality olive oil
Kosher salt/freshly ground black pepper

Before you cook the greens, prepare an ice water bath (a large mixing bowl with ice water). Then in a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the collards and the kale together for just 45 seconds, to tenderize the leaves and turn them a bright green. Plunge the cooked leaves into the ice water bath for about 1 minute, to stop the cooking and set the color.

Drain the leaves and squeeze as much of the water out as you can. (You can do this with your bare hands – the color won’t leach out.) Chop the leaves roughly and add them to the bowl of a food processor.

Add the garlic, cheese, pine nuts, lemon zest, and lemon juice, and pulse until the mixture achieves a thick, grainy texture. With the machine running, slowly pour in the olive oil, and continue to process until the mixture is well blended. (Don’t bother trying to get it completely smooth; the meaty texture is part of the deal.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

If you make it the day before serving, refrigerate the finished pesto in a bowl covered with plastic wrap that presses on the surface of the mix.

* * *

Mashed Potatoes

Kitchen Goddess note: Both Mark Bittman (How to Cook Everything) and America’s Test Kitchen agree that the fluffiest mashed potatoes come from potatoes that have been boiled whole and in their skins. (Less water absorbed into the flesh.) It’ll take longer, but it is worth the time. And with this method, it takes just moments to get the skin off.

Pretty much all mashed potato recipes are the same. Boil the potatoes in salted water until you can pierce one easily with a skewer or sharp knife. Drain the potatoes and peel them, then mash them with either a ricer or a food mill or a potato masher. (The Kitchen Goddess has all three and prefers the masher because there’s less to clean up.) Do not use a food processor or blender or standing mixer unless you want to make glue instead of mashed potatoes.

Working with a wooden spoon, stir the potatoes as you add warm milk to them (about ¾ cup per 2 pounds of potatoes), and continue stirring until they reach the consistency you want. Season to taste with kosher salt and pepper.

If you’ll be adding the pesto, now is the time. Because I was cooking the spuds just for testing, I cooked only 2 large Russet potatoes (about 1 pound). I folded in ¼ cup of pesto, and that seemed right. So if you’re cooking 2 pounds of potatoes, use ½ cup of pesto, adding more according to your preference.

* * *

Kitchen Goddess Post Script: I heard a TED talk the other day, in which the speaker said that happiness appears to be directly related to how grateful one is, and not the other way around. That people who can be grateful for what they have are the happiest. So I wish you all a delightful Thanksgiving Day, filled with gratitude for all that life has given you – the small moments as well as the large ones. As for me, I am grateful for all of you – those of you that I know well, and those I’ve never met – who stop by and read what I’ve written and have the spirit to try my suggestions. Bon appétit, everyone!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Sides that Sparkle: Day 3 in a Marathon of Side Dishes
What’s cooking? Broccoli-Cheddar Gratin

You know that gigantic pile of recipes you’ve cut out from newspapers and magazines, sure that you’ll find time for them one of these days? Maybe even today, if you had the time and energy to burrow through them. Surely, somewhere in there is the perfect dish for this Thanksgiving.

Well, you can stop now. The Kitchen Goddess understands your pain. In fact, she used this marathon as an excuse to inventory/cull her own now vast collection of recipes she felt sure at the time that she would make.

In fact, there were a few gems. But one stopped me in my tracks. The paper is yellowed with a couple of grease marks, and the list of ingredients so faded as to be almost unreadable. It doesn’t have a name, but as I read down the page, a memory flashed. Two little boys at my kitchen table, antsy to eat because dinner was once again later than they had hoped. And while they were never thrilled with the vegetables, they learned to eat whatever it was. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even tell them what it was until they ate a bite. However it worked, it did in fact work – today, they’ll eat pretty much anything.

I haven’t made that broccoli dish in years. And frankly, when I read the list of ingredients, I can’t quite believe it worked as well as I remember. So I’ve played a bit with it – you know the Kitchen Goddess can’t really help herself, and back in those days, of course, there was no Kitchen Goddess. But in honor of those two little boys – both of whom will be spending Thanksgiving in New Jersey, while I will be in Texas – here it is, in its revised and refreshed format.

I’ve raised the bar for “broccoli casserole” a bit here – adding caramelized onions and nutmeg, and substituting panko instead of standard bread crumbs. And there’s a little more cream than it had in its youth, so the custard is a little more elegant. Just be sure to use a good quality cheese. It’s a nice accompaniment to a turkey dinner – one that should please the big boys and the little ones.

Broccoli-Cheddar Gratin

Loosely adapted from Gourmet, February 2009

Serves 6-8.

2 crowns broccoli (about 1 pound – that would be without the very thick stems, which I usually save and peel and slice, but they’re not very dressy, and this recipe is for Thanksgiving)
½ teaspoon olive oil
1 medium onion, cut in ½-inch dice (1 cup)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon unsalted butter
1 cup milk (feel free to use any type – I used skim)
½ cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch for the panko
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus a pinch for the panko
1 cup grated cheddar cheese (about 3½ ounces)
nutmeg (about ½ teaspoon, or more to taste)
1 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350º. Position a rack in the upper third of the oven.

Cut broccoli into large florets, and steam 20 minutes, until the florets are just fork-tender.

While the broccoli is steaming, caramelize the onions: Smear the olive oil around a medium skillet and set over medium heat. Add the onion and cover. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, removing the cover and stirring about every 2½-3 minutes. After 10 minutes, the onions will have magically browned; if not let them cook another 3-5 minutes. Reduce the heat and add 1 tablespoon water, stirring to release the fond (that brown stuff on the bottom of the skillet). Stir in the teaspoon of butter, and remove the onions from the heat. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, eggs, salt, and pepper. Stir in the caramelized onion.

When the broccoli is fork-tender, spread it out in a 2-quart shallow flameproof baking dish, and sprinkle the cheese across the top. Grate nutmeg over the broccoli. Spoon the milk mixture over the broccoli/cheese.

Melt the tablespoon of butter and toss well with the panko and a pinch each of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Sprinkle the panko evenly over the dish.

Bake until the custard is set, about 30 minutes. Turn on the broiler and broil until bread crumbs are golden brown, about 2 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Sides that Sparkle: Day 2 in a Marathon of Side Dishes
What’s cooking? Spiced Butternut Squash with Pecans and Cranberries

Butternut squash is one of those veggies I discovered late in life. Some 20 years ago, I was combing my cookbooks for a soup to make, and in the first Silver Palate Cookbook – for years my go-to source for almost any entertaining – I spotted the recipe for Curried Butternut Squash Soup. The curry, the apples, the butternut flavor so close to sweet potatoes and yet so far in caloric content (half the calories!).

But that’s a recipe for another day. Today, the Kitchen Goddess has found an even easier way to serve butternut squash, with a mildly exotic flavoring featuring a spice mix from Ethiopia. Earthy and warm and colorful, and while you may not have the exact seasoning – it wasn’t in the KG’s cabinet, either – she has concocted a reasonable substitute that worked very well.

One reason butternut squash seemed like a good candidate was that my grocery store had it already peeled and diced (!). Normally, I wouldn’t mind doing the peeling and cutting myself – the Kitchen Goddess is always skeptical of the freshness of such offerings – but it was moving off the shelves so well that freshness didn’t seem to be a problem. And normally, I don’t have four days of veggie dishes to concoct in addition to what I’m cooking for Thanksgiving, so I appreciated the shortcut.

I use a melon baller to scoop out the seeds.
So even if your grocer isn’t as accommodating as mine, don’t let that talk you out of a great dish. I’ll admit that peeling butternut squash is a workout. But well worth the trouble. Just be sure to remove enough to get past the green veins just under the skin.

Another nice thing about this dish is that it works well at room temperature. So you can make it and just let it sit out while the rest of the dinner is under way. Or you can make it the day before and reheat it in the microwave. If you do that, save the dressing in a jar and pour it on when you’re ready to serve.

Spiced Butternut Squash with Pecans and Cranberries

Adapted from Chef Marcus Samuelsson in Food & Wine, November 2014

Serves 6.

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ¾-inch dice
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1½ teaspoons berbere (see Kitchen Goddess note)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pecan halves
½ teaspoon dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
¼ cup fresh orange juice
¼ cup dried cranberries, chopped

Kitchen Goddess note: I would guess that not many of you will find berbere in your spice drawer. The KG made her own. Mix the following together well, and save what’s left for another day:
1½ teaspoons cayenne pepper (or 1 tablespoon Aleppo pepper)
2½ teaspoons sweet paprika
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon sweet curry powder
⅛ teaspoon grated nutmeg
⅛ teaspoon ground allspice
1/16 teaspoon ground cloves

Preheat oven to 450º.

Lightly grease a large, rimmed baking sheet or line it with baker’s parchment. In a large mixing bowl, toss the squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 1 teaspoon of the berbere spice mix. Spread the squash onto the baking sheet, and season with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.

Roast the squash 30 minutes, until tender and beginning to crisp.

While the squash is roasting, heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the pecan halves and cook, stirring, for 5-6 minutes, or until the nuts become fragrant. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, ¼ teaspoon of the salt, and the remaining ½ teaspoon of the spice mix. Once the pecans become fragrant, toss them in a bowl with the sugar/spice.

In another small bowl or jar, combine the orange zest and juice, and slowly whisk in the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season to taste with kosher salt (I added about ¼ teaspoon) and several fresh grinds of black pepper.

Transfer the squash to a serving dish and scatter the pecans and cranberries over the top. Drizzle the dressing over the dish and serve warm or at room temperature.

Look for another new side dish in tomorrow's continuation of the marathon...

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sides that Sparkle: Day 1 in a Marathon of Side Dishes
What’s cooking? Asparagus Gratin

It’s tiiiiime... Get your pans out and your largest serving dishes and your good china/crystal/flatware and your recipe books.... No, wait – you won’t need all of those recipe books because the Kitchen Goddess is about to present you with some completely delightful and easy side dishes – one each over the next four days. It’s my own version of a marathon.

A recent article in the San Francisco Chronicle claims that only 4 percent of Americans meet their daily veggie needs. Now I will add that they’re using numbers from the National Fruit and Vegetable Alliance, an organization that’s probably the tiniest bit biased; but if they’re only half right, that’s still an amazingly low number. Apparently, this phenomenon has to do with changes in the style of eating we’re doing – more convenience foods and one-dish dinners (Hello, pizza? They’re calling your name...), and less of what’s known in the South as meat-and-three.

The Kitchen Goddess sees this problem as an action call. So for the next four days (this being Day 1), she will focus on veggie side dishes that are so packed with flavor, you’ll have your friends and families lining up for more. After all, no matter what you do with turkey to add flavor and moistness, it’s still, well, turkey. Pretty bland, in my humble opinion. We want to pack those dinner plates with sides that sparkle as much as your table.

I’m starting off with a dish I fed to friends just last night. And judging by the skimpy leftovers, I’d say it was a hit. The key is using – and reusing – the cooking water, so that it becomes more flavorful with every step. And, amazingly, there’s not a drop of cream in this dish, making it healthier than most gratins. If you want to make it gluten-free, there are a number of alternatives you can use for the 2 tablespoons of flour in the white sauce.

Asparagus Gratin

Adapted from Cook’s Country, April/May 2011

Serves 8.

2 pounds thin asparagus
2½ cups water
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
¾ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, separated
½ cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Trim the ends of the asparagus to get a relatively consistent length for them (start with the shortest as a measure), and save the ends. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, bring 2½ cups of water to a low boil and add the asparagus ends. Cover and cook at a low boil for 5 minutes.

While the ends are cooking, line a baking dish (I used a 3-quart oblong Pyrex dish) with paper towels. When the ends have finished cooking, remove them from the skillet with a slotted spoon and discard them.

Kitchen Goddess note: For the next step, unless you have an amazingly large skillet, you will have to cook the asparagus stalks in 2-3 batches. Just be sure that as you remove cooked stalks from the skillet, you let them drip back into the pan, to preserve as much of the cooking broth as possible.

Add a batch of the asparagus stalks to the skillet, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes, at which point the stalks should be fork-tender. Transfer the cooked stalks to the paper-lined baking dish to cool, and add the next batch.

When all the stalks have been cooked, pour the cooking water into a measuring cup. You want to reserve 1 cup of liquid for the sauce; if you don’t have that much, add vegetable broth or water to make 1 cup.

In the now-empty skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour (we’re making a roux here), and whisk constantly until the roux is a golden color, which will take about 4 minutes.

Then continue to whisk the roux as you slowly pour the asparagus broth back into the pan. Once the sauce is smooth, bring it to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until it thickens.

Remove the thickened sauce from the heat and immediately whisk in ½ cup of the Parmesan and all of the Monterey Jack, stirring until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover and set aside for 5 minutes.

Preheat the broiler. Slide the paper towels out from under the cooked stalks in the baking dish and arrange the stalks evenly. Spoon the sauce down the center of the dish and sprinkle on the remaining ¼ cup of Parmesan. Broil in the upper third of the oven for about 6 minutes or until the cheese is golden. Serve immediately.

Kitchen Goddess note: While the dish is probably best eaten immediately, I had no problem transporting it to a dinner party where it sat out for another couple of hours. To reheat, we put it in a microwave oven for a total of about 3 minutes on high.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Cooking Cousins
What’s cooking? Parmigiano-Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower

I’ve always been grateful that we lived near enough to my husband’s sister that her three sons and my two got to spend most holidays – and many other occasions – with each other. I grew up down the street from my Texas cousins, and that connection to the wider world that you get with cousins – that sense of membership in a family that extends far beyond the people in your own house – seems to me to be invaluable.

The food world has lots of cousins that get along pretty well, too. Cauliflower and broccoli are on my mind today, mostly because that’s what I had in my fridge yesterday when I set out to make dinner. I’d just come across a piece about roasted cauliflower in Bon Appétit, and it set off a lightbulb in my head. The Kitchen Goddess is always grateful for lightbulb moments, particularly as they come fewer and farther between these days.

Broccoli and cauliflower are the original Cabbage Patch Kids. Different cultivars of the same species – cousins, if you will, in the actual cabbage family – the “tree” vegetables also share their heritage with brussels sprouts, kale, and collard greens. The chief distinguishing feature between broccoli and cauliflower is that broccoli produces flower buds. I know, you might think color is the main difference, but you can find cauliflower in green or orange or purple, in addition to the standard white, and broccoli comes in green or purple.

And here’s today’s useless fact: Broccoli was introduced to the U.S. by Italian immigrants, and wasn’t commonly found here until the 1920s. Those Italians get credit for all the good food stuff.

Both veggies react remarkably well to roasting. The main problem tends to be in getting those florets a consistent size so that at the end of roasting, they’re not soft on the outside and hard on the inside, or some soft and some not-so-much. The Kitchen Goddess has a solution. At the Culinary Institute, they say, “Looks the same, cooks the same.” Taking her cue from the CIA, the KG realized that if she sliced both the broccoli and the cauliflower into pieces that were the same thickness, the size of the florets would cease to matter. So that’s what she did, and it worked like a charm.

Top the concoction off with a hefty sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano, and you have a dish that’s both tasty and easy. The combination of meaty, caramelized veggie slices and some roasty-toasty onions is just what you need on a chilly fall evening.

Parmesan-Roasted Broccoli and Cauliflower

Adapted from Bon Appétit, February 2013

Serves 4.

1 small head cauliflower
1 head broccoli
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
4 sprigs thyme
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat oven to 425°.

Cut the largest florets from the cauliflower and broccoli heads and slice the florets lengthwise in ½-inch thicknesses. Slice the remainder of the heads also into ½-inch thicknesses. In a large mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower and broccoli slices, the onion slices and the garlic with the thyme and oil.

Spread the vegetables out on a large rimmed baking sheet, and season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Roast, tossing occasionally, until fork-tender and lightly browned, 25-30 minutes. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A Foodie in the Emerald Isle
What’s cooking? Sticky Toffee Pudding

You can never tell what you’ll learn when you’re not looking. Take Ireland, for instance. My Prince and I took a trip there in August, and I must confess that my mood at the outset was a bit dark. Ireland wasn’t in my top 10 of where-do-you-want-to-go-this-year, but we’d signed up for the gig because our long-time travel friends wanted to go, and they’d done all the research, and we always have fun on trips with them. Then at the last minute, they had to cancel because of a health crisis. So there we were, locked into a two-week trip I didn’t want to take with a bunch of people I didn’t know. On a bus. Call me spoiled, but there it was.

Well, the tour turned out to be a Tauck Tour, and if you haven’t done one, put it on your list. To anywhere. They run like clockwork, stay in the most amazing places you can imagine, and offer incredible service from start to finish. Suitcases move as if by magic from the bus to your room and back to the bus, local guides offer knowledgeable and entertaining insights to the culture, and even the bus is astonishingly comfortable. Moreover, our fellow travelers turned out to be delightful. I won’t claim to have made friends with them all, but the group got along remarkably well, and quite a few of them were really fun.

The Place

Yes, it turns out that Ireland is stunningly beautiful. Rolling green hills of farmland, rugged coastlines, charming country towns, vistas that take your breath away (from one spot, we could see Scotland!), and a splendid assortment of ruins from as far back as the 12th century. Oh, and sheep. Lots of sheep. And one shepherd.

Did I mention the falcons? Yes, sirree. At Ashford Castle, where we stayed two nights.

Here's a small sample of other sights, including the Giant’s Causeway, a 60 million year-old geologic wonder shaped by the cooling and shrinking of volcanic lava flows.

Dunluce Castle, where local legend has it that at one point (probably early 18th century), part of the kitchen next to the cliff face collapsed into the sea, after which the owner’s wife refused to live in the castle any longer. (Who can blame her? Certainly not the Kitchen Goddess.)

And the view at Aghadoe Heights, where we spent another two nights, overlooking Loch Leane near Killarney.

The Food

The most eye-opening part of the trip was the food. Yes, I know, Ireland and good food aren’t a combo in anyone’s mind. But according to one of our delightful guides, Ireland has discovered tourism, and nothing these days brings tourists like good food. So we feasted on every kind of fish and shellfish – it’s an island, you know – as well as lamb and pork and game and... oh, my. By the time we climbed on the plane to fly home, the Kitchen Goddess was having a hard time fastening her jeans.

And then there were the breads and desserts. Oh, please. I’d been told by a foodie friend to try the Sticky Toffee Pudding, and it turned out to be a specialty of several places where we dined. One in particular, The Bushmills Inn in County Antrim, in Northern Ireland, was generous enough to give us their recipe. At least, they said it was their recipe. The Kitchen Goddess has made that recipe and has her doubts. But the Kitchen Goddess is also persistent, and has found a more than acceptable alternative, which you will find below.

The Dessert

Friends, this is not a dish for dieters. It’s rich and completely scrumptious, so also very hard to resist. The Kitchen Goddess had to give most of hers away to neighbors, just to get them out of the house. But it’s a great dessert for the holiday season – the dates and molasses really resonate as fall flavors.

A couple of other thoughts about this recipe. First, it’s not really an Irish dish. The origins – according to Wikipedia – are more English, and ultimately Canadian. But it’s now made extensively in England and Ireland, so go figure. Second, it’s nothing like what we think of in the States as a “pudding.” The texture is much more like a muffin, with slightly sticky sides and top, as much of the sweetness comes from the use of dates in the batter. The cake you’ll get from the recipe here – which I adapted from the very talented pastry chef at The French Laundry – is simultaneously light and very moist, probably because I whip the butter and sugar together until they scream. And it really comes into its own with the toffee sauce. Most recipes also suggest serving it with whipped cream or ice cream, which helps cut the sweetness.

Finally, I’ve now seen a number of variations on the basic recipe, including ones with orange peel and quite a few with vanilla (ugh). Bushmills Inn included whiskey (Bushmills, no doubt) in the version they served us, but not in the recipe they handed out. Martha Stewart makes hers with coffee instead of water; if you try it that way, please let me know how it goes. I was attempting to recreate my Irish experience, so I went with the most straightforward ingredients. I added the tablespoon of molasses to Chef Clark’s recipe, to enhance that fall flavor and to make it, well, a bit stickier.

From, naturally
This is a really easy recipe, and takes very little time. (The second batch I made took less than 30 minutes to mix.)  I used nonstick dariole moulds, which are like deep individual muffin tins but also work for puddings, bread pudding, or panna cotta. You could also use an oblong cake pan, a bundt pan, or a popover pan. The batter expands a great deal, so whatever you use, be careful not to fill it more than halfway.

Sticky Toffee Pudding

Adapted from Indulge (Whitecap Books, 2007), by Claire Clark

Makes 8-9 individual cakes.

For the pudding cakes:
6 ounces Medjool dates, pitted and chopped well
10 ounces water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1¾ ounces (3½ tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
6 ounces caster sugar*
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon dark molasses
6 ounces (1½ cups) self-rising flour*, sifted

*Kitchen Goddess note on the ingredients: (1) Caster sugar is just superfine sugar. Very useful in mixed drinks and preferred by cake bakers because it dissolves faster. You can make your own by putting granulated sugar in your food processor and giving it a few pulses. (2) Self-rising flour, which is flour with baking powder and salt added, is traditionally milled from softer, lower protein wheat, so it produces softer, more tender baked goods than all-purpose flours, which is why bakers like it. To make your own for this recipe, use a food processor (5-6 pulses) to combine 1½ cups of all-purpose flour (spooned, not scooped) with 2¼ teaspoons of baking powder and ¾ teaspoon of table salt.

For the toffee sauce:
8 ounces (1¼ cups, packed) dark brown sugar
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
4 ounces heavy cream

Make the pudding cakes:
Preheat the oven to 350º. The Kitchen Goddess used nonstick pans; if yours are not nonstick, you’ll need to lightly butter the sides and bottoms.

Chop the dates well and add them with the water to a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stir well, and let it simmer 4-5 minutes, until the dates look almost puréed. Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the baking soda. Set aside the mixture to cool. [KG note: The baking soda will cause the mixture to bubble furiously and take on an unattractive brownish-green color. That’s ok.]

Using an electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar and continue to whip until they are light and fluffy (1-2 minutes). Add the eggs a little at a time, to get them well incorporated into the batter. Stir in the molasses and the date mixture and mix well.

Add the flour – about one-third at a time – and mix well. As you add ingredients, be sure to pause occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The batter should be relatively smooth when all ingredients are combined.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pans – filling no more than halfway up the sides – and bake about 25 minutes for individual cakes, at least 30 for a single cake. When done, the cakes should be puffed and spring back in the center when gently pressed with a finger. I found the baking to be most successful when I rotated the pan halfway through the time.

While the cakes are baking, make the toffee sauce:
In a saucepan, melt the butter and stir in the brown sugar until it dissolves. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the cream and return the mixture to a low boil for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve the cakes warm with sauce spooned over them. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. You can make the cakes a day ahead and let them stand – covered, in their pans – at room temperature. You can make the sauce several hours ahead and reheat, either on the stove or in the microwave.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Help! I’ve Been Taken Prisoner by a Tomato Plant
What’s cooking? Savory Tomato Jam and Cherry Tomato Cobbler

Last spring, in a fit of optimism, I added a couple of Sun Gold tomato plants to my kitchen garden. Little bitty things, about 6 inches tall. I didn’t know how they’d fare on their own in the brutal Texas summer – the last time I tried this, we stayed put for the season, so I could nurse things along. I reminded myself that the beds get watered automatically once a week, and if they didn’t make it, well, so it goes.

By the time we left for the summer, they still weren’t terribly big and they hadn’t produced any fruit, but I felt very Farmer Lee with them. They’d gotten large enough that I put in some wire tomato cages, to support them in case they did survive.

On our return three months later, it was clear that I’d underestimated the growing power of a Texas summer, or the vitamins in my garden soil, or something. The place looked like Jurassic Park. It took a day of me and a couple of strong helpers just to clear enough room to move around in the space. All the herbs – basil, chives, thyme, rosemary, and oregano – had outgrown their beds. The weeds were up to my hips. And the tomatoes had gone completely nuts. Almost as if they took one look at my simple tomato cages and sneered, “Tomato cages? You make a little joke? Phooey. We need this iron fence for support.”

So, once I cleared the gravel path, I picked for a couple of hours each day for three days in a row. In all, I retrieved more than 5 pounds of edible fruit, to say nothing of the ones that were too soft and the hundreds of tomato carcasses whose seeds will no doubt show up next spring as “volunteers.”

Then I tapped into the internet to figure out what to do.

The quickest and easiest solution was to freeze some. Rinse them off, lay them on a small sheet pan, and shove it into the freezer. A couple of hours later, the tomatoes are like marbles, at which point you can easily load them into jars or baggies and put them back into the freezer. I’m thinking tomato sauce or frittatas in January...

But the Kitchen Goddess wanted to preserve some of them in the old-fashioned canning sense, even though “canning” happens in jars these days. Turns out my good buddy Mark Bittman has a recipe for Tomato Jam that seemed just the right level of savory-sweet. For a jammy texture, you have to put in sugar, so Bittman balances that sweetness with lime juice, then adds a medley of spices – ginger, cinnamon, cumin, and clove – to give it a sharp fall flavor. He used large tomatoes, but I felt sure my Sun Golds would jam up fine, and I was right.

What I most liked was that the tomatoes didn’t disintegrate completely – many held their orb shape, so the jam ends up having a nice, chutney-esque texture. I served some as a glaze on grilled salmon that night and was so thrilled with it that, the next morning, I made some cheese scones and ate the jam on them for breakfast in the garden.

Basking in the glow of the jam, I had just enough to make a Kitchen Goddess variation on Martha Stewart’s Tomato Cobbler. Wow. Baking brings out the sweetness of the tomatoes, but the onions and flour and herbs pull the dish back into savory territory. They also give the tomatoes enough structure to keep from turning into sauce, and the cheesy biscuit topping soaks up just the right amount of the juice. The dish is perfect for lunch with a salad, or as a side dish with dinner.

Savory Tomato Jam

Adapted from Mark Bittman in The New York Times August 19, 2008

Makes enough to fill four 8-ounce jars, with a little left over for some salmon or savory breakfast scones.

3 pounds ripe tomatoes (Bittman used Roma; Kitchen Goddess used small Sun Gold cherry tomatoes)
2 cups sugar
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons fresh, grated ginger
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or 2 medium jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded and minced; or red pepper flakes or cayenne to taste – all depends on how much and what kind of heat you like)

If you are using full-size tomatoes, core and chop them into ½-inch dice. Use cherry tomatoes as they are; if your cherry tomatoes are large, you may want to cut them in half.

In a large, heavy saucepan, stir together all ingredients until sugar is well distributed. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, stirring often. Once the liquid reaches a boil, reduce the heat to a simmer, and continue to simmer for about 1 hour 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. If at the end of that time, the mixture has not reached a consistency of jam, continue to simmer for another 15 minutes, checking occasionally. Taste and adjust the seasoning, then process as for preserves.

If you don’t plan to process the mixture in preserving jars, refrigerate the jam until ready to use. It should keep at least a week. This recipe can easily be halved for a smaller batch. If you do so, be sure to watch the thickness carefully, as a smaller batch will jam-up faster.

Kitchen Goddess note: The following recipe includes the KG’s tried and true method of making biscuit dough using her food processor. You don’t have to do it this way, though I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t because it’s so easy. And it works. If you prefer to use a pastry cutter or your hands to get those pieces of butter to pea size, go right ahead.

Cherry Tomato Cobbler

Adapted from

Serves 4.

For the filling:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1½ pounds small cherry tomatoes
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (or chopped fresh rosemary leaves, or fresh oregano - your choice)
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper or ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper (about 8 grinds)

For the topping:
½ stick unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ cup grated cheddar cheese, plus 1-2 tablespoons for topping
¾ cup heavy cream, plus 1 tablespoon for brushing on top

Make the filling:
In a medium-sized skillet (I used a 10-inch), heat the oil over medium heat and add the onions. Cook the onions for about 30 minutes, stirring often, until lightly caramelized. Reduce the heat toward the end if necessary to keep the onions from burning. Add the garlic and continue to cook, stirring, another 5 minutes on medium-low. Remove from heat and let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, gently toss the tomatoes with the flour, onion mix, thyme, salt, black pepper, and Aleppo pepper. Pour the mixture into a 2-quart casserole dish and set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375º.

Make the biscuit topping:
Cut the butter into four equal slices; cut each slice into quarters. Put the butter pieces on a plate and freeze until ready to use.

Put the flour and baking soda and salt into the bowl of a food processor and pulse 4-5 times to get them well mixed.

Add the butter from the freezer to the processor bowl, and pulse enough times (about 14-15) to get the butter down to pea size. Add the cheese and pulse until well mixed.

Pour in the cream and continue to pulse until the dough mostly forms a ball as it moves around the bowl. (The dough will still be sticky. Don’t fret.)

Using a large spoon, scoop clumps (about ⅓ cup each) of the dough, and arrange them on top of the tomato-onion mixture, leaving small openings here and there for the steam and juice to bubble through. Lightly brush the dough with the remaining tablespoon of cream, and sprinkle with the reserved cheese.

Bake 1 hour at 375º, or until the topping is golden brown. Set the dish on a rack to cool for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Kitchen Goddess note: From the leftover dough, you can also make a couple of scone-like biscuits. Bake simultaneously on a greased pan or parchment, for about 40 minutes until golden brown. Maybe even have them for breakfast with the Savory Tomato Jam, hmmm?

And now I have to go – I have some tomatoes to pick.