Friday, September 30, 2011

Tomato Granita

I don’t want to complain abut the tremendous tomato season I’ve enjoyed, especially after I’ve been cursed with some pretty meager harvests in recent years, but I’ve been running out of things to do with this bounty.  I’ve canned sauce, frozen sauce, roasted tomatoes, made soup, tomato pies, caprese salads, panzanella., eaten plenty of tomato sandwiches.  Need I go on?

But they’re still coming!  And me, out of  ideas – not to mention time and space. And I hate to waste all this good stuff.  My sister told me about a tomato bacon jam that sounds too irresistible to pass up and I’ve been tempted by some very interesting drink recipes  but  the first thing that intrigued me as I searched for something new was this Tomato Granita.  Only three ingredients and a bit of time and attention. Imagine!  Frozen tomato slush!

The recipe comes from a book called The Essential Mediterranean, by Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who wrote the Mediterranean Diet Cookbook. 

This book has off and on been great bedside reading because it’s not just recipes (although I can read recipes just like fiction) but great descriptions of  the intimate connection of food and culture that have so colored the countries that surround the Mediterranean– how the same ingredients take on new forms and taste as they make their way around the sea.

The name of this dish sounds so pretty in Italian – Granita di Pomodoro.  (Much better than tomato slush.)

The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook [Book]
The author says that this dish "makes an elegant entremet for a dinner party  . . .  or a startling but delicious dessert."  I had to run straight to Wikipedia to look up entremet.  It just means something served between courses, what I grew up calling "palate cleanser," which was usually some kind of sherbet.

For me, the granita was just a pretty tasty treat.  And it was just for me.  Mr. Rosemary loves tomato sauce and will eat cooked tomatoes, but not fresh.  Me?  I can eat them like apples.  And have.

Because it has both chili pepper and corn syrup in it, it's a mix of spicy and sweet.  And the chunky cold texture of the granita somehow enhances both the spiciness and sweetness.

And when you have pretty much just tomatoes in a recipe, they have to be nearly perfect and very ripe tomatoes.  The recipe specified romas -- and I had plenty -- but says any fresh red ripe tomato will do nicely. My trouble was finding a substitute for chili pepper.

Nancy Harmon Jenkins advises that you want the flavor of a chili but not the mouth burning qualities of some Mexican or Caribbean types.  So I had some dried peppers I'd ground myself and used them but they weren't well-labeled so I can't tell you for sure what they were.

My bottom line? A great experiment but probably not something I'll likely make again. If I ever host a really fancy dinner party and need an entremet, however, this is the one I would make.

Tomato Granita
from The Essential Mediterranean, by Nancy Harmon Jenkins
Makes 8-10 servings as an entremet, 6 as a dessert

1 1/2 pounds very red ripe tomatoes, peeled
1 tablespoon fragrant ground chili pepper
1/4 cup light corn syrup

The day before making, halve the tomatoes and gently squeeze out the seeds and excess liquid.  Coarsely chop and store, covered in the fridge overnight.

The next day, combine the tomatoes and the chili pepper in a food processor and process in brief spurts, adding the corn syrup as you do.  Don't make a puree; you want a chunky mixture.

If you have an ice cream maker, follow the manufacturer's instructions for sorbets and granitas.  Or turn the mixture into a stainless steel bowl, cover well, and freeze. Every 20 minutes or so, stir the mixture with a fork.  Within an hour or two, you'll have the granular ice chucks typical of a granita.  (I used this second method.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Hula Hoop the Chocolate Chip Cupcakes Away!

Like any self-respecting home cook (especially one who keeps a blog!), I watch the The Food Network and The Cooking Channel when I can.  You always need new inspiration. That’s in addition, of course, to the half-dozen magazines I get, the 100 + cookbooks that grace my shelves, the myriad clippings I collect (some quite yellowed), the yet-to-be-organized print-outs from the internet, as well as the 50-odd food blogs and websites I try to visit regularly.  That’s a lot of inspiration!

Trouble is, I have trouble working in some kind of routine exercise into that food absorption.  Often, I will watch food shows while I hula hoop.  A half-hour show is perfect for this kind of multi-tasking:  I do my hula hoop for twenty minutes and then concentrate on the show for ten minutes (or maybe fold laundry).

The irony of exercising while slobbering over food possibilities is not lost on me.
A couple weeks ago I was going doing my hula hoop while watching Giada De Laurentiis.  Can’t remember which show.  (Which made finding the recipe just a little bit of a search.) But she made these chocolate chip cupcakes look so irresistible, I was drooling over my hula hoop. 

And I had a couple of real good excuses:  my friend’s birthday was coming up, the grandsons were camping with their parents nearby, and my college girlfriends were coming for a visit, too!  So . . . I made them.  Twice.  And they were doubly delicious.

When Giada said the recipe started with a brownie mix from a box, she only half-apologized and said they were that good. I believed her.  And it's true.   I only made a couple changes from her original recipe:
  • I subbed coffee for the water she used.
  • I used regular sized chocolate chips instead of the mini-chips she recommended.
  • And I added peanut butter to the mascarpone-cream cheese frosting.

A word on the hula hoop:  It really works.  It’s a weighted hula hoop – 4 pounds. 

This is not me.

When I first used it, I had a tough time keeping it going for more than a minute at a time, but I do 20 minutes at a time and although I’m don’t do it all the time, I sure notice when I don’t!  Makes a big difference and really works whittling away my midriff.  Which is a very good thing if you like to eat brownie cupcakes like these.  And I do.

Chocolate Chip Walnut Cupcakes
only slightly adapted from Giada Di Laurentiis

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, plus ¼ cup for garnish
1 (21 ounce) box brownie mix (Giada recommended Duncan Hines Chewy Fudge)
2 eggs, room temperature
½ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup brewed coffee
4 ounces mascarpone cheese, room temperature
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted

Place than oven rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners.

In small bowl, combine the walnuts, 1 cup chocolate chips and 1 tablespoon of the brownie mix.  Toss until the nuts and chips are well coated and set aside. (Doing this helps keep the chips and nuts from sinking to the bottom.)

In large, bowl, mix together the remaining brownie mix, eggs, vegetable oil and coffee.  Stir for 30 seconds until blended.  Fold in the nuts and chips.  Spoon the mixture into the prepare pan.  (Cupcakes will be full.)

Bake for 22 to 25 minutes until a toothpick inserted in center comes out with moist fudgy crumbs.  Cool the cupcakes in the pan for 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely before frosting, about 30 minutes.

For the frosting, using an electric hand mixer, beat the two cheese together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.  Then gradually beat in the powdered sugar until smooth and spreadable. Then mix in 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter. Refrigerate frosting until ready to use.  Spread the frosting on top of the cupcakes and garnish with chocolate chips.  Refrigerate until ready to serve, but serve at room temperature.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Last Roast of Summer: Island Pork Tenderloin Salad

If you want to savor summer one last time, make this pork roast salad.  It looks like a lot of ingredients – and there are – but, remember, it’s a whole meal.

Actually, you could make it anytime this winter, whenever you want to be reminded that there is a sun and there are warm places out there, because it’s all cooked indoors.  A little stove top searing of the meat, a little roasting and then the salad assembly. 

This meal combines the warmth of the pork (and its spicy seasonings) and the cool freshness of the citrus pieces and the creaminess of the avocado.  All just plain yummy. 

I love fall; it’s my favorite season. And I love September best of all.  (Did you know that when people are asked what their favorite month is 9 out of 10 people will pick their birthday month?  I feel sorry for January birthday people.)

Still, I don’t like what’s ahead.  It seems like winter lasts six months around here.  I’m glad to know I have my daughter in Tampa to visit!

Remember this dish when you want a taste of a winter getaway.  It just may transport you.

Island Pork Tenderloin Salad
Gourmet May 2003

For pork:
2 teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 pork tenderloins (2 ¼ to 2 ½ pounds total)
2 tablespoons olive oil

For glaze:
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 tablespoon Tabasco

For vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon curry powder, toasted
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup olive oil

For salad:
3 navel oranges
5 ounces baby spinach, trimmed (6 cups leaves)
4 cups thinly sliced Napa cabbage (from 1 medium head)
1 red bell pepper, cut lengthwise into thin strips
½ cup golden raisins
2 firm-ripe avocados

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Stir together salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder and cinnamon, then coat pork with spice rub.
Heat oil in an ovenproof 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until just beginning to smoke, then brown pork, turning, about 4 minutes total.  Remove pan from heat but leave pork in skillet.
Stir together brown sugar, garlic and Tabasco and pat on top of each tenderloin.  Roast in the middle of the oven until thermometer inserted diagonally in center of each tenderloin registers 140 degrees F, about 20 minutes.  Let pork stand at room temperature 10 minutes.  (Temperature will rise to about 155 degrees F while resting.)
Make vinaigrette while pork roasts.  Whisk together juices, mustard curry powder, salt and pepper, then add oil in a stream, whisking until emulsified.
Prepare salad ingredients while pork stands.  Cut peel, including white pith, from oranges with a sharp knife, then cut oranges crosswise into ¼ inch thick slices.  Toss spinach, cabbage, bell pepper and raisins in a large bowl with about ¼ cup vinaigrette.  Halve, pit and peel avocados, then cut diagonally into ¼ inch slices.
Cut pork at a 45-degree angle into ½ inch slices.  Line a large platter with dressed salad and arrange pork, oranges and avocados in rows on top.  Drizzle some vinaigrette over avocados and oranges.  Pour any juices over pork.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

B is for Blondie Brownies with Brown Butter from "The Cookiepedia"

Now that’s a tongue twister, isn’t it?  But a darn good taste tempter, too!  The recipe for these brownies came from a new cookbook, The Cookiepedia, by Stacy Adimando.  The subtitle of the book is “Mixing, Baking and Reinventing the Classics” and the book delivers on the promise.

The book also has a stylish, light-hearted design, a hard cover spiral bound book, with clever pencil drawings, lively writing and lovely photographs, too.  Every cookie is pictured.  Baker’s tips are sprinkled throughout the book, along with suggestions for making personalized versions.

This blondie is just one example:  A simple change from a traditional blondie by using brown butter adds a nutty flavor to the brownies that takes it up a notch. 

(A few years ago when one sister’s only son was graduating high school, many if not all stops were pulled out to fete the young man properly, including replicating his favorite dessert:  the blondies from Applebee’s where he worked at the time.  My sister found the recipe all right; he was pleased, they were delicious, but you ought to try these on him, too, Jiggy.)

I used to think, non-baker that I am, that brown butter was reserved for savory dishes, like a simple sauce for steamed vegetables, or with sage, a great topping for squash ravioli.

But I’ve opened myself up to the possibilities of baking with brown butter – or beurre noisette, as the French call it.

The book is cleverly organized, too, dividing the cookies into the major categories of buttery, chocolaty, fancy, fruity, spicy and nutty and seedy cookies.  You’ll find all the classics – snickerdoodles, pignoli cookies, macarons, Florentines, pecan sandies, shortbreads, linzers, chocolate chip – along with some newbies, like green tea, cornmeal, sesame crisps, salt-and-pepper cookies, and everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cookies (which suggests adding potato chips, among other things).
The book is both a primer, because there are lots of term descriptions and ideas for decorating, and an advanced course, because it offers lots of suggestions for taking the original recipes on slightly different taste trails.  Along with suggested options, there are lots of tips for successful baking, much needed for hard cases like myself.   If I were to make every one of the 50 recipes in the book, I’d be one cookie queen.

The addition of brown butter to the blondies did add a wonderfully nuttiness to the brownies.  Such a simple change can make a big difference!  But the cookie I really want to try are alfajores, little buttery, sandwich cookies filled with dulce de leche.  Although Stacy suggests purchasing the dulce de leche, I think, come Christmas, I’d like to make it myself. 

Or maybe it’s the cornmeal cookies with rosemary I’ll be making next.  Or the sables with lemon zest. Hard to say.

The author is the deputy lifestyle editor for Every Day with Rachel Ray and a contributor to Serious Eats.  She knows her cookies and has put together a pretty complete cookie book.  It went on sale September 6.  Some great early Christmas shopping!

Couple cautions with these blondies, though:  Do not multi-task when browning the butter.  It doesn’t take long.  Elise at Simply Recipes offers a great tutorial.  And do err on the underside of bake times.

Blondie Brownies with Brown Butter
From The Cookiepedia, by Stacy Adimando
Makes 2 dozen bars
1 cup unsalted butter
2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 ½ cups light brown sugar
½ cup sugar
2 eggs
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup chocolate chips
2/3 cups toasted pecans, chopped
Coarse salt (sea salt or kosher) for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Start by browning the butter.  Melt it in a saucepan on medium heat.  When the foaming subsides, start swirling the pan to keep the butter moving.  Continue to cook until it changes from a light yellow to a deep golden, stopping just when you see the color change happen.  Take it off the heat and pour into a bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.

Beat the melted butte and sugars together.  Add eggs and vanilla and beat for several minutes or until the mixture looks thick and silky.  Add the dry ingredients one third at a time and mix until combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips and mix until combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips and pecans.

Grease a 9 X 13 inch baking pan.  Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper, then grease the parchment paper.

Pour the dough onto the parchment paper and spread it evenly with a spatula or slightly wet hand.  Bake 30 to 35 minutes (err on the shorter side for doughier brownies) until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Sprinkle lightly with the coarse salt.  Let cool completely before removing from the pan.  Cut into squares.

* * * *
Thanks to Quirk Books for sending me a copy of Stacy Adimando's The Cookiepedia.