August 29, 2012
Red Lentils with Fresh Herbs and Yogurt

Good god lentils are delicious.  Quick, easy, and deeply satisfying, I’m not sure why I don’t make them more often.  Something tells me I’m going to be eating a LOT of lentils in the coming weeks.

In a sturdy soup pot, sauté 3/4 of an onion (diced) in a 1-2 tablespoons butter, salting to sweat.  When softened and translucent, add a generous pinch of paprika and cumin, stirring to combine.  Cook for 30-60 seconds longer, until fragrant.  Add 1 1/2 cups lentils (I used red, but any will do) and 3 cups water (or stock of your choice).  Stir to combine and cover with a lid.  Simmer, covered, over low heat for 20-25 minutes, until lentils are tender and water is absorbed.

Once cooked through, add the juice of 1 lemon and season to taste.  Scoop into bowls; garnish with a drizzle of good green olive oil, heaping spoonfuls of Greek yogurt, and fresh herbs (basil, mint, or cilantro are all bright and delicious complements).  Serve immediately.

Simple, hearty, and tasty as can be.  They’ll make you wonder why you aren’t eating more lentils too.

August 18, 2012
Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Buttercream Icing

It’s the weekend.  Fittingly, this is a weekend cake.  Not that it’s especially difficult.  But it is time consuming. There are many steps requiring many tools and many bowls and many stages of beating and baking and frosting and chilling and many, many dishes.  And if that weren’t bad enough, there are many calories.  Maaaaaany.  Do you know how many sticks of butter and cups of sugar you are about to consume?  MANY.

But it’s worth it.  Particularly if you have someone to impress: a birthday, a neighbor, a mother-in-law, a coworker.  It’s gorgeous.  It’s indulgent.  It’s the perfectly not-too-sweet yet incredibly moist chocolate cake paired with the way-sweet people-will-go-bonkers-for-this icing.  (Particularly if they’re fond of grocery store icing the likes of Publix or Giant.)(Looking at you, Ms. Freshy and Mr. Landlord.)  It’s definitely a weekend cake.  It requires an idle afternoon and a whole lot of caloric justification.

As for the beets?  You can’t taste them.  Promise.  The cake is a standard chocolate cake (fairly mellow, not terribly rich or dark) that is fabulously fluffy and moist.  The beets and buttermilk (or in my case, yogurt) are to thank for said moisture and lightness.  The icing is rich and buttery and sweet (and hot pink!).  An unsuspecting recipient would be none the wiser.  If only I hadn’t told the landlord there were beets — we’d be plum out of cake.

Chocolate Beet Cake with Buttercream Icing
Adapted from Joy the Baker

For the Beets:
2 medium beets, stems cut and peels intact
1 teaspoon vegetable oil

For the Cake:
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (or 3/4 cup yogurt and 1/2 cup milk, as I did)

For the Frosting:
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
8 ounces (1 brick) cream cheese, softened
4 to 5 cups powdered sugar (1 box), sifted
2 tablespoons finely grated beets
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1-2 teaspoons milk or cream
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt

To make the Beets:
Preheat oven to 375F degrees.

Thoroughly wash beets and trim stems.  Place on a large piece of foil and drizzle with a conservative splash of vegetable oil.  Seal foil pouch and place on baking sheet; roast until beets are tender, about 45-50 minutes.  (Alternatively, next time you find yourself making beets for dinner, plan ahead.  Roast extra beets and refrigerate or freeze until needed.  I did exactly this and saved myself a solid hour and an extra step of prep.)

Once cooked through, remove beets from oven and open foil to cool completely.  Once cooled, peel beets with a paring knife (or hands; although your palms will be stained hot pink, beet skins slide right off).  Using a box grater, grate the peeled beets on the finest grating plane.*  Measure 3/4 cup of grated beets for the cake and 2 tablespoons for the frosting.  Set aside.

(*Note: My beets were cut into 1/2-inch pieces, as they were left over from a previous dish.  Rather than try my temper and bloody my hands with ity bity pieces against a box grater, I popped those badboys into the food processor.  Voilá.  Done in a blink.)

To make the Cake:
Reduce the oven temperature to 350F degrees.  Use butter to grease two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans.  Trace a piece of parchment paper so it is the same size as the bottom of the cake pan.  Cut it out and place inside the cake pan.  Butter the parchment paper.  (As I said, lots of steps.  The double greasing of the pans and the parchment paper is well worth the insurance.  The cakes will slide right out.  Better still, save the edges of the parchment to wrap around the base of your finished cake to protect your cake stand from icing splatters.  Brilliant.)  Set pans aside while you prepare the cake.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars with an electric mixer.  Beat on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 to 5 minutes.  Beat in eggs, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go along.  Once eggs are incorporated, beat in beets and vanilla extract until thoroughly combined.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  Beating on low speed, slowly add buttermilk.  Once incorporated, add the other half of the dry ingredients.  Beat on low speed until milk and dry ingredients are just incorporated.  Take care not to overmix; manually folding ingredients with a spatula works well too.  Batter will be thick and an ugly brownish-mauve color (don’t fret, it will bake into a standard chocolate brown).

Divide batter between the two prepared cake pans.  Bake for 23 to 25 minutes (for a 9-inch pan) or 30-32 minutes (for an 8-inch pan).  A tester inserted will come out clean.  Remove cakes from the oven and allow to rest for 10 minutes.  Invert cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely before frosting and assembling the cake.

To make the Icing:
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese for 30 seconds, until pliable and smooth.  Add butter and beat for another 30 seconds, until well combined.  Scrape down bowl as necessary. Beat in beets.  Add the powdered sugar, vanilla extract, milk, lemon juice, and salt.  Beat on medium speed until smooth and silky.  Refrigerate icing for 30 minutes before frosting the cooled cakes.

To assemble, place one layer on a cake stand or cake plate.  Top with a generous amount of pink icing and spread evenly.  Place the other layer on top and frost.  Work icing onto the sides of the cake.  (There will be plenty of frosting and you’ll likely have quite a bit left over.)  Refrigerate for an hour before serving (it will make the cake easier to slice)(and oddly enough, this cake tastes great chilled).  Cake will last, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for up to 4 days.

August 16, 2012
Linguine with Chunky Tomato Cream Sauce

This dish is a hybrid between my go-to tomato sauce base and vodka sauce.  Rustic bites of tomatoes and onions are blanketed in rich cream.  The fresh basil and vodka are omitted, leaving behind a simple, comforting dish that’s easy to pull together with staple pantry ingredients.  Shared with loved ones or enjoyed solo, it makes for a great weekday indulgence.

This is one of those recipes that doesn’t have an actual recipe.  It’s something I’ve made for years (with the exception of the cream, which is a slight variation) and tweak according to my provisions and tastes at the given moment.  The base ingredients are simple: tomatoes (both fresh and canned), onion (or shallots), salt, and cinnamon.  Garlic, basil, cream, crushed red pepper, eggplant, and so on can all be added if desired.

In a deep skillet or large wok over medium-low heat, sauté half an onion in 1-2 tablespoons light olive oil, salting to sweat.  Once softened and translucent (about 5 minutes), add 2 cloves garlic, diced.  Sauté for 1 minute until fragrant.  Add 1 large ripe tomato, diced.  Cook for 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add 1 28-ounce can tomatoes, crushed or diced (whatever you’re feeling; I typically opt for diced), and a large pinch (approximately 1/2 teaspoon) of ground cinnamon.  (Cinnamon cuts the acidity of the tomatoes and takes every pasta sauce from good to bangin’.  Do this.)  Stir everything together and simmer over low heat for 10-15 minutes, allowing flavors to meld.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to boil and cook your favorite pasta (remembering to salt the water after it is boiling, not before).  My favorite pasta is shells or cappellini, but I opted for the landlord’s favorite in this instance: linguine.

Once pasta is cooked and drained, add it to your extra grande sauce pan.  Add a generous splash of cream (and by “splash” I mean 1/2+ cup — go for it), 1 tablespoon butter, and another pinch or two of sea salt.  Toss with tongs to combine and serve immediately.  Garnish with fresh basil and parmesan if desired, or enjoy simply.

Finger. Lickin’. Good.

August 15, 2012
Plum Oat Crumble Bars

I keep buying more and more fruit.  Every week I scoop up as many peaches, plums, and berries as I can reasonably justify.  Most of the fruit is eaten raw, their freshness savored over breakfast and midday snacks.  The rest sit idly ripening, earmarked for baked goods.  And so these plum crumble bars were born.

The original recipe calls for peaches, but I haven’t been able to muster any self restraint when it comes to peaches — I keep gobbling them one by one rather than baking with them.  So plums it was.  I also omitted the nuts, because ick.  As we’ve well established by now, nuts have no place in dessert.  And in the spirit of my recent revelation re: balsamic vinegar and fruit, I added a generous tablespoon of balsamic to the plums.  (For the record, balsamic is better with blueberries.  I didn’t detect the flavor at all with the plums.)

Part shortbread cookie, part gooey fruit center, part crumbly sweet oat topping, these bars have something for everyone.  As Pops would say, num-o!

Plum Oat Crumble Bars
Adapted from Peach & Pecan Oat Crumble Bars by The Kitchn

Base Dough:
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 packed cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 heaping cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ginger

Plum Filling:
1 pound plums, unpeeled (about 4 plums)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (optional)
pinch salt

Oat Topping:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup loosely packed dark brown sugar
pinch cinnamon
pinch salt
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Directions:
Heat the oven to 350°F and grease an 8x8-inch baking dish.  (I opted for a large pie plate.)

In a large bowl using a hand mixer, cream the butter with the brown sugar and vanilla until light and fluffy.  Turn off the mixer and manually fold in the flour, salt, and ginger.  Take care not to overmix; incorporate dry ingredients just until the dough comes together.  Press the dough firmly into the bottom of the prepared baking pan and refrigerate while preparing the filling and topping.

Roughly chop the plums into 1/2-inch pieces and toss with the sugar, flour, balsamic (if using), and salt.  Set aside.  Using the same bowl as for the dough, mix softened butter with oats, flour, cinnamon, and salt until crumbly.  Spread the chopped plums over the chilled dough base.  Evenly crumble the topping over plums, and drizzle with melted butter.

Bake for 45 minutes or until the topping is lightly browned.  Cool (or chill) for at least an hour before slicing and serving.  I do recommend chilling these, as they slice much easier when cool.  Bars will stay fresh for about 5 days when stored well-covered in the fridge.

August 8, 2012
Spicy Sauerkraut

There is a special place in my heart for store-bought sauerkraut that is simmered with beer and brisket.  My mom serves it every New Year’s Day with said brisket and buttery smooth mashed potatoes.  I’d devour fork-full after fork-full of pillow soft potatoes smothered in tangy sauerkraut.  Talk about comfort food.

This sauerkraut tastes nothing like the beer and beef broth kind of my childhood, but it is tangy and crunchy and satisfying all the same.  I ate mine topped with a decadently runny fried egg, but it’d also go well alongside sloppy joes or barbecued anything.  Light and versatile, it’s the perfect summer side dish.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons light olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
3/4 cup vegetable stock or water, divided
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar

Directions:
Heat oil in a deep non-stick skillet or large wok over medium heat.  Sauté onion until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add cabbage, salt, sugar, and chili flakes and sauté, stirring occasionally, until starting to wilt, about 3 minutes.

Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup stock or water, scrapping up any brown bits from the onions.  Turn the heat down to low, and simmer until the liquid is nearly evaporated, about 6-8 minutes.  Add the remaining stock or water and repeat until reduced by half.  The cabbage should be cooked through but not mushy.  Stir in the vinegar and remove from the heat.  Serve immediately.

Sauerkraut will keep for up to a week in the fridge.

Recipe adapted from Big Girls Small Kitchen.

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