Monday, July 27, 2009

When life gives you tomatoes...

There I was, at the end of the market, watching Isa sort out the too-soft-to-pack from the good to go for this week. We're talking tomatoes. OK maybe food not bombs would have gotten the extras, but maybe they'd be fed to las chivas! I had to do something. "I'll take them!" I told her. I just couldn't help it. She asked how I'd get them home on my bike-- the box of too-softs was at least a few pounds heavier than what I'm used to balancing on my handle bars. I assured them I could do it. I'd just walk...very slowly. And that's just what I did.

Upon my arrival home, I sorted out the Romas from the Beefsteak organic slightly-too-soft tomatoes. I blanched about 40 Romas and made the simplest sauce I've ever made. Every so often I get these spaghetti and sauce cravings. I don't even want to eat the good stuff-- homemade pasta. I crave angel hair pasta from a box (I try to keep some bulk angel hair in the cupboard, purchased from the Bowl). This was one of those times.

After letting my sauce simmer on low heat for about an hour, I tossed a serving's worth with just-cooked pasta. Heaven-on-lazy-day earth, I tell ya!

Simple Sauce from Fresh Tomatoes

2 T olive oil
40 blanched and peeled Roma tomatoes, roughly chopped or crushed by hand
salt, to taste (careful- as sauce reduces, it will get more concentrated=saltier)
garlic+basil+crushed red pepper infused olive oil (recipe below)

1. Drizzle olive oil into heavy-bottomed stock pot; heat on medium
2. Add tomatoes at once
3. stir, add salt, to taste (less is more, I believe- you can always add more when it's done)
4. bring to boil, reduce to simmer, let cook, simmering, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour
5. when done, add 1/8-1/4 infused olive oil, depending on strength/your tastes

Toss with angel hair pasta, freshly torn basil and freshly grated parmesan cheese, and a small pat of butter, if desired. Yum.

garlic-infused oil

1/2 c olive oil
1 head garlic, cloves peeled
1/4 c fresh basil leaves
3 t crushed red pepper

1. Put all ingredients in saucepan and, on low heat, simmer for 30 min, strain.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Matt's Birthday Cake

Matt turned 25 a week ago and, as per tradition, I made him a birthday cake. Each year I make Matt a cake, and it may not seem as though making 5 or 6 different cakes is that difficult, but making 5 or 6 delicious unique exciting cakes can be quite a challenge. I feel as though I'm drying up- I don't want each year's cake to be too similar to the last, even if the last was to die for delicious!

This year, I selflessly made a cake whose flavor combination I less than desire for myself. That's right- chocolate and peanut butter. Yugh is my reaction to that combo. I avoid it on ice cream menus and in candy shops at all costs. It just doesn't do it for me. Inexplicably, some people just fawn over this mixture of rich creamy chocolate nuttiness. Matt is one of them. In my typical birthday cake fashion, I made a double layer cake. Chocolate layers and peanut butter frosting. I have to admit, even though I found myself eating around the frosting (I just can't take that much peanut butter!), the balance of moist, rich, chocolatey goodness was addictive. Within 2 days, the entire cake was gone, eaten by 3 or 4 individuals, alone. That's pretty good for a sizeable cake.

For you peanut-chocolate lovers, this one is right on, apparently.

Chocolate Cake and Peanut Butter Frosting
(adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

2 T butter, for greasing pans
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, plus 1/4 c for dusting pans
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup canola oil
1 cup [light] sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs, lightly beaten

1. Heavily butter two 9" cake tins, then dust with 2 T cocoa, each. Preheat oven to 350 and, in a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt.
2. Make a well in the middle of the dry mixture and add oil and sour cream. Mix as well as possible; mixture will be thick if not still a little dry.
3. Add water by the 1/2 cup-full, mixing well after every addition. This took some patience on my part but it was well rewarded.
4. Add vinegar, vanilla, and eggs. Mix well, and scrape sides with rubber spatula, if on hand.
5. Pour batter into two cake tins until each is about 2/3 full (NO MORE-- it will overflow in the oven!!). If you have extra batter, fill some muffin cups, or discard (as much as I hate to waste... it's better than the catastrophe that was my oven on Saturday morning due to overflowing cake tins and batter burning on the oven floor!).
6. Bake for about 40 min, checking after 30 min with a toothpick. If it comes out mostly clean, you know you're done.
7. Let cakes cool in tins for at least 10 min, then invert on cooling racks until fully cooled.
8. Apply crumb coat of frosting (recipe below). Freeze for about 40 min, apply the rest of the frosting as desired. SERVE!

Frosting recipe

1 8 oz package cream cheese
remaining stick of butter left over from greasing pans, softened very much!
3 1/2 c confectioners sugar
1/2 c skippy creamy peanut butter

1. Mix cream cheese and butter with fork (if you are staying over at a friend's who owns no electric mixers of any kind, this works!), until uniform.
2. Add sugar by the cup, mixing extremely well after each addition.
3. Finally, add peanut butter, stir to blend well (we don't want no streaks!).

If you're using the frosting directly on cake above, no need to refridgerate. It will be much softer this way and easier to use.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jam Tart

I'd never thought of jam as a particularly interesting food. No doubt, I appreciate it for its simplicity--reduced fruit to sweeten cookies or toast or muffins. But I've never before felt drawn to make jam. That changed when my boyfriend also got a job at a different farmer's market, selling fruit, and came home last Saturday with a few pounds of soft plums. I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume someone forced him into a trade and told him they'd make up a bag of fruit for him, instead of letting him pick it out himself. On the upside, we had a whole bag full of soft plums to work with. After being delegated to plum jam duty (for the Monte Cristos on the menu) at Split Pea, I wanted to try plum jam on my own. Not only did I want to try -- for days I couldn't stop thinking about how easy but delicious the process of jam-making really is!

Tonight, amidst cooking a near-feast with Matt for dinner, I could not deny my craving to make jam. I didn't stop just there- I made a jam tart! Below is a rough recipe for the stuff. Feel free to use any stone fruit on hand-- I even tossed in a few apricots that were getting soft in the fridge. Also, at Split Pea, we put the jam through a food mill for a more uniform end product. I don't mind skin or lumps in my jam, so no food mill necessary (although I should admit I LOVE using the food mill otherwise!).

Stone Fruit Jam Recipe
4-5 lbs soft stone fruit (i.e.: apricots, plums, pluots, nectarines, peaches...)
2 c sugar
2 t vanilla extract

1. Cut the fruit off the pit, trying to use as much as possible.
2. Don't worry about large pieces of fruit- it's all going to cook down.
3. Put fruit in a heavy-bottomed stock pot and cover with sugar and vanilla.
4. On medium heat, begin to stir your future jam.
5. Over the period of an hour or so, cook jam on medium heat. Mixture should be simmering constantly, but stir occasionally to avoid burning.
A good way to tell if it's almost ready is to do the spoon-coat test. If you can stick a spoon in the jam and pull it out with a good coating of jam sticking, you're almost there. Now run your finger through that jam-coat. If a line of no jam stays, you're pretty much done, as the jam will continue to thicken while it cools.

Jam Tart Recipe

1/2 c butter, softened
1/3 c sugar
1 egg yolk
2 t vanilla extract
1 c whole wheat flour
big handful of oats
1.5-2 c your favorite jam

1. Cream together butter and sugar. If butter is soft enough, this can be done by hand.
2. Add egg yolk and vanilla and continue to mix.
3. Add flour and oats, and stir. Mixture should resemble lumpy sand, not cookie dough.
4. Take a handful of the mixture and squeeze it-- it should stay a clump. If it crumbles, add water by the Tablespoon until it stays a clump when squeezed.
5. Press dough into a 9x9 pan to form a layer about 1/2"-3/4" thick (or thicker/thinner depending on your preference). Save a bit of dough for the topping.
6. Pour desired amount of jam on top, spread to even out, perhaps with a spoonback.
7. Shape remaining bit of dough into flat circles about 1 inch in diameter. Plop these circles on top of the jam, about 1/4" apart.
8. Bake for 20 minutes. Cool almost completely for the jam to thicken back up. This makes serving easier. But if you can't wait (like me), get out your fave vanilla ice cream or frozen yogurt, serve up, and enjoy!