Homemade Devil Dogs

By my count, there are about four million people mourning the loss of Twinkies (quick math), and about two dozen lamenting the loss of Devil Dogs, the dry, chocolate counterpart to its more popular older brother. It’s natural to assume that the predicted rise in milk prices can be attributed to the fiscal cliff debacle. Actually, that wouldn’t be my natural assumption, but it’s true. If Congress doesn’t pass a new farm bill, milk prices might rise like fuel prices. But forget all that. The real reason that dairy farmers might be out of work: no Devil Dogs, no need for a gallon of milk.

I miss the occasional dry dog, even if I only bought a box once a year. Since I was denied this indulgence, I got online pronto to research how to make my own. Caveat: the following recipe will not taste exactly like a Drake’s Devil Dog (can you really recreate that factory-made, unnaturally long shelf-life cake of exceeding dryness?), but it’s pretty darn good. Think whoopie pie in a Devil Dog shape.

I found several recipes online but chose to make the cake recipe from one and the cream filling from another. Shaping the cakes was a clumsy mess and I’m no expert with a pastry bag when it comes to piping the cream, but whatever. Close your eyes, pretend it’s 2012, and devour.

IMG_3591

Advertisements

Squash blossom season

“Hi,” says an eager 10-year-old boy behind a table of greens—lots of Asian veggies—at the Marblehead Farmers’ Market. “Can I help you?”

I spot the basket of squash blossoms, rubber banded in bouquets and know immediately that I’ll be stuffing them with goat cheese and having them for lunch.

“I’ll take these and any advice you have,” I say to the boy and his grandmother.

“Just dip them in flour and an egg,” the boy says, “and saute them in olive oil. I really like them on pizza.”

“How do you know how to cook squash blossoms at your age?”

“My mom,” he says. “Don’t forget to take out the stamen.”

I like this kid. Like that he knows how to properly cook these blossoms that is not in everyone’s repertoire, especially a 10-year-old’s. I like that he knows the word stamen.

“You thinking of becoming a chef?” I ask.

“Maybe,” he says.

“I think you should,” I say. “I would come to your restaurant.”

I recall from last year’s failed experiment that squash blossoms don’t last. They’re fickle little things. One minute they’re perky, they next they’re wilting. I take them home and plunge them in water and get to work on making a simple mixture of flour, egg (a blue one that makes me ridiculously happy) and a little water. I start with this recipe for inspiration and realize I don’t have seltzer water or cayenne pepper, and crab meat seem too much for these delicate flowers, and I certainly don’t want to use ricotta when I can use goat cheese.

I gently rinse the blossoms, letting the water open them up, dry them, then stuff them with goat cheese. I dredge them in the pancake-like batter and saute them for a few minutes until they brown. I go a little too heavy on the batter—a messy presentation that my 10-year-old friend would not approve of—but they’re crisp and delicious and I eat every last one.

Grilled pizza

If you refuse to get on a plane, train or boat to try the pizza at Al Forno in Providence, I pity you. In light of your resistance, you can try to recreate it at home. The key, besides a little wheat flour and cornmeal in the dough, is grilling—yes, grilling—your pizza. Don’t smirk. It’s genius. New England’s mild winter had me grilling sans scarf. But trust me; once you’ve tried this ultra-thin crust pizza, you would grill in mittens. Tip: be sure to stretch the dough before donning mittens.

Shape is not important as you can see from my South American version.

Be judicious with the tomatoes and trust the chefs’ choices in cheeses. I cannot recommend Johanne Killeen and George Germon’s cookbook Cucina Simpatica enough for all its Italian goodness. In fact, I would require all Americans to buy it, if I could. But if you refuse to go to Al Forno or buy the cookbook (dead to me), the grilled pizza recipe is also here on the Food Network’s site. Serve the pie like they do in the restaurant, with charred grill marks and raw scallion snippets—and don’t plan on sharing.

Chicken alambre

Tacos are a super food, right? Well, the avocado part anyway. And maybe this taco/fajita hybrid looks like nothing special. You’re unimpressed. But come with me on a journey of flavor because this baby is born of bacon grease and chorizo. That’s right, people; this chicken alambre recipe, courtesy of chef Veronica Salazar in San Francisco, doesn’t need any spices or fancy salsa. Hell, it doesn’t even need cheese.

Extra points that my version actually looks like the picture in the Food & Wine recipe. And that never happens.

Make your own English muffins

Last year I wrote about my mom’s English muffin bread, a hearty and delicious loaf that’s not for the carb-conscious. At a yard sale recently, we stumbled on a bread book, cleverly titled Bread (well, really Breads of the World and How to Bake them at Home) that I thought looked OK, unlike most cookbooks at yard sales that people are tossing (101 Soups! Chicken 7,868 Ways!). But then one recipe jumped out at us: English muffins. Don’t they come from the Thomas’ English Muffin factory?

The picture of the doughy little muffins browning in a cast iron skillet made the book a must-buy and the recipe a must-try. My mom whipped up a batch first and reported they were like Wolferman’s English muffins: thick and dense, in a good way. I’m more of a Thomas’ girl, so I rolled out the dough a little more to make them less puffy before they stole away for a nap in a warm spot to rise.

A quick peek to see if they're rising

Then they go into a skillet until they’re golden, emerging warm and nook-filled. After the toaster and a melty slab of butter, you embrace a carb-rich diet and down another one. You know you want to make them.

English Muffins

Makes 9 muffins

4 cups bread flour

1 ½ t salt

1 ½- 1 2/3 cup lukewarm milk

½ t sugar

½ oz yeast (2 packages)

1 T melted butter or olive oil

semolina flour for dusting

Generously flour cookie sheet. Lightly grease griddle.

Sift flour and salt in large bowl and make well in center. Blend in separate bowl 2/3 cup lukewarm milk with sugar and yeast. Stir in remaining milk and butter.

Add yeast mixture into center of flour well and beat for 4-5 minutes. Dough will be soft and hold its shape. Cover with lightly oiled plastic wrap. Let rise in warm place for 45-60 minutes until double in bulk.

Turn out dough onto well-floured surface (or wax paper) and punch down. Roll out to ½ inch thick. Using a floured 3-inch cutter or glass, cut out 9 rounds. Dust each round with semolina on top and place on floured baking sheet. Cover with paper towel and dish towel and let rise 20-30 minutes. Heat pan over medium heat and carefully transfer muffins to lightly greased pan. Cook slowly for 7 minutes on each side or until golden brown.

Homemade granola

Given the price of granola, you’d think it was laced with gold leaf and scattered with pearls. In fact, the ingredients are simple and it’s ridiculously easy to make. I did a lot of recipe-shopping on food blogs to find just the right inspiration. I avoided any with dried fruit (too squishy!) and any that screamed sticky. And I like my granola to be like me: nutty, so I settled on this most perfect granola recipe at the drool-inducing La Tartine Gourmande where the photographs would make you want to eat food you think you don’t like.

Homemade granola allows you to control the ingredients: you like rice puffs: go crazy. You like a granola where chocolate is the main ingredient? Do it. You like Craisins? Who are you?

I didn’t have honey, and don’t like a super-sweet granola, so I just used a little maple syrup. Also, it was touch and go when the almonds started to brown, like a second after I had last checked on the batch, so watch it carefully. Then carry it around in little snack containers so you can feel all frugal and fancy.

A recipe that took as long as the Oscars

Even though I know you should read a recipe before you attempt it, I failed to follow my own advice and embarked on an epic communion with my kitchen Sunday afternoon to make this layered salted caramel shortbread in time for the red carpet action. By the time the Best Actor category rolled around, about seven hours into the show, it was done. Mostly.

But I couldn’t give up. The recipe and picture in Ready Made magazine were swoonable, no?

The goal

The first step involved my least favorite baking instruction: combine flour and cold butter to make a dough. Flour and cold butter do no like each other, but I force them to play nice and let the dough rest in the fridge for an hour. The dough hits the oven and emerges as shortbread; then I make caramel and layer that on the shortbread. Into the fridge for another hour. Next up: a stab at tempering chocolate—a complicated recipe in itself because temperature is key and my candy thermometer is vague. I taste the dark chocolate and it has an odd, fruity taste, and I start to regret buying cheap chocolate at Trader Joe’s. The chocolate (tempered?) gets spread on top of the caramel to set—another eternity.

In fact, it’s not humanly possible to wait until it sets, so I cut into it and it oozes all over the place and marvel at how unlike the picture it looks. It’s as if I entered the Ruin this Recipe contest. Winner!

Huh. Did I miss a step?

Icebox everything

It’s my belief that adding the word “icebox” to any menu item makes it sound better. Take, for instance, the chocolate icebox cake they serve at Tini in Providence. Who wants chocolate cake when you can have chocolate ice box cake? Is it the same thing? Well, yes, it probably is. But does it seem like the chocolate is richer, the cake colder, and the all-around experience more sensual? Yes, yes, and yes. The word icebox conjures up your grandparents’ ice chest and nostalgia for a simpler time. The word “fridge” just doesn’t compare. Who wants a fridge cake?

Check out this icebox strawberry pie as evidence of the word’s allure. Sooo different than your run-of-the-mill strawberry pie, right?

I think dairy companies should get on board with this. Cold milk is already tempting, but icebox milk? Damn, where’s the chocolate? The description might also help with foods struggling for love: icebox celery, icebox Brussel sprouts, icebox kale . . .

Photo by Wendi Dunlap on Flickr

Apple cider muffins

I’ve been cooking a bunch of recipes from the delightful Earth to Table cookbook and the latest was apple cider muffins. The author introduces the recipe this way:

“This recipe was given to me by Karen DeMasco, founding Pastry Chef at Craft Restaurant in New York City…Every guest is given one to take home after dinner to enjoy the next morning…I loved the idea that they would be spreading out all over Manhattan by the end of the evening.”

Quite a brilliant marketing scheme. You have a pleasant experience dining at Craft and then wake up to your apple muffin thinking of Craft again.

Apple cider muffins

Makes 12 muffins

1 cup white sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar
3/4 cup grapeseed or vegetable oil
3 large eggs
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup pure apple cider
3/4 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 medium apples, peeled and grated (ideally crisp baking apples: Granny Smiths or Mutsus)

Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour a 12-cup muffin tin. In a medium bowl, whisk together white sugar, brown sugar, and oil. Add eggs and whisk to combine.

In another bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a third bowl, whisk together apple cider, sour cream, and vanilla.

In three additions, add flour mixture and apple cider mixture to sugar mixture, folding with a spatula to combine. Fold in the grated apples (grating them is very satisfying) then pour batter into muffin cups. Fill the cups about 3/4 of the way to the top. Bake, turning halfway, until muffins spring back to the touch, 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on rack. Good luck getting them out.

One note: I must have elfin-sized muffin cups because mine made at least two dozen. I ended up freezing some of the batter to make them fresh some morning. Mmmm.

Gnocchi: the good, the bad and the sticky

Last week, I was excited to try a new recipe for sweet potato gnocchi that sounded well, not easy, but manageable. Three hours later, I was heaping abuse on the potatoes that I was too impatient to roast long enough. Why are you so hard? You stupid, stupid potatoes! All traces of my Irish heritage evaporated. It was a potato famine in my own kitchen. 

Salvaging the good potatoes, I mashed them till soft and added flour until it formed the stickiest, most irritating dough ever. Despite hills of flour, the dough stuck to the counter and my hands and attacked my clothes. The next step—rolling them into ropes—was no better. The sticky ropes broke and I broke down. It was 9:00 and dinner time had come and gone. I was hungry enough to eat the uncooked dough, which was convenient because by the time I gave up on forming them into gnocchi shapes with a fork, I just starting throwing blobs of dough into the boiling water for the gummiest pasta ever. Cooked? Uncooked? Who could tell?

So, this week, I rallied to redeem myself, trying The Wednesday Chef’s recipe for Gnocchi alla Romana that makes a bigger, circular gnocchi that required no rolling or dough. Instead, you mix the polenta-like batter with parmigiano-reggiano cheese and eggs, spread it out on a cookie sheet to chill, and bake it. You know what? Totally doable. 

These are the round, overlapping discs before they go into the oven:

And then, lightly browned, with some sauce:

No potatoes, no meltdowns. Dinner at 7:00.

Pork meatballs

This summer, my friend Kim and I went to this stellar outdoor dinner put on by the folks of Outstanding in the Field and I’ve been pining for the pork meatballs ever since. They were tender, flavorful balls of porkiness. So I was excited to stumble across this recipe for pork meatballs on The Wednesday Chef blog, and even more excited when they proved to be delicious. Was the recipe more time consuming than I anticipated? Yes, it was. But an hour and a half later, I had me a big bowl of pasta and little meat clouds. Of course, about 20 minutes of the prep was devoted to looking for my mortar and pestle that I could not find in the box in storage marked, “Extra Kitchen Stuff I Never Use,” but still. I ended up toasting the fennel seeds and unsuccessfully crushing them with a rolling pin. And I had coriander, not coriander seeds, so no crushing needed there. Anyway, good stuff. Sadly, they did not photograph as well, but use your imagination.

English muffin loaf

My mom bakes this hearty English muffin loaf that makes you want to tote a toaster to work. It makes two loaves and is easy to make, even if, like me, you fear yeast. I don’t have nightmares about it; it’s just that I don’t understand it.

Anyway, she got the recipe from an old, simple-looking booklet that probably came with an early bread making machine.

English Muffin Loaf

2 cups milk

½ cup water

5-6 cups all purpose flour

2 packages Fleischmann’s active dry yeast

1 T sugar

2 t salt

¼ t baking soda

Cornmeal

Prepare pans first by greasing and sprinkling with cornmeal.

Combine milk and water in small saucepan. Heat over low heat until liquids are very warm (120 to 130 degrees on a candy thermometer).

Place 6 cups of flour, the yeast, sugar, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. Attach bowl and dough hook, if you have one. If not, do it the old-fashioned way. Turn to Speed 2 and mix 15 seconds. Gradually add warm liquids to flour mixture and mix 1 minute longer.

Continuing on Speed 2, add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Knead on Speed 2 for 2 minutes longer or mix by hand. Dough will be very sticky.

Spread dough into two 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½ inch prepared loaf pans. Brush tops with melted butter and dust the tops with cornmeal. Cover. Let rise in warm place free of drafts for 45 minutes.

Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks. Yields two loaves.

I tried swapping out a couple of cups of flour for spelt flour, and the results were pretty good. I’m curious if a healthier version made with some whole wheat goodness would be as tasty. Please report back if anyone makes it, though you’ll likely be too busy stuffing your face.

Vegan chocolate chip cookies

I’m not a vegan, but if I hear there’s a good cookie recipe out there, I’m gonna try it—butter or no butter. In the December/January 2010 issue of Ready MadeL.A.-based Krissy’s Cookies shares its recipe for these healthier morsels, which can also be ordered online, along with other interesting varieties. 

If you’re vegan, you may already have the ingredients on hand; but if you’re like me, you have to hit Whole Foods to find spelt flour, agave nectar, and safflower oil. The cost of those three ingredients: $13. These cookies had better be good, I said to my shopping cart. They were, even if my tasters pointed out, But they’re vegan! Doubters.

Vegan Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies

(or plain old chocolate chip cookies if you skip the mint)

Makes about 48 cookies in under an hour.

3 cups organic white spelt flour

2 10-ounce packages of grain-sweetened chocolate chips (Sunspire brand)

1 tsp. aluminum-free baking soda

1 tsp. organic sea salt

1 cup light-colored agave nectar

1/4 cup organic safflower oil

1 tsp. organic peppermint oil

1/2 teaspoon alcohol-free vanilla

1/2 cup organic crushed almonds

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Line baking sheets with parchment paper if you have it. I most certainly did not. In a large bowl, stir together white spelt flour (Whole foods only had whole grain spelt flour and it worked well), chocolate chips (I used one bag, which seemed plenty), baking soda and salt. In another large bowl stir together agave nectar, safflower oil, peppermint, and vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the nectar mixture and stir until well combined.

2. Drop the dough by rounded teaspoons onto baking sheets. Using wet fingers, gently flatten dough mounds. Sprinkle each dough round with about 1/2 teaspoon crushed almonds.

3. Bake 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned and edges are set. Let cool on cookie sheet two minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; cool. Eat at room temperature (yeah, right!) or for best results, slightly chilled. To store, layer cookies between waxed paper in an airtight container. Store at room temperature for up to three days or freeze for up to three months.

Warm roasted chicken with greens

This is one of my favorite summer recipes because it’s warm. I’m not a cold gazpacho girl, and I don’t want a hot anything, especially if it means turning on my oven in the middle of a heat wave (not that we’re having one or may ever have one again). So this dish, cool greens and warm chicken, is perfect.

Get yourself a rotisserie chicken and shred. In a pan, reduce 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 clove of minced garlic, and 2/3 cup of chicken stock. Remove from heat and add a splash of red wine vinegar. Cover and set aside.

Roast some grape tomatoes with olive oil and salt for say, 15 minutes at 400 degrees. If you’re ambitious, use up that stale bread and make your own croutons.

Wash some greens (arugula works well) and toss it with the chicken, coating it with the olive oil and stock mixture, tomatoes, pine nuts, croutons and a little grated cheese. Delightful.

Warm roasted chicken salad

Pork tenderloin and apple slaw

Forget pork chops and apple sauce. The modern version is way better: tender pork tenderloin slices with a crunchy cabbage and apple slaw. This recipe from Real Simple magazine satisfied. And I’m a tough customer. Instead of rice vinegar, we used an orange one, which gave it a nice citrus punch. Lemon would be nice too. And you could try it with pears and nuts and oh, there are so many combinations. If you have leftover slaw (unlikely), don’t let it sit in the vinaigrette though or the cabbage will lose its crunch. 

Yum on a plate

Yum on a plate

A soufflé of chocolate air

I’ve had a number of soufflé recipes in my collection for years now, none of which I’ve ever made. An anniversary seemed liked the perfect time to celebrate with a special dessert. Of course, any day is reason to celebrate with a special dessert, but it’s nice to pretend there’s a reason sometimes. 

The hype about soufflés—how they’re impossible to perfect, how a whisper outside the oven may make them collapse into a heap and all that—has always discouraged me from attempting one. But after listening to a guest on The Splendid Table podcast insist they’re not all that finicky, I gave it a whirl. Yes, the egg whites needed to form peaks just so, and yes you need to fold in said egg whites as gently as you would tuck in a baby, but you know, it worked. And 1) we used salted butter, 2) someone dropped a plate on the oven that we were sure spelled disaster, and 3) we didn’t even have a proper soufflé pan, whatever that is, but instead used ramekins, and a giant mug. They puffed up just like popovers to the point that the mug was brimming with a solid form of hot chocolate. And who wouldn’t want to eat that? I’m telling you, it was like eating chocolate air.

A cloud of chocolate

A cloud of chocolate

 

Here’s the deal, courtesy of the estimable Mark Bittman in his know-it-all cookbook How to Cook Everything:

Chocolate soufflé

3 T unsalted butter, plus 1 t for greasing the dish

1/3 cup sugar, plus some for dusting the dish

1 cup milk

3 T flour

2 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

4 eggs, separated

Pinch salt

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Use 1 teaspoon of butter to grease a 2-quart soufflé dish or other deep baking dish (or, you know, mugs), such as a Corningware-type dish. Sugar the dish or ramekins and preheat the oven to 350º.

Warm the milk in a saucepan with 1/3 cup of sugar. In a small saucepan, heat the 3 tablespoons of butter over med-low heat. When the buttery foam begins to subside, stir in the flour. On low, stir it almost constantly until the flour-butter mixture darkens, about 3 minutes.

Stir in the milk, a little at a time, using a whisk. It will be quick thick; stir in the chocolate and remove from heat. Let cool for 5 minutes. Beat the egg yolks and stir them in. 

In a clean bowl (free of any fat), beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until very stiff but still glossy. Stir a good spoonful of them into the sauce to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites, using a rubber spatula or your hand. Hands are cool. Transfer to the prepared mold and bake until the center is set, or nearly so, 30 to 40 minutes (15-25 for individual soufflés). Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve immediately. 

And don’t take that “serve immediately” part lightly because the creation will start to fall as soon as it hits the table. Best to get a spoon and pull up a chair next to the oven.

Spaghetti with slow-roasted cherry tomatoes, basil, arugula and Parmesan cheese

This recipe sounds predictable, right? I thought so too. I mean, anything with tomatoes and basil is good, but I didn’t expect it to be this good. The recipe, courtesy of chef Rialto chef Jody Adams in the Best American Recipes 05-06, calls for marathon roasting of cherry tomatoes. Aside from that, there’s nothing to it. 

Spaghetti with slow-roasted cherry tomatoes, basil, arugula and Parmesan

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus about 1/4 cup for roasting

1 large white onion, diced (we prefer shallots)

6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

18 fresh basil leaves, plus 1/4 cup cut into thin ribbons

1/8 t crushed red pepper flakes

48 ripe cherry or grape tomatoes, rinsed and dried

3 t kosher salt

2 t sugar

1 pound spaghetti

2 cups lightly packed arugula

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 250º. Heat 1/4 cup of oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion/shallot and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat. Add the whole basil leaves and red pepper flakes and stir well. 

Toss the tomatoes with 1 teaspoon of the salt and sugar and fit them snugly into a single layer pan and spoon the shallot mixture over the top. Add olive oil until it reaches halfway up the tomatoes (yup, it’s a lot and the reason the tomatoes should be snug, not spreading all over a cookie sheet). Bake for 3 hours (stir once gently), but check on them periodically to ensure they don’t turn to mush; pop one or two in your mouth to uh, check them. The burst of tomato will surprise you. 

Bring a large pot of water with the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt to a boil. Add the spaghetti and stir constantly until it returns to a boil. Cook until al dente, about 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the tomatoes with the onions and oil in a large saucepan over low heat. When the pasta is done, drain it  and transfer to the saucepan with the tomatoes. Add the arugula. Toss well. Add the basil ribbons and toss again.

Serve immediately (sprinkling Parmesan over the top if you like, though I didn’t even need it) and fight over the portions.

Delicious enough, but after 3 hours of slow-roasting: deliciouser!

Delicious enough, but after 3 hours of slow-roasting: deliciouser!