Pan-fried Chickpeas with Chorizo and Spinach

April 24, 2010

I know. I know. I get it. I’m a flaky, good-for-nothing butthead. But seriously guys, ME SO BUSY!!! Between the inexorable schoolwork and the fruitless job hunting, I’ve let the blog fall by the wayside. I haven’t even had a chance to cook, let alone flog.

Alright, enough with the apologies. Let’s get to the meat of this article. What meat you ask? Chorizo! Chorizo is a heavily seasoned, spicy sausage. It’s Spain’s answer to the Polish sausage. Most of the chorizo you’re gonna get is cured, so the sausage is ready to eat. But this is Chorizo, not some run-of-the-mill Slim Jim. It’s distinctive flavor (which comes from Pimentón—Spanish Paprika) adds incredible depth to a dull dish.

Fried Chickpeas and Chorizo! This recipe comes from Mark Bittman’s “The Minimalist” segment on “The New York Times.” This dish is pretty straightforward, and requires no extra seasoning, thanks to the deep flavor of the sausage. The crunchy breadcrumbs and crisp chickpeas contrast well with the soft spinach. The recipe only called for 4 ounces of Chorizo, so I had leftover chorizo to put in my eggs the next morning. As the Spainards would say, está para chuparse los dedos.

On the topic of Spain, I’ve decided to study abroad next year for both semesters. While there, I will flog about Spain’s food culture. My hope is to use my blog as a platform to discuss Spanish gastronomy, similar to David Lebovitz’s Parisian food blog. After all, I’m sure there’s a lot more to Spain than tapas…

Recipe courtesy of Mark Bittman’s The Minimalist (February 24, 2010)

Ingredients

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, as dry as possible. We will be shallow-frying them, and we want them nice and dry before adding them to pan
Salt and black pepper
4 ounces chorizo*, diced
½ pound spinach, roughly chopped
¼ cup sherry
1 to 2 cups bread crumbs, enough to cover the dish.

1. Heat the broiler.

2. Put three tablespoons of the oil in an oven-proof skillet large enough to hold chickpeas in one layer over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add chickpeas and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until chickpeas begin to brown, about 10 minutes, then add chorizo. Continue cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes or until chickpeas are crisp; use a slotted spoon to remove chickpeas and chorizo from pan and set aside.

4. Add the remainder of the 1/4 cup of oil to the pan; when it’s hot, add spinach and sherry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook spinach over medium-low heat until very soft and the liquid has evaporated. Add chickpeas and chorizo back to the pan and toss quickly to combine; top with bread crumbs, drizzle with a bit more oil and run pan under the broiler to lightly brown the top. This should take at most a minute. Mark says you can serve it either hot or at room temp, but I personally think it is far superior when served hot.

Yield: 4 servings. Great as a side dish or even a light main course.

*Note: I used the brand Palacio’s when choosing my chorizo. They carried it in spicy and non-spicy. Don’t be intimidated by the label—go with the spicy. The spinach and the chickpeas help to diminish the spiciness. I made the dish with someone with a low spice tolerance, and she was fine.


French Onion Bread Pudding

March 13, 2010

I know I’ve been writing a lot of sweet entries as opposed to savory. The reason? Desserts always go over well. Yeah, a braised lamb shank will get you some attention, but a molten chocolate cake is always appreciated. Here at Tufts, there are a lot of vegetarians and unadventurous eaters (think Bacon Ice Cream), but everyone loves desserts. After all, why do you think BAKE sales are so popular? Who knew that clearing one’s conscience only takes a $1.00 and a couple of brownies!

So with that in mind, here’s a twist on a popular dessert, Bread Pudding. I’ve had some pretty amazing bread puddings in my day, so I was eager to try out this recipe. Here are a couple of reasons to love it.

1.)    The thing is made in a casserole dish, which means easy cleanup and preparation. This is a HUGE plus when you don’t have a dishwasher (or a kitchen sink).

2.)     Carmelized Onions. Lots of them.

3.)    Since it’s based on French Onion Soup, the requisite use of cheese helps to bind it together. And who doesn’t love gooey melted cheese?

4.)    The use of grainy mustard helps to give this pudding a nice kick.

5.)    Did I mention caramelized onions?

I thought that the pudding was good; however, I still prefer bread pudding as a dessert. But if you’re looking to try something easy and different, give this a go. It tastes a lot like a quiche, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. While they say it’s an appetizer, my friends and I found the pudding to be pretty heavy and thought that it could just as easily be the main course, depending on the occasion.

French Onion Bread Pudding (adapted from The Cookworks, 2003)
Serves between 8-10 people as an appetizer, and 6 as a main course)

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds onions (2 to 3 medium onions), thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sugar
3 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons clarified butter*
1 tablespoon sweet sherry ( I didn’t have any Sherry, so I used apple juice as a subsitute)
1 large Italian or French bread loaf, crusts removed, cut into 5 by 1-inch pieces
6 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 tablespoon grainy mustard
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups grated Gruyere cheese

Directions

1.) Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

2.) In a large skillet, saute the onions, sugar, and 1 teaspoon of the salt in the clarified butter over medium-high heat; stir constantly to prevent burning. They should go from opaque to translucent to golden brown. They should be quite soft by this point. If the heat is too high, you’re gonna end up frying the onion to crisp, so just be aware. Add sherry and stir to lift any caramelized onion on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and set aside.

3.) Spread out the bread pieces evenly on a baking sheet. Place in the oven for about 5 to 8 minutes to dry the bread slightly but not to add color. Set aside to cool.

4.) Whisk together the eggs, cream, mustard, thyme, the remaining salt, and pepper. Soak the bread in the egg mixture for 5 minutes.

5.) In a casserole dish, layer the bread with the onions and cheese. Pour the remaining egg mixture over the top.

Bake for 35 minutes or until the egg mixture is set.

*About clarifying butter: Clarified butter is unsalted butter that has been slowly melted, separating the milk solids from the liquids. Milk solids are the things that foam up to the top of butter when you melt it down. Since these milk solids can burn and tarnish the taste of the butter, cooks often remove it when they decide to saute food. Do this by removing any foam/milky residue off the top of the melted butter. Clarified butter is used to cook at higher temperatures because it has a higher smoke point. If you aren’t comfortable doing this, just use olive oil, since it has a high smoke point. Butter is used for the flavor, but don’t worry about it


Valentine’s Day Clincher: Molten Chocolate Cake

February 7, 2010

Chocolate is a requisite for Valentine’s Day.  I still remember picking out chocolates in hopes of winning the heart of my third grade crush, Anya. Unfortunately for me, another boy was competing for Anya’s heart, and he shrewdly took credit for my act of love. Oh the agony! I despondently watched as he proclaimed himself her “Secret Admirer.”
While it didn’t exactly work out as planned, there’s no denying the aphrodisiacal powers of chocolate. So when you’re planning a dinner date for V-Day, dessert is a huge consideration. And while there’s no denying the romantic allure of posh dessert spots like Finale or Burdicks, they can be a little draining on the wallet.

The solution—make it yourself. It’s cheaper and far more rewarding. Spending money on a girl will make her blush, spending time on a girl will make her purr. Girls love it when you take them to a swanky restaurant, but if you slave over a good dessert, you’ll have her eating out of the palm of your hand. But guess what? You don’t even have to slave over the dessert. So for all those guys out there with ladies to impress; it’s easy to do, just follow these steps.

Step 1: Cut a hole in a box

Just kidding. I highly doubt you’ll score many ladies with that sort of gift. Here’s a better option.

First, you should invite a girl out to dinner. You can either take her to a restaurant (Sushi or Tapas are options that strike a nice balance between informal and fancy). If you’re a little more confident in your cooking skills, get some pasta from Dave’s Fresh and dine at home/dorm. If it’s a first date though, I’d keep it in neutral territory, like a restaurant.

Step 2: Prepare dessert yourself. A mediocre meal can be remedied with a phenomenal dessert. This final course is the clincher, which is why you should make it yourself. She’ll appreciate the fact that you made it yourself, and best of all—it’s a guaranteed way to get her back to your place.

You should make either the chocolate soufflé or the molten chocolate cake. Both desserts are flashy enough to wow her and easy enough to keep your pre-date day stress free. And best of all, these desserts can both be made ahead of time. Just make them right before you go and place them refrigerator. When you get back, put them in the oven and bake them and voila! Hot, freshly baked dessert! The last thing you want to be doing when you bring her home is fretting over the dessert in the kitchen. By prepping everything beforehand, all you have to do when you get back is put it in the oven. What you decided to do after dessert is all up to you.

If you wanna make the Soufflé…
I detailed this one in the soufflé post, so just click here for that recipe

If you wanna make the molten chocolate cake…

Molten Chocolate Cake
(adapted from New York Times recipe, which in turn was taken from “Cooking at Home with a Four-Star Chef” by Mark Bittman and Jean-Georges Vongerichten)

INGREDIENTS
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, plus more to butter the molds
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons flour, plus more for dusting

METHOD

1. Beat together the eggs, yolks, and sugar with a whisk or electric beater until light and thick.

2.) In a double boiler (Saucepan of simmering water with a bowl on top), melt chocolate and butter together until the chocolate is almost completely melted.

2. Pour in the egg mixture, then quickly beat in the flour, just until combined.

3. Butter and lightly flour 2 8-ounce molds, custard cups, or ramekins. Tap out the excess flour, then butter and flour them again. Divide the batter among the molds.

(At this point you can refrigerate the desserts until you are ready to eat, for up to several hours; however, you must bring them back to room temperature before baking.)

4. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake the molds on a tray for about 11 minutes; the center will still be quite soft, but the sides should be set.

5. Once baked, take ramekins out of oven. Immediately place a serving plate on top  of the ramekin. Acting quickly, flip ramekin/plate over. The cake should unmold itself onto the plate. Serve immediately.

Ps: It’s good with vanilla ice cream and a couple of sliced strawberries.


P(r)esto!

December 30, 2009

Snow is overrated. As a kid you love it, but once you take school cancellations out of the equation, snow becomes a bit of a nuisance. So with nothing else to do, I decided to harvest Count Chocula, my basil plant, and make some pesto. With all the traveling I do over break, it just wasn’t feasible to take him with me. Seeing as I had spent all semester tending to his needs, I thought that this would make a perfect culinary capstone for the semester. So for my final dorm-cooking of the decade, I made pesto.


Note to self (and all other collegiate cooks), the cafeteria is a great place to get ingredients. I didn’t feel like buying some ingredients, so I just got them from the dining hall, Carmichael. The staff was more than willing to give me a teaspoon of white pepper from the kitchen. As for the walnuts… well, I took them from the salad bar. Technically, I don’t think that counts as stealing. At least that’s what I tell myself.
The recipe was a little too olive oily for my liking, so I’d just do it to taste if I were you. Test it after a half of a cup and add more bit by bit until you get the flavor you want. Other than that, the pesto was delish. We brought it to dinner and used it on the cafeteria pasta and pizza. Who wants a watery marinara when you’ve got fresh pesto? Our BYOP dinner couldn’t have gone any better. I used some of the leftovers for a turkey and cheese Panini. There are really no limits when it comes to pesto. Give it a go, see what you think.

Before

Basic Pesto (Adapted From Colorado College Cookbook)
½ cup pine nuts
½ cup walnuts
1 teaspoon coarse salt
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 cups of loosely packed, fresh basil leaves
4 ounces Asiago Cheese, grated
2 ounces of Parmesan Cheese, grated
1 cup Olive Oil

In food processor, pulse first 6 ingredients until finely chopped.
Then add the two cheeses, and process until smooth.
While the machine running, gradually add the olive oil “in a slow steady stream.”
Once fully blended the pesto can be kept for up to one week in a sealed jar.

After


Peppermint Bark

December 20, 2009

There are certain foods that you only crave around the holidays. For some, that culinary craving might be candy canes in December, cranberry sauce in November, Hot Dogs in July, or Peeps in April. Peppermint bark falls in that category, at least for me. I enjoy peppermint bark a lot, but I associate it so closely with Christmas  that my pepperminty appetite lies dormant for 11 months of the year.

I was at the grocery store stocking up on Clementines when saw candy canes and chocolate/white chocolate chips on sale. So easy! So timely! So tasty! I knew then that I just had to do it.

I went without a recipe, relying on my memory to put the bark together. Luckily, bark is one of the easiest things to make. First you prepare your candy canes by crushing them, making it one of the best stress-relievers out there. I did this by simply bagging the candies in a Ziploc baggie and then hammering away at them with a pot until you get the right size. You don’t want to end up with candy cane powder, but they should be manageable bits.

Some people temper their chocolate, but with this recipe I didn’t bother. Too much work, especially considering the fact that the chocolate gets covered up with other layers. The general rule of thumb is that you stop heating up chips once the majority have melted and to stir constantly (assuming you’re using a double boiler). If you’re using a microwave, do it on a lower heat setting and check it frequently—no one likes his chocolate well done.

I distinctly remember chilling the chocolate layer before adding the white chocolate; however I think I chilled it for too long because the white and dark sections didn’t really stick together. The white part was entirely independent of the darker subterranean layer. That’s what I get for not consulting a recipe.

Not that anyone really cared. People enjoyed it all the same. This was probably my last Tufts cooking gig before I head off campus on Monday. Nothing sounds quite as delicious right now as a well-stocked kitchen. Mmmm…

Peppermint Bark (makes probably 4 servings if you’re planning on gifting it for people. But why give when you could receive?)

8 candy canes, crushed

12 ounces of bittersweet chocolate

20 ounces of white chocolate (I cheated and used “Premier White Morsels” from Nestlé)

1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract

1.) Line a 13x5x2 pan with parchment paper.

2.) Melt dark chocolate in double boiler/microwave, then add peppermint extract, stirring until combined. Pour melted chocolate in pan. Place in refridge for 5 or ten minutes. Pull it out a couple minutes before step three is done.

3.) Melt white chocolate chips and place on top of dark chocolate layer. Smooth top with a spatula and then sprinkle that crushed up candy cane mixture on top.

4.) Let set in refridge for half an hour or so.


Super Easy Chocolate Cake

December 8, 2009

We all know them. They’re the people that refuse to drink red wine if it’s served in a white wine glass. Truffle Oil. And they’d never, ever be caught dead buying an off-brand at the grocery store. These epicurean elitists with their snobby tastes are as ubiquitous as they are frustrating.

I don’t consider myself one of these people. Yes, my instincts tell me to choose extra-virgin olive oil over light olive oil, but I’d think twice about dropping dough on something as pretentious as truffle oil. I may make my own vanilla extract, but I’m a sucker for ketchup. I make Marshmallows from scratch, but I’d pick up a Twix bar before snagging a Toblerone.

So imagine how conflicted I was going over this chocolate cake recipe. Here’s the context—I got a text from my mom proclaiming the cake as the easiest and tastiest cake she had ever made. Ever. Only six ingredients and one bowl. Here’s the catch: the cake’s chocolate flavor comes exclusively from Hershey’s chocolate syrup. While I may not be a cocoa connoisseur, we’re talking about Chocolate-flavored syrup. If you look at the ingredients listed on the bottle, cocoa comes after High Fructose Corn Syrup, corn syrup, sugar, and water. This bastardized chocolate is about a genuine as Tiger Woods. If I’m making chocolate milk, that’s one thing, but this is baking—the big leagues. But if it’s good enough for my mom, and Ina Garten, then it’s good enough for me.


I made the cake without too many hitches. The recipe calls for the contents of a 16-oz can of Hershey’s syrup, which is actually 11 fluid ounces. Shaw’s didn’t have the can, so I just bought the bottle and measured out 5 too many ounces of syrup. Don’t make my mistake; the taste was great but the cake was much too dense and brownie-like.

All in all, the cake was incredibly easy and pretty tasty. While I don’t think it beats my ultimate chocolate cake recipe (made with Guiness stout), it certainly was delicious. One of my suitemates said it was the best chocolate cake he’d ever had. So that’s good. Another claimed it was too sweet (probably due to the excess of syrup).

The ganache was nice, but I cut the semi-sweet chips with unsweetened (3 oz unsweetened, 9 semisweet) for a more intense chocolate flavor. In all honesty, I might’ve preferred a simple powdering of confectioner’s sugar cut with cocoa powder. This would’ve been lighter and easier.

Next time you decide to make a chocolate cake, leave your inhibitions at the door and try this recipe. Its simplicity is enough to make the entire thing worthwhile.


Chewy Amaretti Cookies

November 11, 2009

Amaretti Cookies!

Ugh. My academic life resembles a sinusoidal graph. For those of you who have since forgotten your trigonometry (tisk-tisk), the graph of the sine curve is essentially a squiggly line. I’ll have a couple of weeks where nothing at all is due, and then I’ll have a 7 day period when I have absolutely no time to anything—party, flog, sleep, breath. Alas, I’m approaching one of those peaks. Think 2π. I’ve had virtually no time to recreationally cook for myself, let alone flog about it.
Dough
I did set aside some time on Saturday night to make some Amaretti cookies. They were absurdly easy to make, since all the mixing was done in the food processor. And while the original recipe calls for a pastry bag, you can totally snip the tip off of a zip lock baggie (insert immature circumcision joke here). That’s what I did.

Ziploc Baggy + Scissors = Pastry Bag

Ziploc Baggy + Scissors = Pastry Bag

They were a teensy bit bland on their own, so I would suggest pairing them up with something, like chocolate ganache (in between two of the cookies for the most amazing sandwich ever). I bet they’d be a great decoration on a plate of some other dessert. They were a little too chewy on the inside for my liking, but maybe that has something to do with my oven here and less with the recipe. I might cut back on the sugar just a tad as well. Try them out and let me know how they work for you.

I’m diving back down into the murky midterm waters. I’ll try to come up for air in the next week or so. Wish me luck and happy cooking!

Pre baked

Chewy Amaretti Cookies

Adapted from Lillian Chou in Gourmet, January 2009
Makes about 48 (1-inch) cookies

Ingredients
1 (7-ounce) tube pure almond paste (not marzipan; 3/4 cup)
1 cup sugar
2 large egg whites, at room temperature for 30 minutes
Instructions

Preheat oven to 300°F with racks in upper and lower thirds. Line 2 large cookie sheets  with parchment paper.

Pulse almond paste and sugar in a food processor until broken up, then add egg whites and pulse until mixture is smooth. Transfer to pastry bag and pipe 3/4-inch rounds (1/3 inch high) about an inch apart in pans. If you need to flatten any cookies, just dip a fingertip in water and gently tamp down any peaks.

Bake, rotating and switching position of pans halfway through, until golden and puffed, about 15 minutes.