Chocolate City.

I am completely behind on most things in my life, so it makes complete sense to me that I would be writing about Thanksgiving almost two weeks later.  Time may have passed, but I’m still feeling the impact of my contribution to the table.  I’m aware of how obnoxious that comes across but I don’t care.  I don’t care because it’s true.  Besides, it’s not as if I invented the recipe; that credit goes to the lovely people of the much-mourned Gourmet.  It’s just a damn good recipe, it makes a damn good tart, and I’m damn well going to take the credit.

This tart is as incredibly easy make as it is incredibly easy it is to eat — as long as the eater has plenty of milk to wash it down with.  It is a very rich tart, this unassuming wedge of chocolate, and the type of chocolate used makes all the difference.  I personally prefer a darker chocolate; the tart is very dense, and a sweeter chocolate here quickly becomes cloying.

Chocolate Truffle Tart from Gourmet
Makes ten portions

for the crust
28 chocolate wafers such as Nabisco Famous, finely ground in a food processor (1 ½ cups)
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, melted and cooled completely

for the filling
½ pound fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao if marked), coarsely chopped
¾ stick (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

optional garnish
unsweetened cocoa powder for sprinkling (I skipped this)

special equipment
an 8-inch (20-cm) round springform pan

  1. Make the crust.  Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°. Wrap a sheet of foil over bottom of springform pan (in case of leaks). Lightly butter side of pan.
  2. Stir together ground wafers and butter in a bowl until combined, then pat mixture evenly onto bottom of pan and 1 ½ inches up side. Bake until crust is slightly puffed, about ten minutes, then cool completely in pan on a rack, about fifteen minutes. Leave oven on.
  3. Make the filling while crust cools.  Melt chocolate and butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth, then remove from heat and cool five minutes.
  4. Whisk together eggs, cream, sugar, salt, and vanilla in a bowl. Whisk chocolate mixture into egg mixture until combined well.
  5. Assemble and bake tart. Pour filling into cooled crust and rap pan once on counter to eliminate any air bubbles. Bake until filling one inch from edge is set and slightly puffed but center trembles slightly when pan is gently shaken, twenty to twenty-five minutes. (Center will continue to set as it cools.)
  6. Cool tart completely in pan on a rack, about two hours. Chill, uncovered, until center is firm, about four hours. Remove side of pan and sprinkle with cocoa to serve.

Cooks’ notes:

  • Tart can be chilled up to three days. Cover loosely after tart is completely chilled (covering before may cause condensation).
  • Crust, without filling, can be made one day ahead and kept, covered, at room temperature.
Chocolate City” by Parliament.

Rainy Days + Mondays Always Get Me Down.

It’s been a while, friends, but I’m back, and we have so much to catch up on.  I still have to tell you about my dinner at elBulli last November, and there are some pretty exciting things coming up (here’s a hint: I renewed my passport, and sent it out to get visas), and I’m trying to turn over a new leaf… I’m going to be sharing all of these things with you, and I’m determined not to go on another three-plus month hiatus again.

In the meantime, a few words of advice:

  • If you live in Boston and like seafood, go eat at Island Creek Oyster Bar.  Actually, scratch that — if you live and like to eat, come to Boston and go to Island Creek Oyster Bar.  If you’re still with me, order the fried oyster sliders (two per person, minimum), try one of the shell-less mussels appetizers, and get at least one glass of the Meßmer Riesling Halbtrocken 2008.
  • Get yourself a copy of Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi and start cooking.
  • Sharpen your knives.

I leave you this, in closing.  I know the title sounds depressing, but I don’t think it is at all.  In fact, I highly suggest singing along as loudly as you can, ideally while driving with the windows open.

I Love Fall.

Call it what you want — fall, autumn, I love it.

Today was the kind of November day that makes me want to loop my favorite scarf* around my neck, wiggle my fingers into my gloves and take the dog out on a long walk, maybe to get some hot chocolate from Burdick’s.  Then maybe we, the dog and I, would walk down to the river and sit amongst the fallen leaves crunchy like potato chips — which the dog would probably eat — and read a book while the sun sparkles all golden and champagne-y.

(Do you know what I mean, about the autumn sun, and how everything gleams so radiantly when it’s shone upon?  It’s like almost every daytime frame in All the Real Girls.)

The sad thing is that while I do have a favorite scarf, some awesome gloves and a great love of Burdick’s hot chocolate, and while I am almost done with an incredibly well-written book, I am lacking the dog.  And the sun is setting now, so that candlelight brilliance is fading for today…  Alas.

Part of the reason why I love food so much — aside from its potential to taste so damn good — is how it makes me feel and what it makes me remember.  Char siu bao, for example, makes me think about my mother’s father, and his ferocious appetite, and how our trips together were structured around meals.  Hazelnut makes me think of Regensburg, and how when Keith and I visited, the entire city smelled of sugar because of all the gelaterias, and how I had the best cup of coffee one evening at our hotel‘s restaurant.

Fall and its cool air matches comforting food so well.  The warmth of that sunshiney sparkle comes through in my choice of food during these months: mashed potatoes, chicken soup, mac and cheese, shepherd’s pie, my mother’s spaghetti — which is actually her version of my Armenian grandmother’s bolognese, and a recipe I’ll share with you at another time.

Technically speaking, a bolognese is a ragù, so this dish is a great nippy night recipe.  You can use lots of different meats, if you like; I love lamb, but beef, veal, chicken…  pretty much anything would work.

Again, skipping taste, one of the nicest things about this is how most of the work is done by your oven.  While it’s in there, you can take the dog for that long walk in the clear, crisp early night, and when you return, with roses blossoming on your cheeks, you can step into a home that smells inviting and feels as snug as my favorite scarf.

Rich + Meaty Lamb Ragù, from the kitchn
Makes eight servings

2 pounds stew lamb, cut in chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 onions
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
3 tablespoons fresh sage
8 cloves garlic
1 big carrot, peeled
Olive oil
2 cups red wine
1 28-ounce can peeled whole plum tomatoes

  1. Pat the lamb chunks dry with a paper towel. Liberally coat the lamb chunks with salt and pepper and set aside. Peel and coarsely chop the onions, and chop the garlic. Chop the carrot into thin rounds.
  2. Place an oven-proof Dutch oven or heavy stockpot over medium-high heat, and add olive oil to cover the bottom thinly. When oil is hot, add the lamb and brown deeply. Do this in batches if necessary. Don’t worry about drying out the meat — you want it browned darkly for good flavor. (I usually brown each batch for at least 10 minutes, taking care not to crowd the pan. You want the meat to brown, not steam-cook.)
  3. When the meat is thoroughly browned, add the onions. Lower the heat, and cook slowly over medium heat for about 10 minutes or until the onions are golden. Add the rosemary and sage, garlic, and the carrots. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté until vegetables are softened, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add wine and continue to simmer until liquid has reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Crush the tomatoes in the can with a fork or back of a spoon, then add them and their juices to the pot. Bring to a simmer, then cover and place in a 275° oven for 3 to 4 hours. Alternately, put everything in a slow cooker and cook for 4 hours on high or at least 8 hours on low. (I have cooked this on low for up to 16 hours; it’s sublime when cooked that long!) The longer it cooks the more tender it will be. When ready to serve, go through with two forks and shred any remaining chunks of meat. Taste and season if necessary with additional salt and pepper.
  5. Serve over pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.**
* This changes by the day, and the season.  Today is a fine-knit mulberry merino day.
** I like egg noodles here.

Got Milk… Punch?

Earlier this year, Keith and I went to New Orleans for a relaxing, boozy sort of trip.  I’m not embarrassed to say I’m not much of a drinker and that I’m a terrible drinking companion in the sense that I can’t hold my liquor reliably, but I will proudly tell you I’m an awesome drinking companion in the sense that I’ll cheer you on and get you home safe.

What’s nice about New Orleans isn’t that there are not only a plethora of friendly cabbies to deliver you to your hotel — though they are very nice and friendly indeed — but that there’s an awesome amount of amazing bartenders to provide you with exactly what you need.

In my case, what I needed on a hot Thursday afternoon was a milk punch.  Chris Hannah at the French 75 told me so, and sent me to the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone to get one.  I’ve always been  good at following directions.

Milk punches are fun.  They’re frothy and sweetened by vanilla and there’s no way you can feel bad about drinking one (or two).  A cold milk punch is even nicer when you come home to one on a disgustingly hot and humid night, or the ingredients for one.  It’ll definitely make the day seem a whole lot cooler.

Milk Punch, from Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails by Ted Haigh
This recipe only makes one.  I suggest you make more than that.

1 ounce brandy
½ ounce dark rum
2 teaspoons simple syrup*
2 dashes vanilla extract
4 ounces whole milk (though I used skim since that’s what I drink)

  1. Shake the ingredients all together in a cocktail shaker with cracked ice.
  2. Strain into a tumble half full of shaved ice.
  3. Grate or shake some nutmeg on top.
* Simple syrup is so, um, simple to make that adding a recipe here really is silly.  Regardless, here we go.  In a small saucepan, bring one cup sugar and one cup water to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the sugar is completely dissolved.  This takes only a few minutes. Then remove the saucepan from the stove and let cool completely.  You can store this in your fridge in a tightly sealed bottle for about three months.

Beth Eats + Drinks Imports.

Beth and her husband Bob moved to Prague in 2008; I miss her terribly but am glad she’s gone since hearing about life in the Czech Republic is fascinating.  Here’s what she wrote about her food diary:

I realized how many things I eat (well, drink — all my tea and coffee) I brought from the States… but that’s just because I was just there. Usually it’s less of a mix, more Czech. I’m trying hard to be healthy (8 servings fruit & veggies etc).

6.23 am: Trader Joe’s French roast (imported in my suitcase).  Small black cup for me, giant beermug full for Bob.

7.02 am: Second cup.

8.38 am: Cottage cheese, one cup. Water.

10.09 am: Pot of decaf peppermint tea, honey.

11.58 am: Big salad with greens (Vogerlsalat, not sure what that is), tomatoes, green onions, shredded carrot, and awesome homemade dressing (tahini/lemon juice/garlic/soy sauce/sesame oil/honey)

1.50 pm: 1 cup coconut chai, peanut butter lollipop (spoonful of pb).

6.04 pm: Bob is out for tennis and beer, so I’m on my own. It’s chicken and broccoli, and water.

Moist + Tender Chicken Breasts, from the kitchn

2-4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, of even thickness
Salt and pepper
¼ cup flour
Handful of herbs (optional)
Olive oil and butter

If you have a little time before cooking dinner, lightly salt and pepper the chicken breasts. It’s great if you can do this the night before, but it’s not necessary.

  1. Mix about a half teaspoon of salt in with the flour along with a little pepper. Chop the herbs finely, if using, and mix in as well.  Dredge both sides of the chicken lightly in the flour.
  2. Heat a large heavy skillet (with a lid) over medium high heat, with a little olive oil and about half a tablespoon of butter. Quickly sear both sides of the chicken breast until just faintly golden; you don’t want the insides to cook much at all.
  3. Cover tightly and turn the heat down very low. Cook for 10 minutes without lifting the lid. Remove from the heat and let sit for another 10 minutes, still tightly covered.
  4. Remove lid and serve. There is usually just enough chicken fat, along with pan juices, to make a simple sauce, too.

Garlicky Sesame-Cured Broccoli Salad, from The New York Times
Makes six to eight side-dish servings

1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
2 heads broccoli, 1 pound each, cut into bite-size florets
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 fat garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons roasted (Asian) sesame oil
Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes.

  1. In a large bowl, stir together the vinegar and salt. Add broccoli and toss to combine.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil until hot, but not smoking. Add garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in sesame oil and pepper flakes. Pour mixture over broccoli and toss well. Let sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature, and up to 48 (chill it if you want to keep it for more than 2 hours). Adjust seasonings (it may need more salt) and serve.

A Hot Dinner.

I’m one of those people who can’t stand the heat.  In fact, the other day when Keith and I were talking about  a trip to Machu Picchu, he looked and me and said, “I don’t know if Machu Picchu would be a good vacation for you.”

“Why,” I asked, “because I’m not fit?”

“No.”

“Because I’d have to dip myself in DEET?”

“You hate being hot,” Keith said.

It’s true.  Though the temperatures have dropped by twenty degrees yesterday, the past few days here in Boston have been scorchers, and I’ve spent every free second sitting irritably in front of a fan, moving as little as I can get away with.  Of course, the last thing I wanted to do Wednesday night was cook.  I wanted a dinner that took as little effort as possible, which is why I decided to roast a chicken.

I know it sounds crazy, jacking up the temperature in the kitchen with the heat from the oven, but as long as you hang out in another room with a fan and a cold drink while the meal cooks, it’s fine.  You won’t even notice the few extra degrees, and when you pull this bird out of the oven and take a look at its crispy gorgeous, there’s a chance you might forget about the sweat collecting in the small of your back.  And once you take a bite of the tender meat, you’ll see that there was nothing to complain about at all.

Oh, and I’m sorry for the picturelessness of this post.  The heat makes me hungry too.

Five-Spice Roast Chicken, from Bon Appétit
Makes four portions

4 garlic cloves, pressed
2 tablespoons coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder*
1 cut-up chicken (8 pieces; about 3 ½ pounds)
1 large onion, peeled, cut into 16 wedges

  1. Combine garlic, salt, olive oil, and Chinese five-spice powder in large bowl. Add chicken pieces; turn to coat. Cover and chill at least 1 hour or overnight.
  2. Preheat oven to 425°. Arrange onion wedges in 13x9x2-inch roasting pan. Arrange chicken, skin side up, atop onions. Roast until chicken is cooked through, basting occasionally with pan juices, about 50 minutes. Remove chicken from oven and let rest 10 minutes. Arrange chicken and onions on platter and serve.

On Chicken.

I don’t know why chicken sometimes gets the short end of the stick.  Is it not as “exciting” a protein as beef?  I mean, I love a nice rare steak, but few things are as comforting as chicken pot pie, as versatile as a chicken breast or as pretty as a burnished roast bird straight out of the oven.  The golden crispy skin, the promising plump meat, the fun of eating a drumstick with your hands…  There isn’t a beef equivalent of that.

So, now that I’ve gone on a bit about the culinary virtues of poultry, you’d think that I’d be cutting up chicken left, right and center (and saving the bones for stock, of course).  The sad truth is this: I’ve never even roasted a whole bird.

I know, I know.  Shameful.  I haven’t a good excuse either.  You know what else I haven’t done, now that I’m in a confessional sort of mood and am listing all of my shortcomings? Deboned a chicken.  I swear, I am not scared of chicken — you know I would tell you if I were.

When I saw that this recipe called for a boned bird, I decided to not take the easy road, buying breasts and thighs.  I was going to disassemble a chicken, dammit.

If you haven’t yet taken apart a bird, please take two pieces of advice: get your hands on a sharp knife, and don’t try to figure this out on your own.

The whole procedure is really quite simple, but only if you follow some instructions.  I propped open my copy of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall‘s excellent River Cottage Meat Book to use as my guide; not only does Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall clearly explain each step, there are also helpful photographs as well.  Also, the kitchn has got a great post and accompanying video that will take you through the entire process.  Personally, I prefer the book method, not because I am a technophobe (how can I be? I have a blog, I tweet and carry around an iPhone) but because I’m kinda grossed out at using my raw-chickeny fingers to constantly pause the video while I catch up.  And, oh yes, you will have raw-chickeny fingers.  You’re going to have raw-chickeny hands, so you may as well embrace it.  Just don’t embrace anyone or anything until you’ve washed.

There are so many things that you can make from your freshly broken-down chicken, and it’s far more economical to buy whole birds and take them apart than to purchase the pieces.  If you’re really on top of things, and I oftentimes am not, you could buy birds and freeze the parts you don’t use for another date.

Or you could just make this recipe, which is even simpler than deboning a chicken and far more appetizing.  I’ve made this both for a crowd and for just Keith and me; I think it’s safe to say that you’ll satisfy pretty much anyone.

Another plus: the flavors are so big that anyone will think the meal was a lot of effort, rather than child’s play (though with that sharp knife, maybe another phrase would be best).  The bulk of the work is done by a yogurt-based marinade and your oven.  All you have to do is chop some cilantro, slice a couple onions, mince a bit of garlic, roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty.  The most strenuous part of this meal is scrubbing your hands after finishing prep.  Oh, and fighting over who gets first dibs on the pieces.

Easy Chicken Masala, from Bon Appétit
Makes six portions

1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
¼ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon garam masala
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt
1 large garlic clove, pressed (I mince)
1 4- to 4 ½-pound roasting chicken, cut into 8 pieces, backbone removed
2 small onions, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

  1. Mix yogurt, chopped cilantro, olive oil, garam masala, salt, and garlic in 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish. Add chicken to marinade, 1 piece at a time, coating all sides. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate at least 2 hours. Note: Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.
  2. Position racks in top third and bottom third of oven; preheat to 400°. Arrange onions in thin layer on large rimmed baking sheet to form bed for chicken. Top with chicken pieces in single layer, spacing apart for even roasting (chicken will still be coated with marinade). Discard remaining marinade.
  3. Roast chicken on top rack until cooked through and juices run clear when thickest portion of thigh is pierced with knife, about 1 hour. Serve chicken atop onion slices. Spoon pan juices around.