Tag Archives: Vegetarian

Stout beer gingerbread cake

One day last fall, my spouse came home with five growlers of stout. How he got them is a long and boring story, but suffice it to say fridge space was at a premium for a while. I don’t drink beer, so I couldn’t help make a dent in the stash. Then, during dinner on Christmas Day, a friend mentioned she was craving gingerbread. A bit of quick Googling and easy baking later, and black beer gingerbread entered my life. Now, whenever my husband brings home stout while the weather’s chilly, I make him set aside a bottle for baking.

This is gingerbread the way I like it: plush and cakey, bittersweet and spicy. The beer and molasses make it impenetrably dark brown, and lend a gruff bitterness underneath all the flour and sugar. (If you don’t want to use beer, black coffee makes a reasonable substitute.) I also up the ginger ante by using two types. The ground ginger gets whisked into the dry ingredients; the fresh ginger gets finely grated and gently warmed with the wet ingredients, so that its hot bite mellows and infuses throughout the cake. You could easily omit the fresh stuff and just use ground, though—the cake will still be plenty intense.

The first time I made this gingerbread, I baked it in a bundt pan, as instructed on Epicurious and Smitten Kitchen. But, like many commenters on both sites, I ran into problems: the cake stuck to the pan, and it cracked along the seams when I turned it out. It turns out that this gingerbread’s wonderful qualities—its stickiness and softness—make it tricky to bake in a tall, narrow pan. Fortunately, there’s a much better alternative: a 9×13 pan lined with parchment paper. The parchment eliminates any risk of sticking, and the shallow pan means the cake stays flat and sturdy.

When ready to serve, use the parchment to lift the gingerbread out of the pan, then dust the whole thing with powdered sugar and cut it into squares. And here lies the one caveat of a rectangular cake: you may need to warn people that they’re about to eat gingerbread, not brownies.

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Five-fold challah

Fact: challah is one of the greatest breads in the world. Okay, as an American Jew, I may be slightly biased. But even if you didn’t grow up eating challah on Friday nights and holidays, it’s easy to fall in love with this showoff of a loaf. Made from a wet dough enriched with oil, eggs, and honey, it’s golden and shiny on the outside, fluffy and slightly sweet on the inside. It’s made for pulling apart, the seams of the braid acting as a guide. And if it lasts long enough to go stale, it makes the world’s greatest French toast.

Where I live, you can buy decent challah from bakeries and some grocery stores. But homemade challah blows them all away, and this recipe is my current favorite. Rather than kneading by hand and letting the dough rise at room temperature, this version slows things waaaaay dooooown. There’s no kneading at all. Instead, you let the dough sit quietly at room temperature, folding it over on itself every so often. The recipe recommends five folds, spread out over about 2 1/2 hours; I do mine about every 30 minutes, working or puttering or watching TV in between. But this is not the kind of recipe that demands precision and hovering. You could do one fold after 15 minutes, then another after 45. Basically, just keep folding until the dough is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticking to your fingers.

When you’ve folded the dough five times, transfer it to the fridge and let it rise overnight. The next day, braid the chilled dough–I’ve never mastered the spectacular six-strand, so I just do a simple three-strand plait–and let it rest again for 2-3 hours at room temperature. The result of this slow, lazy process is a bread with rich yeasty flavor and a gorgeously pillowy texture. When you pull it apart, the edges fray into delicate filaments. It’s the best challah I’ve ever made, and light years away from what you’ll find in a store.

Challah gets its gorgeous brown lacquer from an egg wash–preferably one with some yolk in it. You could beat a whole egg with a pinch of salt, but I find that makes way more egg wash than I need. Instead, I use my friend Andrea’s trick: stealing a bit of the egg I’m already using for the dough. Just pour off about 1 tbsp of beaten egg into a separate container and refrigerate it alongside the dough. The tiny difference in liquid doesn’t matter in a dough this forgiving, and there’s no need to waste most of an extra egg. Smart, huh?

five fold challah

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Summer squash gratin with tomato-red pepper sauce

Are you looking to use up a giant pile of zucchini or summer squash? Say, four pounds of it? This recipe is just the ticket. It’s a simple yet flavor-packed vegetarian gratin, made up of squash slices layered with tomato-pepper sauce and Parmesan cheese, then topped with oil-slicked breadcrumbs. This is what I think of as summer comfort food: crisp and golden on top, bright and fresh-flavored underneath. Plus there’s cheese.

The real secret sauce of this gratin is…well, the sauce. It is one of those simple-yet-spectacular marvels of summer cooking: tomatoes and red bell peppers, simmered with a splash of water until they’re very soft, then blended with a knob of butter and a handful of fresh basil leaves. (You could use olive oil instead of butter, or a mix of the two.) Somehow, those few ingredients produce a rich orange-red sauce that’s creamy-without-cream and packed with bright flavor.

Of course, the sauce is outrageously delicious in this gratin. Tomato, pepper, squash, and basil is a can’t-fail flavor combination. But once you taste this stuff, you’ll want to make extra next time. It’s fabulous over pasta or as a marinara-like dip, and I can only imagine how great it’d be draped over chicken Parmesan. It also freezes beautifully, so you could double the batch while prepping this gratin and save the leftovers for another day.

tomato pepper sauce

I tweaked this from a Food52 recipe, which calls for roasting the squash before assembling the gratin. I don’t own enough baking sheets to fit four pounds of sliced squash in a single layer, and I didn’t love the idea of shuffling baking sheets in and out of a very hot oven during the height of summer. So I skip the roasting step altogether, and I don’t really miss it. The flavor of the squash is fresher, and the slices stay firmer and more intact. (A lot of folks–myself included–are averse to the mushiness of fully-cooked zucchini, so I slice my squash on the thicker side for a crisp-tender final texture.)

The roasting step does serve one important purpose, however. It drives off excess liquid from the squash, which would otherwise make the gratin soggy. My solution is to salt-purge the squash instead. After slicing the squash, I toss it with a generous dose of kosher salt, then let it drain in a colander until it softens and gives up a shocking amount of liquid. Then I pat the squash dry, and it’s ready to be layered with sauce and blanketed with breadcrumbs.

squash gratin w tomato pepper sauce

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Whole orange bundt cake

You read that right. This is a cake that uses an entire orange. Two of them, actually–zest, pith, flesh, and all, blitzed into a chunky puree and folded right into the batter. It’s the orangiest orange cake I’ve ever had, and I’m pretty smitten.

I was introduced to the whole-orange cake idea when a friend texted me a photo of a recipe page in a magazine and challenged me to try it. The resulting cake was a hit: suffused with orange flavor and shot through with flecks of zest. But it was also a pain in the ass to make. It required beating egg whites and yolks separately, thus dirtying three bowls and a food processor by the time I’d finished. After we licked the cake plate clean, I stared at the sink full of dishes and decided to look for a better solution.

This version, which I found on Food52, checks all the boxes. It’s a snap to make, requiring one bowl plus a food processor or blender. It’s got an intensely orangey flavor, fragrant and slightly bitter, with lots of those chewy zest-flecks that I love. The texture is fluffy and moist, but still dense enough to qualify as a classic bundt cake. (I’ve taken to swapping out a bit of the butter for olive oil, both for flavor and to keep the cake from drying out after it’s cut.) It’s simple, attractive, just the kind of thing you want as an after-dinner treat when company’s over. I’ve even served it as a birthday cake, and it was greatly appreciated.

The original recipe calls for an orange juice glaze to top the cake. I use lemon juice instead, so that the crackly surface has some sharpness to contrast with the bittersweet cake underneath. And while I love the plain orange-ness of this cake, you could certainly use this as a canvas for all sorts of flavors. Maybe next time I’ll blitz some fresh rosemary or anise seeds in with the oranges, or swap out the vanilla extract for almond. And I haven’t yet tried this with other citrus–I suspect the recipe will require some tweaking–but will report back if I do.

whole orange bundt cake

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Pasta with cherry tomato sauce

Continuing on the tomato theme, I figured it’s time to blog about my latest favorite pasta dish. It’s dead easy, lightning-fast, and more delicious than it has any right to be. I’ve been making it at least once a week since tomatoes showed up at the farmer’s market, and feeding it to anyone and everyone who shows up at my house.

This is the simplest of sauces–just cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and seasonings. Using cherry tomatoes means you can make a delicious fresh tomato sauce at almost any time of the year. Because they’re allowed to ripen further before shipping, they’re sweeter and less mealy than any other tomato you can find at the supermarket. They’re also higher in pectin, making for an especially luxurious sauce texture. And, of course, during tomato season, this recipe goes from “darn good for five ingredients” to “totally sublime” if you use really good tomatoes. (I used golden tomatoes for the pictured batch of pasta, hence the adorable yellow hue.)

As always, the beauty of a recipe this simple is that it’s a perfect jumping-off point for all kinds of variations. I’ve certainly never made it the same way twice. During tomato season I’ll sometimes use chopped heirloom tomatoes, which make for a lighter and gauzier sauce. If I don’t have basil around, I’ll swap in fresh parsley or mint, or chopped scallion tops, or both. I’ll bump up the chile flakes for an arrabiata-ish kick, or leave them out altogether. I’ve added fennel seeds, celery salt, dried chives; all of these are delicious, but none of them are necessary.

In terms of adding protein, I love serving this with eggs–a classic and wonderful partner with tomatoes. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll poach or soft-boil the eggs and plop a couple gooey-yolked beauties on top of each plate of pasta. For a quicker and easier option, I’ll hard-boil a bunch of eggs in the pressure cooker and serve them alongside. Cheese is also, obviously, great; Parmesan is a no-brainer, but I’ve also used goat cheese, dolloped onto each portion and swirled in for a creamy-tangy finish. Again, none of this is obligatory–just a nice extra flourish.

cherry tomato pasta

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Tomato jam, updated (aka the best ketchup)

It’s almost Memorial Day here in the US, and that means the start of barbecue season. For our crowd, that means burgers. Lots and lots of burgers. And for me, a burger just isn’t a burger without a big splodge of ketchup.

But, after a lot of pretending that everything was fine between me and ketchup, I’ve had to admit defeat. As usual, onion is the culprit. The classic American ketchup (rhymes with “Shmeinz”) contains onion powder, and even such a small amount is apparently enough to rumble my stomach. It’s also sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, which isn’t an issue for me but causes trouble for some of my friends.

Fortunately, there’s an alternative. I first made tomato jam years ago, and loved it, and then more or less forgot about it. When I started bellyaching to Sam about my new ketchup-less life, he suggested that tomato jam might be worth a revisit. And he was right. This stuff is basically ketchup 2.0: thicker, sweeter, spicier, with a more interesting texture and intense tomatoey flavor. It’s the best thing that ever happened to a burger. And it’s lovely on a sandwich, with cheese and crackers, or alongside whatever configuration of eggs and potatoes you like for breakfast.

For this go-around I turned to Food in Jars, which is my favorite online resource for canning and preserving recipes. (Marisa also commented on a blog post here once, so that basically makes us friends.) This recipe is explicitly designed for water-bath canning, meaning you can put up a batch during tomato season and portion it out throughout the year. If processing the jam for shelf storage feels too daunting, though, it’s just fine as a fridge or freezer jam.

tomato jam jars

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Tomato paella

It’s high tomato season here in California. They’re everywhere, those fragrant red orbs, and it’s hard not to just eat them all raw. But please, if you can bear it, set aside a few juicy specimens for this recipe. It’s my new favorite paella, and a truly wonderful late-summer party meal.

I’ve been trying for years to come up with a great vegetable paella. This blows away every other version I’ve tried. The difference is those tomatoes–ripe and juicy, cut into meaty wedges and scattered on top of the rice. Unlike other paellas I’ve made, this one starts on the stove and then gets a brief blast in a hot oven. The tomatoes wrinkle and slump, while holding their gorgeous form. Stick a spoon in, and you’ve got sweet tomato jelly on top of delicately seasoned rice. It’s a total winner.

This started its life as a Mark Bittman recipe. I’ve tweaked it a bit, swapping out the onions in his recipe in favor of peppers–both sweet and hot–and romano beans. I add a bay leaf for extra fragrance, and a splash of wine just for fun. To keep the tomato flavor front and center, I use water as the cooking liquid. Once the paella comes out of the oven, it gets strewn with parsley and scallion confetti. Serve with lemon wedges for folks who want a bit of zing, and the rest of that bottle of wine.

tomato paella

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