Monday, May 22, 2017

Making Friends with Angel Food Cake

I have never been much of a fan of angel food cake.  I know this will come as a shock to some...but I have always found it to be a bit too sweet.  This is of course something that can be corrected...with the accompaniment of a simple berry compote...or a tart lemon cream.  What could not—or so I thought—be mended was the rubbery, Nerf ball-like texture.  The cake always struck me as something created by someone on an ultra abstemious, fat-restricted diet—only desirable if you weren't allowed to have anything else to eat for dessert.  But even then, my preference would be for a nice bowl of fresh fruit....

But as with almost every food that I have ever come across that is beloved by many and disliked by me, I discovered that the problem was with the versions that I had tasted...not the actual food itself.  Recently I have found that angel food cake can not only be can be delectable—tender and light... and with a fleeting sweetness that dissolves so quickly in your mouth that you immediately want to take another bite.

Part of the problem with the angel food cakes usually encountered is that almost everyone uses a mix (which are pretty much awful)...or purchases a substandard bakery version (they can always be found in the prepared food sections of the grocery stores in the spring...during the height of strawberry season).  I would guess that scratch versions are rare because most people don't bake enough to have a use for a dozen or more egg yolks (angel food cake uses a lot of whites...and no yolks).  But the larger impediment probably has to do with having to beat egg whites.  Getting them just right can be a bit tricky. 

I made my first angel food cake a few years ago at the request of my mother.  She wanted one for her Mothers' Day dinner dessert.  Remembering the angel cakes of my childhood I wasn't very enthused about it, but it was for Mothers' Day....  I began as I always do by looking up a number of recipes.  Not surprisingly, I found them all to be fairly similar.  Angel food cake follows a pretty standard formula:  The weight of the sugar and whites should be equal.  And whatever the weight of these, the flour should weigh a third of that (so, in my recipe the sugar and whites are 15 oz. each, and the flour weighs 5 oz.).  Most recipes also call for cake flour (which should give a nice light, tender result), salt, cream of tartar and vanilla. 

The mixing method is always some variation of whipping the whites with all (or most) of the sugar and then folding in everything else.  You will find recipes that start with all the sugar in the bowl with the whites (this makes the process quite slow, but it also prevents over beating)...and others that use a more traditional approach of adding the sugar gradually to the whites as they are whipped.  Sometimes some of the sugar is held back and mixed with the flour and folded in at the end.  And, as you can imagine, the method you use is what makes the difference between a light, tender indifferent cake...and an awful cake.

The first few times I made what I felt were fairly indifferent cakes.  Not terrible...but nothing to get excited about either.  Since everyone is used to marginal angel cakes (or so it seems to me...), mine seemed to go over just fine.  But I still wasn't very happy with it and I continued to read up on angel food cake, altering my recipe a little bit each year.  

With strawberry-rhubarb compote

Last year I made one that pleased me very much.  I made careful notes but forgot about it until Mothers' Day rolled around again this year.  When I made it again this year, I was once again super impressed.  I wish I could point to all of the recipes that contributed to my final version...but I can't.  There were just so many, some of which I can't even locate at this point.  I do know that I relied pretty heavily on Joy of Cooking, an article in Fine Cooking by Flo Braker...and Shirley Corrhier's comments on the topic in her book Bakewise

Mostly what I discovered is that the whites need to be beaten less than you think. Most people are probably over beating the whites (I know that I was).  The wording "beat whites until stiff and glossy" (which is what you find in a lot of recipes) is misleading.  When it comes to angel food cake, stiff whites are over beaten whites.  The finished whites will indeed be glossy...and hold their shape—but they should not be so firm that you have to bang the whisk on the edge of the bowl to get it to release the whites.  They should be soft and form what I would call floppy...or droopy...peaks.  

When you lift the whisk out of the bowl, a gentle shake should release the beaten whites so that they flow easily from the whisk into the bowl.  (It is worth noting that while you will be able to turn the bowl of beaten whites upside down without having them slide out of the bowl, by the time you add the remaining ingredients, the batter will be pourable—if you have to scoop to get the final batter out of the bowl and into the pan, the whites were over whipped.)   

Flo Braker, in a very good article in Fine Cooking, makes the observation that the goal is to beat the whites to their optimal capacity...not their maximum capacity (i.e. "stiff").  When you are done whipping the whites they should still have a suppleness and elasticity to them.  If beaten to just this point—and no further—when the cake is placed in the oven and the beaten whites are subjected to heat, the bubbles formed during the whipping process will be able to continue to expand without bursting.... and will reach their maximum capacity in the oven. If they had already reached their maximum capacity while being whipped, they would still expand in the oven, eventually pop and the cake would collapse (sometimes a lot) and probably toughen. 

Much is also often made of the folding in of the dry ingredients.  The reason for this is that improper folding is inefficient and creates more opportunity for crushing the carefully prepared egg foam.  And I agree this is important...but a supple egg foam (see above) is much more forgiving than a firm and stiff egg foam.  As long as you are using a rubber spatula, whisk or mesh angel food cake folder...and are using the proper motion you should be fine. 

An "angel food cake folder"...  I don't know of any other name for this
odd looking implement.  It is probably what my great grandmother
used to make her angel food cakes.

To fold, cut down through the center of the batter with your chosen implement until you touch the bottom of the bowl.  Drag/scrape across the bottom toward yourself and continuing up the side of the bowl.  Turn the batter over on itself (toward the center—you will need to rotate your wrist and forearm to do this) as you bring your folding implement up and out of the batter.  As you are lifting the whites from the bottom and depositing them on the top, turn the bowl a quarter of a turn with the other hand.  Start the motion over again cutting down through the center.  The motion should be continuous and rhythmic....cutting down, scraping up, depositing the batter in the center and turning the bowl...and repeating until the batter is homogenous with no visible streaks of flour. (It is much easier to do than to describe....)

Finally, make sure you use a large, ungreased 10-inch tube pan for this recipe.  My recipe is very large and the cake will come all the way up to the rim of the pan while baking.  

If your pan is smaller, simply make 2/3 to 4/5 of the recipe.  As for the preparation of the is left ungreased so that the baking cake can adhere to the sides and climb to its full height.  Because the pan is ungreased, the golden brown crust will remain in the pan when the cake is tipped out—revealing the beautiful and pristine white crumb of the cake.

I'm glad that I have finally made friends with angel food cake...making them is apparently in my DNA.  I am told that my great grandmother made an angel food cake that was so good she was able to sell them to bring in a little extra money.  The story that has made it to my generation says that she used to sit on the back stairs while she whipped the whites by hand.  Amazing.  I will not be giving up my stand mixer any time soon....but now that I know how good this cake can be, I will continue the family tradition...hopefully making angel food cake more than just once a year.

Angel Food Cake

5 oz. cake flour
5 oz. powdered (also called confectioner's or icing) sugar
3/8 t. salt
15 oz. egg whites
1 3/4 t. cream of tartar
10 oz. granulated sugar
2 t. vanilla

Sift the cake flour, powdered sugar and salt together and set aside.

Place the whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.  Using the whisk attachment, run the mixer on medium low until the whites are frothy.  Add the cream of tartar.  Increase the speed to medium and beat until the bubbles are small and uniform and you can see the trace of the whisk in the egg foam (this will only take a minute or so).  Increase the speed to medium high and gradually add the sugar, beating to soft and floppy peaks (a minute or two).  DO NOT BEAT TO STIFF PEAKS...the egg foam should fall easily from the beater with a little encouragement (you shouldn't need to bang the whisk against the edge of the bowl).  Quickly add the vanilla.

Add the dry mix in three additions, sifting over the meringue and folding in.  

Pour the batter into an ungreased 10-inch tube pan (see note).  Run a palate knife through to get rid of any pockets.  If you dripped batter on the sides, run a rubber spatula around the edge of the pan.

Transfer to a 350° oven and bake until golden, cracked and springy.  A skewer will come out clean and an instant read thermometer will register 206°....about 45 minutes.  Don't start checking until the cake has been in the oven for at least 35 minutes.

Cool upside down (place the cone over a funnel...or wine bottle...or simply upside down on a rack—most pans have three handles/legs around the top edge for just this purpose) for two hours, or until completely cool.  Cooling the cake upside down will keep the egg foam bubbles fully extended as the cake cools—they will tend to want to shrink and collapse from the pull of gravity as they cool when the pan is right side up.

Remove from the pan by tilting the pan and gently rapping the bottom edge of the pan on the counter, rotating the pan as you may need to run a palate knife around the top to release the top edge first.  Release the bottom and inner column in the same way. 

Note:  Shirley Corriher in her book Bakewise suggests rinsing the pan with hot water (just pour it out...don't dry it) right before adding the batter.  She likes the way it warms up the pan...and also that it adds some steam to the baking process.  I have found that when rinsed with hot water the cake comes out of the pan a bit more easily.  

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pizza with Green Garlic Cream, Asparagus & Mushrooms...and an Announcement

Way back during my first year of blogging, as I posted yet another seasonal pasta recipe, I made the observation that I had probably misnamed my blog—that if I were telling the truth about my own personal eating habits I would have dubbed my blog "Pasta & Cake....Every Day".   I thought of that post this week as I contemplated today's post because I am sharing yet another pizza recipe.  I eat a lot of homemade pizza too (pizza and pasta are both fantastic vehicles for whatever the season and the market brings)—and so far this year it looks like my blog could have been subtitled "'s what's for dinner".  If my math is correct, almost a quarter of my posts this year (including this one) have been for pizza....

But I have two very good reasons for posting this particular pizza.  The first has to do with the sauce.  Long time readers will know that I am not in the habit of putting tomato sauce on my pizzas.  I wrote a post on this very topic a few years back.  It isn't that I don't like tomato's just that it can be somewhat limiting.  There are so many other interesting options—almost all of which have appeared on my blog:  a simple smear of plain or infused olive oil....ricotta cheese...vegetable purées...and most recently, a mixture of crème fraiche and fresh cheese.  Recently I discovered (via two different pizzas at two different restaurants) another delicious option—reduced cream.  

Reduced cream (heavy cream simmered until it is thickened and reduced in volume by 1/3 to 1/2) makes an amazing sauce.  It is silky...and surprisingly ethereal.  It may be used plain (just put a quarter to a third cup of heavy cream in a small saucepan and simmer until it is thickened and reduced) or combined with a bit of pureed roasted garlic...or, as in my recipe today, mixed with a whole head/stalk of softened green garlic.  When I build a pizza, I typically spread 2 to 2 1/2 ounces of cheese on top of the crust before adding other toppings and then more cheese.  When you sauce your pizza with reduced cream you can dispense with that bottom layer of cheese. 

The green garlic version of the reduced cream is the second reason that I wanted to share this particular pizza.  Not only is it fantastic with the asparagus that is pouring into the market at the moment (if you've never had asparagus on a pizza before, you are in for a treat...I posted another one a few years ago), it would also be wonderful topped with the greens that have just begun to fill the stalls (kale, spinach, chard...).  Furthermore, the reduced cream sauce makes an excellent vehicle for the green garlic itself and posting the recipe gives me a chance to talk a little bit about green garlic. 

I have been bringing green garlic home with me from the farmers' market every week for the past three weeks.  I have used green garlic before (even featured it in a post), but I have never paid very special attention to it at the farmers' market...possibly because it wasn't that abundant at my old market.  But at the market I have been shopping at since last June (The Brookside Farmers' Market in Kansas City), it is abundant...and it is truly a special treat.

Green (or new) garlic is to garlic what spring onions are to the onion family:  the early, young version of what eventually becomes the storage garlic (and onions) that we see in the grocery store.  For years now spring onions have completely replaced regular onions in my kitchen during late spring and early summer.  I am guessing that I will in the future be using new/green garlic in the same way. 

Like spring onions, after trimming away the root, you may use not only the white (or rose) portion...but also the green.  The very first green garlic to come into the market will not even have begun to form cloves or a looks very much like a slender leek.  You can tell it is garlic by taking a sniff....the stalk will smell like garlic.  Later, the heads will begin to swell with the forming cloves.  You may still use the whole thing, but as the season progresses, the sheath that protects the cloves will begin to toughen a bit and you might want to slip it off and discard it (depending on what you will be using the garlic for).  The darker portion of the green also becomes tougher as the season progresses...and again, depending on use, you might want to use only the white and pale green portions.

In general, you can use green garlic everywhere you would use regular can just use more.  You will get the wonderful taste and aroma of garlic, without the heat and strength of storage garlic. Suzanne Goin makes the observation in her book Sunday Suppers at Lucques that when green garlic season comes to an end she feels bereft.  I imagine I will feel the same.

Before I end my post today I wanted to make an exciting announcement.  I have been asked by the growers of the Brookside Farmers' Market to be their official Market Chef!  For the moment this means that I will be developing recipes for them with the beautiful ingredients I find at the Brookside Market.  The recipes will appear on my blog in the normal fashion (as part of a normal post).  Additionally, I have set up a separate Brookside Market page (tab at top) where all of these recipes will be cataloged...and if the specific grower of the featured ingredients hasn't been mentioned in the post, they will be acknowledged on the market page.

Green garlic from Ki Koko Farms
Asparagus from Urbavore Urban Farms
Every now and then an opportunity comes your way that just feels like a perfect fit...and for me, this is one of those.  As anyone who reads my blog already knows, the farmers' market is one of my favorite haunts.  I look forward to the opening in the spring...and am at a loss when it closes in the late fall. People often ask me what is my favorite thing to cook...and I never know quite what to say...I love to cook (and bake!) a lot of things.  But it occurs to me that what I truly love best is cooking from the ever changing palette of the seasons.   I hope that this new partnership with the Brookside Market will encourage even more people to get out, explore their local market...and bring home something fresh and beautiful to cook for their family and friends.  

Asparagus & Mushroom Pizza with Green Garlic Cream

1 T. unsalted butter
1 stalk/head of green garlic—white/ivory and pale green parts—finely sliced
salt & pepper
1 T. white wine (see notes)
1/4 c. heavy cream

1 T. olive oil
3 1/2 to 4 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced a scant 1/4-inch thick
1 T. unsalted butter
1 medium spring onion, white and an equal amount of the green, trimmed, halved and thinly sliced

4 to 4 1/2 oz. asparagus, trimmed, rinsed and cut very thinly—1/8-inch thick or less—on a long bias (about 2 to 2 1/4 oz. trimmed weight)—see notes
1/2 t. olive oil
1 oz. finely grated Parmesan
2 to 2 1/2 oz. coarsely grated Fontina or low-moisture mozzarella
1 ball of pizza dough (see below), rested

Preheat the oven and pizza stone to 500°F an hour before you plan to bake the pizza. If you made the dough ahead, pull it out of the refrigerator when you turn on the oven.

Place a tablespoon of butter along with a tablespoon of water in a small sauce pan and set over moderately low heat. When the butter has melted, add the green garlic along with a good pinch of salt.  Gently stew the garlic until it is softened and the water has evaporated/been absorbed and the garlic has softened (about 5 minutes).  

Add the white wine and continue to simmer until the wine is reduced and the garlic is sizzling gently in the butter again.  Add the cream and simmer until thickened and reduced by one third to one half.  Taste and season with salt and pepper; set aside. 

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a medium sauté pan set over medium high heat.  Add the mushrooms and sauté until tender and caramelized.  If you like, add a splash of water, or white wine, to deglaze the pan...continue to cook until the water/wine has evaporated.  Transfer to a plate and season the mushrooms with salt and pepper.  Let the pan cool briefly before returning to moderate heat.  Add a tablespoon of butter.  When the butter is melted, add the spring onions along with a pinch of salt and cook until soft and tender (five minutes or so).  Return the mushrooms to the pan, toss to combine and continue to cook for a minute or two to blend the flavors.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Set aside. 

In a medium-sized bowl, drizzle the olive oil over the asparagus and season with salt & pepper. Toss to coat. Add the cheeses and toss to combine.

To build the pizza: On a lightly floured surface, roll or stretch the dough out into a 12- to 13-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a pizza pan, baking sheet or peel that has been lightly dusted with semolina, fine cornmeal, or rice flour.

Spread the garlic cream over the crust, leaving a half inch border around the edges bare.  

Scatter the mushroom/spring onion mixture over the cream, followed by the asparagus/cheese mixture.

If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in its pan on the pizza stone in the pre-heated oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling, about 8 to 10 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, after the crust has set (5 to 6 minutes), slide the pizza off of the pan to finish cooking directly on the pizza stone.
If you are using a pizza peel, slide the pizza directly onto the hot stone and bake until browned and bubbling (about 8 minutes).

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve.  If not serving immediately (if making a second pizza, for example), transfer to a wire rack so that the crust won't get soggy.

  • If you don't have an open bottle of wine on hand, simply start with 2 T. of water and cook the garlic until soft and sizzling in the butter.
  • It is very important to cut the asparagus on a long bias, thus exposing as much of the interior of the spear as possible.

Asparagus that is cut straight across (even if it is very skinny) will not cook properly in the amount of time the pizza will be in the oven. Furthermore, the asparagus will not be able to release its fragrance (which will essentially be sealed in by the skin) into the other ingredients and the pizza will not taste like asparagus.

(Garlic Cream adapted from Food & Wine)

Pizza Dough:
1/2 cup warm water (100º-110º)
1 1/8 t. (1/2 package) active dry yeast
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt

Combine the water, yeast, and 3/4 cup of the flour in a large bowl. Whisk until smooth. Add the oil, salt and another half cup of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape. Sprinkle some of the remaining quarter cup of flour on a smooth surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more flour. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour. Punch down the dough. At this point you may use the dough immediately or cover the bowl again with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 12 to 24 hours. Pull the dough out of the refrigerator to let it warm up a bit, about an hour before baking the pizza.

When ready to make the pizza, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough into a ball. Cover with a towel and let rest for 10 to 20 minutes. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and baked.

(Crust adapted from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins)

Food Processor Method:  Place the water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until the yeast has dissolved.  Place 1 1/4 cups plus 2 T. of the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend.  Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous.  Begin to run the mixture in long pulses until the dough is smooth and elastic—it shouldn't take more than a minute.  If the dough seems wet and sticky, add some of the remaining 2 T. of flour a bit at a time, pulsing after each addition.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

David Lebovitz's Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Granola

I think I have mentioned before that I sometimes share recipes on my blog mostly for my own benefit.  Since I cook so many different so many different places....and under such a variety of can sometimes be difficult to remember what I did on a particular occasion with a particular recipe.  My blog has been a wonderful way to document—not just with words, but with pictures (which are extremely helpful)—what I did and how I did it.  This documentation gives me a reasonably good chance of reproducing something that I particularly liked on a future date.  Today's post is one of those kinds of posts—although, I think anyone who loves peanut butter...and chocolate...and granola...will be happy to know about this recipe.

The recipe is for David Lebovitz's fantastic Peanut Butter and Chocolate Chip Granola.  When I made it the first time a couple of years ago—and loved it enough to make it immediately again and give it as a gift—I made it exactly as it was written (or so I thought) and shared a picture of my results with a link to Lebovitz's original post on my Facebook page, thinking this would be enough.  But this weekend, when I went to make it again, I found that I couldn't remember a few things....  Old fashioned or quick oats?  What brand of chocolate?  Etc, etc..... 

So...for my own future are my observations and preferences, in no particular order:

The original recipe calls for maple syrup or honey...your choice.  But since I think granola is better on the sweeter side...and honey is sweeter than maple syrup, I went with honey.  Also...peanut butter and honey sort of belong together.  At least in my mind....

I have only made this recipe with old fashioned oats.  I think they give an addictively chewy and substantial result.  I can only assume that quick oats would give a lighter—and also less clumpy (since the peanut butter goop has to cover more surface area with the more thinly shaved quick oats)—result. 

There were lots of comments and questions on Lebovitz's original post about putting the chocolate chips in the oven...  Wouldn't they melt?  Lebovtiz says that commercial chips are made with baking resistant chocolate so they will be fine.  He goes on to say that if you chop up a bar of quality chocolate instead, you will have some difficulties (i.e.—melting in the oven).  So...even though I was dubious... and even though several commenters had had difficulties with this very thing...I trusted that the chips wouldn't melt.  (In general I think Lebovitz's recipes are accurate and reliable.)  And just like he promised, they did not melt.  I remember that they did seem to want to get soft....but found that if I carefully turned the granola over with a pancake turner—as opposed to vigorously stirring with a wooden spoon or spatula—that the chips maintained their shape and their presence in the granola. 

Because I was in a hurry this time, I didn't look up my old Facebook post to see if I mentioned what kind of chocolate chips I used.  I always keep Nestle's semi-sweet chips on hand, but for some reason I had it in my head that I had used Ghirardelli's Bittersweet (60%) chips (which are my favorite).  It became evident very quickly (when I tried to stir the granola at the half way point) that I had not used Ghirardelli's Bittersweet before.  The chips were visibly melting and I was unable to stir.  When I checked my Facebook post, I saw that I had mentioned that I used Nestle's....  (Now I have it written down in two places...hopefully I'll bother to look before I dive in next time.)

Because I was unable to stir the recent batch of granola, I did discover something useful.  If you happen to be someone who prefers your granola in large, snackable shards (I admit to being one of these kinds of people), then not stirring is the way to go.  You will be able to break the granola up a bit after it cools, but it will still tend to want to remain in large clumps and chunks.  If you like a more free-flowing granola—appropriate for sprinkling over your yogurt at breakfast—make sure you stir once or twice (during the baking process, and as the granola cools).

Finally, I discovered this last time that purchasing dry roasted nuts and seeds isn't as straight forward as one would hope.  Look for nuts and seeds that have just nuts/seeds and salt.  A national brand that shall remain nameless adds all kinds of junk and flavorings (including celery, paprika, onion and garlic flavoring...not things I want in my sweet granola...).  If unadulterated dry roasted nuts are not available you can always purchase raw product and toast and salt them yourself.  Or...simply buy nuts that have been roasted with oil.  Either of these is better than being able to taste garlic...or your granola. 

This really is a fine recipe...and if you love granola...and peanut butter and should definitely make it.  I do have to admit though, I laugh every time I read one line of the recipe.  Lebovitz tells us that you can "store the granola in an airtight container at room temperature. It will keep for one to two months."  It is of course likely that this is a true statement....but I'm not sure in what universe someone could manage to make a batch of this granola last for longer than a few days.


David Lebovitz's Chocolate Chip and Peanut Butter Granola

If you want big shards of granola that you can snack on, don't stir the granola as it bakes.  If you want a more traditional, separated, granola, be sure to stir once or twice during baking...and a few times as the granola cools.

3 cups (300g) old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup (150g) dry roasted (lightly salted) peanuts
3/4 cup (120g) chocolate chips
1/2 cup (70g) sunflower seeds (dry roasted, lightly salted)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
1/2 cup (130g) smooth peanut butter (regular)
1/2 cup (160g) mild-flavored honey
1/4 cup (60g) packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons water

Preheat the oven to 325ºF (165ºC).  In a large bowl, mix together the oats, peanuts, chocolate chips, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, and salt.

In a small saucepan, warm the peanut butter, honey, brown sugar, and water over low heat, stirring constantly just until the mixture is smooth. The mixture will be barely tepid...don’t get the mixture too hot or it will separate.  (If this happens, stick the pan in a large bowl of ice water and stir until the mixture cools down and becomes homogenous and smooth.)

Scrape the peanut butter mixture into the dry ingredients and mix it in well, coating the oats, peanuts and seeds well.

Transfer the granola mixture to a parchment-lined baking sheet and spread it in an even layer.

Toast the granola in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the granola is a golden brown all over.  If you are going to "stir" during baking (see note above), use a pancake turner-style spatula to flip the granola over in sections...stirring in the traditional sense will smash the softening chocolate chips.  When you stir, make sure you get the granola on the edges moved toward the center and the granola in the center of the pan moved to the edges since the edges tend to darken quicker than the center. Remove from oven and let cool completely.  Makes about 6 to 8 cups, depending on whether you have shards or crumbly granola. 

Storage: Store the granola in an airtight container at room temperature. It will keep for one to two months.

(Recipe from

Sunday, April 30, 2017

A Simple & Spontaneous Dinner from the Early Spring Farmers' Market

April has been a blur.  If I didn't know it from the backlog of paperwork on my desk...or the view out my windows of an unkempt jumble of verdant growth, dead leaves and rampant weeds that is my garden...the fact that it is the last day of the month and I only have two blog posts to show for the month would make it abundantly clear.  Since it has been pouring rain for the past couple of days (making yard work pretty much impossible)...and paperwork isn't really my favorite thing to do (to put it mildly)...I thought I would take a moment today to remedy the last situation and post to my blog.  After isn't as if I haven't been eating or cooking for a month.

I have in fact been doing a lot of cooking.  My business...hence my of course all about cooking.  Furthermore, April marks the opening of the farmers' of my favorite moments during the year.  Despite my hectic schedule, I have made sure not to miss a market...and as my Instagram feed will attest, I have been busy cooking the spontaneous and simple foods of the early days of spring for my own table. 

One of the things that I try to teach in my classes...and here on my mastery of basic methods and building block recipes.  That way, when you are busy...or come across some fantastically beautiful ingredients that you really want to use, you don't have to stop and look for a recipe—or struggle to follow a new recipe—you can just cook.  The meal we had last night is a perfect example of this.

At yesterday's market I brought home some beautiful young carrots that still had a shock of pristine tops attached.  It seemed such a waste to cut them off and throw them into the compost pile.  As I looked at them, I remembered my friend Nancy had told me about a wonderful dish of roasted carrots and carrot top pesto that she had made last summer.  I looked up the recipe I thought she had used...but, I didn't really need to.  I know how to make pesto...  So I did. 

I had also brought home the first arugula of the I added some of that to the pesto.  And remembering how much I loved pistachios with the carrots in a raw carrot salad I posted in February, I decided to use pistachios instead of the more common walnuts or pine nuts.  You could of course use basil instead of arugula...or the walnuts or pine nuts...  All of these things would produce pestos with different flavors.  But if made with the proper method...and seasoned well...they would all be delicious—and perfect with roasted carrots.

If you don't know how to make a basic pesto, take a minute to compare the recipes I have posted over the years—basil pesto, arugula pesto, spring herb pesto and kale pesto.  You will notice that they are very similar...and the method is always the same.  To begin, place the greens/herbs of choice in the food processor with the garlic (smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt or finely grated on a microplane zester), the nuts and some salt.  Process everything until finely minced (doing this before you start adding oil will give you a more finely and uniformly minced final pesto...if you like a roughly chopped, chunky pesto, it isn't so crucial).  Then, drizzle in the oil while the machine is running and pulse in the cheese.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt.  Sometimes pesto needs a splash of lemon juice to lift the flavor...and you can add it at the end.  When I was making my carrot top pesto yesterday, I had it in my head that it would need lemon...and had the lemon out and ready...and then it didn't need any.  It was fantastic:  savory, nutty and rich.  I will be making carrot top pesto again.

So many uses for pesto...
here it is in a grilled cheese the next day at lunch...
The rest of our meal was also comprised of basic building block recipes:  a simple roasted chicken breast and a pile of roasted carrots (of course!) and baby potatoes.   If you don't know how to roast a chicken breast, check out the basics post I wrote a few years ago.  It is a useful thing to add to your repertoire (and it isn't nearly as tricky as roasting a whole bird).  The roasting method I used for the young vegetables is from John Ash's From the Earth to the Table.  I ran across it many years ago and I use it all the time for young root vegetables.   

I don't know if I have ever posted about this method for the vegetables or not.  It is very easy.  Simply toss them with salt & pepper, bruised/crushed cloves of garlic, thyme sprigs and a liberal splash of olive oil and then spread in a snug single layer in a baking dish or rimmed sheet pan.  Cover tightly  with foil and roast in a moderately hot oven (375° to 400°) for 20 minutes.  Then, uncover them, give them a shake (or turn the vegetables over with a spatula/pancake turner) and continue to roast until they are tender and lightly caramelized—another 20 minutes or so.   This method conserves the moisture of young vegetables (and perfumes them with garlic and thyme)...but still allows them to caramelize a bit. 

I used the pesto to tie the vegetables and chicken together:  I tossed the vegetables with a small amount of the pesto.  Then, to make the pesto into a sauce I could easily drizzle and dollop over the whole plate, I deglazed the chicken pan (another great, basic technique!) with a splash of water and used the result to thin a few tablespoons of the pesto.   Everything came together very nicely, making for a reasonably quick, spontaneous and simple, seasonal meal.  

Pan Roasted Chicken with Carrots, Potatoes & Carrot Top Pesto

Purchase split breasts (on the bone...with the skin).  I think a 12 ounce breast feeds two people adequately...but you should purchase the amount that works for you.  If you have time, season the chicken the day before with 1/2 to 3/4 t. kosher salt per pound of meat.  Cover loosely and chill overnight.  Pull the chicken out of the fridge and uncover about an hour before you want to cook it. 

Prepare the vegetables as directed (below) while the oven heats.  Transfer the vegetables to the oven and start the chicken.

Prepare the chicken:  Set an oven proof sauté pan that is large enough to accommodate all of your chicken over moderately high heat.  Season the chicken with freshly ground pepper.  When the pan is hot, add enough olive oil to lightly film the pan and add the chicken skin side down.   When the skin is browned and crisp, add some butter (about a teaspoon per breast) to the pan along with a few sprigs of thyme or a scattering of thyme leaves.  When the butter has melted, turn the chicken over—making sure you swipe the skin through the melted butter and thyme as you do and transfer to the oven with the vegetables.  Roast until an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of each breast reads 150° to 155°--about 20 to 25 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and let rest for 10 minutes or so—the internal temperature will continue to rise as the chicken rests and will easily reach the safe temperature of 160°.  Meanwhile, pour any excess fat off of the pan and return the pan to the heat.  Add a few tablespoons of water to the pan and bring to a simmer, scraping the pan with a flat wooden spoon to release all of the caramelized bits.  Set aside.

Prepare the pesto while the chicken and vegetables roast.  You will need 2 to 3 tablespoons of pesto per person.  The rest may be saved (covered, in the refrigerator) for another use.

When the vegetables are almost done, use your hands to pull the bones away from the breasts, starting at the point where the breast was attached to the wing.  Add any resting juices from the plate of resting chicken to the pan of deglazings. 

To serve:  add some pesto (a half tablespoon or so per person—more or less, to taste) to the pan of roasted vegetables and carefully fold in with a rubber spatula.    Thin the remaining 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 T. pesto per person with as much of the deglazings as you like to obtain a drizzling/dolloping consistency.  (You may also thin with olive oil...or even water...if you like.  If you use olive oil or water, recheck the seasoning after doing so.)  Slice the breasts at an angle, across the grain.  Arrange the vegetables on a large serving platter or individual plates and fan the meat on top.  Drizzle/dollop the platter/plates with pesto, serving any of the pesto that has been mixed with pan deglazings on the side, passing at the table. 

Roasted Young Carrots and Creamer Potatoes with Garlic & Thyme

For each person you will need:
5 to 6 oz. fingerling or creamer potatoes
5 to 6 oz. young carrots, peeled
2 to 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed/bruised
1 or 2 sprigs of thyme
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 375° to 400°.  Scrub the potatoes.  If they are more than an inch in diameter, halve them.  If the carrots are small, leave a half inch or so of the green.  If they are fatter than an inch in diameter, halve them lengthwise.  If they are long, simply cut them into 1 inch pieces.  In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, carrots, garlic and thyme and drizzle liberally with olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper.  Arrange the vegetables in a baking dish, roasting pan or rimmed sheet pan that is just large enough to hold the vegetables in a snug single layer.  

Cover the pan with foil and roast until the vegetables are tender and lightly caramelized—removing the foil after about 20 minutes and giving the pan a shake to redistribute the vegetables—total cooking time will be about 40 minutes. 

Carrot Top Pesto

Before measuring the carrot tops, trim the feathery fronds away from the thick, ropey stems.  Discard the stems and use the tops only.

2 c. (2 oz.) lightly packed carrot tops 
a handful (1 oz.) of arugula
1/2 c. shelled pistachios, lightly toasted
1/2 to 3/4 t. kosher salt
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
2/3 c. olive more if needed to get preferred consistency
1/3 c. (1 oz.) finely grated Parmesan
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste, if necessary

Place the carrot tops, arugula, pistachios, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon of salt in the food processor and process until everything is finely and uniformly chopped.  With the machine running, drizzle in the olive oil.  Scrape down the sides.  Add the Parmesan and pulse to combine.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and lemon juice if necessary.  If the pesto seems too tight, drizzle in a bit more oil.  Makes 1 1/4 cups pesto.  Store in the refrigerator in a jar with a tight fitting lid and filmed with oil.