Mark your calendars! Save the date! On Tuesday, October 22nd at 6:30 pm, I'll be at NYU's Deutsches Haus for a conversation with Amanda Hesser and Deb Perelman about My Berlin Kitchen, out now in paperback!
I am beyond excited, as you can well imagine.
I hope you can come and am counting the days, hours, minutes, seconds until I am back in New York City again. I have been in the throes of missing New York for several weeks now and it's been this dullish sort of ache in my chest where I keep pushing it down to to keep it from interfering with the rest of my life. But now, now! It is in reach! And I am all afire.
(I also need to cool it with the exclamation marks, but it is just one of those evenings.)
Can't wait to see you there!
Time and date: Tuesday, October 22nd, 6:30 p.m.
Location: Deutsches Haus at NYU (here is a nifty map)
The Scene: Me, Amanda and Deb chatting about food blogging, recipes, love and happiness (!) with Martin Rauchbauer, director of Deutsches Haus.
Other: The event is free of charge, but space is limited so please rsvp to this address: deutscheshaus[dot]rsvp[at]nyu[dot]edu
I have been on a cookbook-buying bender lately, even though we really don't have room for any more books and I already don't cook enough out of the books that I do own. There is just so much good stuff out right now. (I promise to do a post or two on new cookbooks and my cookbook collection in general soon. Don't you love knowing what other people's cookbook shelves are like? More fascinating than the bathroom cabinet!)
Fuchsia Dunlop's Every Grain of Rice is my latest baby, one I'd had on my wishlist since it was first announced. I own every one of her books and adore them all (even though I have yet to cook from any of them...until now). In fact, Fuchsia could take to writing cereal box copy and I'd probably buy every last thing her words adorned. I was thinking about it the other night and realized that, in my opinion, Fuchsia's the best living food writer out there these days. She makes everything she writes about - stinky tofu! cooking school in Sichuan province! chewy chicken cartilage! - utterly captivating.
Every Grain of Rice is Fuchsia's most recent book and it focuses on simple Chinese home cooking, with recipes sourced mostly from the south of the country. It's vegetable-heavy and beautifully photographed and, in short, will have you keeping your local Asian grocer in business as you keep trotting back for more ingredients, like black vinegar and dark soy sauce and dried shiitake mushrooms and chili-bean paste. (Actually, none of these things should cost very much at all. Which is sort of the point.)
Fuchsia's evangelical about the resourcefulness of Chinese home cooking, how light on the wallet and the waistline it is and what a shame it is that China's newfound wealth is corrupting a centuries' old reliance on simple things like vegetables and rice and a little bit of protein (far, far less than our Western diet could fathom). A bottle of black Chinkiang vinegar bought at my local Korean grocery the other day cost me less than 3 euros and it'll last me quite some time. So while you'll have to stock your pantry somewhat to get started with Chinese cooking, it's actually a very economical way to eat.
The recipe that jumped out at me on my last perusal through the book was a braised dish of chicken and dried shiitake mushrooms. Most of the recipes in the book require a wok, but while I actually own an authentic hammered-steel wok given to us for our wedding by a friend in Hong Kong, I don't have a gas stove. So the wok sits patiently in the basement awaiting the day that we move to an apartment that still has a gas line (not an easy feat in Berlin). And I try to find recipes in Every Grain of Rice that could conceivably be made in a different pan. (And yes, a flat-bottomed wok for an electric stove is at the top of my shopping list now.)
This braise sounded perfect - I was supposed to stir-fry the chicken and aromatics to start, but the bulk of the cooking was going to be braising. I figured this was one dish where I could circumvent the missing wok without too much trouble.
I've always been intimidated by Chinese cooking, just as I have been with Indian, for fear that I'd never be able to approximate the flavors and techniques of authentic Chinese food at home. But once again - ding ding! - it's nowhere near as complicated as it seems. What's crucial, besides assembling the correct pantry, is doing all the chopping and preparing before you start cooking. Because the cooking itself goes at lightning speed. The work is mostly beforehand.
In this case, you soak and chop dried shiitake mushrooms, chop chicken thighs into pieces roughly the same size as the mushrooms, peel and slice ginger and chop and bruise scallions. And that's it. After that's done, you put the pot on the stove and fairly fly through the rest of the recipe.The chicken is briefly stir-fried before the ginger and scallions are added to the pan to let their aromas unfold. You pour in a bit of Shaoxing wine, the soaked mushrooms and their liquor, a bit more water, soy sauce, sugar and salt. This is cooked together for half an hour, during which time the broth goes a deep, rich brown. It's very exciting. At the end, you take off the lid from the pot and let the braising liquid reduce slightly.
What you're left with are chunks of tender chicken, thoroughly infused with the aromatic flavors of ginger, scallions and soy. The mushrooms are silky-soft. And the broth - the broth! - is so good that I wished I'd made an entire potful of it. It was like chicken soup that had died and gone to heaven?
Fuchsia Dunlop's Braised Chicken with Dried Shiitake Mushrooms
Serves 4 as part of a larger Chinese meal or 2 as a main with rice and a vegetable dish
8 dried shiitake mushrooms
4 boneless chicken thighs
2 tablespoons cooking oil
1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine
About 200 ml chicken stock or water
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Soak the dried mushrooms in hot water to cover for at least 30 minutes. Then cut them into quarters, reserving their soaking water. Cut the chicken into similarly-sized pieces. Cut the scallions into 2-inch sections and separate the white and green parts. Crush the whites slightly with the side of your knife handle. Slice the green parts thinly and set aside.
2. Add the cooking oil to a seasoned wok or braising pan over high heat. Then add the chicken and stir-fry for a few minutes until lightly browned. When the chicken is nearly done, add the ginger and scallion whites and allow the hot oil to release their fragrance.
3. Add the Shaoxing wine, stir a few times, then add the mushrooms, their soaking water and enough stock or water to make up 300 ml. Add the sugar, soy sauce and salt to taste.
4. Bring to a boil, then cover the wok or pot, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove the lid, increase the heat and reduce the liquid to thicken the sauce. Adjust the seasoning, add the sliced scallion greens and sesame oil and serve.
The ivy on the back wall of the building I can spy from my office has turned a deep, vibrant crimson. We've put away our summer clothes and pulled out our woolen hats, our thick socks, our flannel pyjamas. The toasty smell of the heating rises up against the windows in the morning. But my favorite stand at the green market is still selling plum tomatoes, the last ones of the season, and I am physically incapable of passing them by, no matter how heavily autumn presses upon us. Every week, I buy a sackful of those tomatoes and simmer them into sauces, chop them into Hugo's pastina, turn them into a quick lunch with a piece of cheese and bread. They're still irresistible, despite the winter squash and cabbage that look at me fetchingly from the side.
My most recent way to make my way through a pile of tomatoes was to bake a French tomato mustard tart from Clotilde's lovely new cookbook, The French Market Cookbook. A savory olive oil tart dough speckled with poppy and sesame seeds is parbaked, then filled with a savory blend of sautéed onions, mustard and egg. On top go a whole mess of halved, seeded and salted plum tomatoes before the tart goes back in the oven. There, the tomatoes shrink and shrivel, the crust goes crisp, the mustard and onions mellow. We ate slices of the tart hot from the oven and they were very good, but an overnight rest made them truly sing. The next day, Max and I eyed each other ferociously over the last few slices.
(A note: I mistakenly used a tart pan that was too small by a few inches, only realizing my mistake when the tart was already in the oven. Don't follow in my footsteps - make sure you use an 11- or 12-inch tart pan. You want the tart dough to be very, very thin.)
Clotilde is celebrating her blog's tenth anniversary today. Oh, 2003! I still remember first discovering Chocolate & Zucchini just a few months after Clotilde got started and feeling like I'd happened upon something seriously momentous. Her newest book, The French Market Cookbook, is a celebration of the very things that Clotilde has always done so well: simple yet creative vegetarian dishes that are seasonal and delicious, but also very, very beautiful.
One of Clotilde's gifts lies in the ability to take rather prosaic ingredients and transform them into something delectable. This book is full of these ideas. To wit: a stir-fry with barley flakes, carrots and curry; a mashed broccoli casserole on a bed of green lentils and rice; or, the one I'm now most excited to try, poor man's bouillabaisse, with nary a piece of fish in sight (poached eggs and peas take center stage). She updates an old French classic, fontainebleau, with yogurt, but also goes way back with an old-fashioned take on macarons made with walnuts and almonds and sandwiched together with a simple filling of melted chocolate.
Happily, I have an extra copy of The French Market Cookbook to give away today, in celebration of Clotilde and her lovely site and all the things she made me feel capable of doing all those years ago. So for a chance to win a copy, please leave a comment below and I'll pick a winner at random on Wednesday. Good luck!
Update: Jennifer is the winner and has been emailed. Thank you all for participating - comments are now closed.
Clotilde Dusoulier's Tomato Mustard Tart
Makes 1 11-12 inch tart
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
2 cups (260 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon toasted poppy seeds (optional)
1 large egg
1. Combine the flour, salt and seeds, if using, in a bowl. Add the oil, egg and 1/4 cup/60 ml of water and mix them in with a fork until absorbed. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together in a smooth ball.
2. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, turning it every so often, so that it doesn't stick to the surface or pin. Avoid overworking the dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled 11- or 12-inch tart pan and line it neatly. Chill for 30 minutes.
1 large egg, separated
1 3/4 pounds (800 grams) plum tomatoes
Fine sea salt
2 tablespoons olive oil, more for drizzling (optional)
2 small red onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
Handful of basil leaves, if available
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 325 F (160 ).
2. Brush the tart dough with some of the egg white. Bake for 30 minutes.
3. Halve the tomatoes lengthwise and squeeze out the juice and seeds and core. (Save them for drinking with a sprinkle of salt - so good!) Sprinkle the cut sides with salt and place the tomatoes face down in a colander to drain.
4. Heat the oil in a pan and sauté the onions and 1/2 teaspoon salt over medium heat for about 15 minutes, until the onions are very soft, but haven't taken on any color. Let cool slightly.
5. Stir the egg yolk and any remaining white and the mustard into the onions and spread over the crust. Arrange the halved tomatoes, cut side down, over the onion layer. Drizzle the tart with more olive oil to taste (optional). Bake the tart until the tomatoes are wrinkled and fragrant, 45 minutes.
6. Top with shredded basil and black pepper and serve warm or let cool and store at room temperature overnight before serving.
Last week something terribly exciting happened: I found fresh spinach at my local green market. That never happens. Yep, Berlin may have many wonderful things now, but fresh spinach at the market still counts as a rarity. (You can sometimes find it at Turkish grocery stores.)
(Proof? My mother-in-law, a fabulous cook and curious human being - curious as in interested in other things, not curious weird! - has literally (in the old-fashioned sense of the word) never bought fresh spinach before in her life. She stared at my enormous bag of it in something akin to wonder.)
(Further proof? Just a week later, that same farmer had nothing even resembling fresh spinach at his stand. Curses!)
I bought a whole kilo (over two pounds) of the spinach and lugged it home where my very obliging mother washed it for me. (She also ironed my stack of linens and shirts the other night while babysitting my child so I could go out and drink wine and have a fancy dinner, so I'm thinking I was probably a lowly insect in a previous life and am now being compensated for it, or something.)
Then I stared at the very large pile(s) of washed fresh spinach and wondered how on earth I was going to cook it all.
Several years ago, my father resurrected his Very Serious Indian Cooking Phase (VSICP - originating in the early 1980's in Brookline, Massachusetts). He made multi-weekly visits to Moody Street for ingredients, found obscure cookbooks online and subjected his patient, loving wife to cumin and coriander in everything from potatoes to pasta. (Practically.) He planted the bug in me, too. My freezer now is a veritable smorgasbord of Indian spices and thanks to him, I know the difference between ajowan and amchoor.
So! After a few more minutes of staring at the spinach, I headed to the bookshelf and pulled down Julie Sahni. If anyone was going to get over two pounds of spinach under control, it was going to be an Indian.
If there's something that continues to surprise me about Indian cooking, it's how easy it is. You know, you look at the ingredient lists of Indian recipes, ten spices you've barely heard of, and get intimidated, or you think back to your last meal in an Indian restaurant and wonder how a home cook could ever get that complex, multi-layered flavor going in the kitchen. But if you just try, it's so easy. All you really need is a well-stocked spice pantry and these days, with mail-order spice companies and sophisticated grocery stores the world over, there's no excuse for not having one.
In this luscious, lovely recipe, you cook spinach (the original has you combine spinach with stronger-flavored greens, but I just used spinach) and potatoes with a simple blend of spices that will probably be familiar to everyone: cumin, ginger and hot red pepper, plus a little hit of garam masala at the end (if you leave this off, it will be no less delicious, by the way). The key to dish is the long cooking time; the spinach is almost melting at the end and the potatoes have gone all fudgy and sweet. There's a nice heat to the dish, but nothing that will blow your head off and even though the recipe says that it serves 6 to 8 people, I am here to bear witness to the fact that we, um, polished it off with a smaller crowd. (With Classic Indian Cooking open on the kitchen counter, I couldn't stop myself from rounding out the menu with tomato raita and a rice pilaf stuffed with goodies. And in case you're worried about the aforementioned exploitation of my mother, this is the meal I fed her in gratitude.)
Dinner tasted like the best kind of restaurant food, the kind of meal where you sort of can't believe that you were the one who put it on the table. It's like magic.
Bungee jumping, sky diving, that's for other folks; exotic home cooking is my kind of thrill. Have a wonderful weekend, friends.
Julie Sahni's Saag
Adapted from Classic Indian Cooking
Serves 6 to 8 people
2 pounds fresh spinach
1 pound waxy potatoes
5 tablespoons ghee
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
2 green chiles, seeded and minced, or 1/4 teaspoon red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon garam masala
1. Pick over and discard all the rotting and yellowed spinach leaves. Wash the spinach thoroughly, then drain and pat dry. Chop coarsely.
2. Peel and cut the potatoes into 1.5-inch chunks.
3. Heat the ghee over medium-high heat in a large frying pan, preferably non-stick. When it is very hot, add cumin seeds. When the cumin turns dark (about 10 seconds), add garlic and chili. Stir rapidly for a moment or two, and add potatoes, turning and tossing them until they are lightly browned (about 5-8 minutes). Add about 1 cup of the chopped greens and stir it in. When the greens get limp, add another cup of greens. Continue until all greens are incorporated. Sprinkle with ginger powder and salt. Stir well to mix. Add 1 1/4 cups boiling water, reduce heat and cook, covered, until the potatoes are tender (about 20-25 minutes). Uncover and continue cooking until the excess moisture evaporates (15-30 minutes). The vegetables must be stirred very carefully at this stage, as the potatoes break easily.
4. Increase heat to medium and continue cooking, stirring the vegetables gently until the potatoes and greens look almost dry and the butter begins to coat and glaze the vegetables. Stir in garam masala, and turn off heat. Check for salt, and serve. This dish may be prepared several hours before you are ready to serve. It also keeps well in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
When we were in Portland for one day last year on the book tour, our hotel was just a short walk from a square filled with food trucks. Once we'd unpacked, changed teeny tiny baby Hugo (sob!) and put on our walking shoes, we headed out for lunch. I wouldn't have been able to eat from more than one truck, but you should know that my husband's appetite belies his narrow frame. The man can eat and he certainly wouldn't let my wussy little appetite slow him down. Thanks to him, we were able to try things from several food trucks: poutine, Hawaiian barbecue and our absolute favorite, pulled chicken and coleslaw from a food truck specializing in Southern food.
Since then, that pulled chicken has come up more than once in conversation, mentioned in hushed, longing tones. But funnily enough, it never occurred to me that I could just make it myself. It turns out that I have a blind spot when it comes to meat. I sort of always forget that it's there, you know? Nine times out of ten, when I go to the grocery store, I don't even remember to go near the meat display.
But Jenny at Dinner: A Love Story mentioned pulled chicken sandwiches recently in a post about getting back into the cooking swing of things once the summer ends and, a few clicks later, there was her recipe staring back at me sweetly, looking all easy and satisfying and freezable, three words that get me hot and bothered these days. (I am such a cliché. I also cried after Hugo's first haircut the other day.)
True to her blog's mission, Jenny's recipe is such a cinch, but it totally delivers. You can used store-bought barbecue sauce (which I did - opting for one without any stabilizers, preservatives or high-fructose corn syrup) or make your own. You mix it up with some water, vinegar, a chipotle pepper, garlic, onion and bay, then poach the chicken in that mixture until it's cooked. The only real work you have to do is shred the chicken once it's cooked. Then you reduce the cooking liquid until it's saucy and stir the shredded meat back into it. Done.
What you're left with is a big pile of delicious meat that can be served for dinner right then and there, still leaving you with enough to freeze for a rainy day. The pulled chicken is sweet and spicy and delicious, as good forked up from a plate as it is piled high into a sandwich topped with cooling slaw. I used a mix of white and dark meat, because I like the flavor of dark meat, but Jenny's original recipe uses only breast meat.
I served the pulled chicken with coleslaw on hamburger buns to my mother-in-law, who was mightily impressed. I put a few shreds on Hugo's plate, figuring he'd find it too spicy or strange, but he gobbled them up like a good little American. (He preferred to daintily drop on the floor the shreds of cole slaw his grandmother gave him.) The rest I froze for when Max is home on the weekend and we are hungry and feeling nostalgic about our amazing trip to the US.
Money in the bank.
Jenny Rosenstrach's Pulled Chicken Sandwiches
Serves 6 at least
1 cup barbecue sauce
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 chipotle pepper in adobo
6 to 8 boneless chicken breasts or a mix of white and dark meat (approximately 2 pounds)
Potato rolls or hamburger buns
Cole slaw or pickled vegetables
1. In a large heavy pot, combine barbecue sauce, cider vinegar, onion, garlic, bay leaf and chipotle. Add chicken and enough water to cover (about 2 cups), stirring a few times.
2. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes. Remove the chicken from the pot and shred. Bring the sauce to a boil until it thickens and reduces, another 10 minutes. Stir in chicken.
3. Serve on rolls with cole slaw or pickled vegetables. If freezing, allow to cool, then spoon into freezer bags, flatten slightly for easier thawing later, and freeze.
The markets are flooding with the last prune plums of the season. I can never walk past the piles of them, dark and smooth, like big purple bullets. I've made Pflaumenmus (see my book for the recipe) and plum cake and poached plums, too, but this past week, a bowl of plums I'd bought the week earlier from a vendor who warned me that they were very sour, almost too sour, languished on my countertop. Hugo didn't want any and I didn't blame him: they were too tart for eating raw.
So last night, then, after Max left and Hugo was asleep, I decided to go back to one of my all-time favorite recipes on this blog, Marian Burros' plum crumble. But this time I more than doubled the fruit. I wanted a mostly fruity dessert, with the crumble topping as a jaunty, crunchy cap. I kept the amount of candied ginger the same and only added a touch more sugar, hoping that the plums would turn into a tangy jam beneath the rubble. I was aiming for a crumble that I could eat for breakfast with yogurt with nary a second's thought and one that would use up the last of my plums, of course, too.
I'd forgotten that the crumble topping is unusual in its assembly - you massage a beaten egg into spiced flour and sugar and baking powder, drop this streusel of sorts onto the fruit and only then drizzle (inundate?) the whole thing with melted butter.
In the oven, magic happens. The plums soften and melt, the topping rises and browns and turns almost cookie-like, but with soft pockets of yielding dough here and there. I hadn't been mistaken, this truly is one of the best recipes I know, and this new version, heavy with fruit, is perfection. It's best eaten with a puddle of creamy plain yogurt. At least, that's how I like it best - the sourness of the yogurt a wonderful companion to the tart plums and sugary top.
Serves 6 to 8
34 purple Italian or prune plums, cut in half and pitted
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons plus 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 heaping tablespoons finely chopped candied ginger
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 egg, well beaten
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
1. Place plums in medium bowl. Heat oven to 375 degrees, with rack in center.
2. In a small bowl, thoroughly mix brown sugar, 2 tablespoons flour, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground ginger and the candied ginger. Add to plums and mix well. Arrange plums skin side up in ungreased, deep 9-inch pie plate or baking dish.
3. In a small bowl, combine granulated sugar, baking powder, remaining flour and cinnamon and the salt. Mix well. Stir in egg. Using hands, mix thoroughly to produce little particles. Sprinkle over plums.
4. Drizzle butter evenly over crumb mixture and bake 30 to 35 minutes. Crumble is done when top is browned. Remove from oven and cool.
5. Serve crumble warm or refrigerate for up to two days or freeze, well covered. If reheating, bring to room temperature, then warm at 300 degrees.
But it's Friday and in a few hours my husband will be here and tomorrow we're giving Max the tour of Hugo's future daycare (less than two months before he starts!) and tomorrow night we are getting dressed up and going out for a fancy dinner just because and so all is well. Besides, now I can ask Hugo to make the sounds of an owl, a monkey, a lion, a cat, a dog, a cow and a horse and he complies with gusto and his adorable, crooked smile. (The owl is my very favorite - if I ever manage to catch it on film, I shall post it here and force you poor people to watch to it over and over again.)
Made me laugh: the secret to food blogging.
Made me cry: On dinner diaries and the passage of time.
Grandmothers and their signature dish, photographed by Gabriele Galimberti.
Do you need a life-affirming cooking video? Watch (and read) this.
And finally, Ruth Reichl loathes honey and other secrets of the NYTimes restaurant critics.
Have a good weekend, folks!
Friends, I ask you: do you also have partners who always insist that you keep the kitchen stocked with something that they swear up and down to desperately need, but then never actually eat, leaving you up to your eyeballs in the duly supplied item? For me, or Max, rather, we're talking bananas. Bananas, bananas, bananas. I don't like them and every time Hugo is offered one he takes a big bite before spitting it out theatrically (every time!), and frankly, between you and me, I think Max mostly eats them out of a sense of duty because he thinks they're healthy. But he always asks me to buy some before the weekend when he's due home and then I see them descend into spotted blackness like clockwork when he leaves again.
However, I am not complaining. Because as we all know (don't we?), even those of us who don't like bananas can learn to love banana bread.
I mean, was ever a more perfect baked good invented? You can freeze old bananas and just defrost them when you're in the mood to bake (or when you need to clear out your freezer). You don't need anything special to make banana bread - if you've got even a pretty minimally stocked pantry, you probably have everything you need for banana bread. And it is gussied up in so many delightful ways. Ginger, coconut, chocolate - all of these things make banana bread sing.
Best of all, you're never really done discovering that banana bread contains multitudes. I mean, just the other day, I stumbled across Dorie Greenspan's version, which features a whole cup of cocoa powder along with chopped chocolate and buttermilk and other delicious things and in one fell swoop, I went from trying to figure out how to use up a glut of plums to making a beeline for the freezer to unearth some blackened bananas so I could get to work.
Cocoa banana bread is the kind of thing that makes you scratch your head and wonder where it's been your whole life. (I kind of feel that way about most things from Dorie's kitchen.) It's very dark and gorgeous, it's rich and damp, it's wonderful. The cocoa and buttermilk make for a light, devil's food-like crumb, but the banana weighs it down just enough to transform it into something satisfyingly plump. The loaf is enormous (taking over an hour to bake through) and it slices into these wonderfully hefty pieces that are actually very easy to eat. Of course, it's nicest when the loaf is still warm, so you have little pockets of melting chocolate to poke with your tongue. But no one will turn down a piece of this the next day, when the banana flavor settles and flattens amiably and the little chunks of chocolate go faintly chalky again and the crumb turns velvety soft.
So like clockwork tomorrow, I'll be buying more bananas for my husband's return. And I'm actually pretty grateful he keeps leaving them behind.
Dorie Greenspan's Cocoa Banana Bread
Adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours
Makes one 9-inch loaf
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup buttermilk
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped, or 1/2 cup store-bought chocolate chips
1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
2. Line a 9×5-inch loaf pan with parchment paper, then place on two baking sheets stacked on top of each other. (This will keep the bottom of the bread from over-baking.)
3. Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and baking soda.
4. With a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter at medium speed for about a minute, until softened. Add the sugars and beat for 2 minutes more. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for a minute after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low and mix in the mashed bananas.
5. Add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, mixing only until they disappear into the batter. Still on low speed, add the buttermilk, mixing until it is incorporated. Stir in the chopped chocolate. Scrape the batter into the pan.
6. Bake for 30 minutes. Cover the bread loosely with a piece of foil to keep the top from getting too dark, and continue to bake for another 40-45 minutes (total baking time is between 70-75 minutes), or until a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean.
7. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool for at least 20 minutes before running a knife around the edges of the bread and unmolding it. Invert and cool to room temperature right side up.
What happened was I read about cabbage strudel (did ever those two words have better partners?) almost four years ago and dutifully clipped the recipe (actually, by then I think I bookmarked it) and then schlepped that bookmark around with me from New York to Berlin, from one computer to another, until finally - finally! - last week, I found myself with a small head of cabbage and a package of phyllo dough and time - PRECIOUS, PRECIOUS TIME - to make it.
But when I got into the kitchen and reread the recipe for the last time before getting started, I got a little skeered about the amount of butter called for. I mean, did the strudel really need two whole sticks of butter? As much as I like to follow recipes faithfully, I just couldn't bring myself to use that much butter. It surely wouldn't make that much of a difference if I reduced a bit here and there, I told myself. Back me up, dear readers - wouldn't you have done the same thing? Gulp.
The recipe comes from a little shop in Forest Hills, Queens that sells only strudel. (I am chagrined to admit that in all the years I lived in Forest Hills, I never made it to André's.) Their cabbage strudel recipe is a study in simplicity - baked, shredded cabbage flavored with salt and pepper, then wrapped in buttered strudel leaves and baked. That's it. No extraneous herbs or spices, no special sauces. As the owner says, in this recipe "butter rules."
Ahem. Right. So let me admit right here and now that, yes, in this recipe, butter indeed does rule. I halved the amount that went into the cabbage and probably quartered the amount that went onto the phyllo leaves and while my strudel looked lovely and crisp and burnished and also smelled very good indeed, it needed a serious puddle of Sriracha to liven things up.
But every now and then, especially when I bit into the delectably crisp bottom layer of phyllo, where all the butter had pooled before baking, I got a fleeting taste of what this strudel would have tasted like had I been a dutiful cook and followed the recipe. It would have tasted pretty darn great.
So. Be ye not so frugal! You only live once! Don't let the amount of butter make you blanch. (But if it does, Sriracha helps. A lot.)
Update! The incomparable Nora Ephron on this very cabbage strudel. Perfection. The end.
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, more for greasing pan
1 very small head cabbage or half a medium cabbage (about 1 pound), cored and shredded
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
10 sheets phyllo dough, defrosted
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a large baking pan and spread cabbage evenly in pan. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cut up 4 ounces (1 stick) butter into small pieces, and sprinkle over cabbage. Cover with foil, sealing edges. Bake until tender and golden, 45 minutes to 60 minutes, occasionally lifting foil and mixing cabbage, then resealing.
2. Remove from heat, uncover and allow to cool to room temperature. (May be stored, covered and refrigerated, for up to 24 hours; use chilled.)
3. Set oven temperature to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt remaining 4 ounces butter. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a work surface with the narrow end closest to you, and top with a sheet of phyllo dough. Brush lengthwise (up and down) with a little butter. Top with another sheet of phyllo, and brush again with butter. Repeat until all 10 sheets are buttered and stacked.
4. Arrange cabbage on top sheet, at end closest to you, in a thick layer 2 inches deep. Spread evenly to side edges. With the help of the parchment paper (and rolling as if for sushi in a bamboo roller), roll phyllo starting at the end with the cabbage. As you work, adjust parchment paper so that phyllo is rolled, enclosing cabbage, without the paper. Brush top of roll with butter, place on baking sheet and bake until golden, about 40 minutes. Serve hot or warm.