Superspark

a year in food and life

Gingerbread pancakes with butterscotch apples December 10, 2009

Filed under: breakfast,Dessert,food — superspark @ 3:24 am

Ah, iPhone, how I love you! While your camera is not exactly a fancy-schmancy Nikon D-70,  the ease and convenience are a godsend for those of us who  often find ourselves too lazy to deal with the whole rigamarole of uploading photos.  A blog post with no pictures is very sad, but a post with an iPhone picture?  I can live with that now and then.

Four months into our new lives as adults with two jobs, a mortgage, car payments, and the like, we’ve settled into a routine.  Well, as much of a routine as we can muster with Dylan’s surgical intern schedule.  Given the fact that they literally hold lives in their hands, it is more than a little alarming to think about the hours that surgeons keep and the chronic sleep deprivation they face.  They are now limited to 80 hours of work per week, but in generations past, no such protections existed.  Rest assured, your surgeon can no longer legally work more than a 27 hour shift.  Is that reassuring? Just wondering…

In any case, Dylan is often on call on the weekends, meaning that he goes in to work at about 5 am on Saturday and arrives home in a semi-stupor in the late morning on Sunday.  He is usually in charge of putting together delightful Sunday breakfast treats, but on those mornings, he is often barely functional.  So Maddie and I are now in charge and we try to pull something together right before he gets home so that its hot and ready to eat.  (My, don’t I sound domestic!)

Tis the holiday season, of course, and so this past weekend I dug into the Epicurious archives and found this recipe for gingerbread pancakes with butterscotch apples.   I wouldn’t blame you if your teeth started aching just looking at the photo and the recipe- this is definitely not the meal for those who prefer their breakfasts savory.  But for those of us who love a good pancakes with a little autumnal flair, these gingerbread pancakes with their yummy apple topping are worth it. And while I don’t know Sara Moulton, who first authored this recipe, I can fully support putting a sweet breakfast treat in a cookbook on weeknight meals. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner, these are a winner.

Gingerbread pancakes with butterscotch apples (serves 2-4)
(from Sara’s Weeknight Meals by Sara Moulton via Epicurious)

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large Golden Delicious apples (about 1 pound), peeled and sliced
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 large egg
3 tablespoons molasses
3 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for cooking the pancakes

1. Preheat the oven to 200°F. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the apples and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Stir in the brown sugar, 2 tablespoons water, the lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook until the mixture bubbles. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla; transfer to a serving dish and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl stir together the flour, granulated sugar, ginger, remaining 1 teaspoon cinnamon, the baking powder, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small bowl. Combine 1/4 cup water, the egg, molasses, and 3 tablespoons oil in a glass measuring cup; add to the flour mixture and stir with a fork until the mixture is just combined but not smooth. Add additional water if necessary to reach the consistency of pancake batter.

3. Brush a nonstick skillet with a little oil; heat over medium-low heat. Add the gingerbread mixture to the skillet a generous tablespoonful at a time and spread to make a 2 1/2-inch round; cook until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Turn and brown on the other side, 3 to 4 minutes. Repeat until all the batter has been used. Keep the pancakes warm in the oven until all have been cooked.

4. To serve, divide the pancakes among dessert plates and top each serving with some of the apples.

 

Lemony ricotta basil pasta November 3, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — superspark @ 12:05 pm
lemon ricotta basil pasta 2

Did I take this photo by candlelight?!

A few months ago  I shared our “woe-is-me” story of buying a house and two cars and then suddenly feeling a little bit of a panic at seeing the bulk of our liquid assets disappear from our bank accounts.   As  I wrote at the time, there was a lot of mac and cheese.  And it wasn’t homemade.  It wasn’t even Kraft (the blue box!).  No, it was the generic brand and it was a sad state of affairs.

Now that the paychecks have been rolling in and our bank account is once again growing, not shrinking, we’ve abandoned that sad old generic mac and cheese.  There were a few months in which we didn’t want to see any mac and cheese of any variety, but now that a little time has passed, the knockout combination of cheese and pasta is again on our radar.

This recipe for lemony ricotta basil pasta (found here on The Kitchen: Apartment Therapy may not be what most people think of when they imagine mac and cheese, but even with its more sophisticated ingredients, it is still reminiscent of the old favorite. And guess what, it’s so simple that it takes just about as long as the boxed stuff! Elegance in no time flat! Did I mention yet that it’s absolutely delicious, too? With the creamy ricotta, splash of lemon, and hint of basil, you’ll want to grab a big bowl and curl up on the couch with a blanket to savor it. If you make your own ricotta (as we did, in this case), it’s even better. A perfect, super-easy weeknight meal.

Lemony Ricotta Pasta with Basil(serves 4-6)

Ingredients:
1 lb good-quality pasta, in a short twisted shape or with a hole (such as penne or gemili)
1 15-ounce package (about 2 cups) fresh ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons good-quality olive oil
zest of 1 lemon
juice of half the lemon
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 loosely packed basil leaves, sliced thin, as in a chiffonade

1. Set a pot of water to boil. When it boils, add a few teaspoons of salt and the pasta.

2. In a metal bowl wide enough to fit over the top of the pot, mix together the remaining ingredients, excluding the basil. When there are about 2 minutes remaining in the pasta’s cooking time, place the bowl over the pot and slowly stir the ricotta and other ingredients. You should see it loosening as it warms.

3. When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it, add the basil to the bowl of sauce and toss with the drained pasta.

 

Kalyn’s spicy red lentil and chickpea stew October 30, 2009

Filed under: food,grains,soups — superspark @ 9:26 am

kalyns red lentil and chickpea stew

Yikes! Is it already almost November?! It feels like I posted just yesterday and yet it’s been nearly a month. Time flies when you’re maniacally writing grants. But I can’t complain because for the most part, I’ve been able to leave work at work and enjoy my hours at home. Mostly that means chasing Maddie around the house, but on occasion she manages to entertain herself for long enough that I can whip up a quick dinner. Unfortunately, these days I seem to be plagued with (1) a tendency to pick seriously ho-hum recipes including a slew from my go-to, the New York Times; and (2) a tendency to forget to take a picture in the rare instance that I actually make something tasty enough to merit writing about. Bah humbug!

So I hope Kalyn can forgive me for this first, borrowing a photo from another blog. So lame, I know, but it seemed better to borrow than to let this recipe slip by due to my negligent photography. It’s the perfect autumn meal- warm, healthy, and hearty.  Even better, it’s pretty quick and easy to put together save from extracting the cardamom from the pods- may I strongly recommend buying it ground for this purpose? That’s right, cardamom. I usually think of it in desserts- like these two (yum!) But it can work in savory dishes as well, as it does here, combining with the cayenne, garam masala, and cumin to create a stew with an unusually deep flavor profile (have I been watching too much Top Chef?).    And though I’ve had my issues with lentils, there work terrifically here, melting down and thickening the broth into a hearty stew.  We served it over brown rice, allowing us to sanctimoniously snarf down a huge batch of homemade chocolate ice cream for dessert.  Consider that my personal serving tip for this and all other meals- always garnish with a bowl of chocolate ice cream for dessert.  After all, cardamom works great with desserts.

Spicy Red Lentil and Chickpea Stew (from reader Paula B. via Kalyn’s Kitchen)
(serves 6, we doubled it and froze some)

Ingredients:
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 T olive oil (or perhaps a little more, depending on your pan)
1-2 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger (original recipe said 1 tsp, but I used 2 tsp.)
1 T finely minced garlic
1 tsp. ground turmeric
3/4 cup celery, finely diced
1 tsp. Garam Masala
1 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
1/2 tsp. ground cayenne pepper
1 tsp. ground cumin
6 cups chicken stock
1 1/2 cups red lentils
1 can (15 oz) chickpeas, rinsed until no more foam appears
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes (I used petite dice, do not drain tomatoes)
cooked brown rice for serving (optional)
sour cream or plain yogurt for serving (optional)

1. Heat olive oil in a heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add onions, ginger, garlic, and turmeric and gently saute, stirring often, for about 7 minutes, or until onions are quite soft but not browned.

2. Add diced celery, garam masala, ground cardamom, cayenne pepper, and ground cumin and saute 3-4 minutes more, until celery barely starts to soften.

3. Add the stock, red lentils, canned tomatoes, and rinsed chickpeas and bring mixture to a gentle boil. When it starts to bubble, reduce heat to the barest simmer and cover pan with lid. Let mixture simmer, stirring a few times, until lentils are dissolved enough that mixture has thickened into a chunky stew. (Kalyn suggested 60 minutes which I roughly approximated, but a little longer or shorter shouldn’t hurt.)

4. Serve over brown rice (so virtuous!) with or without a dollop or sour cream or plain yogurt on top.

 

Pear parmesan cashew salad October 6, 2009

Filed under: salads,Uncategorized,veggies — superspark @ 8:50 am

One of the perks of pursuing a PhD is that the summers are just a step away from the carefree summers of youth.  Yes, technically we were all still pursuing our research, but the summers always had a very different vibe.   In an anthropology department, all of the professors scatter to their field sites (or sometimes, their summer homes), while the grad students tag along on legendarily debaucherous archaeological digs or other such “work”.  Those of us who were left behind (mostly the more lab-work oriented in the bunch) would come in to find deserted halls and lots of time and freedom to pursue our other interests, such as sunbathing alongside the Charles River with a Diet Coke big gulp in hand (ah, those were the days!)  There was even one grad student in our department (no, not me) who decided to take a summer job at the Gap to supplement her meager income rather than working on her research.

So as I started my post-graduate career, it came as something of a rude shock to find that not all of academia shuts down as soon as classes end in May.  Those of us on the more clinical side may not even notice that it’s summer aside from it being a little warmer as we walk to our cars.  I haven’t had sunbathed with a Big Gulp in quite a while and its been years since I got into a bathing suit.  (Which says as much about my preferred pastimes as my work schedule, I suppose.)  This year it was particularly bad; what with our move from Los Angeles to upstate NY, summer came and went with the blink of an eye, punctuated only by lots of rain and cries of, “Is it already time to mow the lawn AGAIN?”

We were in no mood to eat salad this past summer, not even my favorite salads of the fruit-nut-cheese variety.   Now fall is another story.  Fall is when the Northeast is at its best, with leaf peeping, apple picking, and lots and lots of pie.  As you pull out your slow-cooker and turn to soups and comfort food, may I remind you that salads can be decidedly autumnal, too? I’m thinking of this particular combination with crisp pears, salty parmesan, and crunchy cashews from Jamie Oliver, via Serious Eats. I won’t lie- it’s not going to make you forget about the luscious berries and stone fruits that you enjoyed just a few weeks ago, but it might just remind you that fall has its little joys, too.

Pear, Parmesan, and Cashew Salad (serves 4)
Adapted from The Naked Chef Takes Off by Jamie Oliver.

Ingredients:
2 Bosc pears, sliced thinly
5 ounces greens, a mixture of arugula and mesclun
Juice of one lemon
1/4 cup olive oil, or to coat
Shaved Parmesan or Piave cheese
Handful unsalted cashews, crushed roughly

1. In a large salad bowl, add the greens. Pour a gentle stream of olive oil 3-4 times around the bowl, just enough to coat the sides well. Do the same with the lemon juice. Add a good pinch of salt for each person.

2. Add the pear slices, then toss the greens gently until evenly coated with the oil and the acid. Taste and adjust the oil/acid/salt ratio. Top with the cashews and shaved cheese. Finish with fresh black pepper.

 

Pumpkin cupcakes September 30, 2009

Filed under: baked goods,Dessert,food — superspark @ 1:30 pm

birthday bib and cupcake

Admittedly, I’ve been a very bad blogger these days, but when you are faced with diversions like spending time with a one year old as she ponders her first cupcake, sitting in front of a computer seems decidedly less appealing.  How can I justify writing about last night’s dinner when my little munchkin wants to read “Baby Faces” or “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What do you See?” yet another time? Luckily there’s work and when I have a rare moment of down time I can try to catch up on all things Superspark.

So it’s taken me two months to write this post on pumpkin cupcakes.  Let’s put a positive spin on it and say that there’s no better time to make something pumpkin-tastic than October.  Had I posted it back in August, you might have thought it utterly untimely.  But August was Maddie’s first birthday and given that her nickname around the house is Pumpkin, there seemed no other choice but a pumpkin cupcake when it came time to introduce her to her first sweets.

So how were the cupcakes, which came from this recipe on the beloved blog, Smitten Kitchen? For firsthand evidence, I’ll refer the baby-lovers our there to this video of Maddie’s reaction. For the baby-haters who can’t stomach sitting through two minutes of utter cuteness, let’s just say, she hasn’t developed her Mama’s sweet tooth…yet. As for the rest of us, we thought the cupcakes were quite lovely and we were more than happy to eat Maddie’s share.

We particularly recommend the cream cheese frosting, which was super easy, super tasty (we omitted the maple because I’m kind of a maple hater) and definitely one to keep for future baking. The pumpkin cupcakes themselves were good, if not the most exciting cupcake I’d ever had. But as a whole- lovely in August, even better now that autumn is here.

Pumpkin Cupcakes With Cream Cheese Frosting
Adapted from David Leite

Makes 17 to 18 cupcakes

Ingredients:

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing pans
1 cup firmly packed dark-brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk mixed with 1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/4 cups canned solid-pack pumpkin

Frosting
Two (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/4 cup pure maple syrup (optional)

Make the cupcakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350° (175°C). Line a cupcake pan with 18 liners.

2. In a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, salt, and pepper into a medium bowl.

3. Add the eggs 1 at a time to the mixer, scraping down the sides after each addition. Alternate adding the flour and milk mixtures, beginning and ending with the flour. Beat in the pumpkin until smooth. Scoop the batter among the cupcake liners — you’re looking to get them 3/4 full. Rap the filled pans once on the counter to release any air bubbles. Bake the cakes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Cool the cupcakes on racks completely.

Make the frosting:
In a stand mixer beat all the ingredients on medium until fluffy. To assemble the cake, frost the top of one cake, place the other cake on top. Frost the sides and top, swirling decoratively. Refrigerate the cake for 30 minutes to set up frosting.

 

Butternut squash soup with miso and ginger September 22, 2009

Filed under: food,soups,veggies — superspark @ 5:02 am

butternut squash and miso soup

Having finished bemoaning the local delicacies of our new town in upstate New York,  I am now proud to share some of its finer culinary features.  Our first “Yowza!” came when we visited our local supermarket, Wegman’s.  I had been to another Wegman’s once before and while it was nice, it was nothing to write home about.  But our local Wegman’s (appropriately dubbed the “yuppie Wegman’s” by one of my co-workers) is another beast entirely.  There’s a tea bar, about 10 different “stations” ready to make you whatever you’d like to eat, a whole Le Creuset wall, and a giant natural foods section.   But the real star for my is the produce department- I had never once found galangal in our Los Angeles supermarkets, but it’s here.  Same for all sorts of other exotic fruits and veggies and I, for one, am excited to try my hand at cooking them in the years to come.

The other tremendous culinary find in our town is the Public Market, a huge pseudo-farmer’s market unlike any I’d visited in California.  The California ones tend to be frequented by young, liberal affluent types (not unlike…ahem, myself), but this particular one in upstate New York draws everyone.   Rich and poor, young and old, every race- everyone swarms to the Public Market on Saturday morning, making it decidedly chaotic and just a little unpleasant.  Were we to go at 5:30 AM when it opens, it might be a little more peaceful, but for now, we’ve been braving the crowds. And why is it so crowded? Bargains, people.  I haven’t seen such low prices since trekking around Eastern Europe a few years ago.  Piles of eggplant, summer squash, peaches, and tomatoes being sold a rock bottom prices.  It’s pretty amazing and inevitably leads to a complete glut in our crisper.

This past weekend at the market, I spotted the first winter squash of the season and so it seemed only appropriate to pull out this recipe from last year that I never got around to blogging.  It’s a modern spin on the traditional butternut squash soup, something to make it a little more interesting.  My version is a slight tweak on this recipe from Apartment Therapy- The Kitchen for sweet potato soup with miso and ginger. So embrace the falling leaves and the cooling air and warm up with a cup of soup inspired by fall’s most beloved veggie, the butternut squash.

Butternut Squash Soup with Miso and Ginger (serves 4-6)

Ingredients:
Olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 2-inch chunk fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced – about 1/4 cup
1 butternut squash – peeled and cubed
3 tablespoons light miso (we used dark)
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, or water
1 cup whole milk
Salt and pepper

1. Steam the butternut squash chunks (by putting them in a metal colander or strainer sitting over a pot of boiling water) for about 20 minutes or until soft. (You may be able to skip this step by cutting the chunks very small.)

2. Cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil until soft and translucent. Raise the heat a little and add the ginger. Fry until the ginger is fragrant. Add the squash and miso and continue frying a bit, then add the broth or water. Bring to a simmer then cover, turn the heat to low and let it cook for about 25 minutes. Take off the heat and puree in a blender or with an immersion blender.

3. Return to the heat and warm, whisking in the milk and salt and pepper to taste. If it’s too thick, whisk in a little extra milk until you get the consistency you want.

 

Roasted beets with warm pomegranate ginger vinaigrette September 3, 2009

Filed under: food,veggies — superspark @ 4:59 am
beet salad
I had to laugh when I read the ongoing series of posts about getting picky eaters to eat vegetables on Cheap Healthy Good earlier this summer.   Although I now love food enough to not only cook it, but spend my precious free time writing about it, I was an extremely picky kid and would still categorize myself on the picky end of the spectrum.Let’s just say the summer I first went to sleep-away camp at around age 10 was a momentous one, culinarily.  At this no-frills camp, meals were served family style and if you didn’t like what was offered, you didn’t eat.  There were literally no alternatives.  A picky kid can hold out for a meal or two, but envisioning a whole month of hunger will make even the pickiest eater fold.  Among my discoveries that summer?  That spaghetti was still edible even when sullied with sauce rather than served plain with just a pat of butter.  My parents thrilled to find out that I was now willing to eat an egg on occasion, although only scrambled.
Luckily I seem to have gotten over my most egregious aversions .  Well, not all of them-I still eat mostly vegetarian not so much out of ethical reasons but out of a distaste for meat.  But I am now happy to eat nearly any fruit, vegetable, or grain.  Almost any.  Beets have still proven to be my bugaboo, much to Dylan’s dismay.  An avowed beet lover, he made me some sort of beet and goat cheese appetizer as part of my birthday dinner the year we started dating and while it was palatable, it certainly wasn’t the thing that won my heart.  In the nearly five years since then, I’ve choked down beets maybe once or twice and only when out of politeness, I really felt I had no choice.
So something very strange must have been in the air earlier this summer when I picked up a bunch of beets at the farmer’s market, thinking that they might make good baby food for Maddie.  Turns out that supposedly only small beets are good for babies  (and let’s not even get into the staining issues!), so the beets were left for our consumption.  The old, super-picky me would have clearly tossed them or just let them rot in the crisper, but the new open-minded me noticed this recipe on Healthy and Gourmet and thought it actually sounded kind of interesting and appealing.
I’m happy to report that I’ve had a beet breakthrough. The recipe was delicious and choosing some fun, candy-striped beets to use made it all the more enjoyable.   While I haven’t touched a beet again in the 2 months or so since I made this dish, I would happily eat it again.  So I’ll call that progress…
Roasted beets with warm pomegranate ginger vinaigrette (serves 4)
2 cups peeled and cubed beets (about 5 whole beets)
4 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
4 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 inch fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp honey
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss beets with two tablespoons and spread evenly along the bottom of a well greased baking dish. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until fork tender.
2. Meanwhile, whisk together pomegranate juice, vinegar, honey and grated ginger in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook for about three minutes until juice begins to bubble and thicken slightly. Remove from heat and slowly whisk in the remaining two tablespoons of olive oil. Pour over roasted beets and serve.