Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Carrot Cake, Joy of Cooking

The carrots.  Sweet lord, the carrots.  

(for the record, this is like 1/20 of the number of carrots I have!)

The CSA box is overflowing with carrots, and I love me a good project.  So I am embarking on a carrot cake challenge:  I have four cookbooks with carrot cake recipes, and I am endeavoring to find the best one.

Cookbook #1:  Joy of Cooking.  If you're going to bake, always go back to the basics, right?  And you cannot get more basic than Irma Rombauer.  

This carrot cake is a snap to make, and it comes out just fine in the cupcake paper cups, which is of course tricky.  I passed these around at bookclub last week, and by and large the agreement was that they are more of a spice cake than a carrot cake.  They were a little oily that first night, but they were actually quite good the next day (and the next)--the oil helped them stay moist.  So if you're looking for a long-lasting spice cake with some carrots and raisins, this one is it.  However, if you're looking for a bold carrot taste, this is not quite the one for you.

One Year Ago: German Apple Pancake

Carrot Cake
Adapted from  Joy of Cooking

Serves 12

1-1/3 cups all-purpose flour 
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2/3 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1-1/2 cups peeled and finely grated carrot 

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 freshly grated or ground teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon salt     

1 cup golden raisins
1 cup walnuts, finely chopped 

1. Have all ingredients at room temperature, 65F to 70F.   

2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

3. Grease and flour two 9×2-inch round pans or two 8×8-inch pans or one 13×9-inch pan, or line the bottom with wax paper.  Or, I used cupcake paper cups.

4. In a large bowl, thoroughly whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, all-spice, and salt.

5. Add the vegetable oil and eggs, and stir together well with a rubber spatula or beat on low speed.

6. Stir in the carrots, walnuts, raisins.

7. Scrape the batter into the pans or cups and spread evenly.

8. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes (pans), 20 to 25 minutes (cups).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spring Potato and Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette

This recipe is so full of spring, so full of vegetables.  And I am ready for spring.  In California, the pear trees are starting, just starting, to bloom.  The painful unfolding from a dormant winter is beginning.  T.S. Eliot said, of course, that "April is the cruelest month, breeding/Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/ Dull roots with spring rain."   As he hailed from the East, his spring happened in April, ours in March.  But that coming out of dull winter is always welcome and painful.

In the past week, I have been to Illinois (where the winter sky is perpetually the color of slate) and back to see my dad.  He's doing better, although things are still touch and go.  After my harping--or perhaps in spite of it--he's trying to make some pretty big lifestyle changes, including quitting smoking (as of yesterday, he is a 6-day non-smoker!) and eating healthier.

And this recipe might be just the right one for him.  While the bacon and the bacon fat are, um, intense, you could easily cut down to just the bacon crumbles and use an additional tablespoon of olive oil, or you could cut the bacon entirely and sprinkle walnuts or pecans over the top for some crunch.

However, I used bacon.  Sweet, sweet bacon: Marin Sun Farms opened a butcher shop at Market Hall, and the other day when I walked in, they were frying up some of their smoked bacon.  Sweet jesus.  It was sort of the siren smell of bacon, and I could not resist.

The original recipe (which you can find in the link to Bon Appetit below) did not have asparagus in it, but asparagus screams spring.  And I am really ready to scream spring, even if it comes with bacon.  In the end, no matter how you go about this salad, let it usher in the spring with all of its painful optimism, wherever you are. 

One Year Ago: German Apple Pancake

Spring Potato and Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette
Adapted from  Bon Appetit

Serves 2 as a meal, Serves 4 as a salad

1 pound potatoes, peeled, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 bunch of asparagus (about 3/4 pound), cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper
1 bacon slice
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil 
1 clove of fresh garlic, minced
1 cup thinly sliced celery
2 cups (packed) spinach leaves

1.  Steam potatoes just until tender, about 7 minutes. Transfer potatoes to large bowl. 

2.  Steam  asparagus until tender, about 4 minutes.  Transfer to bowl with potatoes.

3.  Roast the bell pepper in broiler until blackened on all sides. Enclose in paper bag; let stand 10 minutes. Peel, seed and chop pepper. Transfer to bowl with potatoes.

4.  Meanwhile, sauté bacon in small skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 3 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towel and drain.  Once cool, break or cut into pieces.

5.  Whisk vinegar, oil and garlic in skillet with the bacon fat. Stir over low heat just until warm, about 1 minute. Stir in bacon. 

6.  Plate the spinach; then, pour the warm vinaigrette over the spinach. Top with celery.  Add the potato, pepper and asparagus mixture.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Broiled Crispy-Skin Salmon with Gingery Greens

 I have had these lines from the Robert Hass masterpiece poem "Meditation at Lagunitas" running through my head this week:  "All the new thinking is about loss./  In this, it resembles all the old thinking."

This has been a week where much of the new thinking has indeed been about loss.  The loss of an idea, the loss of a former student, and my father being ill.  

I have been cooking.  

Because cooking is not about loss.  

Why do we cook?  We cook because it is about creation and nourishment.  It is about sustenance and connection and distraction.  It is something to do with the hands, even if the mind is on something else.

I have made salmon this week.  

Salmon, the fish that at one point my father tried to convince me that a bird had taken from his grill one frozen December evening.  

Salmon, the fish that I was convinced I didn't like until the husband's parents slowly won me over to its many merits while we sat around their dining table, the lights invariably low, and the husband's feet curled under him as he perched on the chair.

Salmon, the fish that when smoked and placed atop a bagel makes a divine brunch with the husband while at Absinthe in the city on a Sunday.

Salmon certainly has been about creating memorable snippets of meals.  Not full blown memories that require polishing to update, but just a little snippet of a meal here and another there.  So I turned to Mark Bittman this week to bring in a classic, comfort foody salmon that brings us nowhere near to loss.

First you make these wonderful greens.  The recipe says originally that it will serve four with a 2-pound salmon.  However, the greens serve at best two, but I would have been happy to eat the greens all myself.

The greens call for garlic and ginger and a lot more oil than needed, so I cut that back down a little too.  Bittman tells us that we can substitute collards for kale, so I did, and sweet be-jeezus, someone tell me why I don't cook with collards more often?

 Seriously, have a gander at that skin.  The skin in the best part of this recipe, and the real trouble you will have is whether to eat the skin first while it is almost still sizzling with fish fat or to eat it last so it's the very last flavor on your tongue.  I admit, I did a little bit of both.

And in the end, the dinner:  one that really has no big fanfare, no celebratory or notable appearance.  Just a simple, tasty salmon on greens for a weeknight meal. But it was creation, it was a moment to not be thinking about loss, even if all the old thinking is about it.  And so might the new thinking.  But not while making this salmon.

One Year Ago: Gajar Aur Matar Ka Pulav (Vegetable Pilaf made with Carrots and Peas)

Broiled Crispy-Skin Salmon with Gingery Greens
Adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything

2 servings

One 3/4- or 1-pound salmon fillet, skin on (but scaled)
1 pound kale, collards, or other greens
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced or grated fresh ginger or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil


1. Heat the broiler until moderately hot and put the rack about 4 inches from the heat source. Rinse the fish well and let it rest between paper towels, refrigerated, while you prepare the greens.

2. Wash the greens in several changes of water and remove any pieces of stem thicker than 1/4 inch in diameter. Steam or boil them in a medium saucepan, covered, over or in 1 inch of water until good and soft, 10 minutes or more depending on the green (older collards will require 30 minutes). Drain them, rinse in cool water, squeeze dry, and chop.

3. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet. When hot, add the garlic and cook for 1 minute; do not brown. Add the greens and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes; add the ginger and cook for another minute, then add the soy sauce and sesame oil and turn off the heat. Transfer to a platter and keep warm.

4. With a sharp knife, score the skin of the salmon in a crosshatch pattern. Oil the fish well with the remaining olive oil. Put the fish under the broiler, skin side up. Cook undisturbed until done, 5 to 10 minutes.

5. Remove the fish carefully with a large spatula (or two) and put it on top of the greens. Serve immediately, making sure everyone gets a piece of skin.