2.28.2015

Spicy Oil Tomato Sauce. To Bring the Heat.


I apologize for the delay.  Since we last spoke Boston has suffered three more snowstorms and Valentine’s Day.  We also have some prior business to attend to. I am lucky to say my pathology reports came back: I do not have cancer.  So while winter remains in a perpetual standstill, I no longer need to be. 

I originally thought I might discuss some things I learned during this ambiguity, but the vibe around Boston has not exactly been uplifting.  And mentally I cannot drag anything weighty through the snowdrifts.  

So I am going to discuss tomato sauce. 

My boyfriend, Brett, and I were snowed in—yet again—two weeks ago.  Since he is a good human who loves to cook meaty, spicy stews we did the most romantic thing imaginable. 

We went to a beer tasting for Valentine’s Day.  Bought a few growlettes, including one named Your Possible Pasts. Decided to spend the next 48-hours in my one-bedroom North End apartment.  Cooked and consumed a pound and a half of meat. And did not kill each other.

Instead, we made a velvety stew of spicy peppers and pork shoulder.  Which was delicious. But I am not here to talk about melty pig today.  If you live anywhere other than Southern California, you might be up for something a little less taxing at the moment. And since we are supposed to get more snow on Sunday, might as well keep things simple and have hot pasta for dinner. 

I promised I would not reveal the origins of this recipe.  Suffice to say it came from a friend of a friend of a friend who has a very successful restaurant. I’ve doubled the tomatoes and halved the garlic and oil, among a few other tweaks. So it is likely this person who shall remain nameless would no longer even recognize it. No matter, a promise is a promise.

It has become my go-to sauce recipe.  It doesn’t require hours of prep, nor does it disappoint.  Ever. It’s one of those priceless things you happen upon, that you don’t know how you ever lived without.

Kind of like finding someone who can tolerate you for 48-hours in a snowstorm.

Spicy Oil Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

2-28 ounce cans of whole peeled plum tomatoes
¼ cup canola oil
3 to 4 small dried chiles (preferably chile de Arbol or Thai chile), minced
2 small dried chiles, whole
3 to 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 scant tbsp honey
kosher salt, to taste

Instrucitions:

In a food processor, puree the plum tomatoes until smooth.  Heat a large saucepot on medium; add the canola oil and minced chilies. Cook until the peppers start to smell fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Add the garlic and sauté another minute, taking care not to let the slices burn.

Add the pureed tomatoes and remaining whole chiles; stir in 2 tablespoons olive oil and the honey.  Add a few pinches of salt.  Cook on medium heat until the sauce comes together and thickens slightly, about 20 to 30 minutes; turn the heat down if it starts to wildly splatter.  Stir in another 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Taste and add additional salt, as needed.

Makes about two quarts

Notes:
-This is a spicy sauce. Reduce the amount of chiles if you are sensitive to heat.

-I prefer Muir Glen tomatoes and choose to puree them because I feel it makes a better sauce.

1.30.2015

On Achieving Homeostasis: Fruit and Nut Granola Bars with Cacao and Sea Salt

I recently had my yearly physical.  My lipid profile aligned me with the Ikarians.  However, I also had a walnut-sized lump in my left breast that dictated a mammogram.  I am not sure why so many women complain about them.  Having your breasts smashed between two synthetic plates is nothing compared to having them biopsied, penetrated with a needle and then fished around in, like you were searching for car keys in an oversized purse.

Except instead of gathering keys, tissue samples are collected and sent to the lab for testing.  Then a tiny piece of titanium in the shape of a microscopic pigtail is inserted into your breast to tag the lump, and to be with you forevermore. Your boob is bruised.  Then you wait to hear if you have cancer. 

No one talks about this.  Most stop after the electromagnetic radiation.

In an attempt to explain homeostasis, I remember my sixth grade science teacher said a system will desperately try to maintain stability, no matter the cost.  It knows no other path.  If you stop and think, it’s quite incredible—whether a human body, the plant earth, or a broken hollandaise—forces react involuntarily to protect against stimuli that threaten to disturb the balance.

The system doesn’t always succeed.  But the internal fight is there.  So while I await biopsy results, I choose to distract myself by mashing some fruit and oats into squares, operating within the bounds of snack homeostasis. 

The coordinated alliance of figs, cherries, pecans, seeds, and grain melds with maple and honey.  Meanwhile, the added stick of butter threatens to make granola bars about as non-righteous as they can get; yet, also ensures equilibrium among the other ingredients.  It is browned until it becomes nutty and additionally harmonious.

I was worried the cacao would muck up the fruit and oat flavor.  That the nibs would become overpowering, an indolent shroud for the more virtuous bits.  But everything binds into something reminiscent of a seven-layer bar, with the malleable properties of a product put forth by the Quaker Oats man.

The result is glorious.

We tend to walk through life thinking in concrete terms.  Things are either healthy, or not.  Good or bad.  Yet, we are often standing on tectonic plates.

The best we can do is be open, and malleable, and have faith in the forces that bring us back to homeostasis.  And in those that bring us granola bars.

Fruit and Nut Granola Bars with Cacao and Sea Salt
Inspired by Nigel Slater from Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard

Ingredients:

110 grams (1 stick) salted butter (includes butter to grease the pan)
70 grams (about ½ cup) dried whole figs
60 grams (about ½ cup) pecan halves
40 grams (about ¼ cup) dried sour cherries
30 grams (about ¼ cup) sunflower seeds
180 grams (about 1¼ cups) rolled oats
20 grams (about ¼ cup) shredded unsweetened coconut
35 grams (about cup) almond meal
50 milliliters (about 3½ tbsp) honey
50 milliliters (about 3½ tbsp) maple syrup (grade B preferable)            
90 grams (about a scant ½ cup) superfine sugar (see note)
15 grams (about 2 tbsp) cacao nibs (not chocolate covered)
heaping tsp fleur de sel or other finishing sea salt

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.  Butter a 9-inch square pan (I used a 11 x 7).  Remove the fig stems and quarter the figs.  In a food processor, finely chop the figs, pecans, cherries, and sunflower seeds until they hold together when pressed. (This can also be done by hand; the finer you chop the ingredients the better the bars will hold together.)  Place in a large bowl and mix in the oats, coconut, and almond meal.

In a large saucepan, melt the remaining butter on medium heat until it turns a deep golden brown and starts to give off nutty aromas; stir in the honey, syrup, and superfine sugar.  When the mixture comes to a rolling boil, add in the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly; stir in the cacao nibs.

Tip the mixture into the prepared pan and press it down firmly.  Scatter the salt evenly on top.  Bake for 20 to 30 minutes.  As it cooks, the edges should start to slightly puff up.  It is done when the rim is golden and the middle puffs up to meet the edges.  As the mixture cools, press it down again. When the mixture is still warm, but cool enough to easily handle, cut into 12 bars.

Let cool completely and then store in an airtight container for 5 days (or freeze).

Makes 12 bars

Notes:
-If you can’t find unsweetened coconut, you can use 200 grams (about 1cups) oats instead.

-If you don’t have superfine sugar, whirl regular granulated sugar in a food processor.  It’ll take about ¾ cup to make the amount of superfine sugar that you’ll need for this recipe (you may have just a little bit extra).


-If you use a 11 x 7 pan it may need a little more time to bake (closer to 30 minutes), whereas a 9-inch square pan will require a little less time.

1.06.2015

A Waffle of Insane Greatness (or What I'm Interested In This Year)

It has taken me a long time to find a decent waffle. So many recipes—particularly the sought after yeasted kind—require an overnight plan.  My wager is most people do not go to bed with the anticipation of wanting a waffle in the morning. 

Yet, I’d bet many of these same folks would not turn down a breakfast that includes maple syrup and butter.  Unless, of course, they have pledged to give up flour, or sugar, or dairy for 2015.  In which case, this subsect may very well be dreaming and scheming for a plate of stacked waffles knowing there is a kale smoothie in their immediate future.

I personally do not have any grand aspirations of mind-body domination for the new year.  Nor do I have goals that align with pureed vegetable drinks.  But I do hope to be kind to my body in the way you might be kind to someone who has just survived shingles or a forth grade piano recital.

So this will include the occasional waffle.

And a waffle of insane greatness is the only kind of waffle I am interested in making.  Particularly one that doesn’t necessitate advanced notice.  This recipe requires the usual suspects in the kitchen and thirty minutes of sitting time for the batter.  And that’s it.

What you get in return are crispy, light waffles that stand up to their hyperbolic namesake.  That they happen to smell faintly of vanilla and require dirtying only one single bowl is additionally motivating.

I will not bore you with descriptors.  You have probably had some decent waffles in your past, maybe even a few great ones.  This is the recipe when time is of the essence and a waffle is what you require. 

So if one kind of greatness will find you dreaming of waffles and one kind will find you actual waffles, I’d suggest the latter.  Insane resolution smoothies don’t last.  Insane waffles do.

The Waffle of Insane Greatness
Adapted from Aretha Frankensteins

Ingredients:

½ cup all purpose flour
¼ cup whole wheat or spelt flour
¼ cup cornstarch
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
1 cup whole milk or buttermilk
1/3 cup olive oil
1 egg
1½ tsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Instructions:

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; stir to combine.  Whisk in the milk, oil, egg, sugar, and vanilla until no lumps remain.  Let the batter sit for 30 minutes.

To make the waffles, heat your waffle iron: cooking instructions may vary slightly depending on the type you are using.  (I lightly grease mine, which is this, with canola oil.)  Once the iron is preheated, pour in about ½ cup of batter.  Close and let cook about 2 minutes, or until the waffle is golden brown.  (If you are using a stovetop iron you’ll want to flip it after about 60 to 90 seconds; I keep mine on medium to medium-high heat.)

Repeat this process until all the batter is gone.

Makes about ½ dozen waffles.

Notes:

-The whole grain flour is there to make the batter a little more interesting and I’d highly suggest it.  I don’t see why you couldn’t go fifty-fifty, either.