Sunday, May 19, 2013

Blossoms and Orange Olive Oil Cake

Tree blossoms. The yards are blanketed in them.


And the rhododendrons - they are late coming to spring's party - but they are here. They're pretty fleeting. One swirl of the Minnesota winds and they scatter. But everything is fleeting, isn't it? The days I thought I would never be able to walk through my home without stepping on a lego or a miniature racing car - are gone. A blip in our history.

And now one of the culprits of my "toy-carpeted home" is in China - for his work in plant pathology.. And his partner in crime is getting ready to go to Mexico - for her work in audiology. I received an e-mail from China today:

"I tried duck blood soup because I am adventurous. It was pretty good! And I took a photo because I am my mother's son."
I saved the photo. Yeah - I saved the entire e-mail. We scatter. But we don't go as far as we think.

I could make an analogy about cake - you bake it and it's fleeting. It's true but not important. What's important is you bake it and you savor. And if you're kind you share.

And if you're smart - you'll make this - for a homecoming, for a picnic or just because it's Thursday. Which is partly why I made it. It was Thursday and the day called for cake. Husband-person was working late again and I got it in my head that he needed to come home to cake. And so he did. And a good one. Just sweet enough (because I am not saccharine - just sweet enough).

I love how olive oil cakes crust on the top and then give way to delicate, melty crumbs. Yin and yang, crunch and smooth, yesterday and today. If I add some Orange Blossom Water - I could declare this an Orange Blossom Cake!

Orange Olive Oil Cake
from the blog: Where Women Cook

Nonstick spray with flour
4-5 naval oranges (or shhh ...1-1/2 cups orange juice) - 3 zested and 4-5 juiced
3-1/2 cups flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-3/4 teaspoons - Kosher salt (or shhh ... table salt)
5 large eggs
3 cups granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups mild extra-virgin olive oil
confectioner's sugar for dusting (I didn't dust - I frequently don't dust)

Position rack in middle of oven. Remove upper rack. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Coat a 12-cup Bundt pan or tube pan with spray. Really coat it! Don't be shy. This is a sticky batter.

Zest 3 oranges. Squeeze the juice of 4 oranges. If you don't have 1-1/2 cups of orange juice, juice another one. (Or shhh ... add orange juice).

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt in a large bowl (and set aside).

In the bowl of a stand mixer (use paddle attachment) or with a handheld mixer and a la-r-g-e bowl, beat the eggs for one minute.

With mixer on, slowly pour in sugar and beat until well-combined - about 3 minutes. You should have thick, pale yellow ribbons.

On low speed, alternate adding the flour and the olive oil - starting and ending with the flour.

Pour in orange juice and zest and beat until well combined - just 10-15 seconds really.

Pour into prepared pan and cook for 1 to 1-1/4 hours - until a tester comes out almost dry - a few moist crumbs are fine. Mine took 65 minutes. If the top is browning too much, cover with a little foil. Mine did brown a lot. I didn't cover it - I like it. Transfer to a wire rack and cool for 15 minutes. Turn the pan upside down and flip and cool on rack. You can cool over night - just cover and let it sit. We ate it after 45 minutes!

Before serving dust with confectioner's sugar. Or not.

This would also be good with berries and cream. Or orange curd. Or lemon curd. Or tangerines... or - yes oranges.

Or toasted the next day for breakfast. Or dolloped with creme fraiche... it's a canvas. And it's pretty tasty on its own.

I am learning the secret of cooking with Luce. He passes out fifteen minutes after eating.

That's when you do your prep.

Or you open a window.

And let him sit.

I still don't have the secret as to how to let a pie cool without a paw indentation in it (yes - it's covered with something).  I really need kryptonite to cover my food. And that photo above is apropos of nothing. I just love those double-jointed back legs! I hope they're not fleeting.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Artichokes with Gorgonzola and Herbs

During the second snowfall in May, I looked at my sister and announced, "I'm going to Bachman's, want to come?" It's a huge floral/garden shop in Minnesota. And it's beautiful. And so we went. And spent almost 3 hours inspecting every orchid, seed, hanging baskets, fairy gardens and flower bouquets. It was time well spent.

And we spent a little money. We walked away with a wine/cheese pairing book. And put it to work. A new goat cheese, an aged goat cheese, Marcona almonds and quince paste. And a fine Sauvignon Blanc. That made it onto the patio a few days later. When it didn't snow and spring arrived - maybe to stay.

That was a well-earned glass of wine. And a mighty fine pairing. I heartily recommend it for whatever ails you. And when spring came, it was much the sweeter for the suffering! I love how the wealth of cheeses in Minnesota has soared. (But of course I am part mouse.)

During the last sleet/snow/rain, Sangria artichokes appeared in the stores. We've been eating our share of asparagus - keeping spring in the kitchen. And now it was time for artichokes. Baked artichokes with herbs and Gorgonzola to be exact. It was worth the wait.

This is from Food Network. I changed a few things but the original recipe is here.

Artichokes with Herbs and Gorgonzola - serves 4
4 artichokes
2 lemons
8-10 ounces Gorgonzola dolce (a sweeter, younger Gorgonzola - it melts beautifully)
4 tablespoons fresh thyme
4 tablespoons fresh parsley plus one tablespoon fresh parsley
3 cloves of garlic - minced
fresh ground pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Panko Breadcrumbs
1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Artichoke with Herbs and Gorgonzola Preparation
Cut stems of artichokes so they can sit upright in a pan.Peel off outer leaves on bottom of artichoke. Trim away the top of the leaves - all those pricklies. And cut the tops of with a sharp knife. Dig into the middle and dig out the choke. You're going to replace the choke with the Gorgonzola mixture.

Fill a pan with water and squeeze in the juice of two lemons and then throw in the lemons. Bring the water to a boil and put the artichokes in the pan and simmer for 25 minutes. Drain and cool. While the artichoke is boiling, you can make the Gorgonzola filling and the breadcrumb topping.

*Bear in mind, you have time before you bake the artichokes - you can let let them rest for at least an hour.

In one small bowl mash the Gorgonzola, thyme, parsley, garlic and pepper. In another bowl mix the bread crumbs and parsley.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.  Dividing the cheese mixture into fourths, fill the cavity of the artichoke with the Gorgonzola filling. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture over. Drizzle with olive oil.

Bake for 25 minutes (mine were done earlier.) Serve. Eat. Savor. It's spring.

When I took it out of the pan, the artichoke leaves parted and it just looked like a spring blossom to me. And that's what it's about in May, isn't it?

There's something appropriate about this recipe - artichokes/spring/sweet/tart/creamy/fresh. The dish delivers all of that. And so it was savored.

The windows are open. There is a cat in every open window. And wine to be drunk on the patio. We try to save the wine corks to put back in the bottle for later.

Except when we come back in, there's not a cork to be found. (Unless you check under the stove and china cabinet where you can also find many pens, nail files, "fake" mice (I hope), and the occasional; cell phone.)

He looks so innocent.

If you're going to sit out on the patio without cat, the cat will be busy. These days Luce runs around with a long stick that has a longer string that has a mouse attached to it. As he runs, Pippin chases. It seems Luce has figured out how to do our job of dangling cat toys. That works.

As you know, in my other life - I write plays for young audiences. The winter was good for output and I have found myself writing sweet, gentle plays this year. A lot of my smart-alecky self seems to have gone away for a while (I expect it will return). The local White Bear Lake magazine did an article about me. It's shameless self-promotion I know. And Luce finds the magazines very good - for sleeping on. But if you care to take a peek into my other life, here it is.

I smiled at the headline. No, I'm not "the Bard." Yes, I am smitten with my work. And spring. And Luce. And artichokes. And wine with corks. That go back into the wine and don't court dust under the stove.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Tilapia with farro, black rice, spinach and tangerines

There was a time (and what a time it was) ... the fridge was so covered with photos, art, coupons, school work and miscellaneous paper remnants - that finding the actual fridge was looking for Waldo. The dining room table housed pennies, cleaning solutions, cotton... pieces of sciences projects in various stages of analysis. Dinner was 1/3 protein, 1/3 vegetable, 1/3 carb. I had speed dinners down to a science.  We ate in the kitchen because to unpile the dining room table one needed to plan ahead and hire a crane.

It didn't snow in May.

Life shifted and a few years ago the dining room table became a table for dining (and we pile up the kitchen table with computers and fruit). Dinner is 2/3 vegetables, a lean protein and a bit of carbs (except on pasta nights - all bets are off).

And it snowed in May.

Life shifts and what I would have made for a growing family of 4 is not what I make today. (Unless the family of 4 is home with requests.)

I saw this Sea Bass with Tangerine Sauce and it suited my "bring spring into the kitchen because it's not happening outside" mood. Even with the rice and farro, there is a transitional lightness of being that suits our winter-in-spring. I changed the fish, changed the amounts and made a dinner for 8 into a dinner for two.

And it was lovely. And spring. And balanced. The original recipe from Zen Can Cook can be found here. It's a beauty. Flaky white fish studded with tangerine zest and thyme. It sits on a nutty bed of black rice and farro. Which sits on a bed of spinach. Adding color and spring. Halfway through dinner, husband looked up and said, "You can make this again." And then he went back to eating. And I shall make it again. Even though it uses every pot in the house. It's the different textures - from flaky to chewy to crunch to mellow. And then there's that bright sauce - sweet and tart - the tangerine sauce ties it all up in a citrus bow.

Black rice can be found in specialty Oriental and Italian groceries. I actually had some from a lovely meeting with Ciao Chow Linda last March in NYC where we dared to go into Eataly. (It's ... busy).

Tilapia with Farro, Black Rice, Spinach and Tangerines - 2 servings

2 boneless tilapia fillets (You judge - you might want more or less depending on individual taste)
2 tangeringes - zested and juiced (save some segments) - in hindsight - I'd another 1 or 2  for the sauce
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (I used more)

1-2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper

1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 chopped white onion
1/4 cup farro
1/4 cup white wine
1-1/4 cups water

1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 bay leaves
1/4 cup chopped white onion
1/4 cup black rice
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups water

1 tablespoon olive oil
8 ounces baby spinach
salt and pepper

FISH: Zest and juice your tangerines. Set aside the juice. Cover tilapia with tangerine zest and thyme. Put in a covered bowl and let rest in the fridge for 4 hours (I did 2 hours) or overnight.

To cook: After cooking the farro and rice, cook the fish - it comes together fast. Salt and pepper the fish. Heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil on medium-high heat in medium skillet. Add fish and cook 3-4 minutes per side (adjust to your thickness). Keep in warm oven or on a warm plate.

Wipe out skillet. Add tangerine juice and sugar. Stir. Cook till reduced by 1/2. (This happens very fast!) Add butter. Stir. Finished.

FARRO: In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil on medium-high. Add onion and saute 3-4 minutes till softened. Add farro and stir. Add wine and cook till most of it is gone. Add water. When it comes to a boil, cover and cook on low for 40 minutes or until water is gone and farro is soft and just a bit chewy. (Mine took 50 minutes.)

RICE: Basically the same thing. In (yes, another) medium sauce pan, heat olive oil. Add onion and cook till softened. Add rice and stir. Add wine and cook till almost gone. Add water, bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and cook for 40 minutes or so - until rice is tender and water is gone. (This also took me 50 minutes.)

In skillet that had fish, add a drop of olive oil. Add spinach. Salt and pepper. Cook until just wilted.

Combine farro and rice in one point. Salt and pepper to taste.

To plate: But down a bed of spinach, then the farro-rice combination. Top with the tilapia and drizzle with the juice.

I bought my first cookbook - in 16 months. (I am trying to curb my addiction.) Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. I know a lot of you know it - and I must say I am smitten. I will be seasonally cooking my way through it.

I am looking for others - vegetable-centric cookbooks for the coming months (the fields won't be covered with snow forever.... she says optimistically). If you have any suggestions... I am looking at Fresh and Natural Every Day, Smitten Kitchen, Jerusalem... mainly not Italian because - I need to sneak those into the house. Nobody here thinks I need another Italian cookbook.
Oh! That kitchen table piled with our computers and fruit - I should have mentioned that there is also a kitten. Watching my every stir. Look at those back paws! What class! Luce must be double-jointed.

Kirsten has a new kitten in her kitchen. She and Devon brought home a rescue cat. More than the ring, more than the search for a wedding venue - I think the adoption of a kitten is a sign of their commitment. Luna - because she is many colors of the night.