Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sweet potato biscones

I’ve had two difficulties with our transition to shopping for fruits and vegetables exclusively at the farmers’ market. One, I never seem to get enough food to last us to the next market, and two, I find myself in a roasting rut.

Roasted potatoes, roasted squash, roasted cauliflower, roasted brussel sprouts—all delicious, yes, but sometimes I just want more from my vegetables. I came to the cross section of these two problems when I realized that two days from Saturday’s market I had exactly one sweet potato—and I didn’t want to roast it.

Today was the first cold day in October. We’ve had chilly and wet—and surprisingly warm—but today, scarves became more than accessories. Winter snuck in to remind us that Chicago is about to get serious. Don’t get the wrong idea, I didn’t zip the lining into my trench. However, I did consider it.

Enter sweet potato biscuits. Something warm, something savory, something that can be made with just one sweet potato.

A quick search through Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food app and I had a recipe. The bad news: My pantry was not stocked with all of the ingredients. I did like Martha and got crafty.

Martha’s recipe calls for chilled sweet potato puree, “see page 233.”

…So I boiled The One until tender, mashed it with a fork (same pot points), and set it on the porch to cool. Chilled sweet potato puree, check.

While the SPP C-ed, I started measuring my drys. Flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt… light-brown sugar! Oh, Martha. You think you can fool me so easily? Joy the Baker, for the win.

Next, Martha really got serious: buttermilk. Cue the lightning and thunder, Jay from last night’s Halloween episode of Modern Family. Not so bad, actually. Turns out you can make buttermilk from vinegar and regular milk. Bangarang, Rufio!

Thus, with all my components manufactured I began compiling. Mix up the dough, knead it (read: smush it together on your too-small cutting board), roll it out (smush it in a downwards motion), cut the dough into rounds (ahem, tear off regular-ish sizes and smush them into rounds), shove together on baking sheet (no really, that’s what she recommends), brush with butter, and bake.

The twenty-minute oven period is long enough to sweep the eighth-biscuit worth of crumbs off the floor and do just enough dishes to make your request that your boyfriend finish the washing reasonable.

Out of the oven and split in half, the biscuits are beautifully golden and flecked with orange, a tangerine reminder of their humble origins. I topped one with butter and drizzled it liberally with honey. It was quite dense in a way that I liked, almost like a scone (maybe a factor of my kneading technique). The butter melted into the hot biscone, creating a tender, salty inside while the top was slightly crispy and sticky from the sweet, floral honey.

Martha sure does know a thing or two about baking.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chicken potfantastic

“If an egg isn’t cooked the way you want it, it’s the most disappointing thing. The only thing I know as disappointing is a bath that’s not hot enough.”

That’s straight from the gob of Nigella Lawson, famous Brit cook and jean-jacket wearer, and I completely agree. I’ve experienced both of these disappointments in the last week, but she was there to understand and pick me back up. I sought comfort and Nigella delivered with her Chicken Mushroom and Bacon Pie.

Her recipe is lovely, however I made a few adjustments, adapting to what I had on hand. No Marsala, for one. Love of carrots, for another. What I enjoyed most about this recipe was the ease of making it. Nigella really is serious about there being “no fuss” in her food. Besides two ramekins, the cooking is all done in one pot. It’s also a terrific two-person meal—I get tired of so many delicious dishes meant for four, six, and eight.

I think that what made this potpie extra terrific was the quality of ingredients. All the veggies came from the farmers’ market. I’m okay with sounding snobby because when you peel a real carrot, the whole kitchen smells sweet, fresh, and slightly spicy. It’s hard to go back to the dry, woody stalks of the grocery store. I bought the puff pastry at Trader Joe’s because I found the simplicity of the ingredient list calming. It’s reassuring to see flour, butter, and salt as the top three components. We got the bacon and chicken from CityProvisions, a delicatessen that specializes in local farms and fresh food. The bacon (which was house-cured) was intoxicatingly smoky and the Gunthorp Farms chicken (which, like all of CityProvision’s meat, was labeled with its farm of origin) tasted, to borrow a term from Julia Child, more chickeny than that of the grocery store.

Your spoon crackles through the flaky top crust, revealing a gooey underside and provoking a deeply smoky steam. It dips into the thick filling and arises coated with a rich gravy, carrying chicken and veggies, all of which are tender and flavorful. It’s the kind of meal you eat through foggy glasses, burning your tongue on most bites, not caring to slow down.

I lit my jack-o-lantern for ambiance and enjoyed Nigella’s chicken potpie as a perfect Sunday supper in late October.

Chicken Potpie for two
3 strips of bacon, cut into pieces
1 clove of garlic, diced

2 cups cremini mushrooms, quartered
½ carrot, diced
1 chicken breast, cut into bite-size pieces
2 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves separated from stems
1 tablespoon butter
1 1/4 cups hot chicken stock
½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
1 (13-ounce) 9 by 16-inch sheet all-butter ready-rolled puff pastry (defrosted)

Start by preheating the oven to 425 degrees F. Fry up the bacon pieces in a large saucepan until beginning to crisp, then add the mushrooms, carrots, and garlic.

As veggies soften, toss the chicken with flour and thyme, then melt the butter in the pan. Add the coated chicken and the remaining flour that did not stick to the chicken. When the chicken has begun to brown and the flour has cooked into the butter, add the stock, Worcestershire, and balsamic. Stir to incorporate, allowing the flour to thicken the sauce. Nigella then directs you to “let this bubble away for about 5 minutes.”

Cut a thin strip of pastry to make a rim on each of your ramekins. That is, lay the strip over the edge of the ramekin and fold it down over the sides. I did mine in three sections, overlapping the strips. Next, cut a lid-sized circle to drape over the top of the pie.

Fill the pastry-rimmed ramekins with the thickened chicken and vegetable mixture and top with the pastry lid. Use a fork to seal the edges.

Cook in oven for 20 minutes, until they “puff up magnificently.”

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sushi: A miracle

Alex and I finally rode the sushi train this weekend. I’ve been out to Japanese a number of times with Sarah, my bff and college roommate, but I stuck to the schnitzel of Japanese cuisine: chicken katsu. And though my sister regularly makes her own maki rolls, I’ve never lined up to try themrice makes me nervous. There are just too many of them. What we experienced yesterday was nothing short of a miracle.

After a rainy walk to the farmers’ market for cabbage and honey, Alex and I decided to clean. We’ve been squatting in our own home. Underneath the socks, books, and stray cheerios, we found a coupon. Buy one brunch get the second for $1. Done and done. We dropped our rags and dustpans on the spot. (That last part is a lie.)

In any event, we headed out to brunch at the bistro belonging to the coupon only to find an empty restaurant. My dreams of croque monsieur washing down the gutter with the leaves, I gave up hope of happy late lunching.

Behold the miracle: We had parked directly outside of Tank Sushi, which, I had on good authority, is delicious and offers a half-off menu with select rolls on Saturdays and Sundays between 1 and 5 pm. It was 1:04. We had already paid the box. And we were hungry.

In we went. We ordered two bowls of miso soup for strength and then it was time for maki rolls. The menu was scary. WTF is tobiko? Masago? Unagi? But we did not falter. I rattled off three makis to the waitress and the miracle was complete.

Out of our three-roll trial the veggie tempura (sale price $3.50!) was my favorite. One word why: sweetpotato. I love sweet and salty, and it paired really well with the bright bite of the pickled ginger. We went with the Philly as a safe option: obvs, cream cheese and smoked salmon are best friends. Alex thought it was much improved by wasabi, but spicy isn’t my game. We rounded out lunch with Ika makifried calamari, avocado, srirachamy gift to Alex. Those came topped with slightly crunchy, tiny green orbs, like caviar-inspired sprinkles. I have no idea what they were. It was all very exciting.

A few cups of green tea and one pair of abandoned chopsticks later, we left satisfied and trendier worldlier.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Them Apples

I have three corncobs hanging on my door. I've recently driven across two states with a pumpkin in a car seat. My boyfriend, Alex, clocked me at a 6 on the one-to-crazy scale when I stopped on the quad to fill my bicycle basket with fallen leaves. He says it was my helmet and the way I was zigzagging across the paths and grass. I'm pressing those leaves in a phone book weighed down with Dickens and a few of his friendsprobably Browning, you know, for posterity. What I'm trying to say is: Fall is my jam.

So I made apple pancakes. Genius really: Apple. And then in pancakes. A coworker sent me the recipe from smittenkitchen and I tried it out in Michigan last weekend for my halfsiblings' fourth birthdays.

The pancakes were pretty fantasticapple pancakes, come onand pretty easy to put together. I don't measure well which is why baking has always been a challenge to me, but the pancakes were forgiving of my ½ palmspoon measurement system.

I do have a few thoughts: I'd recommend grating the apples after measuring your wets and drys. We realized a little late that we were missing baking powder (a quick google told me that was the fluffing agent I didn’t want to do without) and in the time it took to run to the store, the appleswhich had begun to color almost immediatleyreally started to brown. Other advice includes making sure you have all of your ingredients before starting.

Also, the 'cakes definitely benefit from the addition of cinnamon. I wouldn't "perhaps" it as smittenkitchen says. The spice provides an incredible warmth and gives every bite a holiday glow. It was like eating memories. Really delicious memories.

I’ll be making these bad boys againthat’s happening. It sure is nice living in the apple basket of the country.