dinner date

On Saturday night, the sugar cured kitchen was abuzz with kneading, baking, tossing, and dressing up the makings of a perfect girls’ night dinner. Kate and her roommate whipped together two incredible and innovative pizzas (recipes forthcoming) and I was put in charge of the salad.

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I haven’t shared many salad recipes on this blog, which runs counter to the fact that concocting big salads full of interesting ingredients is one of my favorite  things to do in the kitchen. Our special Saturday night dinner invited the opportunity to finally try my hand at a salad that had spoken to me from the moment I saw it touted on Lottie & Doof as “the best thing I made this year.” It hails from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, an incredible book full of Middle Eastern dishes that Kate has featured before on the blog. It combines baby spinach with dates, red onions, toasted almonds, homemade pita chips, and a simple dressing of lemon juice and olive oil and results in a blissful marriage of flavors.
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The pita chips, which are made by pan frying torn pieces of pita bread in butter and olive oil and then dusting the golden crunchy pieces with salt, red pepper, and za’atar, almost didn’t make it into the salad. They were so darn delicious on their own that we kept munching away at them straight from the pan as we [not so] patiently waited for the pizzas to cook. I had never thought to pan fry pita chips before, but I’ll definitely be adopting this technique when the need, or craving, for pita chips next arises. The dates and onions were soaked together in vinegar before being added to the salad, a step that both mellowed out the onions and made the dates even moister.

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A little sweet, a little tangy, a little crunchy, and extremely unique—this salad is nothing short of brilliant, and yet another testament to the genius of Yotam Ottolenghi.

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Baby Spinach Salad with Dates & Almonds
from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1/2 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 1/2 oz/100g pitted Medjool dates, quartered lengthwise
2 tablespoons/30g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small pitas, roughly torn into 1 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup/75g whole unsalted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons sumac (we used za’atar instead, which contains sumac)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (we used aleppo pepper)
5 ounces/150g baby spinach leaves
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
salt

Put the vinegar, onion, and dates in a small bowl. Add a pinch of salt and mix well with your hands. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes, then drain away any residual vinegar and discard.

Meanwhile, heat the butter and half of the olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the pita and almonds and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, stirring all of the time, until the pita is crunchy and golden brown. Remove from the heat and mix in the sumac, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Set aside to cool.
When you are ready to serve, toss the spinach leaves with the pita mix in a large mixing bowl. Add the dates and red onion, the remaining olive oil, the lemon juice, and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately.

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needs more lemon

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If a dish has enough lemon to suit my taste, it is bound to oversour the taste of almost everyone else.  I took ballet in elementary school with a girl who every week would peel a lemon and eat it by segment like an orange. I think we can all agree that that behavior is a little extreme, but I have to keep that image in mind as a cautionary tale when my propensity for acidity threatens to get out of control.  Examples that do not get filed under “extreme” in my set of citrus guidelines include use of the juice of a whole lemon to season a single serving of sautéed kale or the tripling of the amount of lemon specified in a hummus recipe only to find myself saying “pretty good, needs more lemon.”

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I can promise you that this cake does not need more lemon by anybody’s standards. All it needs is a decadent occasion and a cook with a flair for the dramatic.  Full disclosure: you’ll need 10 eggs and nearly a pound of butter when all is said and done. In other words (to channel David Lynch), if you confront this cake with imperfect courage it will annihilate your kitchen. But I can also promise that it is worth pulling out all the stops- I think it’s the best thing I’ve baked in the last year.

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The recipe is a riff on doberge torte which I hear is the favorite cake of New Orleans. I wouldn’t know because when I was there in December I was so busy trying to set a world record for beignet eating that I had not time for cake.  It’s never too late to celebrate Mardi Gras and make this cake your weekend project.

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With love and lemons,

xxoo Kate

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Lemon Doberge Torte

adapted from Leita’s Culinaria and David Lebovitz

For the cake

2 sticks, plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus 2 tablespoons for the pan

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus 2 tablespoons for the pan

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

6 large eggs

1 3/4 cups sugar

3/4 cup whole milk

 

For the lemon curd

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/2 c sugar

2 large egg yolks

2 large eggs

pinch of salt

6 tablespoons butter, cubed

For the icing

1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

 

Make the lemon curd

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, egg yolks, eggs, and salt.

Add the butter cubes and cook over low heat, whisking constantly until the butter is melted.

Increase the heat to moderate and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture thickens and just begins to become jelly-like. It’s done when you lift the whisk and the mixture holds its shape when it falls back into the saucepan from the whisk.

Make the cake batter

Heat the oven to 350°F Butter a 9-inch springform pan. Add the 2 tablespoons of flour and shake the pan to coat the bottom and sides. Tap out any excess flour. Wrap the outside of the bottom of the pan in aluminum foil.

In a large bowl, combine the remaining 1 3/4 cups of flour, the baking powder, and salt.

In a different bowl, stir the vanilla into the 2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons melted butter.

In a medium saucepan, bring enough water to reach one inch in the pan to a simmer, then reduce the heat to low. Whisk the eggs and sugar together in a large heatproof bowl, place it over the hot water, and constantly whisk the mixture until it’s warm to the touch, about 3 minutes. Use an electric or stand mixer to mix on high speed until cool and tripled in volume, about 3 minutes.

Slowly drizzle in the melted butter and mix on low speed. Use a whisk to gently fold in a third of the dry ingredients, followed by half of the milk. Repeat, ending with a third of the flour mixture. Use a rubber spatula to gently scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan.

Bake the cake until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean about 1 hour. Let the cake cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then invert it onto a cooling rack. Unclasp and remove the sides of the pan and then carefully invert the cake so it’s right side up. Let the cake cool completely. (You can wrap the cake in plastic and keep it, unsliced, for up to 1 day at room temperature.)

Assemble and fill the Doberge cake

Remove the metal springform pan bottom from the cake. Using a long serrated knife, slice the cake horizontally into 4 layers. I promise that this is not as scary as it sounds. The cake is sturdy and not likely to crumble on you. Set the layers aside.

Wash and dry the springform pan, reassemble it, and coat the bottom and sides with nonstick cooking spray. Drape two pieces of plastic wrap over the pan so the entire bottom and sides are covered, allowing the ends of the plastic wrap to hang over the sides of the pan.

Place 1 cake layer in the springform pan. Top it with 1/3 of the lemon curd and spread evenly over the cake layer and leaving a 1/2-inch border of bare cake around the edge. Repeat with the remaining cake layers and lemon curd.

Cover the top of the cake with the plastic wrap overhang and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Make the lemon icing and frost the cake

After the cake has chilled, make the icing. With an electric mixer, mix the butter and sugar together on low speed until combined. Add the lemon juice and mix on low speed until moistened, then increase the speed to medium and beat until creamy, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, add 1 tablespoon of warm water, and beat until fully incorporated, about 1 minute longer.

Invert the cake onto a plate. Remove the sides and bottom of the pan and peel off the plastic wrap. Ice the cake. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. The cake will keep up to 3 days in the fridge. Serve cold or let it sit one hour at room temp before serving.

 

 

feeling squirrely

Being stuck in the middle of winter has imparted me with a squirrely compulsion to have my pantry hyper-stocked. This is by no means a bad thing, except for the fact that I am about sixteen bags, cans, and boxes of nuts, grains, and beans away from clearing out my cabinet before heading home in a month. I knew this weekend I needed to tackle a few of these items, and the first, and perhaps fondest item, to experiment with was a bag of dried brown lentils. Lentil soup is my usual go-to lentil dish, but I decided to switch it up this week, inspired by three juicy Meyer lemons that had been eyeing me from my produce drawer all week long and a recipe I had recently seen for lentils, sweet potatoes, and radishes in a Meyer lemon dressing.
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Radishes are not something I normally gravitate towards—their bitterness just doesn’t sit quite right with me. But roasting them was pretty revolutionary. They went from being having a sharp and crunchy bite to being meltingly soft and even a little bit sweet. Paired with my all-time favorite, the sweet potato, and a mustard, thyme, and Meyer lemon vinaigrette, this salad was bright, yet earthy, and had a beautiful mix of colors to boot. I shared this with friends at a potluck dinner tonight, and I’m already looking forward to having leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

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One bag of beans down, 15 more pantry staples to go. Stay tuned for more!

Lentil Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
Serves 8-10

Roasted Vegetables:
2 large sweet potatoes, cut into small cubes
1 lb radishes, cut into small cubes
1 red onion, diced
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 450. Toss cubes sweet potatoes, radishes, and diced onions with 3 tbsp olive oil, salt, and thyme. Use remaining tbsp of olive oil to coat the bottom of a cookie sheet. Spread the vegetables out in an even layer. Roast for one hour or until sweet potatoes start to caramelize, stirring every 15 minutes.

Lentils:
2 ½ cups (1 bag) green or brown lentils
5 cups water

Rinse lentils under cold water. Place them in a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down to low and simmer with a lid partially on the pot for about 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft but not mushy. If all the water is not absorbed during the cooking process, drain off liquid in a colander.

Vinaigrette:
3 Meyer lemons
2 tbsp grainy mustard (Dijon would work too)
1-2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, chopped
a few cracks of black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil

Whisk together zest and juice of 3 lemons, mustard, thyme and black pepper. Add olive oil and whisk until vinaigrette is emulsified.

To assemble:
Stir cooked lentils, roasted vegetables, and vinaigrette in a large bowl. Serve warm or cold. Keeps well for meals throughout the week!

study break

In my perfect world, all nights would end like this…

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Such was the case one evening last week, when I decided to take a little study break to do some baking. What I had envisioned being a brief endeavor turned into a two hour long extravaganza of grating, chopping, melting, whisking, and glazing.

Was it worth it? When I got to accompany my studies with Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread the next day, you bet.

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I had bookmarked this recipe from the beloved pages of Dorie Greenspan’s Baking From My Home To Yours a while back, but due to the shear volume of ingredients involved in making it, I hadn’t gotten around to it until now. With three different types of ginger (fresh, powdered, and candied), molasses, buttermilk, chopped and melted chocolate, coffee, and cinnamon, this cake boasts a complexity of flavors. It is delightfully moist and has a definite gingery punch. It begs to be paired with a hot cup of coffee or tea, and if you close your eyes while savoring a bite of this cake, its warm flavors almost make you forget that it’s the dead of winter.
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If you’re a ginger lover, this cake is for you. While it takes a bit of time, the results are well worth every minute.

Fresh Ginger and Chocolate Gingerbread
from Baking From My Home to Yours

For the Cake
2 tablespoons finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 stick plus 3 tablespoons (11 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup (packed) light brown sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 cup molasses (not blackstrap)
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate – 2 ounces melted and cooled, 4 ounces finely chopped
1 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon finely chopped stem ginger in syrup (available in Asian markets and supermarkets; optional)

For the Icing
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon strong coffee
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

Getting Ready:Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch square baking pan and put it on a baking sheet. (Pan must be a full 9-inch square size or batter will overflow – measure first).

To Make the Cake: Put the fresh ginger and sugar in a small bowl, stir and set aside.

Whisk the flour, baking soda and spices together.

Working with a stand mixer, preferably fitted with a paddle attachment,or with a hand mixer in a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar and butter together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each egg goes in. Don’t worry if the mixture looks curdled at this stage. Pour in the molasses and beat until smooth. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the melted chocolate, along with the sugared ginger. Still on low speed, add the dry ingredients in 3 additions and the buttermilk in 2(begin and end with the dry ingredients),mixing the batter only as much as needed to blend the ingredients. Fold in the chopped chocolate and the ginger in syrup. Pour the batter into the pan.

Bake for about 40 minutes, or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan and a thin knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Don’t be concerned if the cake has domed and cracked-it will settle down as it cools. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool for 10 minutes, then unmold the cake. Turn right side up to cool to room temperature before icing the cake. (The edges of the cake might be quite brown, but don’t fret-you can trim them after you ice the cake.)

To Make the Icing: Set a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, put the chocolate and coffee in the bowl, and stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted. Remove the bowl and, using a small whisk, stir in the butter one tablespoon at a time. Sift the confectioners’ sugar over the chocolate and stir in. Transfer the bowl to a counter and let the icing sit for about 10 minutes.

Put the gingerbread, still on the rack, on a piece of wax paper or foil (the drip catcher). Pour the icing onto the center of the cake and use a long metal spatula to spread the icing evenly over the top. Allow the icing to set for 30 minutes (you can hurry it along by chilling the cake briefly). If the edges of the cake are overbaked, now is the time to trim them. Then cut the gingerbread into 9 even pieces.