Sunday, July 17, 2011

Soft Chocolate Raspberry Tart

Let's talk about nine-inch spring-form cake pans. I think I mentioned earlier that I have six. This is partly an accident, and partly because I think they are the most useful baking tool in existence. When I was in college, I only had one cake pan. I made everything in it--cake, cheesecake, brownies. And, very importantly, I found that they make excellent substitutes for removable bottom tart pans. I bet you could even make a pie in one, but that's a little beside the point. The point is that my wealth of nine-inch spring-form pans means that when I come across  a recipe like this chocolate raspberry tart, I don't need to worry that I don't own a tart pan.

Chocolate and raspberry is possibly my favorite flavor combination (besides maybe mushrooms and port). For years I've tried to find a dessert that really melds the flavors. I've found chocolate cakes and chocolate tortes with a little raspberry jelly in the middle, and while that sounds delicious, I was looking for something more exciting. I was shocked to find this recipe, lying nonchalantly inside a book I've had for years. I had to make it at the first possible opportunity. It actually went very well with this brunch--the meal itself had a lot of fresh and light flavors, which allowed for something a little richer for dessert.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Fillings for Ricotta Spelt Crepes

As previously mentioned, the first crepe in a batch always looks like crap. I ate it. It was delicious. I considered eating the rest of the crepes unfilled. But in case my guests were not so inclined, we made some fillings to make the crepes more civilized.

First there were chopped fresh tomatoes with basil. We all agreed that the tomatoes accented the delicate flavor of the crepes. We also discovered that a little leftover ricotta went beautifully with the tomatoes inside the crepes.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ricotta Spelt Crepes

Sometimes I like to make up meanings for the names of ancient grains that have nothing to do with what they actually are. Kamut, for example, is a pet name for a woolly mammoth. Amaranth is either a city in a far off kingdom, or some kind of gem stone (possibly a gem stone named after the far off city in which it's mined). Spelt is probably an onomatopoeia, meaning the sound of expectorating (Spelt! 10 points for Gaston!). In reality, Spelt is a subspecies of wheat popular in the bronze age which is enjoying a new popularity among the health food crowd. Spelt flour acts a lot like wheat flour, though it absorbs more liquid than its more popular counterpart. The flour is sweet, so it is great for baking. And it makes excellent crepes.

These crepes were perfect: a little sweet, a little salty, a little nutty, with crispy edges and nice browned surfaces. They were quite easy to make--just a little labor intensive in the cooking phase. I am not an expert crepe maker, but it's amazing how much easier it gets after the first few crepes.* I developed a little dance around making the crepes. I didn't really trust myself to judge when the crepe was done (as they have a tendency to tear if you try to lift the edges up too soon). The recipe said they cook for one minute on the first side and forty-five seconds on the second side. So I would pour in the crepe then dash to the microwave and set it for a little less than a minute. When the time beeped, I would flip the crepe and then dash back to the microwave and set it for about forty seconds. It was quite silly, but I didn't lose a single crepe. So maybe it wasn't so silly after all?**

Monday, July 11, 2011

Ricotta and Spelt Crepe Brunch for Six

Like most 20-somethings I know, I've had roommates since my freshman year of college. Sometimes they were great, sometimes not so great, but I think you can't escape living with somebody without learning a few things from them. For example, my freshman year roommate taught me that Peanut Butter M&Ms are delicious and that there is a genre of movies called Good Bad Movies which you should watch while packing (Euro Trip, She's the Man). Another roommate tried to teach me how to read a book without cracking the spine, which I never mastered and now part of my brain always feels guilty when I make that first crease. But no roommate had ever influenced my cooking style until I moved in with Daniel and Marshall.

This brunch was heavily influenced by the boys. They're both excellent cooks and homebrewers extraordinaire. Daniel has an obsession with cooking with whole grains. Marshall believes you shouldn't buy things you can easily make yourself. By their powers combined, we came up with the centerpiece for this brunch: ricotta spelt crepes, from this book which my mother got for Daniel last winter. They only have spelt flour, which makes Daniel do a little dance, and delicious fresh ricotta, which Marshall had never made before but which came out perfectly. They were complemented beautifully by sauteed spinach and mushrooms and by fresh tomatoes with basil. Add some tasty fruit and an even tastier chocolate raspberry tart and you have a lovely summer brunch. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Peach Melba Cake with Raspberry Cream

In retrospect, this may have been a mistake. A luscious, moist, peach-filled, raspberry-frosted mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. Objectively, I should not be making three layer cakes that require two separate sessions in the refrigerator and need to be ready at eleven o'clock on a Sunday morning. But...I did it anyway, and now I really can't bring myself to be upset about it.

There's something so rewarding about making tall cakes. That is one reason I love this book, which probably started my obsession with cake. The other reason this book is about four notches above most other cookbooks, especially cake books, is that every cake is completely different. There is no standard white cake or standard chocolate cake. Each cake has its own method and its own strange additional ingredients, and each one is absolutely outstanding. This one, for example, has no butter in the batter (Betty Botter did not make this cake). Instead, it starts out as whipped cream, to which you add eggs, yolks, sugar, and vanilla. It was like making cake out of ice cream. The filling and the frosting are whipped cream based, too, but the whole thing felt very light. And, fresh from the fridge, it is just the thing for a hot, hot day in July.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Cucumber Salad with Olives, Oregano, and Almonds

I love pickles. Actually, I love any form of cucumbers soaked in vinegar. When my best friend from high school told me she'd never tried a pickle, I made her eat one the first chance I got. Unfortunately, we were on a boat at the time, so now whenever she smells a pickle she gets seasick. It's okay, though. More pickles for me. When I found this recipe for cucumber salad in this month's Cook's Illustrated, I determined that I had to try it immediately. And, since I was planning a sort of greek salad themed brunch, it was the natural choice for a side dish. The fact that it involved the three greek salad elements missing from my frittata--cucumbers, olives, and oregano--was just gravy.

One of my favorite snacks is a super simplified version of this dish, which involves nothing more than thinly sliced cucumbers, rice wine vinegar, and salt.* Of course, Cook's Illustrated makes it much more sophisticated, with a simple cucumber drying process and a tempered version of the vinegar. It's certainly fussier than simply slicing cucumbers and dumping vinegar over them, but I think it's completely worth the extra few minutes it takes to reduce some vinegar and chop some herbs. The result was simply marvelous. I liked it even better out of the fridge a few hours later (which I suppose makes sense--I like my pickles fresh from the fridge too), so I suggest letting it chill for a half-hour or so before you serve it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Tomato, Spinach and Feta Frittata

Here it is, my friends: a greek salad frittata, full of delicious things like tomatoes, feta, and herbs. I'm quite a fan of frittatas, partly because they're so easy, and partly because they're so versatile. It's an excellent way to make eggs for a crowd without having to deal with individual eggs or (worse) individual omelets.

My frittata was also incredibly forgiving. For instance: I was forced by the supermarket to buy an entire bag of shallots (I needed one for another recipe), so instead of also buying a red onion, Daniel chopped up some surplus shallots and tossed them in. Delicious. And, when I realized an extra friend was showing up for brunch, I tossed in a few more eggs, chopped up a few more tomatoes and snipped a few more herbs, and the whole thing came out beautifully.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Greek-Inspired Brunch for Eight

Our new apartment is not air conditioned. It's okay, air conditioning is for wimps. Of course, that doesn't mean I don't spend most days draped over an arm chair unable to summon up the will to move, but still, who needs it? Besides, my lack of air conditioning has a distinct advantage: the windows on either side of my long narrow kitchen are kept open, and when there's a breeze, it blows through our potted herbs, making the whole kitchen smell like rosemary. 

I'd like to say it was the rosemary, or the chives or the oregano, that inspired this first brunch, but alas, the reason is much more mundane. My menu planning went like this: I like greek salad. I will make a greek salad brunch! With cake! And so a brunch was born. And, as luck would have it, it did use a lot of the herbs we have growing in the windows.