Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Roasted Cherry Tomato Tart

When I'm invited to a potluck, my culinary inclination goes in one of two directions. Sometimes I want to go all-out in my kitchen, due to either adoration for my fellow potluckers, a latent competitive desire to impress, or just excitement at having an excuse to try out extravagant recipes. And other times I feel the pinch of my budget, and a slight surly resentment at feeding strangers better than I feed myself, and the motivating principle is producing a respectable potluck contribution for about $5. Luckily, there are dishes like this roasted cherry tomato tart, which can satisfy both of these impulses. This tart is crazy elegant, and also ridiculously cheap (especially if you, like us, have tomatoes of all sorts spilling out of your front yard).

This tart takes lovely late-summer tomatoes, and concentrates their flavor with a roast in a slow oven (which also has the added benefit of reducing their moisture content, so your tart won't be soggy). You can skip the slow-roasting step, if you like, and your tomatoes will be a bit prettier and less shriveled, but not nearly so rich. The roasted tomatoes are set on a bed of goat cheese that has been lightened with a bit of egg and half-and-half -- the liquid isn't enough to create a quiche-like custard, but gives the goat cheese a bit of mousse-like softness. The tangy goat cheese perfectly complements the rich tomatoes, and a wee bit of mustard on the base and fresh thyme leaves over the top provide a nice accent without distracting from the summer flavors. It's sure to please any sorts of crowds.

And speaking of group meals (potluck and otherwise), I return to the subject of my all-zucchini dinner party. I know that some of you thought sure, it's nice to read about. But what did it sound like? Well, wonder no more. You can hear an audio dispatch over at The Splendid Table, and see a slide show full of zucchinitastic photos.

Roasted Cherry Tomato Tart

1 9" tart crust, par-baked
~ 1 1/2-2 cups cherry tomatoes (the exact amount may vary, depending upon the size and shape of your tomatoes - if you roast too many, that's not a bad thing at all)
olive oil
1 Tbsp dijon mustard
8 oz soft goat cheese, such as chevre
2 eggs
1/2 cup half-and-half or milk
2 tsp chopped fresh thyme (or other herb of your choice), divided

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Halve the cherry tomatoes along their equators, and place them cut-side up in a baking dish. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, and place them in the oven for 3 hours. They should shrink up somewhat, to maybe 2/3 their size, but still be juicy. Set aside.

Raise the oven temperature to 375 degrees. Spread the mustard along the bottom of the tart shell, leaving a very thin layer. In a mixer (or using a whisk or fork and a lot of patience), blend together the goat cheese, eggs, half-and-half, and half the fresh herbs. Pour this mixture into the tart shell. Gently place the tomatoes on top, cut-side up, in an arrangement that strikes you.

Gently transfer the tart to the oven, and bake ~45 minutes, until the filling has puffed and begun to brown, and the tomatoes are caramelized a touch on top. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly. Sprinkle the remaining fresh herb and a light sprinkling of salt across the top, and serve.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Frozen Watermelon Daiquiri

While there are many times I use my freezer for the purpose that God and Whirlpool intended, more often than not it serves as sort of way station en route to the trash. Sure, I've got a useful bag of trimmings for vegetable stock, piles of frozen garlic naan for impromptu Indian, and tubs of homegrown tomatoes. But then there's the dark side. Cooking experiments that are too terrible to stomach (but too nutritious to compost) get apportioned into neat serving sizes, tucked into the freezer, and left there. For a good long time. Sometimes the better part of a year. Oof. I end up with a somewhat fraught relationship with my over-full freezer. But that relationship has been wholly repaired by the frozen watermelon daiquiri.

The other day we split a watermelon between three people. Not one of these teensy personal-sized melonlets that are apparently all the rage, but a full-on, armload of melon. It was huge. Even on a hot day, we only put a dent in it. What remained was literally too large to fit in the refrigerator. So I hacked it into cubes, filling one container after another, until we filled the refrigerator. In desperation, I tossed the remaining tub of watermelon cubes in the freezer. Maybe I'd get to them someday? Or maybe they'd just end up in the compost a few months later, like my other frozen good intentions. But then the heat rolled back around, an internet search revealed a slushy, boozy cocktail, and oh man am I now the biggest fan of frozen watermelon.

This cocktail is quite simple, especially if you've got a tub of frozen watermelon in your freezer. If not, just cube some up, toss it in, and wait a few hours. The sweet icy cubes are blended up with rum, lime juice, a splash of soda if you've got it, and a sprig of mint. The combination of frozen watermelon and cooling mint makes this one of the most refreshing cocktails I've ever slurped.

Frozen Watermelon Daiquiri

adapted, heavily, from Cooking Light
yields 1 drink, but can easily be multiplied by number of drinker

1 cup cubed and frozen watermelon
juice of 1/2 small lime
1 tsp sugar
1 sprig mint
1 shot light rum
splash seltzer (~2-3 Tablespoons)

Place all ingredients in a blender, and pulse until well-mixed into a slushy, frothy mix. Pour into a glass and enjoy.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Perfect Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

My dog has a basket of toys by the front door. There are a few that he plays with nearly every day -- bones to gnaw and hollow rubber thingies to fill with peanut butter -- but then there are a handful that he ignores. Some promotional stuffed animal that he stopped caring about once he realized it couldn't be destroyed, or the twisted rope he liked to play tug-of-war with five years ago. He'll toss them aside to reach the more exciting items underneath, but for the most part they sit around gathering dust. Until another dog comes to the house. Magically, the value-adding property of another dog's interest renders a treat infinitely more appealing. You want that thing I've ignored for five years? Suddenly I want it too! So much!

I laugh a bit at this transparent ridiculousness, but truth be told I can be the same way. My friend Robert once noted that somebody could be eating poop on a cracker, and he'd be angling for a bite. It can happen easily. A few weeks ago, I took the cookbook Baked: New Frontiers in Baking out of the library. I thumbed through the pages, earmarking a few, thinking maybe I'd make them someday. But then I saw an enticing version of Baked's peanut butter chocolate chip cookies on the lovely blog A Little Ginger. And suddenly I wanted them too! So much!

I've eaten my share of peanut butter cookies over the years, but these are easily the best I've had. Hands down. Perfect cookies. They have a toothsome texture somewhere between soft and crisp, with a deep, slightly salty peanut butter flavor. They keep well, like any cookie, but I think they're especially lovely the first day.

And speaking of ridiculous notions that consume your thoughts, I recently was so taken with the zucchini dishes I saw posted everywhere that I decided to host an All Zucchini Dinner Party. It took a bit of recipe-testing, a mountain of zucchini, and some very game friends, but in the end a good green meal was had by all. You can read about it (and get more recipes than you can shake a squash at) in The Oregonian.

Perfect Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
yields ~36 cookies

1 3/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for topping
1 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup peanut butter
6 oz chocolate, milk or dark, coarsely chopped

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, soda and salt. Set aside.

In a mixer, cream together the butter and sugars until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one by one, mixing until combined. Add the vanilla and peanut butter, mixing until well combined.

Fold in the dry ingredients until *just* combined. Fold in the chocolate bits, and place in a covered container and refrigerate overnight.

On baking day, remove the dough from the refrigerator, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Plop out rounded tablespoons of dough onto lined cookie sheets, at least 2" apart, and flatten slightly with the heel of your hand to smush the doughballs into chubby disks. Sprinkle a bit of granulated sugar on each cookie, enough to give a light dusting (this will make a lovely, sweet-crunchy crust).

Place sheets in oven and bake 10-12 minutes, until the edges just turn golden brown. Remove from oven, let cool on the sheet for 5 minutes, and then remove to finish cooling on a rack. Enjoy.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Gluten-Free Crusty Seeded Bread

Good crusty bread seems to be the final frontier in gluten-free baking. Cupcakes and cookies certainly take a bit of skill and care, but if you have a good recipe (especially one with a lot of fat and sugar to do the heavy lifting), you'll end up with something delicious. Sandwich bread needs to be able to stay together, sure, but usually they're topped with enough flavorful ingredients and tasty spreads that by the end it doesn't matter too much. But a good, crusty hearth loaf? The sort of old-school, artisan boule with a toothsome crust and a rangy, airy crumb? For most gf people, these can be a sad, distant memory.

A good friend of mine recently went off gluten, and has been sorely missing these loaves. Before the dietary shift, gluten was a big part of her existence. She bought flour in 25-lb sacks, and on weekends would mix up a double batch of Jim Lahey's famous no-knead bread, stud it with seeds, and bake the loaves up for the family to enjoy throughout the week. It's a pretty hard thing to say goodbye to.

But thanks to some amazing gluten-free bakers, you don't have to. The wonderful Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë Francois, along with Shauna James Ahern came up with a gluten-free loaf that does a shocking job of passing for its gluten-filled inspiration. A mix of several different gf flours, xanthan gum, eggs and oil combine into a a crusty, satisfying hearth loaf. In keeping with the tradition (and my own hippie leanings), I tossed a good handful of seeds into the dough, and scattered more on top. The results are amazing.

Would you mistake this for standard bread? Possibly. It's pretty darned close, I'll say. Although it's definitely "bready," if you pay close attention you might find it a little more spongy, a little less rangy and airy than the usual hearth breads. In that way it's similar to the spongier Italian semolina loaves, sort of a hybrid of that style and the leaner artisan boule. But mostly, it's just good. Really really good.

Gluten-free Crusty Seeded Bread

yields 1 2-lb loaf

Adapted from the Gluten-Free Crusty Boule in Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë Francois' lovely book Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Things to keep in mind:

1) You will see the word "gently" appear in this recipe several dozen times. Gentleness is key, it turns out. While all unbaked doughs are somewhat delicate, gluten-free dough is especially so. If you handle it roughly after it's risen, you'll knock out those hard-earned air pockets, and lose your lovely texture in the finished product. A bit of babying will pay off mightily.

2) While you'll want to tear into this bread right away, it continues to cook internally and set after removing from the oven. You break it open, you get gummy bread. So you must wait, sadly.

3) Many people with gluten intolerance are sensitive to even the smallest amounts of trace cross-contamination. If you're not gluten-free but cooking for someone who is, make sure you use clean, nonporous equipment and avoid any traces of gluten. If your Dutch oven has been used on other gluten-y meals, use a large enough piece of parchment paper to prevent the dough from coming in contact with the pot.


1 cup brown rice flour
3/4 cup sorghum flour
1 1/2 cups tapioca starch
1 Tbsp xanthan gum
2 teaspoons coarse salt
1 1/3 cups water (slightly warm, especially if your rising area is cold, but not so warm that you kill the yeast -- just comfortably warm)
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
2 eggs
1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp neutral oil, like canola
1 Tbsp sugar
1/3 cup toasted pumpkin seeds
1/4 cup whole flax seeds
3 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds

1 egg, beaten with 1 small splash water (aka "the egg wash")
3 Tbsp raw pumpkin seeds
2 Tbsp whole flax seeds
2 Tbsp sesame seeds

Mix together the rice flour, sorghum flour, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, and salt. Set aside. In the bowl of a mixer (or another large bowl), pour the water and sprinkle the yeast over it. Let sit for a few minutes to allow the yeast to soften. Add the eggs, oil and sugar, and mix thoroughly. Add the gf flour mixture, and mix thoroughly to combine. If you're using a mixer, use the paddle rather than the dough hook. Continue to mix together until the dough is well-combined and smooth. The dough will not seem like a traditional bread dough -- it's somewhere between a cake batter and smooth mashed potatoes. Add the pumpkin, flax, and sesame seeds, and stir to combine.

When the dough is mixed, place it in a lightly-oiled covered container, and let sit, loosely covered, at room temperature for 2 hours. If your rising place is particularly warm, cut this down to 1 1/2 hours. After it has risen, gently take the container and place it in the refrigerator. Chill at least overnight, and up to about a week.

When you're ready to bake, gently take the dough out of the refrigerator. Tip it out onto a piece of parchment paper, taking care to not deflate any of the air that it has captured. Using a wet hand, shape the dough into a round, and smooth out the surface as best you can (keep wetting your hand to prevent the dough from sticking, and to wet the surface of the dough enough to smooth it out). Cover loosely with a piece of plastic, and allow to rise an hour and a half (less time if your rising area is warm).

Half an hour before the rising time is done, preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Place a large Dutch oven and its cover (making sure the cover doesn't have a meltable plastic knob) in the oven to preheat. While this is preheating, mix together the seeds for the topping.

When the dough has warmed and risen slightly, brush the surface completely with the egg wash (use a pastry brush if you have it, otherwise just wad up the plastic you'd used to cover the dough, and use it to gently blot the surface of the dough with the egg wash). Sprinkle the seeds for the topping evenly over the surface. Take a sharp serrated knife, and gently cut slashes 1/4" deep over the surface of the dough.

Carefully remove the preheated Dutch oven from the oven. Gently pick up the piece of parchment paper around the loaf, and gently lower it into the preheated pot. Cover, and gently place in the oven. Let bake 25 minutes, then remove the lid, and lower the oven temperature to 450 degrees. Let bake an additional 20-25 minutes, until the surface of the dough is browned (it may be difficult to see under the seeds), and the dough seems done to your liking. Lift it out of the pan, and cool on a rack. When nearly completely cool, slice and serve.