Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Baked Eggs with Olives and Cream

I have something of a soft spot for adorable dishware. Over the years of thrift-store-shopping and yard-sale-trolling, I've amassed several shelves of precariously-stacked darling-yet-mismatched bowls and saucers. There's something about a fetching little plate that makes anything on it — heck, even a mid-day snack of carrot sticks — seem like an elegant treat. And so when my friend Leela packed her epic collection of kitchen gear up for her *sniff* relocation to California, I was happy to seize upon the spoils.

Tucked within the embarrassingly large stack of textured plates, wooden spoons, and eggshell-blue bowls that I hauled off were three delicate little white ramekins, like miniature shallow casserole dishes. Leela noted that she'd bought them intending to make baked eggs, so I figured I'd help them realize their destiny.

I've long been eying this recipe from Jenn Louis, a local Portland chef with a national reputation. And it's so simple. Crack two eggs, top with a few torn-up olives and a little pour of heavy cream, then bake until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny (or, if you're like me, just a minute past that). Then top all that creamy, briny, richness with a sprinkling of crisp bread crumbs and fresh thyme leaves, and serve with a fork and toast.

I'm usually one to throw a handful of greens into my eggs, or nestle them in a puddle of salsa or tomato sauce. But this simplicity is surprisingly perfect, especially with delicious orange-yolked farm eggs. The cream thickens and cloaks the olive-studded eggs, keeping them nice and tender, and the crunchy breadcrumbs and fragrant thyme leaves add a just enough subtle contrast. It's one of those dishes that's indescribably better than the sum of its parts. Especially when one of those parts is an adorable little dish that reminds you of your friend.

Baked Eggs with Olives and Cream

adapted from Jenn Louis, via Culinate
serves 1 (multiply as needed)

2 large eggs
3 tablespoons cream, divided
2 olives (Louis recommends the meaty green Castelvetranos), thwacked with a knife to loosen from the pit, and torn into 2-3 pieces
coarse salt and pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 sprig thyme leaves
toasted crusty bread, for serving (optional)

Preheat your oven to 375° Fahrenheit, and butter an adorable little ramekin (or similar oven-proof dish).

Crack the two eggs into your ramekin, then pour the cream over them and scatter the olive pieces. Season with a bit of salt, and then place in the oven. Bake until whites are set but the yolks are runny, ~7-9 minutes.

When the eggs are done to your liking, remove and top with an even sprinkle of the bread crumbs, scattering of thyme leaves, and additional salt and pepper if needed. Serve at once, with bread if desired.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Quinoa Kale Salad with Carrot Coriander Vinaigrette

Portland, like much of the country, is totally abloom with spring. There are pale pink cherry blossoms scattering their little hole-punch petals everywhere, and rosy fat camellias dropping onto the front steps until I literally have to sweep them away with a broom. Everywhere you look, the colors just about knock you out (especially offset, as they seem to be this time of year, by the alternating dark rainclouds and shafts of sunlight). And I find myself wanting a splash of color on the plate as well.

This salad feels just like spring — the winter-long bunch of kale with its new blossoms (though standard non-flowering kale also works quite well), the bouncy bits of quinoa, overly-symbolic egg, and a sweet carrot coriander vinaigrette tying it together like a splash of sunshine.

And beyond its springtime-on-a-plate beauty, this salad is just plain good. The sunny sweetness of the dressing is a perfect match for the slightly bitter greens and grassy quinoa, and the egg and nuts move it into full-on complete-meal status. And, as the spring rains dump on Portland (and knock down more camellia flowers), it's nice to have a little sunshine for lunch.

Quinoa Kale Salad with Carrot Coriander Vinaigrette

adapted from Gluten-Free Girl
serves 4-5

This dressing is a bit of a fuss, with reducing the carrot juice, but it's so crazy good. The post I pulled it from also mentioned serving it on rice, chicken — even quesadillas. Next time I'm making a double batch.

2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds
2 cups carrot juice
1 shallot, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup mild vinegar, such as sherry or champaigne
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
salt & pepper

1 1/2 cups quinoa
a bunch kale (flowering kale, also sold is kale raab, is nice if you can find it), chopped into bite-sized pieces
4-5 eggs
1 large handful toasted pine nuts or almonds

To make the dressing: Heat a medium pot over a medium heat. Add the coriander seeds, and dry-toast, shaking the pot occasionally, until they become fragrant, ~3 minutes. Pour in the carrot juice and the shallot, raise the heat until it boils, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, scraping the sides once or twice so they don't scorch, until the carrot juice reduces to just 1/4 cup, ~15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly.

Pour the mixture into a blender, along with the vinegar and olive oil, and blitz until the shallot is pureed and the mixture is emulsified. Add the cilantro, whir to combine, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.

To make the rest of the salad: Bring 3 cups of salted water to a boil. Add the quinoa, and reduce heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the kale and recover. Cook together for another 5 minutes, then turn off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. If you prefer, you can also cook the kale separately (which requires a bit more fussing, but does a better job of preserving its bright green color and gives you more control over the cooking process): bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add the kale and cook for a minute or two, until it turns bright green and crisp-tender. Drain the pot, and shock the kale in cold water to shock the cooking. Drain and set aside.

While the quinoa is cooking, place the eggs in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, cool off the eggs with cold water, then peel and set aside.

To serve, mound the quinoa and kale in individual bowls or a serving bowl. Break the eggs into rough pieces with your hands, and scatter them over the top, along with the nuts. Dress generously, and dig in.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Black Sesame and Pear Tea Cake

Like many people, I tend to go for the classics when it comes to sweets. Especially this time of year. I like chocolate. I like vanilla. I like ice cream sundaes and creamy puddings and my neighbor's chocolate chip walnut cookies. But, as I recently discovered, I also like black sesame and pear tea cake. Actually, I love it.

I know, it sounds strange. And looks a bit greyish and unappetizing. But it's so good! There's the nutty richness of the sesame seeds, the basic buttery sweet-but-not-too-sweet background, and the juicy bits of pear throughout it all. Although the recipe called for fresh fruit, I used some canned pears from last fall, and they worked beautifully (and the sesame seeds were left in the freezer from these why-haven't-I-made-them-since-July bagel bombs, making this a surprisingly thrifty pantry project). I'd be the first to admit that this doesn't seem like it would make anyone's short list of favorite desserts. But paired with a cup of tea, or a glass of wine (in the interests of science, I sampled it both ways), it'll definitely surprise you with just how perfect it is. 

Black Sesame and Pear Tea Cake

adapted from Bon Appetit

Despite the fact that all of the pictures of this cake were somewhat sunken, even those baked up by master bloggers, I was convinced that with my room-temperature butter and eggs, masterful aerating technique, and light-as-a-feather folding, I would prevail with a perfectly domed cake. But I didn't. Ah well — perhaps that's just how this recipe rolls. It's still amazing, no matter how it bakes up.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup almond flour or almond meal 
2 teaspoons baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt 
2 tablespoons plus 1/2 cup black sesame seeds, divided
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
1 1/3 cups sugar, plus additional for topping the cake 
1 large egg 
1 large egg yolk 
3/4 cup buttermilk 
1 large ripe-yet-firm pear (fresh or canned), peeled, cored, cut into 1/4-inch cubes, and tossed with a few spoonfuls flour right before using
Preheat oven to 325° Fahrenheit, and butter and flour a loaf pan.

Sift together the flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and stir in 2 tablespoons of sesame seeds. Set aside.

Take the remaining 1/2 cup black sesame seeds, and grind them until they form a thick paste (this is easiest in a spice grinder, but with enough patience and scraping, you can use a blender). Set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy and well combined, scraping down the sides occasionally. Add the sesame paste, and beat another minute, then add the egg and yolk, and beat until pale and fluffy (3-4 minutes).

Fold in 1/3 of the flour mixture until just barely combined, then 1/2 the buttermilk. Repeat, ending with the flour, then fold in the pear. Pour into the loaf pan, smooth the top, and sprinkle with a few spoonfuls of sugar. Bake until a tester comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 1/2 hours (yeah, I know that's a crazy big range, but the reports seem to back it up — mine definitely took the full hour and a half). Let cool in the pan, then turn out, slice, and enjoy.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Matzo Crunch with Candied Kumquats

When Passover is finished, we're left with some fond memories, chairs to be returned, and a pile of wine-stained tablecloths and napkins that need bleaching. And a whole lot of matzo.

This year is no exception. Most of us slowly work our way through matzo overload, swapping it out for crackers in our daily snacking (my current variation involves a swipe of butter, sprinkle of birthday-gift truffle salt (thanks, Katie!), and dusting of nutritional yeast). But I also strongly urge you to turn at least some of the leftover haul into this candied kumquat matzo crunch.

This year's early holiday means that kumquats are still in the stores, at the tail end of their season. And once you slice them up and simmer them in a sugar syrup, they turn into little jewel-like, sour-sweet rounds, perfect for topping your matzo crunch. The original recipe that inspired me just spread some bittersweet chocolate on a plain slice of matzo, and while that's perfectly fine, I opted to make things even more ridiculous (though not as ridiculous as this) and lay down a layer of caramel first. Because Passover only comes but once a year. Although the matzo seems to last a whole lot longer...

  Matzo Crunch with Candied Kumquats

inspired by Dani Fisher, with caramel via Marcy Goldman's recipe
yields ~5 sheets matzo, enough for many dessert servings

If you want to skip the caramel for a less candy-like (and equally delicious) treat, just melt that amount of chocolate gently in a double boiler or microwave, spread it on the matzo, and proceed with the recipe.

Candied Kumquats:
1 1/2 cups kumquats
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water

5 sheets matzo
1 cup unsalted butter
1 packed cup brown sugar
hefty pinch salt (plus additional coarse salt for topping, optional)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 heaping cup chocolate chips or finely chopped chocolate

To candy the kumquats: Slice the kumquats quite thin, flicking out any seeds (they'll fall out in the process too, and are also edible, so don't worry too much). Bring the sugar and water to a simmer in a pot, then add the kumquats, reducing the heat until it's just enough to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring once or twice, until the kumquats have become translucent, ~20 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, and place on a rack to drain.

While the kumquats are drying off a bit, prepare the matzoh crunch. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and lay out the matzoh (break as needed to fit). Preheat your oven to 350 Fahrenheit.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter and sugar together over a medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, and let simmer for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and add the salt and vanilla. Pour the hot mixture over the matzo, spreading with a heat-proof spatula to cover evenly.

Transfer the matzo to the oven, and bake for 15 minutes (it'll bubble up a bit during the baking). After 15 minutes, remove from the oven, and scatter the chocolate evenly over the top. Let sit 5 minutes, then spread the chocolate evenly with an offset spatula. Top with a paving of the kumquat slices, pressing into the warm chocolate slightly. Sprinkle with a bit of coarse salt if desired.

Let cool fully (you can speed this up in the refrigerator if you're impatient), then break or cut into chunks.