My birthday was yesterday, so tonight I’m having a little birthday dinner with my family. I decided to cook my own dinner rather than going out. I like a tradition I’ve noticed at a few food blogs of making an elaborate cake for one’s own birthday – most days in life do not call for elaborate cakes, but one’s birthday seems an appropriate excuse to make just the cake one would enjoy the most, right?
This cake is by no means elaborate, but it has a gorgeous, bright lemon flavor. One can’t really talk about cake and health in the same sentence, but with olive oil and tangy Greek yogurt, this is certainly healthier than the buttercream-laden grocery store concoctions I loved so much (so much!) at birthdays as a child. And my adult palate finds it way more enjoyable.
I sampled some before dinner (it’s my birthday cake; I’ll eat it whenever I please!), and I can say it is a perfect complement to a cup of afternoon coffee. It would also be an easy dessert to bring to any bbqs you may be attending this weekend – I know citrus is really a winter food, but it also seems summery and refreshing (like lemonade!). Not only is this cake easy to make (no mixer required!), but it is also easy to transport and not too messy to eat standing up. Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone!
I haven’t posted in quite some time. This is because the last five months or so I’ve been preparing for Ph.D. Qualifying exams (which I passed last week, hooray). I thought that I’d be able to have super time management skills, and work on the blog during breaks from reading. As it turns out, “time management” during exam prep meant reading all day, every day. Needless to say, I am glad to be done with that now.
I did almost no cooking while reading for exams, and have slowly been easing my way back in this week, while of course taking time to celebrate with friends and relax. One way I’ve been relaxing is by watching episodes of Julia Child’s The French Chef, which has made me excited to cook again. I highly recommend these for anyone who loves Julia or wants to see what cooking shows were like before the days of the Food Network – they are so refreshingly unscripted (and consequently hilarious) in comparison. She always seems to be out of breath, unsure of where to stash things when she’s through with them, and frequently forgets what she’s trying to say mid-sentence. She screws up parts of recipes, and then very helpfully explains how to save the food if you’ve made a similar mistake – something I’ve never seen on contemporary food shows. They’re great fun to watch.
In any case, in the spirit of easing back into things, today’s recipe is so simple that it hardly deserves to be typed up as a recipe. This is the great thing about eating vegetables in season – you don’t have to do much to them to make them delicious. Mark and I were having a half-conscious conversation about canned vegetables and convenience late last night while trying to fall asleep (or, what is probably closer to the truth, I was mumbling some stuff about canned vegetables and Mark was wishing I’d shut up and go to sleep already). This recipe is a reminder that cooking fresh vegetables can be very quick and easy, not to mention much tastier than anything canned – it’s as simple as tossing with olive oil and baking for fifteen minutes while you finish preparing the rest of your meal. And if you want to be a bit fancier, you can spruce things up with some lemon zest, like I did.
This is my attempt to recreate Otto’s exquisite Pane Frattau pizza – pizza with tomato sauce, pecorino cheese, and, the part that elicited an “Ew” from my mother when I described it to her, a fried egg. My mother is wrong, by the way – the combination of the egg yolk and the sharp pecorino is perfect in every way.
Otto is Mario Batali’s most affordable NYC restaurant (great for my limited budget!). The last time I was there, as we were waiting to be seated, I was staring off into space (a habit that made my parents worry about me as a small child), and noticed a pair of orange Crocs on a pair of feet – I thought to myself, “Who can have such bad taste to wear Crocs to this nice restaurtant?” and looked up to see Mario himself, who of course is known for his orange Crocs. I guess Mario can wear whatever shoes he likes. If you ever visit Otto (which you should if you find yourself in the area – every pizza I have tried there has been wonderful), I wouldn’t recommend dining in Crocs yourself.
I did a few runs of this pizza before I managed to get it right – I wasn’t sure exactly how much pecorino I should use, but I finally decided to use a whole lot of it (less vague quantity can be found in the recipe below). Pecorino is a strongly flavored cheese – like the more well-recognized parmigiano, it is a hard cheese with a sharp flavor. It should be made from sheep’s milk.
The first time I ever had cheese made from sheep’s milk was at a cheese and wine tasting shortly after I had moved to Cambridge (similar to the chocolate tasting I described a few posts ago). The tasting was run by my college’s head of the catering department, who was very enthusiastic indeed (though in an understated British way) about his cheeses. When he got to describing the sheep’s cheese (I can’t remember what kind it was exactly), he informed us, with great gusto in his voice, “You can really taste the animal in this one.” I was a little freaked out by both the content of the statement and the excitement with which it was said. Was I ready to taste the animal? My cheese world until then had largely consisted of American cheese singles, and pre-grated yellow-dyed “cheddar” or mozzerella. I ate only a tiny sliver, and decided that was brave enough.
My cheese-appreciation is more advanced these days (thanks partially to that cheese-tasting), and I enjoy all kinds of sheep’s cheese, including the wonderful manchego, and the pecorino on this pizza. The moral of this story is that you want to be able to taste the animal, as it were, on this pizza – the flavor of that pecorino should be loud and clear.
My family used to make pizza at home from time to time when I was growing up, but it generally involved one of those Boboli pre-cooked crusts, and pizza sauce from a jar. Making one’s own crust and sauce seemed incredibly intimidating then, but I am here today to tell you that it is really not. A homemade pizza that is made literally from scratch (starting with just flour, yeast, and water) will make you feel deservedly proud of yourself. Pizza is one of those things (like quiche, for me at least) that looks truly impressive when it comes out of the oven – the finished product looks just that, finished, and nothing like the pile of raw ingredients you started with.
I’ve broken the process down into several steps, and one good thing is that the dough and sauce recipe make enough for several pizzas. So once you get around to making the second pizza, it will feel almost as easy as starting with pre-made crust and sauce, because they will already be made – by you, and not by some food factory that adds lots of weird, unpronounceable ingredients.
The recipes follow below the fold. Got any delicious topping ideas of your own? Feel free to share in the comments! Sometime soon I want to try a white pizza with goat cheese, caramelized onions, and possibly some prosciutto slivers myself…
When I was at Cambridge, the graduate student organization at my college would often plan tastings – of wine, cheese, beer, regional cuisines, and, best of all, chocolate. I went to a chocolate tasting towards the end of my time there, the night before one of my exams – I figured if I didn’t know everything I needed to know for the exam by that point, I was pretty much screwed anyway, so why not give my brain a rest and eat some chocolate? It turned out to be a very good plan indeed, as the exam I took the next morning received the highest marks of all.
The tasting was organized by a PhD student in the sciences, and she had a range of chocolate bars for us to try. I didn’t know much about chocolate prior to this (a few years back when I was backpacking around Europe, I walked out of a chocolatier in Zurich without buying anything because I thought it was too expensive, and that I could enjoy Swiss chocolate just as well by buying candy bars at the grocery stores). The tasting completely changed my approach to chocolate. The most exciting part was that a chocolatier from nearby Newmarket had brought some of her handcrafted chocolates for us to try (for anyone who lives in the area, the place was called Artistry in Cocoa, and is definitely worth giving a try). I can’t remember all of the chocolates that clearly by now, but I do remember one with a honey-cream-cumin filling (the flavors go together surprisingly well), one with an Earl Grey chocolate cream interior, and, my favorite of all, one with a center of raspberry jam made from raspberries grown in her mother’s backyard that had a coating of 98% chocolate to balance the sweetness of the jam.
Maybe I feel this way because I was only able to have one or two of these chocolates, and because I may never have one again as Newmarket is now nowhere close to where I live, but it resides in my memory as one of the best chocolates I’ve ever had.
All of that was a long, roundabout way of introducing these crêpes. For some reason I started thinking about those chocolates again the other day (it’s been nearly three years since I had them), and I realized that, though I can neither go to Newmarket nor make my own chocolates, I could recreate that flavor combination using the chocolate crêpes I posted awhile ago (then with a Nutella filling). I filled them with raspberry jam and then, to ramp up the bitter chocolate flavor, melted unsweetened and bittersweet chocolate together to garnish the crêpes. A little bit of powdered sugar made them pretty enough to serve to guests without compromising the intensity of the chocolate, and I came as close as I’ve come in the last four years to experiencing those magical chocolates again.
This is a comforting dinner for the miserably chilly, wet days we’re having here in the northeast at the moment – a one-dish meal of meat and potatoes that is flavorful and satisfying (though you could also have something green on the side to make this a bit healthier!). It is pretty simple to make – other than briefly boiling the potatoes and sauteeing the onions, you just throw everything into the casserole dish and throw (or gently place) the casserole dish into the oven. This is thus a great weeknight dinner option, especially if you do some of the prep work the night before to save yourself some time – chopping the onions, peeling the potatoes, or grating the cheese, for example. If you’re only cooking for a few people, it will leave plenty of leftovers, which are just as delicious reheated as when fresh out of the oven.