Posts Tagged ‘easy’

Life-saving birthday aka any-day yogurt cake

23 June 2015

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The no-hassle, mindlessly easy, infinitely versatile, all-season, all-occasion cake that will also save a thousand birthdays.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have the heart of a baker. I rarely follow recipes precisely, I am exasperated when a cake I’ve made many times suddenly doesn’t work because the butter or the continent or the ambient humidity has changed. I like the idea of baking, however. I like cakes. And I like to think I can make a cake for my children’s birthdays, at the very least.

So I gravitate towards simple recipes such as this one or this one. And yogurt cake.

Yogurt cake is a classic in France; it is the cake most French children first learn to make. While French home cooks use scales, not volume measures such as cups, this cake is an exception: the unit of measurement is a pot of yogurt, the one whose contents are emptied precisely for the cake.

Because my family is not classically French, I discovered yogurt cake a bit later, in my twenties. It is brilliantly easy, and very clever, and can be easily spruced up for a special occasion.

Here first is the simple original recipe, though I hardly make it as is. The variations are just as easy.

Yogurt Cake, original French recipe
The measurement used is one empty pot of yogurt (empty once the yogurt has been used for the cake!). In Anglo-Saxon countries where yogurts are not as ubiquitously sold in the same standard-size pots I use a measure of 100ml.
1 ‘pot’ = 100ml see explanation above
1 pot of plain unsweetened yogurt
1 pot of oil or melted butter
2 pots sugar
3 pots flour
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
Lemon zest

Mix all the ingredients together and bake in a medium oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

*

Yogurt Cake, adapted recipe
I have doubled the quantities, reduced the amount of sugar, substituted part of the flour with ground almonds, and added raspberries which are conveniently in season for my boys’ birthdays.

2 pots (200 ml) of plain unsweetened yogurt
1 pot (100ml) melted butter
1 pot (100ml) olive oil
3 pots (300 ml) brown sugar
3 pots (300 ml) flour
3 pots (300 ml) almond flour
4 eggs
2 tsps baking powder
Zest from 2 lemons
Fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Line a 10-inch (26cm) baking tin with parchment paper and butter generously.

Mix all the ingredients together except the raspberries to obtain a smooth batter. Add the raspberries and incorporate gently in order not to squash the berries. Pour the batter into the baking tin, slide into the oven, and bake for 50 min to an hour, until the cake is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar and a handful of raspberries for decoration.

Festive birthday cake (pictured above)
NOTE: I don’t use almond flour for this version because it renders the cake incredibly moist and crumbly, which would make it difficult to cut through

Use the above recipe without nuts — use 6 pots of flour (and no almond flour)

Once the cake is baked and cooled, cut it in half carefully crosswise. Smear raspberry jam on the bottom half of the cake and place the top half back on top.

Make a lemony mascarpone icing and decorate with fresh raspberries and a generous sprinkling of popping candy!

Cheat’s potted crab

7 April 2014

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I’ve been dreaming of potted crab since last October, when we left London for a few days during the fall vacation and drove South, on a pilgrimage of sorts, to places I’d often been as a child. We drove toward the sea through the meandering countryside, over detours of Ashdown Forest to my old school, our old house. In Brighton I couldn’t recall the fish and chips shop we always stopped at, though I remember the soggy chips, the flaky fish, the newspaper package sticky with vinegar and sea air, the grinding stones underfoot. The shop probably doesn’t exist anymore anyway.

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Later we walked across the Seven Sisters, but in between we stayed in what must indeed be one of the prettiest villages in Sussex. In that village there was a pub. And in that pub there was potted crab. I ordered it only once, but each subsequent night I bit my lips at not having asked for it again. It was the best thing they served, or rather, it was just plain great, without qualifiers.

Potted crab is characteristic of the kind of British food that I love. It is simple, traditional, and, at its best, stellar. It’s ideal pub fare, picnic food, and perfect for an apéro.

‘Potting’ is a preservation technique, that derives from medieval pies. Meats and fish were initially baked in crusts as a means of conservation (apparently a fairly coarse crust, not intended as part of the delicacy). Once cooked, the pocket of air left between the filling and crust was filled with a sealing layer of fat poured through a hole in the crust. Later, crusts were dispensed of completely by using reusable pots.

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Since that crab in the pub in the village in Sussex I’ve wanted to make it. It has taken me all these months and a split-second, spur-of-the-moment decision to make it. I cheated because I bought the crab meat. I have a very good fishmonger close by and as I mentioned, it was a last minute decision. Still, it was very good.

Cheat’s potted crab

250g butter

1 bay leaf

300g cooked crab meat (about 2/3 white meat, 1/3 dark meat)

Zest and juice from 1 lemon

Pinch sea salt

Pinch cayenne pepper

Chives

Melt the the butter slowly in a small saucepan with the bay leaf.

Place the crab meat in a medium sized bowl, add the lemon zest and juice, salt, and cayenne pepper. Pour most of the melted butter into the crab meat, reserving about one quarter. Mix well.

Transfer the crab mixture to a bowl or glass terrine without packing it too much, smooth over the top. Coarsely cut a small handfull of chives over the crab and pour the remaining melted butter to seal (without the bay leaf). Keep in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to 2 days.

Remove from the refrigerator about half an hour before using and serve with delicious bread.

It’s that easy!

Essential slow-cooked lamb shanks

15 November 2013

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Some recipes are indispensable; these lamb shanks are of that breed. Incredibly good and remarkably easy. I simplified the original recipe slightly (not that it was complicated to begin with), and it could be further modified and adapted without much risk. This isn’t high flying patisserie, it’s a simple home-cooked dinner.

For another occasion I may take it up a notch as per the original recipe, by first rolling the shanks in finely chopped rosemary, crushed coriander seeds, dried chilli, and a spoonful of flour before browning the meat. But recently I had no white wine, forgot the anchovies, even the garlic. It was fine. Really good in fact. The dish would live on without the carrots, and might even survive with no tomatoes (compensate with more celery and/or carrots).

The essential elements are: onions and celery, some acidity (wine, vinegar), aromatics (rosemary, oregano, marjoram), and of course the magic of slow cooking. Here I followed the instructions and the result is perfect.

Recipe mildly adapted from Jamie Oliver’s first book The Naked Chef

2 medium-sized onions

5 – 6 ribs celery

1 – 2 carrots

1 – 2 garlic cloves

4 lamb shanks

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

2 Tbsps balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsps sherry or good wine vinegar

3/4 cup (200 ml) dry white wine

6 anchovy fillets

28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes

1 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves

1 tsp dried oregano or marjoram

Fresh flat-leaf parsley, basil, or marjoram for serving

Preheat oven to 350°F (175ºC)

Chop the onions, not too finely. Halve lengthwise then slice both the celery and carrots. Finely slice the garlic.

Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Heat a little olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, brown the shanks on all sides, remove from pot and set aside. Pour out the grease and wipe away any burnt bits.

Pour a little more olive olive into the pot and cook the onion until just starting to turn translucent. Add the celery, carrots, and garlic, season with some salt, and cook for 7-8 minutes until the vegetables being to soften.

Add the vinegars and cook for 1 or 2 minutes. Pour in the white wine and simmer for another couple of minutes.

Meanwhile chop the anchovies, drain the tomatoes and cut them in half lengthwise. Add the anchovies and tomatoes to the pot. Swirl the pan to shake up the flavors and place the lamb shanks snugly on top of the sauce.

Finely chop the rosemary to be sprinkled with the dried oregano (or marjoram) onto the shanks. Put on the lid and place in the oven. After 45 minutes turn the shanks over in the sauce (so that the part that wasn’t submerged now basks in the liquid) and place back into the oven for the another 45 minutes.

Now remove the lid, turn the shanks over once more, and cook for another 1/2 hour. (Altogether the shanks cook for 2 hours: 1 1/2 hours covered, 1/2 hour uncovered.)

Let rest and cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Or better yet, let cool completely, refrigerate, and reheat the next day in a 350°F (175ºC) oven for about 20-30 minutes.

Serve over rice, polenta, or mashed potatoes sprinkled generously with chopped fresh herbs.

Stewed dried fruit

13 April 2013

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My intention was to make Louisa’s cake, which I’ve craved since I first saw it two years ago. And since I had no ricotta at home I thought making my own, as I’ve also been wanting to do for a long time, would be the perfect, lazy Saturday morning, we’ve-been-away-and-I-haven’t-cooked-in-a-week sort of project. So I set forth, resolutely and with a tinge of excitement, salting and boiling cream and milk, when I realized there was no cheesecloth at home, either.

Perhaps it was the slow pace induced by a gorgeously sunny, cold week by the sea, cycling, walking, eating, and generally just being, but I was completely stumped. Not for a moment; for many minutes, an hour maybe. Just standing there in the kitchen, wondering what in the world I might do with two liters of salty milk, and what dessert might be on a post-vacation weekend. The invitation was a last minute thing, too.

I thought about the stewed fruits, something I used to make often, in winter especially, but rarely do anymore, for no particular reason. We usually have dried fruit around the house, and though a bit short on prunes to my taste, there was a good enough mix for my purpose.

A few hours had gone by, the morning behind us, and the milk still on the stovetop, so I decided to make a very dense, creamy yogurt to go with the fruit, as I’d done before.

All went quite well from then on. I added bay leaf to my usual recipe, and was very pleased with the result. Of course, the yogurt was nowhere near being set in time for dinner, but I had some commercial greek yogurt handy, too.

My salty yogurt is still sitting in the fridge. I’ve been thinking of making cheese, but for that I’d need some cloth.

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This dessert is very good and extremely easy. Adapted from Jüdische Küche by Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen.

200-250 g (1 1/2 cups) dried figs

200-250 g (1 1/2 cups) dried apricots, preferably unsulphured

200-250 g (1 1/2 cups) prunes

100-150 g raisins

(Also dried apples, pears, unsweetened dried pineapples, as desired, adjusting the quantities to have enough syrup to cover all the fruit)

2 lemons

4 Tbsps honey

6 or 7 cloves

1 or 2 cinnamon sticks (depending on their size)

About 20 peppercorns

1 bay leaf
*

Make a syrup with 2 l (8 cups) water, the rind and juice from the lemons, the honey, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the figs (and pears if using) and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the apricots (and apples and pineapple if using) and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Finally, add the prunes and raisins and simmer for a final 10 minutes (total stewing time 30 minutes).

Let the fruit cool in the liquid then refrigerate for a few hours at least before serving with thick yogurt or crème fraîche. (Remove peppercorns, cloves, and bay leaf before serving, or warn your guests.)

Baked shrimp with lemon, rosemary, and tarragon

12 May 2011

It’s surprisingly easy to grow tarragon.

I had always thought of tarragon as a fragile herb because it is often wilted and usually bland when bought, but I discovered it is actually a low-maintenance hardy perennial that survives the New York winter. Alongside chives, tarragon is the first herb to come up in spring, year after year, and I think it’s worth growing, if only for that optimistic quality.

A classic French use for tarragon is with chicken, it also goes nicely with fish, and gives an acidulated kick to salads. This oven-baked shrimp, though, is itself almost reason enough to grow tarragon. I was inspired by a recipe found on Oui, Chef (which uses different herbs and spices, but the idea and cooking method are the same).

It’s absurdly delicious, and ridiculously easy.

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Adapted from Herb and Lemon Baked Shrimp by Oui, Chef.

If you don’t happen to grow tarragon on your balcony, fresh thyme and 1/2 tsp cracked coriander seeds would go well, as shown in the original recipe (added early with the lemon, rosemary, and cracked pepper to flavor the oil).

1 lemon

1/2 tsp peppercorns

Good olive oil

Few sprigs fresh rosemary

1 lb (450 g) shrimp*

Few sprigs fresh tarragon

Coarse grey sea salt

*

Preheat oven to 400°F (200°C).

Trim the ends of the lemon, cut it in half lengthwise, place the halves cut side down on the board and cut into thin half moons. In a mortar, crack the peppercorns.

Pour enough olive oil to cover an ovenproof dish a generous 1/8 inch (1/4 cm) deep. Put the lemon slices in the oil reserving 4-5 very thin ones for later. Add the cracked pepper and the sprigs of rosemary. Put into the hot oven for about 15 minutes, until the oil is sizzling and fragrant.

Remove the dish from the oven, add the shrimp and tarragon, tossing them quickly in the fragrant oil, then sprinkle some coarse sea salt and place the few reserved slices of lemon on top and slide back into the oven.

Bake for about 7 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the shrimp. **Small shrimp are cooked practically as soon as they lose their translucence on the outside. Larger shrimp may take a couple minutes longer. (They will continue to cook when out of the oven.)**

Serve immediately, with a spoonful of the juices.

*Here in New York, nearly all shrimp has at some point been frozen. Usually, shrimp that is sold unfrozen is actually thawed. If the shrimp has been caught wild and never been frozen, it is specified. Therefore, unless very fresh wild shrimp is available, it is best to buy frozen shrimp and defreeze it at home just before cooking.


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