Saturday, September 17

Naked Tomato Sauce

One of my favorite Italian restaurants in New York City offers a spaghetti al pomodoro that whisks you off to Rome with a single pasta-twirled forkful.  So I jumped at the opportunity to create my own space-time impossibility when I saw this post on the Smitten Kitchen blog (which I think was inspired by Scarpetta's Spaghetti with Tomato and Basil).  Understandably, my attempt fell a little short of the truly great spaghetti sauces.

In the year that I have officially been feeding myself without the aid of a meal plan or familial relation, I have found it incredibly useful to use recipes as a way to expose myself to a new type of cooking.  Then I can learn the basic principles of, say, pasta sauces and eventually branch off to my own variations.  And we know how much I love really simple, delicious things.

As for making your own tomato sauce from scratch, don't.  Well, don't unless the sauce is meant to exploit the flavor of the tomatoes.  Fresh tomatoes in this recipe works because it is a "naked tomato sauce".  I would stick with cans of crushed tomatoes or canned tomato sauce is you are going to add the whole shebang: meat, peppers, onions, mushrooms.

That's my plug for this recipe.  That, and it was flavorful and tasty enough to not need freshly grated parmesan.  Which I would have grated with the grater that cost almost half of what I paid for for 3 pots, 3 pans, 3 kitchen utensils, and a set of 5 mixing bowls.  But hey, it's an investment...?

Naked Tomato Sauce
from Smitten Kitchen

3 lbs plum tomatoes
3/4 tsp course salt
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
pinch of red pepper flakes
small handful of basil leaves
1/4 cup olive oil
3/4 lb dried spaghetti
1 tbs unsalted butter

Peel the tomatoes.  The best way to do this is by cutting a shallow X in the bottom of each tomato, submerging them in water for about 30 seconds, and then shocking the fruit under cold water or with an ice bath.  Peeling off the skins should be pretty easy then.
Cut the tomatoes in half and scoop out the innards (the seeds and juices).  Strain everything and keep the juice.  You can discard the seeds.  Crush the tomato slices in a saucepan that can hold the sauce and the pasta.  Crush them using a potato masher, a slotted spoon, an immersion blender.... OR your hands!
Turn the heat onto medium-high until the tomatoes start to boil and then turn it to medium-low and let simmer for 35-45 minutes.

hand-crushed, baby

Meanwhile, combine the olive oil, garlic, red pepper, and basil in a tiny saucepan and bring to a boil as slowly as possible.  Infuse the olive oil.  When it boils, remove immediately from the heat and strain into a small ball.  Set aside for later.

After about 25 minutes of tomato-simmering, make the pasta but cook until it is very al dente because it will cook a bit more with the sauce.  Save about 1/2 cup of the pasta water to bring the sauce and pasta together.
Combine the pasta and infused oil in the tomato pot and add a little bit of the pasta water to bring everything together.  Consume.

This past week I was unbelievably able to attend the final match of the US OPEN!  Aanndd, Paul Simon was there!  So here's Paul Simon's "Cecilia":

Perelman, Deb. "Naked Tomato Sauce." Smitten Kitchen. 31 Aug. 2011. Web. 16 Sept. 2001. <>.

Friday, September 9

Carrot Cake Muffins

Trader Joe's sells these really fantastic carrot cake sandwich things (think a carrot cake whoopee pie).  These are not that type of muffin.  This particular recipe is from the Recipes for Health section of the New York Times.

As Martha Rose Shulman (the woman who developed and published this recipe) writes, "These spicy whole-grain muffins are just sweet enough, unlike most cloying carrot cakes."  Troublesome as it is, I have no problem with sweetness, cloying or otherwise.  The more the better, general health and well-being be damned.

ah, the healing powers of California's
natural light

Over the years, many people have argued that muffins cannot in fact be limited to one meal, but these carrot cake muffins are definitely of the breakfast variety.  Packed with fiber and protein, they are a healthy but delicious way to start your day.  Plus, they make the whole house/apartment/dorm smell like Christmas.

what a delicious, welcome mess

Carrot Cake Muffins
by Martha Rose Shulman

2 1/2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup canola oil
1 1/3 cups buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
2/3 cup golden raisins tossed with 1 tsp flour
1 1/2 cups grated carrots (this is maybe 4 large carrots)

eggs straight from my sister's farm... that's right folks,
straight from chicken rump to counter top

wet ingredients

I peeled way too many carrots

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, making sure the racks occupy the top 1/3 of the oven space.  Grease the muffin tins.
Sift together the whole-wheat pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt.
Separately, beat together the eggs, sugars, oil, buttermilk, and vanilla.  Use a whisk or spatula to stir in the dry ingredients until well-combined.  Make sure not to beat as a few lumps are fine, but there should not be any flour at the bottom of the bowl.  Fold in the raisins and carrots.
Spoon into muffin tops, filling them so they are just below 4/5 full.  Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned and well risen.

just into the oven

Because I am a poor, starving college student, I do not have the luxury of blowing many many dollars on music.  Yes, I could download music illegally, Youtube it, open myself to Pandora's incessant ads, and now Spotify it.  Moral issues aside, I am in all honesty just too lazy.  Not only do you have to find your preferred fountain of tunes, but you have to screen it for obnoxious promos, URL's to God-knows-what stored in all sorts of places, not to mention the issues with downloading something you do not want to download.

However, the upside is that I get to rediscover music in my library.  For example, this song, "Let's Live For Today" by the Grass Roots, is on a CD of anthems that my sister let me steal/borrow:

Shulman, Martha R. "Recipes for Health: Carrot Cake Muffins." The New York Times. 1 Mar. 2011. Web. 10 Aug. 2011.

Friday, September 2

Whole Lemon Bars

It took me a little while to warm up to lemon bars.  Most of my exposure to them came through the various bake sales of my childhood, and who would have lemon bars when there are brownies, cupcakes, and cookies, oh my?  Fortunately my taste matured.  Still, lemon bars can frequently be something of a wild-card.  Sometimes they are too sweet, sometimes the crust is just lacking, sometimes the lemon offers only a hint of flavor.

this would be an occasion to splurge
for the sifter

On the same day that Elizabeth and I made the Coconut Red Lentil Soup, we made these Whole Lemon Bars.  Oh, they were perfect.  The bars had the zing of the citrus and a shortbread-like crust.  Not to mention they are just plain ol' purdy to look at.

now that's what I'm talking about

This recipe uses an actual whole lemon that is pulverized by a blender or food processor.  For that lemon, Mr. Lebovitz (the man who developed this recipe) recommends using an organic lemon because everything (pith, pulp, peel, and all) goes in the lemon bars.  One organic lemon is not very expensive either.  As for the lemon juice, I think two lemons should be more than enough to produce 3 tablespoons of juice.

Whole Lemon Bars
by David Lebovitz

1 cup flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tablespoon salt
8 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Lemon Topping
1 lemon, organic or unsprayed
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 large eggs, room temperature
4 teaspoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

Optional: powdered sugar, for serving

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Overturn an 8-inch square pan on the counter and cover the inside of the pan with foil, shiny side up.  A good way to do this is by first wrapping it around the outside of the pan to get the shape.
Mix the crust ingredients together and stir until just smooth.  Pour the batter into the pan, making sure to spread and smooth it so it is level.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until it's golden brown.
While the crust is cooking, cut the lemon (this would be the organic one) in half, remove the seeds, and cut it into chunks.  Blend the lemon chunks, sugar, and lemon juice until the lemon is no longer chunky.  Add the rest of the lemon topping ingredients and continue blending until almost smooth.
When the crust is out of the oven, reduce the heat to 300 degrees, pour the lemon mixture over the crust and bake for 25 minutes or just until the filling stops jiggling and is barely set.
Take it out of the oven and let it cool completely.  Then carefully remove the golden wonder by lifting the foil.  Cut into the desired shape and sift powdered sugar over the top before serving.  VoilĂ !

At the moment, I am in Delaware with my aunt and uncle and cousins.  My first-cousin-once-removed (although who knows if that is right) is now 3 years old and loves The Who.  To the point that he wants to be called Roger (the lead singer's name).  Currently, his favorite song is "Baba O'Riley" and, man, has this kid got the rhythm down.  So in honor of him, here is "Baba O'Riley" by The Who:

Lebovitz, David. "Whole Lemon Bars." David Lebovitz: Living the Sweet Life in Paris. 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 14 June 2011. <>.

Thursday, September 1

Basil and Parmesan Cheese Flakey Biscuits

The first part of my summer was full of hiking and cooking and life-maintenancey bits (dentist, anyone?), while the second part was all work and class and no play.  Fortunately, a trip to Oregon to visit my older sister, Ingrid, and Heart Wheel Farm divided the two parts.

finished product

It was an amazing trip.  I was so glad to get the chance to spend time with both my sisters, especially because it has been about a year since I had seen Ingrid and it will probably be another year before we see each other again.  The night before we left, I made these flakey biscuits with basil and parmesan.  They are savory biscuits and probably taste best with soup or lentils or something.  We ate them as a side to dinner with a little bit of drizzled pesto sauce (which I also made using this recipe).

Basil and Parmesan Cheese Flakey Biscuits
from The Tassajara Bread Book

1 cup unbleached white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
1/2 cup milk
1 1/4 cups grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil leaves


and after!

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Combine the flours, baking powder, and salt.  Cut the butter into dry ingredients (this can be done with two knives or by rubbing the butter between your hands until pea-sized pieces of butter are formed).  Add the parmesan and minced basil leaves.

Make a well in the center and add the eggs and milk.  Beat the liquid with a fork until smooth, then continue stirring and slowly incorporate the dry ingredients, until all is moistened.
On a floured board, knead the dough just enough to bring it together.
Roll the dough until a rectangle 1/2 inch thick.  Fold in thirds.  Rotate the dough a quarter turn, and repeat rolling and folding.  Repeat once more.  This maximizes the flakey layers of the biscuits
To make the biscuits, roll out the dough again to a 1/2 inch thickness.  Cut into rounds with a floured cutter or glass.
Place on an ungreased sheet, and bake for about 8-10 minutes until the bottoms are browned lightly and the tops are slightly golden.  Make sure not to bake them too long because they will dry out.
Serve piping hot!  Or cart them on an eight hour drive and have them that night.

This is a version of the old John Denver classic "Take Me Home, Country Roads" that Ingrid put on a CD for me.  I love folksy songs, and the percussion just adds a whole new dimension to it:

Brown, Edward Espe. "Basil and Parmesan Cheese Flakey Biscuits." The Tassajara Bread Book. Boston: Shambhala, 2009. 94. Print.