Archive for May 2006

Chard & Walnut Lasagne for Ben

Ben’s not a picky eater, but he doesn’t like tomatoes unless they are roasted or dried (last year he went through a phase of eating graham crackers & dried tomatoes for breakfast). So when I remembered this recipe, I was happy to bring lasagne back into our lives. It’s from one of my favorite general cookbooks, Deborah Madison’s Local Flavors. Her version is pretty easy; mine is even easier.
1 c walnuts
2-3 bunches chard, leaves only
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for the dish
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 c white wine
1 c ricotta
1 c grated parmesan
8 oz fresh mozzarella, coarsely grated
1 1/4 c milk
8 oz lasagne noodles

Preheat oven to 400. While it’s warming, put the walnuts in to toast. Give them 7-10 minutes, until they are nice and fragrant, then chop finely and set aside.
Cook chard leaves in a large pot with a couple cups of water till tender, about 5 minutes. Scoop chard into colander, press out most of the water, reserving 1/3 cup of the cooking water. Chop chard finely.
Heat oil in a wide skillet and add 2 cloves of garlic, then chard. Cook over medium-high heat, turning frequently, for several minutes, then add wine and allow to cook down. Turn off heat.
Combine ricotta, parmesan, all but 3/4c mozzarella, and remaining garlic in a bowl. Stir in 1/3 c chard water, then add chard. Mix, season with salt & pepper.
Lightly oil a 9×13″ baking dish. Drizzle 1/4c milk into dish (it won’t spread evenly because of the oil; that’s ok).
Fit 3 pieces of uncooked (really, it’ll work just fine) pasta into baking dish. Sprinkle with 1/4 c milk, 1/3 cheese mixture, 1/4c walnuts. Repeat twice more with pasta, milk, cheese mix and nuts. When you get to the last layer, add the remaining mik, mozzarella, and walnuts.
Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes.
Remove foil and bake 10 minutes longer, or till lightly browned.
Let rest 10 minutes before serving.

Pan What?

I was doing more than the usual baking last year toward the end of my pregnancy with Eli. It was a good antidote to the uncertainty of our renovation, and it was certainly making my friends and family happy. Even my doula, who wanted me to go on a no-wheat, no sugar diet because I’d cultured positive for group-b strep, acknowledged that it would probably be less stressful for me to be hooked up to IV antibiotics during my labor (to prevent transmitting the bacteria to my baby), than change my diet and end my baking tear. The day we discussed this, as I recall, I’d baked both bread and a strawberry-rhubarb pie. (In the event, my water didn’t break until the minute Eli’s head popped out, rendering the antibiotic issue happily moot). Ben, always an excellent kitchen assistant, would wake up those days, during that sweet season of baking, asking, “What kind of pandowdy will we make today, Mama?”

Ah, pandowdy. A classic American dessert which is essentially pie for slobs. It has all the just-dump-the-fruit-in-the-pan appeal of a crisp or cobbler, but with the slightly fancy touch of a pie crust on top. Except you don’t have to prebake the crust, or roll it out very carefully, or even crimp the edges. In fact, part way through baking you slice it up and push the crust down under the fruit a bit so that the juice runs over the top and carmelizes the crust. Yum. It looks a mess (hence the name: pandowdy = dowdy in the pan), but tastes fabulous. Here’s an adaptation from Joy of Cooking and Deborah Madison’s lovely Local Flavors.

For the crust
1 c plus 2 tbsp flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
1/2 c butter, in chunks
1/2 tsp vanilla
2-3 tbsp ice water

Using a food processor, blend the flour, sugar, and salt together, then work in the butter until coarse crumbs form. Add the vanilla and sprinkle in just enough water for the dough to clump together with a few pulses of the food processor. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill while you prepare the fruit.

Preheat the oven to 400. Lightly butter a 2-quart baking dish.

For the filling
7-8 c fruit, chopped into large bite-sized chunks (I used rhubarb and strawberries, but you could use apple and rhubarb, apple, blueberries, peaches and blueberries, whatever you’ve got and sounds good)
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 tbsp flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 c maple syrup or brown sugar

Toss the fruit with the other ingredients and spread in the baking dish.

Roll out the chilled dough to about 1/8 inch thick and about an inch wider than your dish (but don’t sweat it if the dough is a slightly different shape than your dish, leaving some gaps where the fruit is uncovered; this is pie for slobs, remember?). Lay the dough over the fruit, tucking the edges into the fruit.

Bake until the crust is light gold, 30-35 minutes. Remove the pandowdy from the oven and lower the heat to 350. Slice across the crust diagonally into 2-inch squares. Use a spatula to press the crust down into the fruit and tilt the pan to let the juices flow over the crust (don’t worry if there’s not much juice yet, and of course don’t worry about breaking or crushing the crust – that’s the point).

Return the dish to the oven and continue to bake until the crust is really golden and glazed and the fruit is tender when pierced, about 20-30 minutes more. If you remember, baste the crust with the fruit juices once or twice during this second baking. Serve warm , with vanilla ice cream.

The Best Chocolate Layer Cake

Yes, I am throwing down a bit of a gauntlet here. Yes, I am happy to receive your recipes for your favorite chocolate layer cake. And no, I haven’t finished baking my way through Nigella’s Chocolate Cake Hall of Fame. But to be honest, her layer cakes haven’t thrilled me (though on review, I’ve only made 2 — old fashioned and malteaser, both of which were too sweet and too dry, I thought– so she’s still doing better than most cookbooks). Chocolate Guiness Cake, Chocolate Honey Cake, Chocolate Gingerbread: now those are some fabulous cakes, and I’ll be making them often.

But for a birthday (and we recently celebrated Eli’s), I want a layer cake, and this one is everything chocolatey and chewy and dense that I want in a layer cake. I got the recipe years ago from a friend who xeroxed it out of a magazine, which credited the recipe to The Casual Cafe in Sturbridge, MA. If anyone out there is near the cafe, go find it at the source and report back to me!

I’m giving you the cake recipe as published. However, if you feel, as I do, that there’s no such thing as too much cream cheese frosting, go ahead and double that part of the recipe to get an extra thick filling. I’ve also been known to split each cake layer (with toothpicks and dental floss: looks trickier than it is) and put cream cheese filling between each of four cake layers. Occasionally I even quadruple the cream cheese filling recipe, so that there’s enough to frost the middle, top, and sides of the cake (in this case, obviously, I dispense with the chocolate glaze). You get the idea: I like cream cheese frosting, and so do my boys.
For the cake layers:
2 c all-purpose flour
2 c granulated sugar
1/3 c unsweetened cocoa (not Dutch process; I’ve written that even though I can never remember what that means. Anyone want to refresh my memory?)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
4 large eggs
1 1/2 c vegetable oil
4 medium carrots, coarsely shredded (about 2 cups)

For the cream cheese filling
4 oz cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar

For chocolate glaze
1/2 c semisweet chocolate chips
3 oz bittersweet chocolate
6 tbsp heavy cream
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 c confectioner’s sugar

Make cake layers:
Preheat oven to 350 and butter and flour two 9×2″ round cake pans, knocking out excess flour.

Whisk or sift together flour, sugar, cocoa, salt, baking powder and soda. In a large bowl with an electric mixer, beat together eggs and oil on low speed until combined. Add flour mixture and beat until just combined. Stir in carrots and divide batter between pans. Bake cake layers in middle of oven 40 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Cool cake layers in pans on a rack 10 minutes and invert onto rack to cool completely.

Make cream cheese filling:
Beat together cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add vanilla and confectioners’ sugar and beat until creamy.
Spread filling on top of one cooled cake layer and top with other layer.

Make chocolate glaze:
In a small saucepan, combine glaze ingrediants and cook over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until chocolate is melted and glaze is smooth. Remove from heat, cool glaze slightly, then spread over top of the cake, letting it run down the sides.