Sunday, July 25, 2010

Less is More

Here is a recipe for those days when all you have the energy for is to boil some pasta and have it with some canned sauce. This is almost as easy as opening a can of sauce, and tastes much better.

I've been meaning to try this sauce for a few months now. I guess the delay was largely attached to my wariness of just how unbelievably good this sauce with only four ingredients (and that's including salt!) was. I just didn't get it. Plus there's nothing else in it. Just sauce. I tend to like my pasta sauces
with lots of onion, veggies and ground beef. So I had to be in a particular type of mood to make this one.

I don't know if I'd say this was the best tomato sauce I've ever had. But I will say that this is probably the only tomato sauce I'd be tempted to eat straight up with a spoon. It's so simple, but feels quite luxurious and (to quote Laura) is weirdly addictive. If I didn't make it myself I'd say there was crack in it. The added butter and simmered onion makes the sauce really rich and smooth and for two ingredients, adds a great deal of flavour.

The one problem here is that I'm not sure exactly what the right pasta for this sauce is. We had it with some homemade tri-coloured pasta from the market, which was good but I felt a bit like the pasta and sauce were fighting for my attention. "Eat me, taste me! I'm delicious!" Well, yes it's true that both were delicious, but I think next time I might go for a simple white shell or fusilli noodle that is going to more or less act as a vehicle to get more sauce into my mouth. Yum.

Buttery Tomato Sauce

adapted from from Marcela Hazan's Essentials of Italian Cooking, via SmittenKitchen

28 oz can of whole peeled tomatoes (San Marzano if you have them)
5 tbsp (70 grams) unsalted butter
1 medium-sized yellow onion, peeled and halved
Salt to taste

1. Put the tomatoes, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan (I used my dutch oven as I don't have a saucepan) over medium heat.

2. Bring the sauce to a simmer then lower the heat to keep the sauce at a slow, steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until droplets of fat float free of the tomatoes*. Stir occasionally, crushing the tomatoes against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon.

3. Remove from heat, discard the onion, add salt to taste and keep warm while you prepare your pasta.

Serve with pasta, with or without grated parmesan for topping.

*Some of the comments I read on this recipe said that you needed to cook a little longer (maybe an additional 20 minutes) at a higher heat to really get some more flavour in the sauce. I thought it still tasted a little bland after 45 minutes, but I was going to play squash so I turned off the heat and let the sauce sit with the onions for about an hour. Then when I got back I reheated to a simmer and then removed the onions. It made a huge difference in the flavour. might want to simmer for closer to an hour.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Keeping Cool

So...this past weekend was a pleasant break from the extreme heat wave that Toronto has been experiencing for the last couple of weeks. It's still fairly comfortable today but apparently the temperature is going back to 40's with the humidex later this week. Yikes.

On days like this, just seeing people walking into work with their regular cups of hot coffee makes me start to sweat. How can they bear it?? I get that people still need their daily fix of caffeine but why subject yourself to the extra heat when delicious iced coffee is such a delicious alternative?

I started off the summer drinking Starbucks iced coffees which, I admit, are fairly addicting and convenient. But this starts to get expensive, and really making iced coffee at home is fairly easy and delicious!

You could just make your regular brew of coffee and throw some ice cubes in, but my personal opinion is that the cold-brew method is vastly superior; less acidity and so much smoother. In fact, this can be somewhat dangerous in that this stuff goes down like water. The best part is you can make a few days worth of coffees at a time! For someone like me who is the only coffee drinker in the household, this is so much more convenient than brewing a hot pot of coffee every day. I just make a batch in my french press and keep it in the fridge for about 3 days worth of iced coffee. Yum.

Now about the caffeine level: various articles state that cold-brew coffee has more or less caffeine than regular coffee. So which is it? Honestly it seems to really depend on the grinds to water ratio that you use, and also how much additional milk/water you add to the concentrate. From my personal experience though, a cold-brew coffee generally makes me more jittery than a regular coffee so I'm putting myself in the "more caffeine" camp.

You can add water, milk, any type of simple syrup or sugar (it just might take awhile to dissolve the crystals) with this. Lately though, I've been using condensed milk. I woke up one day a couple of weeks ago just craving condensed milk. Not a particular recipe with condensed milk as an ingredient...just a spoonful of it. So I bought a can and ate a few until it's gone I'll be using this to sweeten my iced coffees. It's actually pretty amazing because it adds some milk and sweetness to the concentrate, plus it dissolves more easily than sugar. Oh, and it's REALLY good. Try it.

Vietnamese Cold-brew Iced Coffee

Adapted from Serious Eats

3/4 cup ground coffee
4 cups water
condensed milk (to taste)

1. Fill a pitcher or french press coffee maker with coffee grinds and half the water. Stir to combine, and add the remaining water (this will help you to not get coffee grinds everywhere). Let steep overnight (at least 8 hours, ideally more like 12).

2. Strain coffee - if you're using a french press, strain the coffee into another bowl or pitcher, rinse out the carafe and pour the coffee back in. If you're using a regular pitcher do the same thing but with regular coffee filters to strain out the grinds.

3. Mix with condensed milk, or cream and sugar syrup and serve over ice. You can keep the rest of the mixture in the fridge for a few days which is convenient since you don't need to make a new batch every day!

Monday, July 5, 2010

A Perfect Pair

This summer seems to be flying by. One minute I'm eagerly anticipating the warm weather, and before I know it strawberry season is almost over! Rue and I went strawberry picking on the last weekend in June. And of course, with strawberries come rhubarb for some delicious baked goods. Yum.

We made the requisite strawberry rhubarb pie (with a crumble topping) which was oddly received with enthusiastic praise from everyone at the pool party that I brought the first pie to, and a thumbs down from my family who thought it was too tart. I guess rhubarb isn't for everyone?

The majority of the remaining berries went into some refreshing agua frescas the following weekend. But I still had about a pint and some rhubarb left over so my plan was to make muffins. Unfortunately you need a muffin tin for that (I seem to have lost mine) so I decided to make coffee cake instead.

Sometimes you make something that just know is going to be delicious before you even start getting the ingredients together. You can just kind of feel it. That's what this cake was like. A not-too-sweet cake batter infused with vanilla flavour and some sour cream to keep it moist, a fairly heavy crumb topping and some delicious seasonal fruit...what's not to love?

Anyway, I was right and then some. The cake was moist, perfectly sweet and just the right combination of cake and fruit. And the smell. Oh god. I took some in to work and could hardly restrain myself from eating the entire batch. It's really too bad that strawberry season is over...but the best part is that you could make this cake with any seasonal fruit. Next up...peach crumb cake?

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumb Cake

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Fruit filling:
1/4 lb rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1/4 lb strawberries, washed and sliced
1/4 cup sugar
1 tbsp cornstarch or flour

Crumb topping:
1/6 cup brown sugar
1/6 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup (2 oz) butter, melted
3/4 cup flour

1/4 cup sour cream
2 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup softened butter, cut into pieces

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Farenheit, 163 degrees Celsius

1. Grease an 8-inch round baking pan. For filling, toss strawberries and rhubarb with sugar and cornstarch or flour. Set aside.

2. To make crumbs: in a large bowl, whisk sugars, spices and salt into melted butter until smooth. Then add flour with a spatula or wooden spoon until the mixture is more doughy than crumb-ly. Leave it pressed together in the bottom of the bowl and set aside.

3. To prepare cake: in a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, eggs and vanilla. Using an electric mixer of some sort or a wooden spoon (I used my immersion blender with the whisk attachment) mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Add butter and about half the sour cream mixture and mix on medium speed until flour is moistened. Increase speed and beat for 30 seconds. Add remaining sour cream mixture and beat for about another 20 seconds.

4. Scrape all but about a 1/2 cup of batter into the prepared pan. Spoon fruit filling over batter. Drop the remaining batter over the fruit filling; it does not have to be even.

5. Using your fingers, grab bits of the crumb topping and squeeze into a big clump, breaking it into large crumbs about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch in size over the cake. Keep doing this until the topping is all used up. Bake cake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (it may be moist from rhubarb), about 35 to 45 minutes. Cool before serving.