Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Viennese Valentine's: Sachertorte

Let's face it, a nice creamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me.                                              -Audrey Hepburn 

I know what you're thinking. Valentine's Day was two weeks ago; why in the world am I posting this now? First of all, that's just the way things work around here; it (sadly) takes time for things to move from the kitchen to the blog, especially when I'm writing and getting ready for a trip to Europe (Finland, here I come! In less than 48 hours!). Secondly, chocolate cake is timeless. Holiday or no holiday, we need no excuse to indulge in chocolate cake. Granted, the Sachertorte, which Austrian chef Franz Sacher first made by accident in 1832, is not just your everyday cake. With both an apricot glaze and an even happier, shinier chocolate glaze, it takes time and effort. But all the good things in life do. 

It was the Greek's idea to make this cake for Valentine's Day. We had decided to stay in and make our own feast, rather than fight the crowds, not to mention the overly organized couples who made reservations well in advance. Considering we had the main course and side dishes to attend to--steak, beets with pistachio butter and an arugula salad--I saw the cake as an almost insurmountable challenge. And, honestly, it was the most time consuming portion of the preparation for the meal....Let's just say that, if you go the Sachertorte route, by the time the thing is assembled and glazed, you'll really have "sung for your supper."

But what a cake! What a thing to "sing" for! I don't usually go crazy for layer cakes--it seems dangerous to have to cut a cake in half, or to have to stack one layer on top of another (such potential for disaster, after all)--but, for some reason, this one really did it for me. I've always been one of those people who enjoys the combination of fruit and chocolate and the tangy apricot glaze added a nice touch--a zing, if you will--to the barely there sweetness of the cake. I had had a moment of blasphemy when I suggested to the Greek that we go with raspberry glaze instead of apricot. He gave me the usual look of "we will not mess with classic dishes/flavor combinations" (I got the same look when I suggested sun-dried tomatoes in Spanakopita. Mark my words, I will try this one day) and so, for the sake of being classic and channeling the accidental pastry glory of nineteenth-century Vienna, we went with apricot. No regrets were had.

This is the thing I like best about chocolate cake. Or, really, about dessert in general. Usually (as in 98 times out of a 100), if you make some kind of sweet and you give it to people, they will like it. More importantly, they will most likely all be in agreement about its fine qualities, although they all will maybe focus on something different--chewiness, moistness, airiness of the frosting. The general impression, however, will be the same. And this is why I'd like to bake my dissertation rather than to write it. There would be less room for disagreement. Imagine a world in which there were a Sachertorte for each and every committee member; I assure you that, if more dissertations had a dessert component, everybody would be a lot happier, both writer/baker and reader/potential eater. And a dollop of whipped cream to offset the shimmering chocolate would remove the need for words. The smiles would be enough.


Adapted from Epicurious
Yields 12-16 gooey slices

For the cake:
4 1/2 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
9 tablespoons  unsalted butter, at room temperature    
1 cup powdered sugar
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour (spoon gently into cup and level top)

For the apricot glaze:
1 1/4 cups apricot preserves
2 tablespoons water

For the chocolate glaze:
1 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
6 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (or round chocolate chips)

- Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 400°F.
- Lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment.
- Dust the sides of the pan with flour and tap out the excess.
- In a microwave at medium power, melt the chocolate and butter together.
- Remove from the microwave oven, and let stand, stirring often, until cool.
- Mix the confectioners’ sugar into the chocolate butter mixture with a whisk (N.B. you could use a handmixer or a standing mixer, but we went the old-fashioned route).
- Continue whisking until light in color and texture—about 2-3 minutes.
- Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Then, whisk in the vanilla.
- In another bowl, whisk the egg whites and granulated sugar until they form soft, shiny peaks. Do not overbeat.
-Stir about one fourth of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining whites, leaving a few streaks of white.
-Whisk the flour and add half to the chocolate mixture, folding it in witha rubber spatula. Repeat with the remaining flour.
- Spread the batter evenly in the pan.
- Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes. (The cake will dome in the center.)
- Cool on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan, and invert the cake onto the rack. Remove the paper and reinvert on another rack to turn right side up. Cool completely.
- To assemble, using a long serrated knife, trim the top of the cake to make it level.
- Cut the cake horizontally into two equal layers. Place one cake layer on an 8-inch cardboard round or onto a large dish.  
-At this stage, you should make the apricot glaze.
- Bring the preserves and rum to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring often.
- Cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture clings to the spoon and is very sticky. This should take about 2-3 minutes. Use while warm.
- Brush the top of the cake layer with the apricot glaze.
- Place the second cake layer on top and brush again. Brush the top and sides of the cake with the remaining glaze. Transfer the cake to the rack and set on a covered surface (the Sunday edition of The New York Times worked nicely, although the suggested jellyroll pan would have worked best. Alas.).
-Let the cake sit, soaking up the apricot glaze, while you make the chocolate glaze (it must also be freshly made and warm).
- In a heavy-bottomed small saucepan, bring the sugar, water, and chocolate to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally.
- Attach a candy thermometer to the pan.
- Reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, stirring, until the mixture reaches 234°F., about 5 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and stir to cool and thicken slightly, about 1 minute. Use immediately.
-Pour all of the warm chocolate glaze on top of the cake.
-Gently smooth the glaze over the cake, allowing it to run down the sides, being sure that the glaze completely coats the cake (patch any bare spots with the spatula and the icing that has dripped. Sadly, you will lose more than a little chocolate glaze).
- Cool until the glaze is barely set, then transfer the cake to a serving plate.
-Refrigerate until the glaze is completely set, about an hour.
- Remove the cake from the refrigerator about 1 hour before serving (or if you’re feeling impatient, don’t. It tastes good no matter what, although the texture is like a chocolate biscuit and you want it to soften a little).
- To serve, slice with a sharp knife dipped into hot water.
- Eat with a large dollop of whipped cream, preferably, if Valentine’s Day, dyed a pinkish red with beet juice. 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Caramelized Garlicky Glee

Fate has a thousand wiles when it chooses to impose on us its incomprehensible whims. A temporary blackout, a moment of inattention or blindness is enough to insinuate an act between the Scylla and Charybdis of decision. Afterward, with hindsight, we may endlessly ponder that act, explain our motives, try to discover our true intentions; but the act remains irrevocable.
-Bruno Schulz ("Father's Last Escape")

Finally, after 68 pages, 100 footnotes and a long, winding analytical discussion of 9 Russian authors and more episodes of 30 Rock than you would believe is possible to watch in the course of a week, I am back. I know that I've neglected the blog recently, but I suppose that the sad truth is that sometimes there's only enough time in the day for one project. The good news, however, is that Chapter 2 is done and, even though I can't help but feel a little nervous about the two meetings I have with my committee members tomorrow (there is the possibility that they may hate it, after all), I also believe that this may be the best work I've ever produced. It turns out that 3-4 hours a day of writing creates its own "zone"--that perfect place you have to be in to feel that you're saying what needs to be said about the topic at hand. It really got to the point that I was "living" my material, but that kind of closeness with your material (healthy or not) has, in my experience, made all the difference between quality work and so-so work. And let us not forget the requisite night in the library with a granola bar for dinner that shows that you've really suffered for your craft and have the tenacity to keep on going even when you want nothing more than to stop looking at the computer screen and move on with your life (i.e. the moment when the typos happen and you don't even care).

But to return to the good news, even though all has been quiet on this western front, I've nevertheless been cooking, eating and planning posts. I've got several desserts to tell you about, as well as a great and simple vegetable recipe, but that's all for another day. Tonight I give you the Caramelized Garlic Tart, courtesy of Ottolenghi's Plenty. While I don't own this book myself, a friend and fellow blogger has told me nothing but good things about it; I thought it would make a good Christmas gift for the Greek's mother and, when I was perusing the table of contents to see the book's offerings, I saw the recipe for this tart. As a garlic lover, I knew I had to make it and immediately. My immediately, however, is often a few months down the line. I do what I can. And, as with most things, I believe that it's better late than never.

Thursday evening, after a triumphant day of leaving copies of my chapter in all the committee members' boxes, eating lunch in the sunshine with a friend and reclaiming by existence and dignity by finally doing some laundry, I got around to assembling first the puff pastry (although I have fantasies of one day making my own puff pastry--I've heard it's quite easy--I used the frozen stuff) and then the caramelized garlic topping. All I can say is this: even if you claim you don't like garlic and find its taste to be excessive and overly potent, you would never even know that garlic is in this tart. By first blanching the garlic, then frying it in olive oil and, only after all that, adding balsamic, water and some spices and sugar, you're taking the garlic to some super (as in above) state of being. It transcends its normal potent self and becomes something soft, sweet and luscious. Not even a vampire would be scared to approach....

Encased in the puff pastry and surrounded by goat cheese and a creamy, quiche-like filling, the garlic is the true star of this dish. I've started to imagine a world in which I roast all kinds of vegetables and top them with the caramelized garlic. This place may just be my paradise (let the image of the kite from today's hike speak for my glee--at both the end of the chapter and the fact that I finally got around to making this tart).

Caramelized Garlic Tart

Adapted from Ottoglenhi's Plenty via the interwebs

Serves 8 celebratory slices

13 oz all-butter puff pastry
3 medium-sized heads of garlic, separated and peeled
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
1 cup water
1/2 tsp. salt
3/4 Tbsp. sugar (roughly 2 1/4 tsps)
1 1/2 tsp. rosemary (I used dried, which is all I had on hand)
1 1/2 tsp. thyme (again, I used dried)
8 oz. soft goat cheese 
2 eggs
3/4 cup 2% milk (the original recipe called for a combination of creme fraiche and heavy cream, but the 2% didn't detract from the flavor in the least)
sea salt and black pepper, to taste

-Preheat the oven to 350.
-Grease a loose-bottomed, fluted tart tin. I would also suggest, based on my experience, inverting the bottom and perhaps also lining it with foil. 
-Roll out the puff pastry so that it will line the bottom and sides of the tin, plus a little extra. 
-Line the tin with the puff pastry. 
-Line the pastry with parchment and either fill with baking beans or set a pie plate within the tin (this is a trick of my grandmother's), so that the pastry will not shrink. 
-Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. 
-Once these 20 minutes are up, remove the parchment and/or pie plate/baking beans and let bake for an additional 10 minutes, or until golden. Leave the oven on after you've removed the pastry. 
-In the meantime, begin to caramelize the garlic. Put the separated and peeled cloves into a saucepan, cover them with water. Bring to a simmer and then let cook for an additional 3 minutes. 
-Remove from the saucepan and drain well.
-Dry the saucepan and add the olive oil, heating it at high heat. Add the garlic cloves and let cook for about 2 minutes.
-Then, add the balsamic vinegar and the water and bring the mixture to a boil. Let these ingredients simmer for 10 minutes.
-Once the garlic cloves have begun to soften, add the sugar, rosemary, thyme and half of the salt (1/4 tsp). Let simmer for an additional 10 minutes, on medium heat, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the garlic has a dark syrupy coating. Then, set aside.
-Break the goat cheese up into the tart shell, making sure to cover it completely. 
-Spoon the garlic and syrup evenly over the cheese.
-In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and 1/4 tsp. of salt, as well as some pepper. 
-Pour this custard over the tart filling, making sure that the garlic is still visible. 
-Cook for about 30 minutes at 350, or until the filling has set and has taken on a golden hue. 
-Remove the tart from the tin, very gently, and prepare to be swept away by garlicky waves of happiness. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Temporary Escape and Toasted Coconut Pudding

While I am writing, I am far away; and when I come back, I have already left. I should like to see if the same thing happens to other people as it does to me, to see if as many people are as I am, and if they seem the same way to themselves. When this problem has been thoroughly explored, I am going to school myself so well in things that, when I try to explain my problems, I shall speak, not of self, but of geography. 
-Pablo Neruda ("We are Many")

When I was a freshman in college, one of my suitemates studied Spanish and, occasionally, she would pull out her copy of Pablo Neruda and read a few lines aloud, gushing about how he was the most romantic poet ever and how his poetry gave her goosebumps. Both friends who would be in the room with us and our other suitemate would agree. Maybe it was my lifelong bias towards poetry (I'm working on it, people!), but, besides a few absolutely gorgeous phrases and lines, I really didn't see it. I just didn't get the appeal of Neruda. But rather than be the one wet blanket in a room full of Neruda-lovers, I kept my naysaying to myself. Flash forward more than a few years and I felt that today's quote could be nothing other than Neruda. Certainly, this has nothing to do with toasted coconut pudding. Nor does the quote have anything to do with romance on this most romantic of days. What can I say? Neither my dissertation nor my adviser probably really cares much for the fact that this is the day of St. Valentine.

 I still, however, adhere to the belief that there should always be time to pause (however briefly) and celebrate. I do sometimes find that as soon as I close the computer or go and do something else--mundane things like dusting and the dishes, or peeling a hard-boiled egg--that that's when things come together. I often feel that the limbo space between action and inaction is my most productive moment. Which is why I say there's always time for dessert. Stirring milk and sugar together has led to many brilliant (and not so brilliant) ideas. Some would even argue, myself included, that it is itself a marvelous idea, especially when mixed with corn starch, freshly toasted coconut (all thanks to the Greek's coconut cracking abilities; unlike me, he didn't put a dent in our dining room table) and vanilla. Adding chocolate chips to the still hot pudding and watching as they take on a glossy sheen only add to the splendor of your temporary escape.

Which is why, after I write this post and do a little more work, I'm taking the night off and letting butter, sugar and other guilty pleasures rear their decadent little heads. I recommend you do the same. This pudding is a good way to start. 

Toasted Coconut Pudding

Yields enough pudding to fill up to 4 ramekins

I got this recipe from my grandmother, who recommended that, rather than dirty a pot, I try a recipe she had for the microwave. I was skeptical, but it was delicious and easy. Surprisingly, my pathetically weak microwave was up to the challenge. 

2/3 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. cornstarch 
1/4 tsp. sea salt
2 cups milk
3 egg yolks
1 Tbsp. coconut oil
the meat of one freshly cracked coconut, shredded (in a food processor) and mixed with 1 Tbsp. brown sugar and a dash of cinnamon
1 tsp. vanilla
semi-sweet chocolate chips, for decoration

-Toast the shredded and slightly sweetened coconut in either a skillet or in the oven. If you prefer the former, use medium heat and stir frequently, or until golden. If the latter is the method for you, spread the coconut on a cookie sheet and bake at 300 for 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes. Once toasted, remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.
-In a microwave-safe bowl, mix together the milk, sugar, cornstarch and salt. 
-Place on high in the microwave, setting the timer for 12 minutes. Every three minutes, you should open the microwave and stir the mixture until it thickens (you will know when it is ready because it will coat and stick to the spoon you're using). 
-In the meantime, add three egg yolks to a medium-sized bowl. 
-Once the mixture has thickened, add 2-3 ladles worth of the milk mixture to the egg yolks, whisking the whole time (you don't want the egg to curdle). 
-After the mixture is frothy, pour it back into the milk mixture and add half of the toasted coconut.
-Microwave for another 3-4 minutes or until the pudding looks glossy. 
-Remove from the microwave and add 1 Tbsp. coconut oil (or butter, if you prefer) and 1 tsp. vanilla. Add in about 2/3 of the remaining coconut.
-Stir the pudding together and pour into ramekins or small bowls. 
-Garnish the top with the last of the coconut, as well as a few chocolate chips for both color and flavor. -Cover with plastic wrap, touching the wrap to the pudding so that a film doesn't develop.
-Let cool. Eat at room temperature or refrigerate. Savor the magic.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Like Love's Arrow to My Heart

It is hard for many of us to look forward to cooking a meal that's just for ourselves. It's not just laziness, but some feeling that it's not quite worth the effort when it's just for us. That we're not worth it! [...] When people say they take the time to shop and cook well for themselves, that they don't stint when it comes to solo meals, or deny themselves good food and wine, there's something self-respectful and positive in that. But it's oddly rare. We seem to have little tolerance for such pleasures.
-Deborah Madison (What We Eat When We Eat Alone)

I don't know if a simple dinner of baked feta on whole wheat bread with a salad and a glass of wine qualifies as cooking well for oneself, but I can most definitely tell you that it was a very pleasurable meal. And one that was perhaps made even better by its sheer simplicity. Things have been busy enough recently that, instead of embracing elaborate recipes that will have me in the kitchen for more than an hour or two (yes, I am a masochist), I've been looking for things that come together with minimal effort on my part. As I see it, life knows how to complicate things; I don't have to offer it any help.

So, when I went to get a library card this weekend and made my way to the cookbook section (yes, the memory of all those boxes of books during our move is still fresh; plus, the library is a good way of getting to sample a lot of cookbooks and all for the cost of $0--a graduate student's favorite price!), I was intrigued by an older book of Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food: 350 Recipes Ready-to-Eat in 30 Minutes (this was pre-Rachael Ray, too--in 1995). A quick look at some of the recipes (Spiced Chicken with Brown Butter, Mushroom Beignets and Warm Pea and Lentil Salad) and I was sold.

It was only when I got to the bus stop and was thumbing through the book that my eye caught the Baked Feta with Thyme recipe. The Greek had plans to attend a Serbian cultural evening and I couldn't help but think that it seemed just right for a dinner for one. It's amazing what a little olive oil, fresh thyme and being baked in foil can do for a 3.5 ounce hunk of feta. When it came out of the oven all soft and quivery and the smell of thyme hit my nose, I knew that a new comfort food had been born. And my first bite only proved it.

Baked Feta with Thyme

From Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food: 350 Recipes Ready-to-Eat in 30 Minutes

Nigel's recipe is for two, but, since it was just little old me, I cut things in half. I'll give you the original quantities, however, since this would make either a lovely appetizer or a simple dinner, depending on your circumstances. If you have a cookbook on hand--Nigel's or anybody else's--and you just happen to be eating alone, it would make for a superb dining companion.

7-ounce block of Feta
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 springs fresh thyme, chopped

-Preheat oven to 425 F or turn on the broiler (I used the oven, but the broiler would lead to more color).
-Cut the cheese into 2 thick slices.
-Place the feta slices on a piece of aluminum foil and lightly drizzle them with olive oil.
-Scatter the thyme leaves over the cheese.
-Wrap the foil around the cheese lightly and put directly into the oven and/or broiler.
-Cook until the cheese is heated through, with the feta's typical firmness giving way to a slight jiggle.
-Place baked cheese onto bread, pour yourself some wine and enjoy the meal--with or without a side salad.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Dessert and Downton Abbey: Banana Nutella Cookies

“Highclere was a symbiotic system, and mutual respect was the key to its success. The fifth Earl prided himself on an Old World courtesy, and that set the tone for the entire household. He took an interest in the well-being of the staff and the cottagers on the estate; often a donation would be made towards a fund for a tenant whose livestock had died, and money was also made available for the staff to have medical treatment.”
-Fiona Aitken (Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey) via NYTimes

Sundays, in my humble opinion, should be about relaxation and restoration. It's not only the last work-free day of the week, but it's also the day that dear old Downton Abbey airs. That is enough of a cause for celebration in and of itself. It just changes the whole shape of Sunday; whereas in the past Sunday used to be a day of dread (who, after all, really cares for Monday?), having a show to watch in the evening gives it a little oomph. It's no longer about evenings frantically spent trying to meet deadlines or having to plan tomorrow's class; instead, it's about wondering what I'm going to bake for the Sunday feasts that Downton has given rise to...You see, the Greek and I, plus a friend, gather to watch each week. And, while I'm sure the Greek couldn't give two hoots as to Mary's and Matthew's on-again-off-again romance, my friend and I are diehard "Mattharies." It's okay, though; the Greek comes for the battle scenes (it's just like Tolstoy's War and Peace all over again; men prefer war and women prefer peace) and more than happily partakes in the feast.

Each week brings a new plot twist and a new recipe to try as well. And, because this Sunday just happens to be World Nutella Day (when this day came into existence I cannot say, but it is real), I'm going to share with you favorite Nutella recipe to date: Banana Nutella Cookies, aka Cookie Crepes.

Before you get too excited, I should mention that the name Cookie Crepes is a misnomer; it's really just a fanciful way of saying that I've captured the magic of my favorite crepe (banana and Nutella, obviously) in a cookie. I mean, imagine it: gooey Nutella and bananas with cinnamon...all in the shape of a cookie. It's better than a crepe, really. And, even better, infinitely less work.

These cookies are an example of one of my favorite baking strategies--finding a recipe you love and figuring out a way to make it a little personal. And these cookies, in fact, wouldn't even exist were it not for Sarah of Pink of Perfection and her ingenious Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe) I first tried them last spring when I baked them for a Super Bowl Party (really, all of these linkages are uncanny--Super Bowl, Nutella Day, Downton Abbey; strange and disparate worlds are colliding as I type) and thought they were nothing short of phenomenal. I mean, think of Nutella simply spread on an ordinary piece of bread; its powers are nothing short of amazing. In a cookie, they're practically unstoppable. And by substituting bananas for eggs, cutting the chocolate chips and more than liberally sprinkling cinnamon on the top and using sea salt, I discovered that I could make them even better. Who knows what the next manifestation of these cookies could be? A thumbprint of strawberry jam? Nutella cookie sandwiches? Downton Abbey had honestly never felt so decadent.

Banana Nutella Cookies (Crepe Cookies)

 Inspired by Pink of Perfection's Nutella Chocolate Chip Cookies (link can be found above)

Yields about 5 dozen cookies (I recommend freezing some because you want these little gems to last)

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup Nutella
1 banana, mashed well
1-2 dashes of cinnamon in the cookie dough; plus extra for sprinkling on the top

-Preheat oven to 350°F.
-Stir together flour, baking soda and salt.
-In a large bowl, beat butter (I used a paddle attachment), sugar, and Nutella until creamy.
-Add mashed banana; beat until incorporated.
-Gradually add flour mixture, beating on a low speed.
-Drop by rounded teaspoons onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
-Bake 15-20 minutes (because of the banana, I found that these cookies took longer to bake) or until the undersides of the cookies are slightly browned and crisp looking.
-Cool on cookie sheet, then transfer to a plate.
-Don't wait until they're done cooling before stealing one from the tray. They're delicious warm and right from the oven.

Friday, February 3, 2012

More than Tolerable Turnips

"May the odds be ever in your favor."
-Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games)

This past week I've been much more interested in hunger than I have been in food. I haven't really been in the kitchen since Sunday night. In fact, I've been spending most of my days in the dungeons of Doe Library, rapidly producing pages and feeling like, for this second chapter at least, I'm moving into the home stretch. And every other minute in between, I've been devouring every single page of the Hunger Games series. Devouring and loving every minute of the action, the political intrigue and the requisite drama between the star-crossed lovers.

Fortunately, however, last week was a productive food week. I had long been planning on making a very simple, but appealing rutabaga recipe a friend had sent me a few years back. But when I went to the vegetable grocer a few blocks from my apartment, I ran into a little problem: the beets, turnips, parsnips and rutabagas were all in the same basket....and, embarrassing as this is to admit, I couldn't tell the turnips and rutabagas apart. Oh, root vegetables! I decided to cross my fingers and go with the smaller, more purplish vegetables (clearly, my aesthetic preferences played a role here) and google the matter when I got home. Yes, I could have just asked, but that would be too simple, wouldn't it? And who doesn't like a little culinary mystery?

When I got home, Google, the wonderful and enlightening tool that it is, immediately told me that what was for dinner was not, in fact, rutabagas, but turnips (obviously, the title of this post took all the suspense away). Even better, the very same problem that I encountered--rutabaga or turnip?--was a common one (if you want, you can take the which vegetable is this test for yourself). While I initially had no clue what I should do with them (soup? salad? roasting?), the matter, through Chowhound, soon resolved itself. One of the comments about a Turnip Puff immediately grabbed my attention. It reminded me of a cross between my beloved mashed potatoes (a childhood favorite) and sweet potato casserole...I didn't think a topping of breadcrumbs (in my case, always panko, which I prefer for some reason) would suffice, so I added some pecans to the mix. Plus, since turnips, as I read, can be bitter, I felt a little more brown sugar in the topping couldn't hurt either. What emerged from the oven was a recipe that I could easily see becoming a winter staple. I enjoyed the contrast between the sweet and crunchy topping and the slightly watery, barely there flavor of the turnip. Much like lima beans, turnips are one of those foods that, as a child, you dread hearing your parents mention at the dinner table. It was high time we became friends; in fact, I'm pretty certain that, thanks to this recipe, it's going to be a long and beautiful friendship....Even if my new friend is not all that photogenic.

Turnip Puff

Adapted from Wontonwoman via Chowhound

Yields enough to be a satisfying side dish for two days

3 cups turnips, mashed
2 tbsps butter
2 eggs, well beaten
3 Tbsp. flour
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. pepper

For the topping:
1/4 cup panko
1 Tbsp. crushed/roughly chopped pecans
1 sliver butter
1 Tbsp. brown sugar

-Peel and cut turnips into small cubes (about 1")
-Place into boiling water and, once the turnips have softened and can be pierced with a knife (about 20 minutes), drain them.
-Preheat the oven to 375.
-Prepare the topping, melting the butter and mixing it with the nuts, brown sugar and panko. 
-Combine turnips and butter.
-Add the eggs, and beat thoroughly (I used an immersion blender).
-Add flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt and pepper. Mix until well blended.
-Turn into a greased casserole dish and sprinkle the topping over the casserole.
-Place in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the puff is lightly browned.
-Remove from the oven and prepare never to think of turnips in the same way again.


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