Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rosemary, Sweet and Savory

Apropos of nothing, the first figs of the season arrived last weekend.

In case I haven't made it clear before or before how much I love figs, this little pint basket cost me $7.

Yes. I seven dollars love them.

No foreign figs for me! Steven Colbert would be proud.

And here comes the segue into what this blog post is really about.

Speaking of things I love, I really love the herbal scent of rosemary. (See what I did there?) I might like it better than any other herb. Well, not better than lavender. I love lavender.

I should probably just move to Provence, already.

Anyhow, after plying my coworkers with a variety of flourless baked goods in the past few months, a friend at work, Rachel, let me borrow her awesome cookbook, Good to the Grain. This cookbook in particular covers recipes featuring a wide variety of "alternative" grains. This is the kind of thing I get excited about.

One of the recipes I copied from Rachel's book (figuring if I brought the whole book home, she'd never see it again, or I'd do something horrible like spill a whole bottle of red wine on it) was for Olive Oil Cake.

It, like Jerry Maguire, had me at hello. Spelt flour (my favorite of the alterna-grains), rosemary, olive oil, and bittersweet chocolate. Yes, rosemary and chocolate. Read it again if you must.

There is something about the addition of traditionally savory ingredients to desserts that I am drawn to, fundamentally and physically, as if there were some sort of savory-sweet gravitational pull on my heart. See also: basil chocolate chip cookies.  

But when would I make this cake? I had no occasions for cake making. Back of hand to forehead. Despair! (Ok, not really. I'm totally being dramatic here. Just play along.)

Have you ever noticed how sometimes the timing of life is just really spot on and perfect? You know, in a way that makes you think that perhaps there really is a God, orchestrating this chaos? Like, maybe God is just really, really busy all the time and is juggling SO many plates that it's hard not to drop one now and then (oops, was that a tsunami?) but when all the plates are spinning simultaneously, you practically get knocked over by the serendipity of it all.

As it so happened, the day after I discovered and photocopied this Olive Oil Cake recipe, my friends Sneaks and Juju invited us all to their place to celebrate their engagement and cook us a boatload of amazing Italian food inspired by their recent trip to Italy, where they got engaged. I volunteered to bring dessert, and cooked up this cake along with some of the most beautiful strawberries I've ever seen, and a little mascarpone cream (with crushed amaretti on the side).

Gorgeous, no?
I'll be honest here, the strawberries/mascarpone cream/amaretti were totally an insurance policy against this cake. I was nervous about the cake. In case you weren't paying attention before, let me repeat myself: Rosemary. Bittersweet Chocolate. A LOT of olive oil.

I love savory in my sweets, but this felt like a bit of a different ballgame. This was no bit-of-basil in a cookie.

Here's my adaptation of the recipe.

Olive Oil Cake, adapted from Kim Boyce's Good to the Grain

2 1/4 cups white spelt flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3 eggs
1 cup good extra virgin olive oil (the best you are willing to part with a cup of!)
3/4 cup whole milk
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves (from about 4 stalks)
3.5 ounces 70% bittersweet chocolate, chopped into 1/2-inch-ish pieces (I highly recommend Perugina if you're doing the Italian thing full-on. You can get Perugina chocolate at World Market.)

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Rub a 9 1/2 inch fluted tart pan with olive oil. Place the tart pan on a flat baking sheet.

2. Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt into a large mixing bowl. Set aside. 

3. Whisk the eggs in a medium mixing bowl. Add the olive oil, milk, and rosemary and whisk to combine. 

Let the folding begin.
4. Using a spatula, fold the egg mixture into the dry ingredients. When just combined, dump in the chocolate bits and fold those in as well. 

5. Pour-slash-scrape the batter into the tart pan and spread it evenly. Slide the tart pan / baking sheet combo into the oven. 

6. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the top is domed and the edges are a bit darker than the middle. (You can do the toothpick test to confirm doneness. I think I overbaked mine a few minutes, so I'd start checking this thing at around 33 minutes.) Slide the tart pan from the baking sheet onto a cooling rack and let cool completely in the pan. 

Everyone at dinner gobbled up the cake to fairly rave reviews (I actually thought it was a little dry due to my overbaking it, but no one seemed to mind. Probably because most of us were a bottle of wine (each) into the proceedings. That is my number one tip for getting people to like what you cook for them. Get them drunk first.)

All in all, a success and I look forward to trying this again and pulling it from the oven a bit earlier.

There is one problem with this recipe, though, and that is this: at the end of it, you are left with a bunch of rosemary.

Well, that's not a problem. As we say at work, that is an opportunity.

Now you've got the goods to make a delicious dinner.

If you like cedar-planked salmon, you'll like this. It's very similar, except there's no tree-killing or grilling involved. 

Kate's Impromptu Rosemary Salmon in a Packet
Serves 1 (but you can make multiple packets to serve more people)

1 lovely piece of center cut salmon, skin on (mine was 6 oz.), rinsed and patted dry on paper towels.
2 stalks of rosemary (you will see that I used more than that but you should not unless you REALLY love rosemary.)
1 small onion, any kind, sliced
1 small lemon, sliced
olive oil for drizzling
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. Tear off a piece of aluminum foil approximately 15" long.  

Season the salmon on both sides with salt and pepper. Put one stalk of rosemary in the middle of the foil. (I used twice as much rosemary as my recipe above calls for. You might not want to do that. Just saying. You have to really like rosemary for that. Want-to-stick-it-UP-your-nose-like it.)

 Scatter half the sliced onion over it. Then layer half the lemon slices over the onion. Place the salmon skin-side down on top. 

Reverse the layering order: add the lemon, then the onion, then the remaining rosemary stalk. Drizzle olive oil over the top of the stack. 

Bring two of the foil edges (I suggest the short ones) together and fold over twice to seal. Roll the side edges in so they meet the top edge and make sure that the packet is well sealed all around. Place the packet in a pie plate or other rimmed oven-safe dish.

Bake for 15 minutes (for a 6 oz. piece).  Be careful when opening the packet not to burn yourself on the escaping steam.


Yup, that's haricot verts and figs on the side.

Try not to eat the entire piece of salmon in five minutes like I did. Yum.

This salmon could not be more perfectly cooked. I love it when that happens.

Monday, June 04, 2012

A Thing of Beauty

This past weekend, I organized my shoes.

Wait, wait! Don't close the browser window! This story has a good ending.
Bear with me. 

I realize devoting a full day to shoe organization is like one step above (below?) storing them in the oven, Sex-and-the-City-style.

But it was necessary.
My shoes had started to multiply like Gremlins in a kiddie pool.

There were shoes behind the closet door.

And behind the bedroom door.

And in an old, broken bookshelf.

And on another old, broken shelf. 
(Thanks again, movers, for breaking all my stuff!)

And in a basket.

Er...two baskets. 

And in the closet.

And the other closet. 

Some might say I have too many pairs of shoes.
This sentence does not compute.

I clearly just needed some better shoe storage.

Here's what I did:

1. Assembled the large, deep Ikea Billy bookcase. (This one.) Despite my non-love of white laminate, I determined that the white shelves and background would provide the best, most neutral canvas for shoe display.

2. Drilled three extra sets of shelf holes at the top, bottom, and right below the middle door hinges. This was a huge pain in the ass and I wish I'd done it before I assembled the cabinet but I didn't realize that it was necessary until after the shelf frame was together.

3. Added the Billy Olsbo glass doors. Drilled holes and added cabinet knobs.

4. Alternated Billy glass and wood shelves in the cabinet to keep the look light & airy.

It only took about 4 hours.

Ikea seems to have gotten smarter about their instructions. They now feature this drawing to start that bible of exasperation, the Ikea instruction booklet:

Do you see that?

Sad guy with pile of parts = alone
Happy guy with pile of parts = with another person

That's right. Ikea is trying to tell you that you should not assemble their products without a second person around.

Screw you, Ikea. I don't have another person.

Despite their singleton discrimination, I have to admit, they've got a point. If you have ever assembled anything from Ikea that involves door or drawer parts, you know why this drawing is here; namely, for moral support and suicide prevention when you realize you're missing a part. I bet their risk management people made them add this to the instructions to avoid lawsuits.

Approximately 60% of the way through the building process, there is inevitably a moment of utter exhaustion as you look around, surrounded by torn boxes, papers, little metal parts, and rebus instructions. And a half-assembled piece of plywood laminate furniture that you have carefully made sure is NOT TOUCHING THE BARE WOOD FLOOR.


That said, I persevered despite a minor breakdown (proudly, there were no tears) that accompanied attaching the doors. In the end, it was worth it. 

I can now see all my flats, sandals, and heels at once. The only thing that would possibly make this better is a wider shelf (and more wall space) so that my boots could be in there as well. But there's no room for boots. It's ok. I'm still pleased with this solution. It feels like I'm shopping every time I get dressed.

It's a little bit awesome.

Joy. I feel joy every time I look at this thing. It's like Christmas morning EVERY morning.

As Mom said: "Nice! You have room for one more pair!"
Yes. And I'm enacting a strict one-in-one-out policy from here forward. Gremlins begone!