Monday, July 20, 2009

Aioli is Ai-mazing

I have discovered the elixir of life: aioli!

Aioli is a garlicky, mayonnaise-like concoction whose main ingredients are traditionally olive oil, garlic, blood, sweat, and tears.

To say I have discovered it is a lie; I think it was very trendy in the late 90s. But I made it for the first time, and discovered there is an easy way to make it that doesn't involve stirring -- ahem, "emulsifying" -- until your arm falls off. The secret lies in the blender.

Now, if you are a baby or expecting one, don't use this method, as it mandates a raw egg. Alas, you must go the traditional mortar and pestle route, which I'm sure is at least as satisfying, if you are willing to put in the time and elbow grease. The vegans will also want to follow the sore forearm method. I'm pretty sure most vegans I know would elect to go this route anyway, egg or no egg -- they are such masochists!

Whatever your creed or condition, you must make this NOW. I served it at a barbecue, to rave reviews. It was perfect spread over some homemade bread, topped with tomatoes and herbs. I also stirred it into chicken salad in lieu of regular mayonnaise, which now seems so unexciting compared to aioli that I'm not sure I'll ever eat it again.

Recipe: Quick Aioli
Adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook. Makes about 1 cup.

1/4 c coarsely chopped garlic (about 8-10 cloves)
1 t salt
2 T olive oil, plus 1 c olive oil
1 egg

In a mortar and pestle, or in a bowl using a fork, mash together the garlic, salt and 2 T olive oil for a few minutes. Add to the blender, and blend till fairly smooth, then add the egg and blend again for a few seconds. On a low setting, slowly pour the remaining 1 c olive oil into the blender in a steady, thin stream (assuming your blender has a removable cap that you can use without making a huge mess -- if not, use the next recipe). It may taste incredibly pungent at first, but will mellow out a bit after a little while. Keeps well in the refrigerator for a few days.

Recipe: Slow Aioli (Vegan)
Adapted from the Gourmet Cookbook. Use the same ingredients for Quick Aioli, minus the egg, and a large mortar and pestle, if you have one, or a medium-size bowl. Mash together the garlic, salt, and 2 T olive oil. Add the remaining cup of olive oil, one teaspoon at a time, whisking vigorously upon each addition. This should take about 20 minutes and will build good forearm muscles.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This is why we're fat

I don't know what's taken me so long to post the Googooberry Pie** recipe, but as soon as I saw this New Yorker review of several "weight-gain books" (as opposed to the more common "weight-loss books") -- all studies of or attempts to account for this country's obesity problem -- I knew I could no longer hold off.

You would think that reading this article would have the opposite effect; upon learning, for example, that 40 percent of young women are too heavy to join the U.S. Armed Forces, I should be more inclined to write about cabbage. But, as we all know, and as this book review elaborates, the human mind is a "calorically demanding organ," so it only makes sense that I immediately thought of the one recipe I know by heart that contains two sticks of butter, a block of cream cheese, three eggs, a whole box of powdered sugar, and a cake mix.

What else could it be but the creation of Paula Deen, Reigning Butter Queen? (Full disclosure: Gooey Butter Cakes are really a St. Louis specialty, but only Paula Deen had the guts, so to speak, to add a cake mix to the mix without apology.) Her Gooey Butter Cakes are so delicious and so popular at her Savannah restaurant, The Lady and Sons, that a Google search yields a countless number of variations: carrot cake, peanut butter, pumpkin, double chocolate, lemon, and on and on till the cows come home -- that is, if they don't tip over first.

At a glance, gooey butter cakes are easily mistaken for ordinary blondies or brownies, but their taste is otherwordly. The cake mix, egg, and one of the sticks of melted butter form a chewy crust, which is then filled with a cheesecake-like mixture of cream cheese, the other stick of melted butter, a pound of powdered sugar, and a big scoop of cocoa powder if you choose to go the chocolate route.

I've made thesed dozens of times, and I've found that Paula Deen's recommended baking time (37-40 minutes) is too long for my oven. You will want to check them first before removing -- the top should be a bit browned and crusty. The fork test will not work here. Gooey butter cakes are supposed to be gooey, after all.

There's not really any need to slice them and remove them from the pan. In fact, it's very un-American to not finish them all in one fell swoop, preferably by yourself, standing over the stove, in nothing but a size XXXL t-shirt. Don't hold back, fatty: eat the whole batch. You're in good company.

Recipe: Googooberry Pie, a.k.a. Gooey Butter Cakes
Adapted from Paula Deen.

**Googooberry Pie: Gooey Butter Cakes' unofficial and more melodic nickname, a result of a hilarious verbal misunderstanding on the part of a family member who will remain anonymous for the time being.

For the crust:
1 yellow cake mix
1 egg
1 stick melted butter, slightly cooled

For the filling:
1 block of plain cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick melted butter, slightly cooled
1 t vanilla
2 eggs, room temperature
1 (16 0z.) box powdered sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, mix together the cake mix, egg, and butter to form a fairly stiff dough. Press it into the bottom of a 13" x 9" metal baking dish to form a crust. Set aside. Rinse the same bowl, and in it beat the cream cheese till smooth. Mix in the butter, vanilla, and eggs. Gradually mix in the powdered sugar. Pour the mixture over the crust and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the top is slightly browned and crusty. Remove and let cool before slicing into squares.

Recipe: Chocolate Googooberry Pies

Follow the recipe above, but use a chocolate cake mix for the crust, and add a half cup of cocoa powder to the filling before adding the powdered sugar.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Getting My Groove Back

I've been so busy lately, mostly with work, which inevitably means eating badly, overspending on restaurant food, and feeling generally uninspired on the rare occasion I do cook.

But one day recently, I decided to stop at the farm stand on my way home from work. Rows and rows of blackberries, sweetpeas, and corn, all so colorful and tempting, all called my name and recited this little speech, "Diana! I cost three times as much as the stuff you find at Safeway, but I am so worth it, and even though I come from questionably local sources and may have been picked a week ago, you should -- in fact you must -- BUY ME! By the way, you NEED to buy WAY more of me than you or even you and your three brothers and two parents can possibly eat before I go bad, which I may or may not have already started to do!"

And so that is what I did; I bought a bunch of vegetables that were not at peak season and cost me a pretty penny. But they were in fact worth it, because with them I made this gorgeous salad (and, fortuitously, the corn tasted like mid August corn and even the tomatoes were good) and sort of Got My Groove Back. For a spell, anyway. I suggest you replicate this, especially in a few weeks when summer vegetables are reliably both good and cheap.

Recipe: Fresh Corn and Other Summer Veg Salad

The corn makes this. Serves 6 as main course. The leftovers can be used in an excellent frittata (below).

1/2 lb. green beans, ends removed
6 ears corn, shucked
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
1 (16 oz.) can blackeye peas, drained and rinsed
1/4 C olive oil
juice of half a lemon
pinch salt
pinch pepper
pinch sugar
some combination of herbs: basil is great, perhaps essential; I also used parsley and a bit of rosemary from my struggling herb garden

Fill a soup pot halfway with water; set it on the stove to high heat. Bring to a boil and add the green beans. Boil for about 8 minutes or until crisp-tender. Have a bowl of ice water ready, and remove the beans with tongs or a slotted spoon to the bowl to prevent further cooking. Add the corn to the boiling water and boil for two minutes. Remove and let cool. Meanwhile, chop the green beans into one or one-and-a-half inch pieces. When the corn is fully cooled, remove kernels from the ears. Stir together the beans, corn kernels, tomatoes, cucumber, and blackeye peas. Stir together the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and sugar and drizzle over the salad you plan to eat. Toss in the herbs.

And if you still want more...

Recipe: No Longer Very Fresh Morning After Frittata
Makes two servings.

1 T vegetable or olive oil
Leftover salad veg
5 eggs
Some kind of cheese -- about 1/4 C, shredded (optional)
Herbs (optional)
More salt

Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Heat the oil in a cast iron pan over medium heat. Add whatever leftover salad veg you have, and stir around. Add some salt. Reduce heat to low-medium and cook for about 5 minutes. Break the eggs into a bowl and whisk together. Pour eggs into pan and let cook another two minutes. Sprinkle in any cheese and/or herbs you are using. Add some more salt and some pepper, and then transfer to the oven. Cook until eggs are puffed up and slightly browned, about 8 minutes.