In Praise of the Well-Made Donut

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OK, I know my motto is “Anything worth eating is worth learning to cook,” but when it comes to donuts, I actually do leave that to the experts.

There was a time about six years ago when I had a serious donut addiction, which all started one night when my friend Deb and I were on our way home from a very late Red Sox game.  My husband picked us up at the MBTA station in Braintree, MA, where the aroma of freshly baking donuts was emanating from a Dunkin Donuts nearby.  There was also a time when Dunkin was open 24/7, but by that time they were already closing around 10-11pm.

Driven wild by the sweet smell, we searched for any donut shop on the 12 mile drive home that might still be keeping late hours, but alas they were all closed.  Deb and I made my husband promise us donuts for breakfast the next morning, which he gladly provided from a Dunkin Donuts in our home town – where there are no fewer than three.

The next few months were a marathon of donut consumption, where I had to have one every evening after dinner, every morning with my coffee.  It finally came to an end when I was compelled, on a torentially rainy night, to venture out at 10pm for donuts that might still be fresh, only to see the last palatable few go to the one customer ahead of me in line.  It was a sad wake-up call as I left with two dry crullers.

I went cold turkey and soon lost the five pounds of donut weight around my muffin top.

Flash forward to yesterday when I watched the episode of The Great British Baking Show, where the challenge was to bake ‘jam-filled donuts.’  Oh no!  My mother’s favorite.  The jelly donuts she insisted I include in her weekly shopping order every Sunday once I became her caregiver.  The craving was instant and persistent, augmented by the notalgia for my mother’s favorite sweet.  I called my husband and asked him to stop at Dunkin for a few jelly donuts, and explained why.  He accepted the mission, saying he’d also get some lemon-filled for himself.

He came home with a rumpled little bag containing four of the saddest excuses for jelly donuts I’ve seen since the #7 contestant’s failed effort on GBBS.  Small, flat, sugar coating melted into the dough, and maybe a scant teaspoon of jelly filling inside.  We concurred, the worst we’d ever had.  Even the supermarket provides a better product.

This morning I was on a mission to satisfy that hunger, and researched Yelp reviews for other non-Dunkin shops in the area.  Aha – rave reviews for Honeydew Donuts in Rockland, just a few miles down the road, in a location formerly occupied by Viola’s Donut Shop in the ’80’s.  Viola’s, I recalled,  were so big that only six could fit in a dozen-sized box.

Success!  I am now the proud hoarder of six magnficently plump filled donuts weighing a total of 33 ounces in their box.   That’s about 5.5 ounces of donut heaven apiece.  Look at these beauties!  From left to right – lemon-filled, jelly, and apple.

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Now look at how one of these jelly beauties stacks up next to the pitiful thing from DD.

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Need I say more?  Yes – if you love donuts and are still getting yours from Dunkin, you don’t know what you’ve been missing.

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KICK-ASS SPICY BARBECUE SAUCE

 

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This barbecue sauce is something I created many years ago as alternative to store-bought varieties that were either too tame or laden with high fructose corn syrup, or both.  I stopped making it for a few years when I discovered the excellent Trader Joe’s Bold & Smoky Kansas City Style Barbecue Sauce.  It was full of flavor, not overly sweet, just spicy enough, and absent anything that ever came from an ear of corn.  It was the only bottled sauce that met my ingredient and flavor requirements, and I always had it on hand to spike up the flavor of baked beans or to slather onto baby back ribs after they’d slow-baked in a dry spice rub.

Alas, as it goes with so much of what we love from TJ’s, they’ve discontinued it.  So it’s back to making my own.  No problem – this is an outstanding sauce with both kick and complexity, and comes together pretty quickly.

This recipe makes about 3-1/2 cups, and it keeps in the fridge forever.  I use 3 different sweeteners – molasses, light brown sugar, and maple syrup – and three kinds of hots – chili sauce, ground chipotle powder, and a dash of Tabasco.  After sautéing the onions and garlic in the vegetable oil, simply add everything else and let it simmer, stirring now and then, for about 45 minutes.  I store mine in a liter-sized mason jar; any similar-sized jar will do.

Here’s what you’ll need:

2 tbsp vegetable oil (not olive oil)

1 large onion and one garlic clove very finely chopped

1-1/2 cups organic ketchup

6 tbsp unsulphured molasses

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

1/4 cup Grade B maple syrup (now called dark robust)

1/4 cup cider vinegar

2 tbsp chili sauce

1/2 cup light brown sugar

2 tbsp Dijon mustard

1/2 tsp ground chipotle powder

A dash of Tabasco

 

 

 

Caponata Agrodolce

The French can have their ratatouille, which in my opinion is often too mushy.  For me, the best thing to do with eggplant is caponata – in this case, caponata tossed with a balsamic reduction that heightens its flavor profile and becomes something I crave by itself as a light lunch.

I found the basic recipe years ago – one that made a massive amount for a crowd – and modified it enough to make it my own.  And now, thanks to the Balsamic Glaze available at TJ’s, it’s not necessary to boil down your own balsamic vinegar and sugar for the agrodolce…much easier to just use the prepared stuff for that final crucial step:

CAPONATA AGRODOLCE

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INGREDIENTS: 4-6 tbsp EVOO; 1 medium eggplant cut into 1/4″ dice, about 1 lb; 2 small zucchini quarters and then cut into 1/4″ pieces; 1 medium sweet onion chopped into 1/4″ pieces; 2 ribs celery cut into 1/4″ slices; 1 very plump garlic clove thinly sliced; 1/3 cup thinly sliced roasted rep peppers; 1/3 cup drained capers; 1/3 cup chopped Kalamata olives; 1/3 cup golden raisins; S&P to taste; 2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley; 2 tbsp julienned fresh basil; 1/2 tsp dried oregano; 2/3 cup marinara sauce; 1/4 cup Trader Joe’s Balsamic Glaze (or make your own by reducing down 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar with 2 tbsp sugar until you have 1/4 cup)

TECHNIQUE:  in a large deep skillet or electric frypan, sauté the eggplant, zucchini and celery in most of the EVOO for about 10 minutes until softened completely.  Remove to a very large bowl.  Add a bit more oil to the skillet and sauté the onions and garlic until softened.  Add that to the others vegetables in the bowl,  and then combine with the olives, capers, roasted peppers, and raisins.  Add the balsamic glaze and toss to coat.  Add S&P to taste, then the parsley, oregano, basil, and marinara sauce and stir to combine.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.  The flavors truly come alive after a few hours in the fridge.

Primavera Pasta Salad

While combing through my thick binder of favorite saved recipes this morning, I came across the menu and guest list for my son’s first birthday party in 1985.  The menu was an ambitious buffet entirely from the original Silver Palate Cookbook, except for the clown birthday cake from Montilio’s Bakery.

Following the pre-luncheon nibbles, there was Chicken Marbella, Glazed Corned Beef,  New Potato Salad, Tossed Green Salad, and Pasta Primavera Gregory – a pasta dish originally wrtitten for fettuccine, but which I had undoubtedly adapted into a more fork-friendly pasta salad.

Thirty-three years later, the taste memory was sufficient to reimagine what I had done to put together this pasta salad bursting with color, flavor, and texture:

PRIMAVERA PASTA SALAD

inspired by The Silver Palate

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INGREDIENTS:

8 ounces good Italian rotini, cooked al dente

1/4  cup finely chopped red onion

2 Tbsp EVOO

6 ounces snap peas or snow peas, blanched, shocked, and sliced thinly on the diagonal

4 scallions sliced thinly on the diagonal (about 1/3 cup)

1/3 cup diced roasted red peppers or same amount fresh red bell pepper

1/2 cup seeded & chopped ripe tomato

6 ounces thinly sliced Boar’s Head Rosemary Ham, broken by hand into small pieces

1/4 cup chopped Kalamata olives

2 tbsp grated Pecorino Romano

2 tbsp white balsamic vinegar

1/2 tbsp dried oregano

Grated zest of one lemon

S&P to taste

PREPARATION:

Drain the pasta and toss it with the olive oil and chopped onion in a very large bowl.  Add the next six ingredients, toss again.  Add the cheese, vinegar, oregano and lemon zest, toss again.  Season to taste with S&P and serve immediately or chill.

This makes enough for 3-4 servings for a light lunch, or 6-8 as a side dish with dinner.  If chilled, take it out of the fridge about a half hour before serving to allow all the flavors to come through.

 

 

 

Emulsify, Reduce, and Slice on the Bias

UnknownNo recipes in this post, my friends, simply a few techniques which, if you’re not already employing, will surely elevate the results of your efforts in the kitchen.

Emulsify – put any thoughts of bottled salad dressing out of your mind forever, and learn how to simply emulsify the best dressings easily and from scratch.  Rule of thumb for a vinaigrette – 3 parts EVOO to 1 part vinegar, some minced shallot, Dijon mustard, touch of honey, S&P.  Whisk until emulsified.  You’ll know when, because the mixture will cease to look like a pool of oil and other stuff, and become a slightly thickened oneness.

Reduce – making anything with a sauce, be it a long-cooked stew, a braise, or a roasted chicken – remove the solids and reduce what’s left in the pot or pan while stirring or whisking over moderately high heat until it reaches a smooth, almost syrupy consistency.  No need to add flour or cornstarch to thicken – the reduction will be packed with flavor, and you’ll be tempted to eat it with a spoon.

Slice on the Bias when slicing vegetables, breads and meats, cutting on the bias exposes more surface area for both more exposed area of flavor and a lovelier presentation.  Even mundane vegetables like celery and carrots take on a restaurant-quality appearance when sliced on the extreme diagonal instead of chopped straight down.  A baguette of bread, too thin for a sandwich, yields sandwich-appropriate slices when cut this way.  Grilled boneless meats (and slow-cooked brisket) yield broader, more tender and flavor-packed slices when cut against the grain on the bias.

One more tip – keep those knives sharpened.  A dull knife will cut you more quickly than a sharp one when it slips off that onion or bagel you’re cutting.

 

Emulsify, Reduce, and Slice on the Bias

UnknownNo recipes in this post, my friends, simply a few techniques which, if you’re not already employing, will surely elevate the results of your efforts in the kitchen.

Emulsify – put any thoughts of bottled salad dressing out of your mind forever, and learn how to simply emulsify the best dressings easily and from scratch.  Rule of thumb for a vinaigrette – 3 parts EVOO to 1 part vinegar, some minced shallot, Dijon mustard, touch of honey, S&P.  Whisk until emulsified.  You’ll know when, because the mixture will cease to look like a pool of oil and other stuff, and become a slightly thickened oneness.

Reduce – making anything with a sauce, be it a long-cooked stew, a braise, or a roasted chicken – remove the solids and reduce what’s left in the pot or pan while stirring or whisking over moderately high heat until it reaches a smooth, almost syrupy consistency.  No need to add flour or cornstarch to thicken – the reduction will be packed with flavor, and you’ll be tempted to eat it with a spoon.

Slice on the Bias when slicing vegetables, breads and meats, cutting on the bias exposes more surface area for both more exposed area of flavor and a lovelier presentation.  Even mundane vegetables like celery and carrots take on a restaurant-quality appearance when sliced on the extreme diagonal instead of chopped straight down.  A baguette of bread, too thin for a sandwich, yields sandwich-appropriate slices when cut this way.  Grilled boneless meats (and slow-cooked brisket) yield broader, more tender and flavor-packed slices when cut against the grain on the bias.

One more tip – keep those knives sharpened.  A dull knife will cut you more quickly than a sharp one when it slips off that onion or bagel you’re cutting.

 

Cobb Salad Redux

The last time I posted about Cobb salad was nearly three years ago – so long ago that I’d forgotten and had to check my blog post history.  It’s a favorite for dinner any time of year, but especially in warmer months when one wishes for a meal that requires no cooking.

All one needs is some really fresh, crisp romaine, a ripe avocado, red onion, crumbled bacon, your favorite blue cheese (mine is Societé roquefort, hands down), HB eggs, tomatoes, a pre-cooked quantity of chicken either from store-bought rotisserie or a package of grilled chicken pieces such as those from Trader Joe’s, and a really good dressing.

I do not like my Cobb salad composed with ingredients separated.  If it’s served that way at a restaurant, I ask that they toss it together for me.  The beauty of this salad is getting a little of each flavor with every forkful.

This is what we had for last night’s dinner, with just a few Stacey’s Parmesan Pita Chips for crunch:

RONI’S COBB SALAD

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HONEY-MUSTARD VINAIGRETTE:

Whisk into an emulsion the following – 4 Tbsp EVOO, 4 tsp white balsamic vinegar, 1 tbsp finely sliced shallot, 2 tsp whole grain mustard, 2 tsp honey or maple syrup, S&P to taste.

SALAD ASSEMBLY:

Tear a head of romaine into pieces and divide between two large plates.

Add sliced red onion, chopped tomatoes (preferably Campari), and avocado, cut into 1/2″ chunks.

Toss each plate with about 2 Tbsp dressing.

Add crumbled bacon, shredded or chopped chicken (4-6 ounces each plate, depending on appetite),  and blue cheese, and toss again with remaining dressing.

Place quartered HB eggs around edge of plate.  Add some pita chips if you need some carbohydrate crunch.