Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Pesto for the masses

My husband's take on the traditional pesto is not only easy on the wallet, it's easy in every other way as well. If you'd like to dress it up a bit, add sauteed mushrooms and/or cubed tofu (or whatever protein you prefer) as we do.

If you're really looking to impress, make sure you try the sun-dried tomato variation. Heck, try it even if you aren't trying to impress. I promise you'll love it.

David's Poor Man's Pesto

½ cup olive oil
2 cups (half of a large bunch) fresh parsley, stems removed
1 teaspoon dried basil
5 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup ground almonds
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 pound pasta, cooked (reserve a few tablespoons of water)

Toss all of the ingredients (except the pasta, of course) into a blender or food processor and pulse until fully combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Toss with cooked pasta.

If it seems dry, stir in a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta water until it reaches your desired consistency.

Serve topped with more Parmesan and whatever other toppings (sauteed mushrooms, fried/cubed tofu, etc.) you prefer.

Sun-dried tomato variation: Reduce fresh parsley to one cup and replace with about 30 sun-dried tomatoes that have been reconstituted in hot water for about 20 minutes (use the freeze-dried variety, not the ones packed in oil). Continue as above, using the same ingredients and following the same instructions.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Let them eat cake--doughnuts, that is

Ever since my husband and I moved to Seattle, I've been obsessed with doughnuts and other sweet, cakey things. That's probably because we seem to be surrounded by them--the world-famous Top Pot Doughnuts is just a short walk away, and the Pike Place Market (with its wondrous Pike Place Bakery) is similarly close.

I certainly don't mind walking to get a pastry now and then--in fact, I prefer it--and the creations we buy at Top Pot and Pike Place Bakery aren't going to break the bank (doughnuts run about $1.50 each, while rolls and other goodies come in around $2.50), but I always prefer making something myself if it's any sort of possibility.

So, this weekend I decided to try my hand at making my own cake doughnuts. Although I ran into a few problems along the way and ended up with less-than-perfect pastries, I think the end result will be more positive for those who actually have all the ingredients on hand when they start the process and don't have to wait a few days before frying them up.

Classic Cake Doughnuts

¼ cup vegetable shortening
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs (at room temperature)
1 cup canned evaporated milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 - 4.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

Melt the shortening in a small saucepan over medium heat. Set aside to cool slightly but still liquid.

In a standing mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and shortening together on medium speed until just combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the milk and vanilla and combine until the mixture is light, about two minutes.

Meanwhile, sift the flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt into a medium bowl.

Reduce the mixer’s speed to low and add the flour mixture until just combined. (The texture of the dough will be soft and loose). Transfer dough to a large piece of plastic wrap and wrap it well (make sure you scrape off all the dough clinging to the paddle). Refrigerate the dough for four hours or overnight.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll the chilled dough out into a rectangle about ½-inch thick. Dip the edges of a 2 ½-inch-round doughnut cutter in flour and cut the dough into doughnuts. Place the doughnuts and holes on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Put enough vegetable oil or shortening into a tall, heavy bottomed put (or skillet) to fill it about 1/3 of the way to the top. Heat the shortening over medium heat until a thermometer inserted into the oil registers 360-375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

Working in batches, fry the doughnuts and holes, turning once, until they are golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the doughnuts to the paper towels to drain and cool. Repeat until all the doughnuts and holes are fried. (Make sure the oil or shortening returns to about 375 degrees F. between batches).

For sugared doughnuts, roll in sugar and cinnamon sugar while still warm. If covering in confectioners’ sugar, let doughnuts cool before rolling in the sugar.

Another possibility: top with a sugary frosting and some sprinkles. To make the frosting, put approximately one cup of confectioners' sugar in a small bowl and add one or two teaspoons of milk (for my doughnuts, I added one drop of red food coloring as well). Stir until smooth, adding more milk as needed to achieve a thick but spreadable frosting. Spread onto cooled doughnuts and top with sprinkles.