quick and easy for a winter's night: white-bean stew

My mom and I are all about the get home, get dinner going, and get it on the table all within 30 minutes. One-dish meals are some of our favorites. So, for our last night with our family here in a snowy climate, we decided our favorite (and fastest) stew would be fitting. Full of so many flavors: delicate white beans, savory ham, sweet tomatoes, earthy greens, soothing herbs. Ahhhh. Last minute, I cut up a baguette and made the addition of salt and pepper croutons made in a pan with olive oil over medium-high heat (which I would have smothered in garlic had it not been for my grandmother's strong palette). Yum. Well, put this one together on a busy night when the snow or rain is falling; you deserve a deep breath and a moment to enjoy.

Fast White-Bean Stew
Adapted from Gourmet January 2007
4 servings

2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 (14- to 15-ounce) can stewed tomatoes
1 3/4 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
2 (19-ounce) cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained (3 cups)
1 (1/2-pound) piece baked ham (1/2 to 3/4 inch thick), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 (5-ounce) bag baby romaine or baby arugula (10 cups loosely packed)

Time to Whisk
Cook garlic in 1/4 cup oil in a 3 1/2- to 4 1/2-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat, stirring, until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Coarsely cut up tomatoes in can with kitchen shears, then add (with juice) to garlic in oil. Stir in broth, beans, ham, and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 5 minutes. Stir in greens and cook until wilted, 3 minutes for romaine or 1 minute for arugula.


improv: halibut over spinach

I don't particularly enjoy cooking for people that don't always have my food. If I mess up, there's really no way to redeem myself. 
At Whole Foods this afternoon, my dad informed me I was to whisk together dinner tonight for him, my uncle, my brother, my grandmother, and myself. My grandmother and my brother follow a white-food diet, so fish it was. I remembered a simple recipe on doitdelicious.com with halibut, a fish I'd actually never cooked before. Of course problems arise: the fish is much thicker than the recipe calls for, so it took fifteen minutes longer, which, in turn, caused the bed of spinach to practically burn (however, my consumers were polite to tell me otherwise). Here's the basic recipe. But, as lessons teach, expect to improvise and compromise with... isn't that what cooking is?

Perfect Halibut over Spinach
Doitdelicious.com (www.doitdelicious.com/recipes/make_it/perfect_halibut_over_spinach)
4 servings

1 clove garlic, smashed and cut in half
10 ounces baby spinach
1 tablespoon olive oil plus more for rubbing
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
4 4-ounce halibut filets, skin removed
1 lemon cut into 8 slices 

Time to Whisk
Heat the oven to 450° F. Rub a sheet pan with the cut side of the garlic then discard. In a large bowl, toss the spinach with 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and spread evenly on the sheet pan. Season the halibut with the remaining teaspoon of salt and rub with a thin coat of olive oil. Place on top of the spinach and top each fillet with 2 lemon slices. Bake until the halibut flakes easily, 7-8 minutes.

When baking, follow directions.  When cooking, go by your own taste.  ~Laiko Bahrs


fast creations

The most delightful way to cook: use whatever is in the house, whisk it together, and end up with a comforting creation. I saw shallots, a tomato, some arugula parmesan ravioli from trader joe's, a few expiring leaves of basil, and a recording of Friends.


reminiscence: devil's food layer cake with peppermint frosting

The first day of winter break has finally arrived. Of course the question comes to mind immediately: what concoction will we whisk together this year?
Every Christmas, my family and I take the trek to Chicago in search of the two "F"s: "family" and "food." Oh, and how I dare forget "freezing." My cousins and I open up the latest issue of Bon Appétit and turn that eye candy into a reality. Yes, I do make my two male cousins whom are in their 20s cook with me.
Two years ago, we made the cover recipe: Devil's Food Layer Cake with Peppermint Frosting. Oh, the looks I got when I asked "where's the corn syrup?" to a Whole Foods employee. So, no, there is nothing at all even vaguely nutritious about this one, but, even though it may sound cheesy, it nourished my soul for quite a while.

Devil's Food Layer Cake with Peppermint Frosting
Bon Appétit December 2008
10-12 servings

  • 2 2/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 2 cups ice water

Dark chocolate ganache:

  • 1 1/3 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
  • 14 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

White chocolate cream:

  • 12 ounces high-quality white chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina), finely chopped
  • 3 cups chilled heavy whipping cream, divided
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons pure peppermint extract

Peppermint frosting:

  • 2 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure peppermint extract
  • Bittersweet chocolate curls

Time to Whisk

Position rack in center of oven; preheat to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides. Dust pans with flour; tap out excess. Whisk first 4 ingredients in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat sugar and butter in large bowl until well blended. Beat in eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in yolk. Add cocoa and beat until well blended. Add flour mixture in 3 additions alternately with ice water in 2 additions, beginning and ending with flour mixture and beating until just blended and smooth after each addition. Divide batter between prepared pans; smooth tops.

Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on racks 15 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks and cool completely. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap in foil; store at room temperature.

Dark chocolate ganache:
Bring cream and corn syrup to simmer in medium saucepan. Remove from heat; add chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Transfer to small bowl. Chill until firm enough to spread, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Before using, let stand at room temperature until soft enough to spread, about 30 minutes.

White chocolate cream:
Place white chocolate in large heatproof bowl. Bring 1 cup cream to simmer in saucepan. Pour hot cream over white chocolate. Let stand 1 minute; whisk until smooth. Whisk in extract. Cover; chill until mixture thickens and is cold, at least 4 hours. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Chill.

Add 2 cups chilled cream to white chocolate cream and beat until smooth and peaks form. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 hours ahead. Cover and chill. Rewhisk to thicken, if necessary, before using.

Using long serrated knife, cut each cake horizontally in half. Place 1 cake layer on platter, cut side up. Spread 1/3 of dark chocolate ganache over cake. Spoon 2 cups white chocolate cream in dollops over cake; spread evenly to edges. Top with second cake layer, cut side down; spread 1/3 of ganache over, then 2 cups white chocolate cream. Repeat with third cake layer, cut side up, remaining ganache, and remaining cream. Cover with fourth cake layer, cut side down. Chill while preparing frosting.

Peppermint frosting:
Combine sugar, 1/2 cup water, egg whites, and corn syrup in large bowl of heavy-duty stand mixer. Whisk by hand to blend well. Set bowl with mixture over saucepan of gently simmering water; whisk constantly with hand whisk until mixture resembles marshmallow creme and ribbons form when whisk is lifted, 8 to 9 minutes. Whisk in peppermint extract. Remove bowl from over water and attach bowl to heavy-duty stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until mixture is barely warm to touch and very thick, 7 to 8 minutes.
Using offset spatula and working quickly, spread frosting over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle chocolate curls over top and sides. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome; chill.

"One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating." ~Pavarotti: My Own Story by Luciano Pavarotti and William Wright