Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Broccoli Salad

(This is approximately 1.5 times Shayna's recipe.  The original was never enough for our New Year's Eve party.)
Fine if made a day or two before - but see WARNING

     2-3 broccoli crowns (about 3 qts after cutting)
Cutting:  Divide crowns into tiny trees, 1/2 to 3/4" tall, by cutting the stem at branch points and then cutting or tearing to divide.  Slice the remaining stem portions very thin and cut larger slices into 1/2" squares.
Cooking:  Shayna said to steam the broccoli for 1 minute. I prefer to blanch it.  Fill a dutch oven or other large pot ~ 2/3 full with water. Add salt if desired, maybe 1/2 tsp. Bring to boil. Throw in broccoli and cook (high heat) for about 3 minutes.  This will be approximately the time it takes for the water to begin boiling again (not necessarily big bubbles). Broccoli should be bright green but crisp rather than soft.  Drain, cool down with cold water, and drain again. Immediately refrigerate until ready to serve. I cover the broccoli while it is in the refrigerator because broccoli does smell.

Mix the following ingredients together in a bowl with a cover and refrigerate, covered, until ready to use.
     1 1/2 c. sunflower seeds (or pine nuts)
I prefer sunflower seeds to pine nuts for this recipe, and not just because they are cheaper.  I like their taste, crunch, and appearance better. I also prefer raw to roasted-salted but have used both. Check for rancidness, though, especially with raw seeds, before using. I store seeds in the freezer to keep them unrancid longer.
     1 1/2 c. dried currants (or raisins or dried cranberries or
I like currants best, although they weren't in Shayna's version, because they are about the same size as the sunflower seeds and their sweetness is concentrated.  But I've used all the other dried fruits, too, and they're fine. Dried cherries are probably my second favorite, but then I lived in Michigan a long time.
     1/2 large red onion, diced (~ 3/4 c. if you measure)
The red onion turns the dressing pink.  If you don't care about this so much, you can use some other color onion.  I like red, myself.
     1 heaping c. Miracle Whip or mayonnaise
            (1 1/8 c. if you measure)
My husband likes Miracle Whip better so that's all I ever buy.  It also happens to have less fat than either regular OR light mayonnaise.
     3 T. red wine vinegar
(I once used fancy pino gris white wine vinegar and it was lovely.  The red of the vinegar does not affect the pink color of the dressing that much.  That's really from the red onion.)
      1/2 c. sugar
      1-2 T. lemon juice (juice from about 1/3 average lemon)
      Salt (especially if you do not use salted seeds)
      Black Pepper (maybe about 1/4 tsp)

WARNING:  NEVER mix broccoli with dressing until ready to serve. The dressing, because of the acids in the vinegar and lemon juice, bleaches the broccoli to an ugly olive green.  That means that leftovers will look ugly but by then you won't mind because you will know that the salad tastes great.


When ready to serve, dump dressing into large serving bowl and then mix in the broccoli by one cup scoops. The broccoli should be spread evenly through the dressing.  You could put in the broccoli first, or put all the broccoli into the dressing at once, but those both seem to make it take longer to achieve the right appearance.  Sometimes I forget this, and then I learn it again.
This salad looks very pretty and is a very popular item on a buffet table.

The original recipe had proportionally more mayo and sugar, with Shayna's advice to "use less." It also had more onion.  I've  tinkered to suit my taste.

PARVE. VEGETARIAN.  If made with egg-free mayonnaise, VEGAN.

Laptop versions 12/4/01;1/5/08;4/25/08;3/29/09;01/03/11 rjm
typo corr 10/17/12

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Marian Burros' New York Times Plum Torte (R3A2 Version)

(also Blueberry Torte, Strawberry Torte, Raspberry Torte,
Peach Torte, Apricot Torte, ...)

Leave out to soften and bring to room temperature:
       1/2 c. butter
                 (Marian says to use unsalted and then she adds
                 a pinch of salt later.  I use salted butter and
                 no pinch and it works fine.)
       2 eggs
(You can actually keep eggs and butter at room temperature all the time, unless your kitchen gets very hot. See Note on Keeping Butter and Eggs at Room Temperature.)
If the butter is cold, microwave it at mid-power for about 30 seconds (more or less, just keep an eye on it) to soften for easier creaming. If it melts completely, it's OK, too: instead of creaming it with the sugar, you just stir.

Preheat oven to 350 and choose your baking pan. Marian didn't say to do the next two things, but I always do them: (1) grease the baking pan with butter, and (2) put the pan on a cookie sheet to catch any overflows. (Those drips are a delicious bonus for anyone who is around when the torte is done and the drip pan has cooled off.)

In a medium-large bowl, cream
        that BUTTER with
        1 c. sugar
Sift in
        1 c. unbleached flour
If you use gluten-free flour, such as Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Gluten-Free, use 1-2T additional to make a stiffer dough. Also the torte bakes and browns faster. An 8" circular disposable cake pan takes ~40 min.
Stir in
        1 tsp. baking powder
        those EGGS
and mix until blended, but then STOP.  I begin mixing using the fork I used to cream the butter and sugar, then switch to a rubber spatula, keeping the fork handy to clean the spatula, and vice versa.  Note that the dough is more like a butter cookie than a cake, which of course is why the torte is so delicious.  But it is a dense dough. When I first made it I wondered if the New York Times had left out some liquid, say, milk.  They hadn't.  (Phil's Aunt Ruthie always made her Tortes with an electric mixer and they come out very light and airy, almost like a cake mix cake.  I prefer dense.)

"Pour the batter into [the] pan," says Marian.  Spoon is more like it. It doesn't pour, or anyway not if you don't overmix it.  I then spread the dough to the edges of the pan with the spatula.

Top artfully with
        12 Italian (prune size) plums, halved vertically and
             pitted, skin side UP (see below for OTHER FRUITS)
(In 2010 I found a version on the web that said skin DOWN. What ARE they thinking?  When the dough covers the fruit, which it does as it bakes, I like to see the little mounds, whether plums or berries.)

Marion weakly suggests the next three ingredients, and then doesn't even give measurements.  I think they are an absolute necessity and I use the amounts listed.  Sprinkle the top with
        Juice from 1/6 lemon -   about 1 Tb
        1 tsp each of sugar and cinnamon (or if you have a handy
                jar of 50-50 cinnamon and sugar, sprinkle it on:
                more than a light dusting but not a complete

Bake at 350.  Springform, per Marian, takes 1 hour; cake or pie tin, per me, takes 45-50 minutes.  Test with a toothpick. If it comes out dry and the torte color is good, I turn off the oven but leave the torte in for another 5 or even 10 minutes to avoid any internal mushiness. The dough rises to cover almost all the fruit, browning nicely.  This means that my instruction to top artfully mostly just insures that the fruit layer is even.

Marian says, and it's true, that this torte freezes and revives well if you put the frozen cake in a 300 degree oven "briefly." I think 10-15 minutes takes the chill off the middle. Prune plums are only sold in late August, hence the other fruit options below, as well as the fact that her recipe begins with a story about making 24 tortes one summer and storing them in a friend's freezer, only to have the friend's mother eat all but two when she babysat for two weeks.  They are truly irresistible.

What pan?  Well, Marian referred to a "9 inch spring form pan." I have no 9" spring forms, just a few 10" ones.   I often use a disposable pan, either 8" round layer pan or 9" pie tin.  I've also used 8" or 9" square pans.  With square you can cut into squares, with round you serve wedges.  With a 10" springform, the dough layer is thinner. That is more elegant, like something you'd buy in a European pastry shop. It also means I use more fruit so that the dough is well-covered.

Other Fruits:
        Berries:  a monolayer.  Blueberries or raspberries or both: 1/2 lb. or about 1.5 c.  Strawberries: about 1 1/2 pints or about 12 large ones, hulled, halved vertically and tossed with sugar (less than 1 tsp is enough) a couple of hours earlier if you think of it, or at least as the first step before creaming the butter and sugar, if you don't. Sugaring the strawberries softens them and removes any bitterness. I learned that from my sister-in-law Betty Ann when she was making a fruit salad.
        Stone fruit:  Apricots (about 12 oz, 6 small or 4-5 larger):  halved vertically and pitted if small, otherwise treat same as peaches or regular plums: sliced vertically so that the slices are 1/2" or less at the widest point. Alternating slices of plums with peaches or apricots or both looks pretty, too.
        Apples and Pears:  Apples don't do it for me in this recipe but my friend Mae says she has used apples and liked the result. I suppose pears would be good but have never tried them.
Revised 2015: 6/1, 3/29. Original post available on request.
Earlier versions on my computer: 11/29/98; 6/1/00; 8/26/07; 10/3/10 - rjm

Note on keeping butter and eggs at room temperature

Butter: You can leave butter at room temperature for a week or more.  If it gets to be over 85 in your kitchen, maybe you should put the butter in the refrigerator, but otherwise it's fine for many days. After all, butter was invented thousands of years before refrigeration.  
My friend Lois, an excellent cook, taught me this about ten years ago.   Ever since, I always have a working stick of butter on the counter in a covered little pyrex dish (the kind they made and sold in sets back in the 1950s) and use it to grease pans, butter toast, etc. When the stick is done, I wash the dish and put in the next stick.  (Well, in truth, I have two covered dishes and I alternate.  That's because, as my friends will tell you, I can live with dirty dishes in the sink longer than most people.)

Eggs: Eggs don't go bad at room temperature for at least 6 months, according to a neighbor who has chickens and did the experiment.  He says the only thing that makes eggs go bad is washing them.  It would never occur to me to wash an egg.  
Just like butter, eggs have been eaten for millenia, while ice boxes didn't come into use until a couple of centuries ago and refrigerators are even more recent. I do keep my eggs in the fridge, but if I take some eggs out to warm them up, and forget to use them for a few days, I don't worry.  
I do, however, always break each egg separately into a dish, the way my Home Ec teacher in junior high taught me. (And to continue with the dirty dish/laziness theme, I admit that I often use a measuring cup I've already used for flour or sugar, so as to have less to wash.  Yes, I have an electric dish washer, but filling and emptying it are not high on my list of enjoyable activities.)  
As to the need to pre-break eggs, I will say that I have never encountered an egg that was bad in the many, many years since junior high. Occasionally I do get one that's been fertilized - it has the telltale drop of blood - but never a bad one.  My husband, who was also taught to break each egg before using it, claimed he did exactly once, and just a few years ago.  (That egg had been kept in the refrigerator from the time it was purchased, by the way.)  A bad egg is immediately known to be bad on cracking. The smell!  If it doesn't assault your nose, it's a good egg.