I love to cook and I love to eat good food.  Alas, the fact that I work 9-5 means that I can't do either as much as I would like, and like many I am often stuck at my desk during my lunch "hour".  My solution is to try to bring my lunch to work as much as I can.  This is my collection of recipes, all made quickly the night before (either as lunch or as dinner with leftovers that can be taken in).  Happy eating.

Monday, 29 December 2008

Cat on a hot red bike cake

As I'm sure my readers have all noticed, feeling an inexplicable yet implacable void in their lives, Working Lunch has been on vacation. More specifically, at this most wonderful time of the year, I go back to California for two glorious weeks. Trips to the farmer's market, daily walks to get my latte fix, time spent (or rather gained) at the local cheese store -- yes, it is the gift that keeps on giving. Especially since I don't have to work, and generally have my lunch made for me.

It is, however, the time of year for baking. Our Christmas dinner is a feast prepared by my aunt, but we have to contribute the dessert. And that means cake. We have made a number of different recipes over the years, one involving white chocolate snowflakes (as great to make as to eat), one involving more bourbon than should legally be allowed, many others requiring varying amounts of chocolate. Last year brought us the infamously named "Bitch de Noel", of which the highlight was definitely making the meringue mushrooms (indescribable fun).

This year, we decided to go with the seasonally appropriate (at least as far as aesthetics are concerned) red velvet cake. Of course, a great cake deserves a great name (see above for the converse). "Red Velvet", though accurate, didn't really capture its spirit. We needed something a little sassier, a little more ooh la la. Our working title was "Gateau au velours rouge", which made me think a little bit of Moulin Rouge and Montmartre. Luckily, my brother brought us down to earth when he heard this, asking "Cat on a red bicycle?" The title was obvious in Esperanto: Cat on a Hot Red Bike Cake. Thus a star was born.

Cat on a Hot Red Bike Cake/Gateau au velours rouge/Red velvet cake:
3 ⅓ C. cake flour
1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, softened
2 ¼ C. sugar
3 large eggs
6 tablespoons red food coloring (or two 2 oz. bottles)
1/2 C. unsweetened cocoa
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 ½ C. buttermilk
1 ½ teaspoons cider vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and lightly flour three 9 x 2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper.

For the cake:
In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

In a small bowl, whisk together the red food coloring, cocoa, and vanilla. Add to the batter and beat well. (I didn't bother doing this, adding the cocoa to the flour and the food coloring and vanilla to the buttermilk, but it was noted that this may have created a slight marbling effect in the layers. I leave this decision to the individual predilections of each reader.)

In a measuring cup, stir the salt into the buttermilk. Add to the batter in three parts, alternating with the flour. Beat mixture after each addition until the ingredients are mixed, but do not overbeat.

In a small bowl, stir together the cider vinegar and baking soda. Add to the batter and mix well.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the layers cool in the pans for 1 hour. Remove from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.
Cream cheese frosting:
1/2 stick butter
8 oz. cream cheese
1 box powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
Cream butter, cream cheese and vanilla in a mixing bowl, then slowly beat in powdered sugar until thick and creamy.
When the cake has cooled, spread the frosting between the layers, then cover the top and sides of the cake. Garnish with sugared cranberries.

Makes one 3-layer 9-inch cake.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Turkey and butternut squash tagine

Thanksgiving is a gift to us working cooks, but there comes a point when we open the fridge, see all that leftover turkey, and have to fight the urge to run to the Chinese takeout menu.  Luckily, dressing up the turkey in more exotic flavors that take us away from the traditional realm of the American turkey feast, can do the trick.

I think the strong taste of turkey really takes to heady, spicy flavors.  I had some butternut squash that needed eating, and as I peeled the yellow cubes I thought of those warm spices of Morocco and the southern Mediterranean.  Many of those beautiful stews have apricots or currants, and some olives or preserved lemon to counteract the sweet warmth of the spices and dried fruit.  I thought that apricots would be too sweet with the butternut squash (not to mention monochrome) so grabbed some dried cherries off my shelf.  Some big, fat green olives nestled in the mix completed the dish.

1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. red chili powder
1 can tomatoes
1/2 C. water
1 small butternut squash
1/2 C. shredded turkey
1/4 C. dried cherries
handful green olives
parsley or mint

Cook onion until soft.  Add spices and heat through for a minute.  Add tomatoes with juice and butternut squash, dried cherries, olives and water.  Cook until squash is tender.  Stir in turkey and heat through.  Top with parsley or mint and a good grind of pepper.  Serve over couscous.

Serves 2.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Best turkey ever

A few days late, the turkey has landed.  Living in London means that while all of my friends, relatives, and colleagues in our New York office have Thursday and Friday off work, getting their fill of of food, wine, and perhaps some masochistic Christmas shopping, I have to work.  For two days.  And then spend my whole Saturday prepping, cooking, and trying to fit a dozen people into my small flat.  But again, that's become my tradition and I rather enjoy it.  If I can't have my mother's food and my family's table, I will live vicariously, surrounding myself with friends who miss their own families, and try to create -- if not a new family -- then at least a familial spirit.  Without, at least, the embarrassing childhood stories.

Therefore I have only just now settled the remains of my feast in the fridge in various tupperware resting places.  I'll have Thanksgiving dinner part two tonight, and once I finish the sweet potatoes and stuffing, I'll have turkey in various guises for at least a week.  From soup and curry to stock and sandwiches, the turkey is the gift that keeps on giving.  I will just try to return some of the extra calories before Christmas...

Best roast turkey.
I am a firm believer in brining one's turkey.  I think it ensures you really cannot overcook it, and I have never had a problem making gravy out of the pan drippings.  Just rinse off the bird before roasting, and don't add any salt to the gravy.

You can brine the turkey in a large stockpot or dutch oven, in a brining bag, a cooler, or -- like me -- in your dishpan.  Just make sure it's kept cold overnight and in a container large enough for the brine to cover the turkey.

Mix in a large pot:
1 1/2 C. salt
2 oranges, halved and the juice squeezed
2 onions, quartered
a few cloves garlic, smashed in skins
2 Tbsp. peppercorns
2 Tbsp. cloves
2 cinnamon sticks, broken into pieces
a good squeeze of honey
water to fill the pot (or less, depending on how you're brining)

Bring the water to a warm temperature, enough to get all the aromatics to release their spice and stir to dissolve the salt.  Let the mixture cool, then add the brine to the turkey, or the turkey to the pot with the brine.  Brine overnight, then take the turkey out from the brine, rinse well, and let sit on the counter to come to room temperature.  Roast according to your usual instructions.

Serves as many as you can fit around the table, and then some.

Wild rice, mushroom and turkey soup

For me, the best part of cooking a turkey is not the juicy dark meat (yes, I am firmly on the dark side), the crispy skin, the unctuous gravy, or even the primeval and promethean thrill of cooking a very large animal (at least as large as most of us will ever cook), but rather the best part is the turkey stock I make after I finally give up trying to pull those last bits of meat off the carcass.  Rich, golden, and with a deep flavor, this is the sort of stock that jells in the fridge and is practically a meal in itself.

My secret weapon this year was saving the tops of the leeks from the big turkey day, the carrot peelings, and the slightly wilted stalks of celery from the stuffing.  Into the pot they went, with the bones, some bay leaves and peppercorns, and a few hours later, with practically no work, the mixture turned itself into liquid gold.  The alchemists were on to something after all -- they were just using lead instead of turkey.

In this soup, I like to start the rice in water first, since it absorbs so much liquid that I would rather save my precious turkey stock for the soup itself.  My wild rice takes about 45 minutes to cook, so I add it first, then the brown rice 15 minutes later.  Only when the water is mostly absorbed do I add my stock, but it is of course easier and delicious to use all turkey stock and just add it all at the beginning.  It just depends on how much of a miser you are with your stock.

1 leek
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
6 C. turkey stock plus 2 C. water
1/2 cup wild rice
1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 C. dry white wine
1/2 C. dried mushrooms
1 C. shredded turkey.

Chop carrot, leek and celery and cook in a large stock pot until soft.  Add water, wine, mushrooms, and rice according to instructions above.  Once water is absorbed, add the stock and turkey and simmer for a final 15 minutes, or until the rice is cooked and all the flavors have come together.  Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve with a good sprinkling of parsley.

Serves 4.
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