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Archive for the ‘dairy’ Category

On Labor Day, a bunch of us from the restaurant went to Sycamore Farms.

Sycamore Farms

We toured the land on a tractor.

Sycamore Farms

Our guide, Kevin, let me drive the tractor. Everyone on board survived.

Sycamore Farms - another tractor

Just barely.

Sycamore Farms

We picked corn.

corn at Sycamore Farms

That’s Chef Carmen*.

Chef Carmen picking corn at Sycamore Farms

We picked tomatoes.

Sycamore Farms - tomatoes!

Lots of tomatoes.

tomatoes at Sycamore Farms

We cooked together.

We ate together.

Then I went home and turned our torn-from-the-stalk corn into soup.

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* A special thank you to Krishna Kinsey, Union Square cook and one of the best pasta makers I know, for the photo of Chef.

Farm-fresh corn soup

Improvised after consulting David Lebovitz’s recipe for fresh corn soup and Dorie Greenspan’s for summer corn soup in Bon Appétit. 

Makes 8 cups

- 6 ears of really fresh corn, shucked (I like the microwave method)

- 6 C water

- 2 T olive oil

- 1 large onion, chopped (approximately 1 C)

- 2 cloves garlic, minced

- 1 red poblano pepper, seeded and finely chopped (approximately 1/2 C)

- 2 t hot paprika, plus extra for garnish

- 1 C cream

- 1 T salt

- 1/4 C chopped parsley for garnish

Slice. Slice the corn off the cob into a large bowl. This should yield about 6 cups total. Reserve the naked cobs.

Boil. Cut the reserved cobs into 3 – 4 pieces. Bring water and cobs to a boil in a pot. Lower heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes to extract the flavor from the cobs. Remove the cobs. Some of the liquid will evaporate, so you should be left with about 4 cups of corn stock.

Saute. In the meantime, in a larger pot (the one you plan to make the soup in), heat the oil and saute the onion over medium heat until soft and translucent, but not browned, 5-10 minutes. Add the garlic, pepper, and paprika, continuing to saute for another 5 minutes until the pepper starts to soften. Stir in 4 cups of corn kernels, reserving the remaining 2 cups.

Simmer. Pour the corn stock over the vegetables. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Stir in the cream.

Puree. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until it is as smooth as possible. If you want the soup to be perfectly smooth, strain it, pressing hard on the solids, but it will be a bit on the thin side. I didn’t bother straining.

Serve. Divide the soup among bowls, garnishing with corn kernels, parsley, and a sprinkle of paprika.

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On the third Friday in July, I met Dorie.

Dorie Greenspan

I want so badly to tell you all about it. About how, at a fundraiser for Cookies for Kids’ Cancer, my friend Ruby won a high-stakes bidding war to spend a day baking with Dorie in her Connecticut home. How she asked Adeena and me to join her.

About how Dorie bounded out of her house when we arrived, a scarf tied just so and a dark denim-colored apron wrapped around her spotless white oxford shirt. How she greeted me with one of the warmest, tightest hugs I’ve ever received. How her husband proudly showed us the collection of cars that he and his son have restored together over the past several years. How their house is more French than if it were in the middle of Paris, its walls covered with iconic vintage French posters, an entire corner dedicated to Gallic roosters, a farm table set with a purple and red jacquard tea towel and spread with rich yogurt, berries, and granola.

About how my pâte sucreé crust fell apart as I tried to roll it over the pan. How Dorie helped me patch it into a piecemeal press-in crust that she said even Martha Stewart would be proud of. How, when she realized that we had left out the butter, Dorie quickly scrapped our biscuit dough and started a new batch without missing a beat. How her assistant Mary taught us to pour cream over a spatula into a pan of near-boiling sugar to make caramel without vigorous bubbling and scary splattering.

About our alfresco lunch of simple vegetable salads, salmon smoked then baked, ricotta-herb dip, generous pours of rosé, and loaves of bread baked by Michael.

I want to tell you about the cookies we made. The two tarts we made. The strawberry shortcakes we made.

But mostly I want to tell you about the friend that I made, a friendship that developed over the course of the afternoon. About Dorie and Michael’s genuine invitation to come back to spend the day with them again. About Dorie’s goodbye hug that was even warmer and even tighter than the one she greeted me with just hours before.

Dorie and me!

There’s so much more to tell, but I’m on a brief layover at the airport in Vienna typing on a QWERTZ kezboard, er keyboard, and my flight’s about to board, and I can’t in good conscience leave you without the recipe for plum and rose shortcakes, adapted from Dorie’s one for double strawberry and rose shortcakes.

Dorie told us she had the idea to marry rose with strawberry when she learned at the Driscoll’s farm that the fruit is a member of the rose family. Strawberry season is short in my neighborhood and when I went to the greenmarket just a few days after our visit, the farmers told that the local harvest had ended. But stone fruits were – and still are – in their prime. Turns out, plums and other drupes are also roses, as Robert Frost knew:

The rose is a rose,
And was always a rose.
But the theory now goes
That the apple’s a rose,
And the pear is, and so’s
The plum, I suppose.
The dear only knows
What will next prove a rose.
You, of course, are a rose -
But were always a rose.

I’ll leave poetic analysis to the experts, but I guess that I, perhaps subconsciously, have always made the connection between plums and roses: exactly two years ago, I added rose water to Dorie’s dimply plum cake.

Dorie – the strawberry’s a rose and the plum is a rose. You, of course, are a rose. With toes, I suppose. And now I’m just being plain silly.

I’ll see y’all when I get back from vacation with my sister. Until then, I give you plum and rose shortcakes.

Plum and rose shortcakesPlum and rose shortcakes

Makes 12 – 20 servings, depending on the size of the biscuit cutter

Adapted from double strawberry and rose shortcakes recipe that Dorie developed for Driscoll’s, as taught to Ruby, Adeena, and me by Dorie herself. I replaced Dorie’s rose extract with rose water which is a bit easier to find and found that you need about four times as much rose water as extract.

For the plum compote:

Makes about 2 cups

I’ve started adding this compote to my morning yogurt and granola. Also, ice cream.

- 1 1/2 lb sugar plums, roughly chopped (about 3 cups)

- 3 T sugar

- 1 T rose water (or 3/4 t rose extract)

Cook. Toss the chopped plums in a small saucepan with the sugar. Put the pan over medium heat and cook, stirring, for 10 to 30 minutes, depending on the ripeness of your fruit, until the plums soften and slump into a thick sauce. Scrape the compote into a bowl, stir in the rose water or extract, and cool to room temperature. You can make the compote up to 3 days ahead and keep it covered in the refrigerator.

For the lemon-buttermilk biscuits:

Makes 12-20, depending on the size of your biscuit cutter.

Dorie prefers petite biscuits about 2 inches in diameter.

- 1 1/2 T sugar

- freshly grated zest of 1 lemon

- 2 C (272 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for sprinkling

- 1 T baking powder

- 1/2 t fine sea salt

- 1/4 t baking soda

- 6 T (3/4 stick; 76 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes

- 3/4 C (180ml) cold buttermilk

Preheat. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

Rub. Put the sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl and, working with your fingertips, rub the ingredients together unit the sugar is moist and fragrant. Add the rest of the dry ingredients to the bowl and whisk to combine. Drop in the pieces of cold butter and, again using your fingertips, crus rub, and blend the butter in. You’ll have flakes of butter and small pieces and this is just right.

Stir. Pour the cold buttermilk over the mixture, switch to a fork and toss and stir everything together until the milk is absorbed. Your dough might look like curds, but that’s fine. Don’t stir too much, too vigorously or for too long, and if there ar a few dry spots in the bottom of the bowl, ignore them. Reach into the bowl and knead the dough gently, folding it over on itself and turning it over 6 to 8 times.

Roll. Dust a work surface lightly with flour, turn out the dough, and still using your hands, pat the dough out until it is 1/2-inch thick. (The thickness sis what’s important here). Using a high-sided 2-inch cutter, cut out biscuits and place them on the baking sheet. Make sure to push the cutter up and down without twisting or turning so as not to crush the layers that you’ve worked so hard to create. Pat the scraps together until they’re 1/2-inch thick and cut out as many biscuits as you can. (The leftover dough can be cut into biscuits, but they won’t wise as high or as evenly ad the others – you can keep them as your baker’s treat.)

Bake. Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until the biscuits have risen gloriously and their tops and bottoms are holder brown Transfer the baking shed to a cooling rack and allow the biscuits to cool until they reach room temperature. (The biscuits can be made up to 6 hours ahead; keep them uncovered at room temperature.)

For the whipped cream:

- 1 C (240ml) very cold heavy cream

- 2 T confectiners’ sugar, sifted

- 1 t pure vanilla extract

- 1 T rose water (or 3/4 t rose extract)

Beat. Working with an electric mixer, theta the cream just until it mounds softly. Still beating, add the sugar, followed by the vanilla and rose water until the cream is fully whipped and holds firm peaks. The whipped cream can be made up to 3 hours ahead and keep tightly covered in the refrigerator; whisk a couple of times before using).

For the topping:

- 1/2 – 3/4 pound sugar plums

Slice. Just before you’re ready to put the shortcakes together, use a sharp knife to slice wedges of plums.

For assembly:

Split the biscuits and set the tops aside. Spoon compote in the center of each biscuit bottom followed by a scoop of whipped cream. Balance the biscuit top on the whipped cream and serve with plum slices.

Plum and rose shortcakes

 

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our recipe

You won’t find any vapors, gels, or foams at Union Square Café. What you will find on the white-clad tables and dark wood bar are dishes that come straight from the Greenmarket just steps from the restaurant. Repeated each year when the produce is at its peak, some dishes have developed a cult-like following that prompt phone calls and conversations that go something like this: “Is the BLT back on the menu yet?” No, the tomatoes aren’t quite ready yet. “I was here last week and need to have the snap pea salad again. It’s still on the menu, right?” Yes, for as long as we can find great peas.

Amazing sugar snap peas are all over the markets these days and the price has thankfully dropped from $7 a pound to a more modest $5, at least here in Manhattan. And so, until you have a chance to visit and experience the real thing, I give you our recipe.

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USC sugar snap pea salad

USC Sugar Snap Pea Salad

Union Square Cafe Sugar Snap Pea Salad 

Adapted ever so slightly from the recipe provided by Union Square Café. When peas are the star, it pays to take the time to choose them carefully. I see a lot of people grabbing up the beauties by the handful, but I actually pick them one by one, making sure each pod is unblemished, fat and taut. Make sure that the peas only get a quick dip in the boiling water for a very light blanche so that they keep their crunch.

- 1 T kosher salt

- 1 lb sugar snap peas, trimmed at each end

- ¼ C sliced spring onions (about 5-6)

- 2 T lemon juice

- 2 T Champagne or white wine vinegar

- ½ C extra virgin olive oil

- 2-3 T finely sliced mint

- 5 T grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

- 2-3 t fleur de sel

- 1 t freshly ground black pepper

Plunge. Bring 3 quarts water to a boil in a large pot and add the kosher salt. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath, filling a large bowl with ice and water. Cook the peas in the water for just 10 seconds. Drain the peas in a colander and immediately add them to the ice water. Remove the peas from the ice water after about 2 minutes. Drain well in the colander and gently pat dry with a paper towel.

Slice. Julienne the peas by cutting them on a sharp diagonal. Watch out for runaway peas.

Mix. Place the spring onions in a non-reactive bowl (I used glass) large enough to mix the pea salad. Pour in the lemon juice, vinegar, and olive oil. Add the peas, mint, 4 tablespoons of cheese, fleur de sel, and black pepper. Mix the salad, taste, and adjust the seasoning to your liking. Sprinkle with the remaining tablespoon of cheese, and serve.

 

 

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I have a quick little soup for you today and it’ll take me longer to tell you about it than it will for  you to make it. So gather round for a brief chat and then grab your blender and a handful of ingredients and get going.

cucumber avocado soup

It’s a chilled soup – you might even be tempted to call it a gazpacho, but I’d advise against it because it’s unbelievable creamy. While I haven’t (yet) posted a true tomato and cucumber gazpacho on the site, you might want to check out salmorejo, a Spanish tomato soup I first tried in Seville, or cucumber mint gazpacho adapted from Ten Tables in Provincetown.

But back to today’s recipe. I came across the it when Rivka mentioned that it was time for  one of her oft-repeated cold summer soups. As I’ve been forced to close my window shades from dusk until dawn when I’m not home and crank up the air conditioning while I sleep, it’s a welcome reprieve with a some jalapeño heat – but not enough to get you sweating again – requiring the same amount of effort as cleaning your blender when you’re done.

It does greatly benefit from a little bit of crunch to balance out the creaminess, so I toasted up some lavash chips. The  lavash itself has a little story, one that left me and my colleagues in a fit of giggles. Friday morning, I was greeted in the restaurant office by the following note perched upon a 4-inch stack of wraps, tortillas, and lavash.

A guest last night left this for you: endless possibilities… Some guests palm a hundred for a table. Others shower you in flatbread, I guess.

The prior evening, a bakery owner had stopped in for dinner and when we were chatting about his work, he said he’d leave me a few samples from his bakery. I schlepped the breads home, toasted it up with a spray of olive oil and a sprinkle of fleur de sel, and served it next to the soup. Luckily I have enough lavash to for an entire summer’s worth of chilled soup.

cucumber avocado soup

Cucumber Avocado Soup

Adapted from Not Derby Pie’s recipe. This is one of those recipes where you barely chop the ingredients, throw them into a blender, and press a button. One minute later, maybe two, you have soup. It is quite thick and creamy – if you’d like, add additional cucumbers and extra water to thin it out a bit. Top with something crunchy for a little texture – I used toasted lavash, but pita or tortilla chips would be great too. 

Update 6/23/14: To thin the soup out a bit, I doubled the cucumbers, and then added a bit extra salt. Excellent!

Makes approximately 6 cups

- 3 avocados, preferably Hass, halved and roughly chopped

- 3/4 lb seedless cucumbers (I used 5 large Persian cucumbers), roughly chopped

- 2 pickled jarred jalapeño peppers, chopped (with seeds), more to taste

- 1 1/4 cup yogurt (I used Greek; if you use regular yogurt, the soup might be a little bit thinner – not necessarily a bad thing in my book)

- 20 fresh chives, roughly chopped

- 20 mint leaves

- 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice

- salt and pepper to taste

Blend. Combine all ingredients in a blender, starting with half of the jalapeño and reserving 4-5 sprigs chives. Add 1/4 cup water to get the blending started, then blend on medium until completely smooth. Taste, and add salt, pepper, and more jalapeno to taste. Thin out with extra water to get the texture that you want.

Chill. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Ladle. Fill bowls and garnish with chives, minced jalapeño,  and/or mint. Serve with something crunchy.

 

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the brei

I can’t remember the last time I bought matzah.

Other than the seder feast preamble Hillel sandwich with its dab of bracing horseradish and spoonful of sweet apple and nut charoset nestled between two mismatched shards or maybe a few snapped rectangles smeared with Temp Tee and draped in smoked salmon the next morning, I largely stay away from the stuff.

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Every year, as I rush from my aunt’s house where we have the seders to the car/train station/airport, I grab whatever open box of matzah is on the kitchen counter and stuff it into a bag along with leftover ribeye and a few quarts of my mom’s matzah ball soup (more on that later).

matzah brei

My first morning back in the comfort of my own kitchen where I can make as big a mess as I want, I crumble a square or two of matzah into a bowl, scattering crumbs on the floor like a culinary Hansel and Gretel. Soaked in water, mixed with vanilla, milk, and an egg, and then fried, the matzah becomes brei, Passover’s answer to French toast.

This is the breakfast that dreams are made of.

matzah brei

It’s also what leaves me every single year facing the last few days of Passover with an empty box of matzah shards and an addiction-like need to make just one more batch. Or two. Or three. It’s what sends me out, year after year, foraging the grocery shelves in the shrinking Passover section for a new, shrink-wrapped, full box. More well-hidden than the afikoman (I found ours this year under the tablecloth), the mid-holiday box of matzah is elusive, assuming you don’t want the only flavor left: wheat bran. And no one wants that wheat bran straggler.

matzah brei

Unless I can borrow a few squares from a friend or neighbor, after a breakfast or two or three, I say bye-bye to the brei. And wait for Passover next year.

matzah brei

ps – If radiology was like this, I might have stayed in medicine. 

Matzah brei

This recipe makes a brei that is is like a big pancake, rather than a matzah scramble. While some like it savory, I take my brei sweet and add a fair amount of vanilla to enhance that sweetness. I don’t have real measurements other than one square of matzah and one egg per person. 

Serves 1

Crumble a square of matzah into small, but not tiny, pieces (about ½-inch wide) and place in a small bowl. Pour boiling water over top and allow to soak until the water cools enough so you can handle it. With your hand, cover and push the matzah against one side of the bowl and drain out as much of the water as you can. Mix in a splash of milk (1-2 tablespoons), a dash of vanilla (1-2 teaspoons), a pinch of salt, a sprinkle of cinnamon (optional), and an egg. With a fork, mix everything together. Generously coat a small pan (small enough so that the brei batter will fill the entire pan, about a half-inch thick) with olive oil and heat over a high flame for a minute or two until hot, but not smoking. The hot pan will help the brei develop a Drop the batter into the hot pan and distribute it evenly. Turn the flame down to medium. Then, do not stir it. You don’t want scrambled brei – you’re aiming for a large pancake. Peek under the brei periodically until you find it nicely browned and flip-able, loosening it from the pan a little bit at a time. This will take longer than you think, probably about 7-10 minutes. Yes, that long. Carefully flip the brei in one piece and continue to cook until browned, another minute or so. Slide the brei onto a place, top with a drizzle of maple syrup and a pat of butter.

 

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Tulips br

Things you don’t want to hear on the day of  your move:

It’s snowing.

Our truck was hit by a car.

The move ahead of you has the elevator and is running late. And you both must be out by 5 pm. 

new view

Luckily, everything went well and no one was injured in that snow-and-ice-induced fender bender.

I’ve mostly unpacked and am figuring out where everything goes in the kitchen. Also, how the oven – my first convection oven – works. I don’t yet have a place to store my pots and pans, and most of them are piled on my desk which is actually in the kitchen. Which means I’m typing on the sofa. Cooking has been pretty simple. The first non-delivery dinner I “made” was defrosting some lentil soup I had made last month in my own place.

new kitchen

Soon, I hope to be cooking and baking for real. Until then, I give you kale apple salad. On my kitchen counter.

Kale apple salad with cheddar and pecans

Kale apple salad with cheddar and pecans 

Not really a recipe, but one of many variations on the kale/fruit/cheese/nut winning salad combo.

Serves 1

Tear several handfuls of kale (I used curly kale) into bite-sized pieces, discarding the thick ribs (or put them aside to sauté). Use your hands to toss the kale with olive oil and let sit for about an hour until the kale softens and wilts a bit. Lacinato kale will wilt faster. If you don’t have time to wait, microwave the oil-slicked kale for 30 – 60 seconds until bright green.  Slice half an apple into thick julienne slices. Cut aged cheddar into cubes. Toast a handful of chopped pecans. Mix the apple and cheddar with the kale. Add lemon juice (about half the amount of olive oil) and salt. You may need to add a bit more oil. Sprinkle with torn parsley leaves and pecans.

 

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kitchen rummaging

A few weeks ago, I found myself face-to-face with my twelve-year-old self.

A friend asked me for a few hours of emergency babysitting, and I rushed over to take care of her son. I checked in on the little guy and, reassured by his rhythmic breathing and his little wrinkled hand wrapped around a blanket, I did what every good babysitter does. I sussed out the snack situation. I set my computer and books down on the sofa and turned to the kitchen to rummage.

The counter was littered with bottles and formula. From the fridge, I grabbed a pear. Sinking my teeth into the crispy fruit to free up my hands, I reached for the cabinet above the sink. Cheerios. I filed the cereal in the back of my mind in case I got desperate.

Then I pulled open the freezer. Jackpot! A ziplock back of chocolate chip cookies. I snuck out one  golden craggy biscuit, carefully re-sealing the bag and returning it to its niche. I lifted the cookie to my teeth and broke off a cold piece with a satisfying snap.

Chocolate chip cookies

And with that one frozen bite, I was transported to the kitchen of my childhood.

I’m not sure when or how it happened, but at one point I took over the cookie-baking duties in my house. With the rare exception of an odd batch of peanut butter cookies with their tell-tale fork-made cross-hatch design or snickerdoodles rolled in cinnamon-sugar and tangy with cream of tartar, chocolate chip cookies were the darling of the Squires household. And I was  happy to comply. Whenever I baked, my chocoholic father showed his appreciation with a trail of crumbs from the cooling rack to his favorite chair in the living room.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe - Betty Crocker

When I made cookies, I was a one-kid production line. For efficiency’s sake, I calculated and jotted down on page 136 of our Betty Crocker cookbook* how much margarine (we didn’t use butter) I needed for a double chocolate chip batch: exactly 5 sticks and 8 teaspoons. We had two ovens – one below the stove, and the other above where most microwaves are installed these days. I used both of the ovens simultaneously, rotating three cookie sheets at a time (the top oven only  had a single rack). I had four sheets to work with, so there was always one dotted with raw dough ready to replace the one the buzzing timer told me was ready. 

I tried to keep everything moving like clockwork, but the cooling process was a bottleneck and my system typically broke down around the ninth dozen when I’d have a backlog of cooling cookies. My father tried to help, grabbing as many plaint, still-warm cookies straight off the sheets as he could.

At the end of the cookie-baking marathon there would be, oh, about 150 cookies. Yup. One-five-zero cookies. Once they were fully cooled, most of them went straight into bags and straight into the freezer where, weeks later, I might find a sweet dozen between packages of frozen broccoli, or behind a carton of sorbet, or in the ice-cube maker. If my father didn’t find them first. 

* I’ve written about chocolate chip cookies in the past here and here, substituting another recipe when I couldn’t find the Betty Crocker one I grew up with. About a year ago, I finally found poor old page-stained, spine-cracked, well-loved Betty while I was rummaging through the pantry at my parents house. Seems I like kitchen rummaging. I scanned the cookie recipe and one for pancakes as well.

Chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

This recipe is adapted from page 136 in Better Crocker’s Cookbook, circa well before I was born.

These cookies are really flat and crispy. If you prefer ones that are thicker and chewy, add 1/2 cup of flour and replace half the butter with shortening. I used a mix of milk and dark chocolate chips just to shake things up a bit.

Makes 6-7 dozen

- 1 1/3 C butter, room temperature

- 1 C granulated sugar

- 1 C packed brown sugar

- 2 eggs

- 2 t vanilla

- 3 C all-purpose flour

- 1 t baking soda

- 1 C dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips

- 1 C milk chocolate chips

Prep. Preheat oven to 375ºF and position the racks int he top and bottom third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Mix. Mix together the room temperature butter, sugars, eggs, and vanilla. I used the paddle attachment on my stand mixer, but growing up I mixed everything by hand. Stir in the remaining ingredients with a spatula.

Scoop. Drop dough by rounded teaspoonfuls two inches apart on the lined  baking sheet(s). You can use two spoons, a spoon and a finger to nudge the dough onto the sheet, or a small cookie/ice cream scoop. The cookies will spread a lot, so make sure you leave enough room between them.

Bake. Bake in the middle of the oven for 8-10 minutes or until light brown. After the first four minutes, switch the sheets top and bottom and rotate them front to back for even baking.

Cool. Let the cookies cool on parchment on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes until they firm up enough to keep their round shapes. If you try to lift the parchment and the cookies  wrinkle and squish, leave them on the tray for another minute. Slide the parchment off the sheet and allow the cookies to cool until you can easily slide them off the parchment straight onto a cooling rack. If you’re going to freeze the cookies, let them cool completely before slipping them into a zip-top bag. Otherwise you’ll end up with a big frozen cookie lump. Which isn’t always bad thing. If you don’t want to share.

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dessert first

Hello, December. Hello, snow.

December snow

Hello, birthday.

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Yup, December is birthday month over here. The official date is the 8th, and my friends and family made this past weekend wonderfully special. There was dinner and a spa and dinner again. And a few more things to come. As I said, it’s birthday month on my blog.

That chocolate cake up there? It’s a birthday cake. But it’s not my birthday cake; it’s Alyson’s. And I made it one year and ten days ago on the dot.

In case  you don’t remember, a few years back, Alyson and I went to Vienna where I dragged her from cafe to cafe in search of the best sachertorte.  From one side of the city to the other, we chased this dense, slightly-dry, not-too-sweet, layered chocolate cake whose richness can only be tempered by a large scoop of whipped cream. 

From the day my plane touched down back in Boston, that sachertorte haunted me. Within days of my return home, I started my search for a recipe. First there was Austrian chef Wolfgang Puck’s version and one from Kaffehaus, a cookbook of cakes from central Europe. Then a high school classmate sent me a German recipe that her husband swears is authentic, and that the daughter of a colleague translated for me. Just before summer, I clipped a recipe from Food & Wine and found this dreamy video of sachertorte being made (watch it if you think chocolate is sexy) and its accompanying recipe.

I tucked away all of the recipes and waited.

As Alyson’s birthday approached, I studied each set of instructions and devised a plan of action. I created a spreadsheet comparing each of the recipes I had collected: quantities of ingredients, number of cake layers, amount of apricot filling. (I know, I know. A spreadsheet? I know.)

Armed with way too much information, I decided to go with the recipe that had the highest bittersweet chocolate-to-sugar ratio, only two layers, and a hefty dose of apricot.

I cooked from sunrise to sunset on the day of Alyson’s birthday. In addition to sachertorte, I banged out challah, a roast, kale salad, and pomegranate carrots.

But here’s the deal. Since the torte was dairy, and dinner was meat, we ate dessert first. And then after dinner, we ate a second dessert.

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PS – I hear that the best sachertorte in NY is at Cafe Sabarsky. Guess where I’ll be later this week. Who wants to join me?

Sachertorte

As I mentioned above, I adapted this cake from five different recipes and most closely followed the one  from the most unlikely of sources. A sachertorte is definitely a special occasion cake: it takes about 4 hours to make (much of it cooking and cooling time) and you have to use and wash your stand mixing bowl three times.

Make sure to serve with barely-sweetened whipped cream. 

Serves 8-10

For the torte:

- 10 oz bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa; I used Callebaut)

- 8 eggs

- 1 C sugar

- 2/3 C unsalted butter, softened

- 2 t vanilla extract

- 1 1/3 C all-purpose flour

- 1 1/2 C apricot preserves (I used Hero brand)

For the chocolate ganache:

- 2 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter

- 8 oz semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used Callebaut)

- 2 T light corn syrup

- 1 t vanilla extract

For the whipped cream

- 1 C heavy cream

- 1 t vanilla extract

- 1 1/2 T confectioner’s sugar

Prep. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter and flour a 9-inch springform pan.

Melt. Finely chop the chocolate and melt it in a double boiler (I set a metal  bowl over an inch of water in a pot) over medium-high heat. Set aside.

Separate. Separate the eggs (this is easier to do straight from the fridge).

Beat. Beat the sugar and butter in a stand mixer until creamy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, blending after each addition. Add the vanilla. Fold in the flour and melted chocolate (don’t bother cleaning the bowl you melted the chocolate in; you’ll need to melt some more chocolate later). Transfer the chocolate batter into another bowl, clean and dry the mixer bowl well and then beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold them into the batter in several batches.

Bake. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. (Clean the mixer bowl because you’re going to need it one more time.)

Cool. Let the cake cool in the pan for at least 30 minutes.

Puree. Pour the apricot preserves into a small bowl, microwave them for 10 seconds, and use an immersion blender to smooth into a glaze.

Cut. When the cake is cool, cut it in half crosswise, making two layers.

Spread. Brush the bottom layer with apricot, stack on the second layer, and then brush the whole cake with the rest of the preserves. It should look like this.

Melt (again). Melt the butter in a double boiler over medium-high heat. Finely chop the chocolate and add it with the corn syrup and cook, stirring constantly, until the chocolate is melted. Remove from the heat, stir in the vanilla, and let cool. Makes about 1 1/2 cups of ganache.

Pour. Pour the ganache over the cake, smoothing out tops and sides with a spatula. Before the ganache hardens, the cake should look like this.

Cool. Let the cool in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, until set.

Whip. Use a stand mixer to whip together the cream, vanilla, and confectioner’s sugar.

Serve. Serve each slice with a nice scoop of whipped cream.

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we surprise ourselves

We’ve all done it, right? In a frenzy to feed a growling stomach, we make a quick breakfast-lunch-dinner with whatever is in the kitchen and we surprise ourselves. There’s no planning, no shopping, no browsing, no flipping through cookbooks. We throw something together and hope it works. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it doesn’t.

And sometimes we take a bite and say out loud, “Damn, I cook good.”

Tonight was one of those nights when humility took a backseat.

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I’ll be staying at a friend’s place for a while and went shopping a few days ago for what I consider the absolute basic groceries. Coffee. Milk. Grapefruit juice. Bread. Eggs. Cheese. Kale. Lemons. Apples. Pears. And a shallot.

A shallot? Yes. Why? I am not entirely sure.

When dinnertime rolled around this evening, I spent almost an hour contemplating going out-ordering in-going to bed without dinner, decided I couldn’t not eat, and then couldn’t decide what I wanted to eat. Not knowing what I was looking for, I started unpacking some of my kitchen stuff, and found my favorite pan – the heavy blue pan that I lugged over 200 miles and across three states.

And then it came to me. Grilled cheese.

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In about 20 minutes (it would have been 15 had I not paused for photos), I took that first bite of crunchy bread, pulling the sandwich away from my mouth, cheese stretching, kale falling.

Chipmunk cheeks full and still chewing, I mumbled, “Damn this is good.” Followed by, “Damn, I cook good.” And then I took another bite.

Sorry, modesty. You’re sleeping outside tonight.

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Grilled Cheese with Kale

Coat a pan with olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Slice a shallot and sauté, stirring, until it starts to brown. Overfill the pan with several handfuls of torn kale, and keep stirring until the kale cooks down to about an eighth of what you put in. Don’t forget the salt and pepper. Grab 2 slices of bread and generously cover one with shredded Comte cheese,  the other with the kale mixture. Pile one slice on top of the other. Whisk an egg on a plate or shallow bowl and dip the sandwich into the egg, just like you’d do for french toast. Add some more olive oil  to the pan and heat it up again. Pan-fry both sides of the egg-dipped sandwich until brown. Be careful when flipping – you might drop half the filling and have to scoop it back up. Not that it happened to me.

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I realize that these scones might not look like much.

There’s no shiny glaze, no bright fruits dotting the surface, but scrolling past these unassuming little lumps of baked dough would be a mistake.

They’re the most breakfast-y of scones I’ve ever known. And though I’ve never tried hot oatmeal – there’s just something about the texture that turns me off – I imagine that anyone raised on the stuff will find a familiar cozy feeling with each nibble. The scones are grounded in a healthy dose of oats, nearly as much oat as flour, which gives them heft without density. They get their sweetness from maple syrup (it’s in season right now, so go out and grab a gallon of fresh grade B), so they taste and smell of nectar and nature. Toasted pecans lend a buttery crunch. And then there’s butter and cream to round it all out.

Also, they take just a few minutes to throw together. In the time it takes to pre-heat your oven (mind you, mine takes ten minutes), you’ll have toasted and chopped the pecans, rubbed butter into flour, whisked maple into cream, mixed wet ingredients into dry, and scooped up these unremarkable looking lumps of dough. But bake these little guys up, and you’ll believe me when I say they’re all that.

No bag of chips necessary.

oatmeal maple pecan scones

Oatmeal maple pecan scones

Adapted from Flour, but just barely. I skipped the raisins and glaze in the original recipe, and made much smaller scones which reduced the baking time from 40 minutes to 25. Make sure to toast the pecans – I scatter them on a cookie sheet and pop them in the oven while it’s heating up. As for the maple syrup, buy grade B which is darker and mapley-er than grade A. You can also freeze the unbaked scones: scoop out the dough, freeze them on a baking sheet, and wrap them well in plastic. Then bake them straight from the freezer, adding about 5 minutes to the baking time. 

Makes 2 dozen small scones

- 3/4 – 1 C pecans (I used halves, but feel free to use pre-chopped)

- 1 1/2 C flour

- 1 1/4 C old-fashioned rolled oats

- 1 1/2 t baking powder

- 1/4 t baking soda

- 1/4 t kosher salt

- 1/2 C cold unsalted butter

- 1/3 C cold heavy cream

- 1/2 C maple syrup

- 1 cold egg

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Toast. Scatter the pecans on a baking sheet and toast in the oven while it’s preheating. This should take less than 10 minutes – the pecans are done when they color slightly and you can smell their nuttiness. Once the pecans have cooled, chop them.

Mix. Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, mix together the flour, oats, baking powder, and baking soda on low-speed for 10 to 15 seconds, or until just combined. Cut the cold butter into small cubes and scatter into the bowl. Mix on low-speed for about 30 seconds on low-speed, or until the butter is somewhat broken down and grape-sized pieces are still visible. (Or just dig your hands in and rub the butter into the flour with your fingers).

Whisk. In a small bowl, whisk together the cream, maple syrup, and egg until thoroughly mixed.

Mix again. On low speed, pour the cream mixture into the flour-butter mixture and mix for 20-30 seconds or just until the dough comes together. It will be fairly wet and you will still be able to see some pieces of butter. Stir in the cooled chopped pecans.

Scoop. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop dough – about 3 tablespoons per scone – onto the parchment. I used a tablespoon-sized scooper and mounded one heaping tablespoon on top of another heaping tablespoon. A regular tablespoon and a gentle nudge with your finger will work just fine here as well. At this point, I slipped half of the scooped dough onto a baking sheet and into the freezer, eventually packing them up in a few plastic bags.

oatmeal maple pecan scones, scooped and frozen, ready to be baked

Bake. Bake for 25 minutes, or until the scones are golden brown on top. If you’re taking the dough straight from the freezer, baking will take about 30 minutes.

Store. The scones are best on the day they’re baked. However, if you can’t eat every last one, wrap up the leftovers and freeze them. I love them straight from the freezer; otherwise they thaw in just a few minutes.

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