the inevitable end-of-the-year wrap-up

above all things, i hate to be a cliche. i go to great lengths to avoid it in everything from my clothes to my shoes to the paint in my apartment and my plastic camera affections--and affectations. in this, however, i find that i can't help myself--this year has been full of too many changes--and too many culinary experiments--to go by unmarked. i find myself compelled to write a wrap-up of 2007. fortunately for you, you are free to disregard my musings as you see fit.

new year's is a peculiar time. it's all full of hope and optimism and promise for what is to come, but i always find myself looking back at the year gone by. this year saw a lot of interesting things for me: i changed my job--twice; several of my friends became engaged, or had children; i moved from washington, d.c. to west new york, n.j. to new york, n.y., and in the process i purchased my own apartment for the first time. i traveled a lot: twice to paris, 4 times to the hamptons, to west point, to california, back and forth to new york from DC i don't know how many times. i re-discovered and re-applied myself to my art and in the process pulled away from my kitchen--although that didn't stop me from attempting, among other things, macarons, croissants, puff pastry, layer cakes, 10 different types of risotto and a summer full of ice cream. i joined a CSA. i learned how to paint walls and install carpet and coordinate furniture and hang wallpaper. i got turned down for publication in a magazine, but i've been accepted into a group show at a downtown gallery. i made friends with a 4-star chef who lets me cook in his restaurant's kitchen. for thanksgiving, i made soup for 30 people and 3 kinds of dessert.

i find these "highlights" to be reflective of my journey through the year, as i lost the impatience of a kid with a new hobby and settled into a more comfortable and enjoyable role as an adult with one. i learned how to slow down, and plan, and anticipate. i learned the pleasure of a simple meal and how to practice a complicated one.

my highlights reel begins last year, on january 1, with my new year's eve dessert (molten chocolate cakes with lemon mousse, citrus compote and ice wine) and moves through the seasons and some of my favorite preparations, including: bulgogi beef, polenta with fried eggs, and my mis-construed "summer of gelato." i've concluded with the first meal i've prepared and served in my new apartment: fried chicken, latkes and sufganiyot in celebration of chanukah.

for next year, i hope i have half as much fun in the kitchen as i've had this year--then i can count it a success. and keep your fingers crossed on my next magazine submission!


an encounter with some beets (ew) and a case of overambition

you ever get one of those random food ideas in your head and suddenly, you aren’t in the mood for anything else? you’ve got half a dozen possibilities, and suddenly, only the most impractical one makes any sense. that was me at 9.13 on this very fine friday evening, frantically stirring pastry cream for no reason whatsoever except that i had gotten this idea in my head to use up some of the leftover shortbread pastry for a mini basque tart.

the reason it seemed like a good idea was that i have been on this sort of spanish kick tonight, making a gazpacho with beets and cherries (which smelled so much like beets and vegetables that i couldn’t even swallow it) and roasting a chicken. this marks my second time roasting a whole chicken, and i’d have to say it was far more successful than my first time. i made a little paste of garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and rosemary and rubbed it all over the place including, for the first time, under the skin, and sprinkled a shower of paprika over the entire affair. while it was roasting, i sat watching the u.s. open and trying to decide what to have for dessert. i’ve got peaches, plums, raspberries and strawberries and some very sorry-looking cherries that have seen much, much better days. any other person would have thrown them away, but as i was paging through one of my journals i saw a note to my self: don’t forget about the leftover pastry dough!

and there it was, the obvious solution, a mini basque tart. at 9.13 in the evening, just as my dinner was roasting. i even tried to talk myself out of it but once i realized that i had all the ingredients i ran out of excuses.

it got even better when i pulled my pastry out of the refrigerator after the pastry cream had thickened and i realized that i left my rolling pin in sagaponack. fortunately i had a bottle of white rioja, left over from the chicken, handy.

oh, and did i mention that i’ve been making bread all afternoon? bread that was still rising? bread that needed the oven before the tart goes in?


mini chocolate basque tart

leftover chocolate shortbread pastry crust
1 1/2 cups whole milk (i used half and half)
3 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons + 1 1/2 teaspoons flour

scald the cream.
mix the yolks, sugar and flour together.
temper the yolk mixture with some of the hot cream, then stir the cream over the stove until it thickens.
strain and cool.

line a mini tart pan with pastry crust.
(make sure to leave extra dough for the top piece)

preheat oven 350 degrees.
line bottom of pan with quartered bing cherries (you’re meant to use preserves, but i had very sorry-looking cherries that needed to be utilized)
pour pastry cream over top. add almond extract if desired.

seal the top layer of pastry to the tart.
bake for 35 minutes.
cool and eat.


the continuing adventures of the chief and the stick

this week marked a major milestone for me--two, actually. firstly, i closed on my new apartment. my very first home. the first place where i get to own furniture and pick out paint colors and bask in the overhead lighting of my choice and tell my mother that no, mom, i really don't care what you think because i like that color better.

but equally important was this: my first vacation day in my new job.

i've never had a summer like this one. in school, of course, you get the summers off. for two years in the congress, we had four hellish weeks in july followed by five weeks of pure, sloth-like bliss that we fondly referred to as the august recess. last year, in fact, i was able to take off every friday in august and 2 of the mondays.

this year, i started my new job at the dawn of summer, the third week in may. under the strict HR rules of my new employer, that meant no vacation days for three whole months. three SUMMER months, during which every day brought sunshine, warm weather, new absences and vacations--from colleagues and clients--while i sat at my desk and tried to prove myself worthy of that prized three-month tenure and the hope of future vacation days.

so for this, my third weekend in the now-officially-misnamed summer of gelato, with my uncle the chief coming to visit with his family, i designated friday as my first vacation day. we had begun planning the menu months ago, but ditched it all in favor of a new and unusual idea during the cold spell that hung over the early days of the week: braising.

i love to braise. it is easy, and delicious, and makes me feel productive on a cold winter's evening when i can use my classic line--"i can't go out, i'm cooking dinner"--instead of getting all dolled up and facing the weather for overpriced, watered-down drinks and bad pickup lines. but who ever heard of braising in the summer?

it started on monday, when the weather here in the big apple was in the low 50's. all day i dreamed of a warm, quick, light but filling dinner, and set about making my fantasy into reality: potato leek soup, pastina with parmesan and butter, a salad with greens and cherries. the next day, as is my habit, i was detailing this menu to my uncle who shared a similar tale of midwinter-in-midsummer. by wednesday, i had gotten an email with a wild idea--something hot, soupy and stewy for dinner on saturday. by thursday the details were clear: pork, fennel, tomatoes and polenta. fabulously, this gave me a chance to complete my month's mission on behalf of the daring bakers, the perfect dessert for this misplaced meal.

this month's challenge came out of the beautiful, inspiring and deceptively easy tome by eric kayser, pies and tarts. the challenge was his milk chocolate and caramel tart, which consists of a chocolate shortbread pastry crust, a layer of caramel, and a layer of milk chocolate mousse. i, unfortunately, had to deviate from the cardinal rule of the bakers (FOLLOW THE RECIPE EXACTLY) because reality intervened. i'll tell you, so long as you promise not to confiscate my apron:

firstly, i couldn't use hazelnuts in the crust. i went to three stores out in the hamptons and came up empty-handed. had i known in advance, i could have brought my own, but i had to settle for almonds instead. i confess that i preferred this situation, since i find hazelnuts more intrusive than almonds. almonds tend to blend into the main flavor while hazelnuts challenge it more directly.

secondly, i omitted the cinnamon, simply because i cannot stand cinnamon.

finally, and most egregiously, i didn't use milk chocolate. i had several reasons for this omission, all of them good, i swear. my sister, who was visitng for the weekend, doesn't eat milk chocolate. we're not sure if she is allergic or what, but she won't eat it. more importantly, my uncle the chief scoffed at milk chocolate and caramel as a combo. he said dark chocolate or none at all. what could i do but acquiesce?

this tart began with an odyssey. although i had remembered to pack my fluted removable bottom tart pan, the fridge was depressingly devoid of the unsalted butter i needed for the shortbread crust. i ran out to the king kullen on montauk highway (where i failed to find hazelnuts) for 2 pounds. i made the shortbread before lunch and left it to enjoy the cooler climate of the fridge for several hours. i actually did ok with the crust, since i have a fair amount of practice by now, and i took this as a good omen for my completion of the challenge.

next came the caramel element. i'd been reading all month about caramel strategies, dry method versus wet method, and techniques complete with photographs. it was my intention to tackle the wet method, because it seemed like it had a higher success rate, but during my early morning sprint to the kullen i had forgotten to get corn syrup. dry method it was. i used a deep, 2-quart saucepan, and to my chagrin the sugar did not melt evenly--but it also didn't burn. i exhaled and left it to cool for a few minutes while i prepared the butter and cream. except that nobody told me what happens to melted sugar when it cools, so i turned around to find my wooden spoon standing straight up in a 2-inch thick hard candy caramel. i blushed and scoffed and fluttered around anxiously for a good five minutes before i remembered that i could melt the sugar again. unfortunately for me, this got me overexcited and i added the next two ingredients in the wrong order. i was left with a twisted, hideous siezed piece of hard caramel candy, which i threw away and then vowed to master the sugar. (after i spent 20 minutes cleaning the pot)

i began anew. using a wider, shallower pot, i melted another cup of sugar. on this larger surface it melted both more quickly and more evenly and turned a delightful amber color. i added the cream and the butter--in the correct order--and was rewarded with a golden cream caramel mixture which would form the base of the tart's caramel layer. while the crust baked blind, this mixture cooled and i began prepping the chocolate mousse.

for my next trick, i baked the caramel until it had a slightly springy top. i was surprised by how much the caramel had risen within the tart shell and worried that i made too much mousse. but, really, when does chocolate mousse ever go to waste? i couldn't wait for the caramel to cool completely, since dinner was nearly ready, but i stuck everything directly in the fridge after smoothing the mousse on top. i melted a few ounces of unsweetened chocolate into the leftover caramel cream with the hope of making brittle. this, unfortunately, did not set up before dinner, but they made lovely free-form truffles when topped with the leftover almonds.

and so i present this month's challenge: the milk (dark) chocolae and caramel tart, my fifth DB challenge and the first one i have managed to both complete and complete successfully. dare i take this as a sign that things are changing for the better?

(the other members who participated in this challenge can be found here)

Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart
Daring Bakers Challenge #9: August 2007

Hosts: Veron (Veronica's Test Kitchen) and Patricia (Technicolor Kitchen)

Allowed Modifications:
1. Caramel fragment toppings are optional but make sure that the caramel-cream and chocolate layers are true to the recipe

2. If you have no luck with the dry method of making the caramel, you may use the alternate method shown at the end of the recipe.

3. You may eliminate the cinnamon if you don't like cinnamon.

4. Recipe ingredient exception allowed only if allergy or an ingredient not available or cost prohibitive in your region

Recipe Quantity: One (1) 9" Square or one (1) 10" Round tart

Chocolate Shortbread Pastry
Note: The Chocolate Shortbread pastry can make 3 tart shells. So, if you want to cut that recipe into thirds then do so but Veron and Patricia are not promising it will scale down properly.

Preparation time: 10 minutes
Refrigeration: overnight
To make 3 tart shells: 9 ½ inches (24 cm) square
or 10 inches (26 cm round)

  • 1 cup (250g ) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (150 g) confectioners’ sugar
  • ½ cup (50 g) ground hazelnuts
  • 2 level teaspoons (5 g) ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 ½ cups (400 g) cake flour
  • 2 ½ teaspoons (10 g) baking powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons (10 g) cocoa powder
A day ahead
1. In a mixing bowl of a food processor, cream the butter.

2. Add the confectioners’ sugar, the ground hazelnuts, and the cinnamon, and mix together

3. Add the eggs, one by one, mixing constantly

4. Sift in the flour, the baking powder, and the cocoa powder, and mix well.

5. Form a ball with the dough, cover in plastic wrap, and chill overnight.

Milk Chocolate and Caramel Tart

Preparation time: 40 minutes
Baking Time: 30 minutes
Refrigeration time: 1 hour

  • ½ lb (250 g) chocolate shortbread pastry (see recipe above)
  • 1 ½ cups (300 g) granulated sugar
  • 1 cup (250 g) heavy cream (30-40 percent butterfat) or crème fraiche
  • ¼ cup (50 g) butter
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 ½ tablespoons (15 g) flour
  • 1 ¼ cups (300 g) whipping cream
  • ½ lb (250 g) milk chocolate
1. Preheat oven to 325 °F (160 °C).

2. Line the baking pan with the chocolate shortbread pastry and bake blind for 15 minutes.

3. In a saucepan, caramelize 1 cup (200 g) granulated sugar using the dry method until it turns a golden caramel color. Incorporate the heavy cream or crème fraiche and then add butter. Mix thoroughly. Set aside to cool.

4. In a mixing bowl, beat the whole eggs with the extra egg yolk, then incorporate the flour.

5. Pour this into the cream-caramel mixture and mix thoroughly.

6. Spread it out in the tart shell and bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

7. Prepare the milk chocolate mousse: beat the whipping cream until stiff. Melt the milk chocolate in the microwave or in a bain-marie, and fold it gently into the whipped cream.

8. Pour the chocolate mousse over the cooled caramel mixture, smoothing it with a spatula. Chill for one hour in the refrigerator.

Alternate Caramel Method:

If you have problems with the dry method, you may use this method.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon corn syrup

Set mixture in a pot over medium-high heat and stir slowly. When the mixture comes to a boil, stop stirring and leave it alone. Wait till desired color is attained .

Proceed with the rest of the recipe.

Caramel Fragments:

Melt ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar in a saucepan until it reaches an amber color. Pour it onto waxed paper laid out on a flat surface. Leave to cool. Break it into small fragments and stick them lightly into the top of the tart.


a repetitive meal for a manic monday

when you’re in school, it’s easy to feel like mondays are the worst thing invented, period. worse than tests and homework; worse than rainy days, bad cartoons, long car rides, furniture shopping, or waiting in the car while mom runs her errands. and yet nothing quite dwarfs that nascent sense of hatred like the dawning of a monday when it means getting up and going to work.

ugh, work.
give me a 7.26 first period bell any day.

it is at this point that a small voice inside my head thinks that life shouldn’t be this way; one should never, it insists, actually dread having to get out of bed in the morning. unfortunately, that little voice isn’t responsible for paying the rent, buying groceries or saving up for that really awesome jacket i saw in an east hampton shop last weekend. and so, every monday, we wake up, we shower, we get dressed, we close the door behind us, we realize we forgot our keys and open the door again--slowly, but slowly, we begin the trek for our daily bread.

about the only thing that gets me through these toils is thinking, in fact, about my daily bread. i eagerly anticipate lunch. i spend my long walk home contemplating dinner and, with a burst of workaday-repressed energy, gleefully list all of the tasks i will accomplish when i finally cross my own threshold. tonight was one of those nights, the list long. two stops on the way home. bags to unload. process film. clean out fridge. drool over the new nigel slater cookbook i special-ordered from england. salvage the leftover croissants and use up the extra heavy cream in a pain au chocolat pudding. use the blueberries before they ferment--blueberry-thyme cakes. and then dinner.

it’s one of those nights where i push the greasy french fries and sinfully, deceptively “healty” wrap i consumed at lunch, the polenta i had over the weekend, and the polenta i baked last wednesday to heat up a nearly identical meal: baked polenta, spinach, fresh mozzarella, proscuitto. it’s nearly identical to the concoction i pulled out of my oven last wednesday, only last wednesday i ate a salad and this monday i drizzle fresh pasta sauce and two fried eggs on top of the polenta before pushing the tines of my fork through the parmesan-sprinkled crust. there are days when you need to have a meal that can sit on its own in the oven for a few minutes while you rinse the fixer out of your bathtub, a meal that you know will deliver satisfaction, not epiphany. usually, we call these days “mondays.”

pain-au-chocolat pudding

4 stale chocolate croissants
3 eggs
2 cups milk
2 cups cream
3 tablespoons sugar
slug of vanilla
drizzle of leftover raspberry extract

tear the croissants and lay them in a baking pan (i used a 9x9x2 square). whisk the eggs and sugar in a bowl while the milk/cream mixture heats up on the stove. temper the egg mixture with some of the hot cream and mix it all together. add the extracts. bake 45 minutes at 350. faint from the unbelievable aromas wafting out of the oven as you pull out the pudding.


croissants, was re: the summer of gelato, #3

it was a weekend ideal for a long, lonely cooking project: two days at a nearly-empty beach house with a spacious kitchen and a mile-long countertop, with only a few guests, lousy weather, and no specific plans. i had made it my mission to finally tackle the infamous tartine takes-three-days-to-make-them croissant recipe. i packed my yeast and my scharffen-berger 70%, my printed-out copy of the recipe, with kitchen notes, and my rolling pin. i was determined.

reality hits hard, though. this third weekend of the planned summer of gelato, much like its misnomer of a title might suggest, did not go according to the plan at all. wait, that is unfair. it did, in many respects, go according to the plan. i went out late on thursday night, conveniently missing dinner, avoiding the hellish dash from midtown manhattan to queens that had come to define my fridays. i came armed with my ingredients, although, did i mention that my mother told me not to pack my yeast? and then that she forgot to pick some up for me at the supermarket? so i didn't get to start on friday.

saturday dawned cool and cloudy and my first order of business was to head for the supermarket and my forgotten yeast. this accomplished, i left the starter of the croissants to proof for two hours under some warm lights in the kitchen. i came back to find a lovely, spongy dough-like creation which i dutifully scooped into my mother's no-brand mixer, and began incorporating butter and milk. by now i had an audience consisting of my mother, her parents, my dad's father, and my grandfather's lady-friend. the lady-friend in particular was entranced when i announced that the resulting dough now needed to proof again, for another 5 or 6 hours.

i could mention at this point the serious dysfunctionality of my family, but to explain it would get much too complicated and take away from my magnificent croissant project. i will just say that having four senior citizens loitering around the kitchen was not an experience i would describe as conducive to creativity and peace.

six hours passed, and i came running back to my dough, eager to start the plaque-making stages. this was the stage of which i was most afraid, this dreaded turning process. my dough fought me every inch of the way, although beating it occasionally with my rolling pin seemed to help. marginally. at length, i got the dough to the prescribed 28 inches in width, and began dotting it with butter. salted butter, a relic from last weekend's french-chef-inspired cooking. i worried about this, but not enough to defy the edit of my mother, who declared that having three pounds of butter in the house was more than enough for her, thank you, and that i had damn well better use what was there before getting more.

the method of making the butter plaque was fascinating and great fun. i pulled out the butter and my rolling pin, creamed it for a few quick minutes, and then pounded the crap out of it with my rolling pin. i took a perverse sort of glee in this, because no one was expecting it. but the butter needed to soften, so what could i do? i began spooning out bits of this softened butter and dotting it over two-thirds of the rolled-out dough. then i did the classic layered-pastry fold, like a business letter, and fought with the dough for another 15 minutes in an attempt to roll it out. again. ultimately i had to enlist the help of my taller, stronger male friend. please, sisterhood, forgive me. :-)

the dough went into the fridge to chill, prompting a "yet again?" round of comments from my audience as we sat down to dinner and i prepped my dessert (the buttermilk chocolate cake from the delectable chocolatechocolate by lisa yockelson, topped with strawberry compote and honey-cream from emily luchetti's passion for desserts). after about an hour, i pulled the plaque out for its final turn. this time i fought with it so hard that i nearly hurt myself, until i had an epiphany and realized that i already had it stretched to the proper dimensions so far as height went. so, sneakily, i turned it around another quarter-turn and rolled it from there. this proved much easier since i already had some leeway.

after leaving the dough in the fridge for the rest of the night, i awoke early, refreshed and ready to complete my task. i rolled out the dough. AGAIN. beating it a few times just for emphasis. my original plan had been to make an assortment--some plain ones, a few ham and cheese, and a few chocolate. but my sister argued, with surprisingly impeccable logic, that making an assortment would mean that there were fewer chocolate ones. so i made only chocolate ones. i cut the dough into more-or-less evenly-sized rectangles, put a few slices of scharffen-berger 70% in there, and rolled them back up to rise for about 2 hours while i played some tennis.

i came back to a marvel of baking science--beautifully-risen pastries, ready to pop in the oven. i felt emboldened by my success and the (relative) ease of the recipe. this is easy, i was thinking to myself. it's just something you have to plan for!

well, all of that was before these babies went into the oven. my major problem, as it turns out, was this: i didn't have proper baking pans. that is to say, jelly roll pans, with edges. all i had were cookie sheets. no problem, right? i wrapped them in a layer of aluminum foil and slid the pans into the ovens. that's right, ovens, because this beauty of a beach house has TWO.

then the oven caught on fire.

nothing major, just the butter dripping out of the laminated dough was so hot that it ignited, briefly, when it hit the bottom of the oven. my mother, seeing this and (understandably) panicking, opened the oven in question, fueling the fire and giving us a major scare. we pulled the croissants out and had an emergency strategy session. we lined the bottoms of the ovens with more foil to catch the butter and hopefully stop the intense smoking that was happening. this worked, to a point, except the foil started catching on fire. all in all, we had 3 serious scares.

but more importantly, the croissants were unharmed. i pulled them out in all of their glory:

now, back to that issue about the salted butter. it's true that i couldn't taste much of a difference within the layers, except that they were rich and savory (and, incidentally, would have been perfect for the ham and cheese croissants i had wanted to make). the problem was that the author of the recipe included a sprinkle of salt in the pre-baking egg wash. this threw the entire pastry out of balance (although, truly, i think i was the only one to notice). i was briefly upset about this until i considered the larger picture: i had made croissants. i had made croissants. me. by myself. in a regular kitchen. if i had done it once, i could do it again.

and this time, i would skip the salt in the egg wash.

for more information on this recipe, i would urge you to visit veronica's test kitchen. her replication of this recipe (for an original daring bakers challenge), complete with her cooking notes, where what saved me from myself as i made my way through each step.


how much do i love cherries?

enough to buy four extra quarts of sour ones for freezing.
enough to spend an entire friday night pitting them.
enough to eat an undercooked, too-thick caflouti.

and, best of all, enough to try a new caflouti recipe from tartine. i was so happy to find this recipe, and i’ll tell you why: it confirmed what i had always had lurking in the back of my head: that a caflouti was really like a far breton, the cake that absolutely seduced me on martha stewart last winter and won over the hearts of a group of hungry photographers last february. the tartine recipe is lovely in its simplicity and elegance. my first attempt came out of the king arthur flour cookbook, and i think it was a bit too complicated. that’s even before i cooked it in a pan that was too small, and it had to stay in the oven an extra hour, and still came out undercooked.

this one was perfect. egg, some heated milk--almost custard-like--and just enough flour to hold it all together. i whisked it nice and smooth, and i pitted the cherries.

i know, i know, you’re not meant to pit the cherries. it robs the caflouti of its authenticity and, some say, it steals away some of the flavor. legend has it that the pits add some almond flavor to the custard. but me, i don’t like biting into a cherry and finding a pit.

i got a little creative, maybe too creative for my own good. my CSA this week included 5 perfect apricots, and i sliced and pitted those and threw them into the caflouti as well. count me in the camp of people who don’t really like apricots and never know what to do with them, even if they are looking all gorgeous and perfect at the farmers market (or, in my case, a corn-based plastic deli cup).

my creation is cooling even as i type. i am not sure what a properly finish caflouti is meant to look like, so i am still nervous.


my weekend with a four-star chef - the summer of gelato, week 2

this was a weekend i’ve been looking forward to for at least a month. even still, i found myself getting nervous as friday approached. seems ridiculous to be nervous for a weekend, right? i mean, the weekend i went to visit an old pseudo-boyfriend after not speaking to him for almost three years, that was nerve-wracking. the weekend before my new job started? i barely slept. but this weekend, this was just a simple weekend out of the city with my parents and a few friends.

except that it wasn’t. one of dad’s friends happens to be a bona-fide four-star chef at a french restaurant in new jersey. and, to compound the issue, dad told him that i like to cook. so of course chef is all polite and tells dad that we should cook together. saturday morning, i was speechless all through breakfast because i wasn’t sure what to say. would i be expected to, like, know stuff? to be useful? to be a student? or to stay out of the way?

my answer came slowly as we sat by the pool. mom asked chef what he wanted to make for dinner, and my dad asked about dessert. my dad he who won’t eat cooked fruit, actually requested that chef make use of some of the fresh peaches, even if it meant pie or a tart. here was my moment of glory: “oh, i made a really excellent peach tart tatin this week.” chef looks at me and asks me what i used for a base--puff pastry? “no,” says i. “i made a pate brisee.” chef gives me this huge smile and says, “if we make a tart tonight, you’ll make the pate brisee?” “of course,” i answer. and suddenly i am not feeling so awkward. we spend several happy moments following this one settling on an actual dessert (white cheese citrus ice cream with a peach and blueberry compote) and determining our dinner menu (corn valoute with a fresh pepper relish, marinated skirt steak with red wine, garlic, ginger and thai basil, couscous with almonds and golden raisins).

our afternoon we gave over to the farm stand on route 27, getting corn, peppers, garlic, clinatro, and other staples. i found--oh joy--another yellow watermelon to cap my summer. we went home and began a very happily chaotic mise en place.

we started with the ice cream, since that would have to chill. chef made it up as we went along, starting with a simple syrup and ending with sour cream and candied orange peel. the ice cream base was born from the cross-breeding of a sorbet and a philly-style ice cream. the tang from the sour cream was shockingly pleasant as it was mixed with a lemon-sugar syrup. we decided to break as the ice cream cooled, but i couldn’t help myself. i made a ginger shortbread cookie (inspired by emily luchetti’s passion for desserts) and began dicing the peppers. after all, i needed the knife practice. i had only just finished when chef came back in from the pool and we began all over again. we had a list, but neither of us could keep track, and it’s nearly a miracle--except, of course, with a four-star chef at the helm, it’s not--that we got dinner on the table in time. i learned a lot about food plating. i was put in charge of the marinade. i got an extra smile out of chef when i asked him to describe what the corn valoute should look like as it thickened. “should it coat the back of my spoon?” i asked. the flanksteak was cooked to medium-rare perfection, and we soaked the golden raisins in some of the leftover simple syrup to bloom them for the couscous.

we macerated the fruit with some sugar and some cointreau. each plate got a scoop of the cream, a spoonful each of blueberries and peaches, and a sliver of ginger shortbread for a crunch.

for sunday, i desperately wanted chef to teach me how to make crepes. unfortunately, i had to settle--oh, the humanity!--for the secret to his life-changingly good french toast.

i found a yellow watermelon

last summer, while i was still living in DC, i became an avid reader of the washington post--and with that affinity came exposure to the delightful kim o’donnell and her blog on washintonpost.com. it was through this medium that i first learned about the existence of the elusive yellow watermelon.

kim innocently posted a photo of a sliced yellow watermelon, fresh from one of her farmers’ market expeditions. i was capitvated at first site. something about the shock value of seeing the yellow flesh with the black seeds and the familiar green rind stuck in my mind and never left. i spent the rest of the summer fruitlessly seeking out the yellow watermelon. the closest i came to tracking it down was a king kullen store in long island, but the fruit was short on flavor and not what i had hoped for. i reluctantly put my hope for yellow watermelon aside for another year.

happily, that year was this one. a few weeks ago, kim o’donnell again blogged about the joys of yellow watermelon. working out of the divine david leibovitz’s perfect scoop, she experimented with making sorbet syrups and freezing them as popsicles. my obsession returned with a vengeance. best of all, i was once again headed for fresh fruit haven on long island, where farm stands dot route 27 all the way out to montauk. that first weekend, the kickoff weekend for my summer of gelato, i found a basket full of yellow watermelons right next to the sugar babies. i cradled it all the way home and immediately set to making kim’s (and david’s) sorbetto.

unfrotunately, the freezer had other plans and declined to properly freeze my ice cream bowl. undaunted, i took the mixture home and spent half a week looking for popsicle molds. i finally found them on thursday, and froze my pops straight away.

still, even with this pseudo-success, i was unsatisfied. what i really wanted was to make a proper sorbetto and serve it as part of our sunday lunch. on sundays in sagaponack, dad grills up “lamburgers” instead of hamburgers and i was convinced that a light watermelon sorbetto would be the perfect compliment to this relatively heavy midday meal.

this weekend, the pressure was on, because i was in the presence of relative strangers including--gulp--my dad’s friend scott who happens to be a four-star chef. the ice cream maker was still broken, but i had learned my lesson and started early enough to let a granita freeze instead of depending on churning for a timely sorbet. i boiled the syrup, threw in a squeeze of lime juice and a schlug from a bottle of grey goose. the ice crystals in my first granita were perhaps too large, but i shredded everything adequately and felt no shame as i appropriated david’s suggestion of replacing the seeds with mini chocolate chips.

i had saved the rinds from my watermelons and used the round bit as a bowl, and a few side slices as mini plates. i stirred in the chips and capped it off with another round end, and served it at the table. i got ooohs and aahhhhs, even from the chef.

and the granita? it was light and cool, with a perfect smoothness. maybe--just maybe--it had a splash too much lime, but it was, as i had hoped, a perfect compliment to a heavy lunch on a hot summer day.

Watermelon Sorbetto Granita
From "The Perfect Scoop," by David Lebovitz

3 cups watermelon juice -- from about a 3-pound chunk of melon, rind and seeds removed and pureed in a blender or food processor
1/2 cup granulated sugar
pinch salt
1 tablespoon juice of a lime
1-2 tablespoons vodka (optional)
1-2 tablespoons mini semisweet chocolate chips

In a small nonreactive saucepan, heat about 1/2 cup of the watermelon juice with the sugar and salt, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir sugared syrup into remaining 2 1/2 cups of watermelon juice in a medium bowl. Mix in lime juice and vodka (if using).

Pour the mixture into a 9x13 glass baking dish, and stir it with a fork every half an hour or so in the freezer until there is a consistency you like. stir in chocolate chips and serve.


creme fraiche is the new green

i’ve been so excited ever since meeta announced this month’s mingle that i’ve actually been almost afraid to sit down and write it. the theme, you see, is “earth food,” something i think about a lot. i’ve been accused of being a vegetarian, a vegan, a “crunchy granola hippie,” and a treehugger, and while none of that is true (especially the bit about the vegetables), it IS true that i think a lot about reducing my impact on the environment.

it actually began as a hobby of mine when i was quite young--12 or 13, probably--and started learning about global warming and holes in the ozone layer and how aqua net and styrofoam were really, really bad. like most things, environmentalism passed through my life as a phase, but a part of me never quite let it go.

and so now, being a grown up, or nearly so, contemplating my new, unfurnished apartment, favoring a 40-mpg-mini over the SUV that was the pride of my adolescence (i had, by far, the best car of all my friends, and we spent many happy days cruising back and forth from our tiny little suburban town to the shore, the catskills, and brian’s pool), and, worst of all, watching the energy policy debate as part of my old job in the U.S. Senate, i’ve drifted back toward my old tree-hugging ways. i use CFL bulbs. i recycle everything, even aluminum foil. i’ve sworn off water from plastic bottles. i’ve switched to organic shampoo. my house is filled with method cleaning products. i’m researching sustainably harvested wood furniture--i even got quoted on apartmenttherapy.com--and i keep my air conditioning above 70, with the blinds closed, at all times. all of my appliances are plugged into surge protectors, so that i don’t have energy “vampires.” (just call me buffy) i walk almost everywhere, always carrying an extra cloth bag in my purse in case i go shopping. i keep a bowl, spoon and mug at work so i don’t have to use plastic or styrofoam. i buy used books and used movies instead of new ones, and i read newspapers online.

and in the kitchen, bringing us back into the realm of culinary relevancy, i do my absolute best to find responsible groceries. for me, this year, that meant joining a CSA, shopping at farmers markets, and eating seasonally.

do i cheat? of course i do. i still love a big, disgusting fast-food hamburger for lunch, and let’s face it, my CSA delivery still needs to be driven in from long island. horizon milk might be organic, but it’s a factory farm, and my much-touted organic shampoo still comes in a big old plastic bottle. i think the key to finding one’s inner treehugger is realizing that there is no perfect solution, but making the effort to find your own way nonetheless. you’d be amazed at the viral effect of practical environmental evangelism. my mother started buying method cleaning products and biodegradable paper plates, just from listening to me talk about it. my dad, after making fun of me for spending the summer driving my old, now-reviled SUV, has since turned around and began working with the contractors at his real estate development company to investigate gray-water plumbing systems for their newest project. he’s learning about LEED certification while my mother is trying to find a brand of recycled napkin that doesn’t feel like cardboard.

and i continue to cook locally and seasonally. which brings me back to “earth food.” for the kick-off weekend of “the summer of gelato” (thus named because i promised my dad that i would make him fresh gelato every week with whatever looked tastiest at the farmers market), i decided to pair a raspberry gelato with a recipe out of emily luchetti’s a passion for desserts, which makes seasonal cooking easy by dividing each awe-inspiring recipe into an appropriate season. smack in the middle of “summer,” then, is this berry creme fraiche cake, which pairs buttermilk cake layers studded with poppy seeds and a plethora of summer berries, utilizing creme fraiche in the place of icing. in the spirit of meeta’s “earth food” theme, i used buttermilk, butter, cream and eggs from my CSA, and berries from the farm stand on sagg main road.

the best part about this cake, aside from, you know, the cake, and the berries, is that creme fraiche is a milder, tangier flavor than your basic buttercream icing, which makes it more palatable to folks like my family, who don’t eat a lot of sweet or desesrt-y things. i made the creme fraiche from scratch, letting it sit for two days to thicken and then beating it with some cream and just a tablespoon or two of sugar.


summer in sagaponack (AKA the summer of gelato); or, how i got my family to eat fajitas

the classic question “what’s for dinner?” takes on an entirely new dimension when dealing with my family. my father won’t eat cooked fruit, spicy things, or things he can’t pronounce. my sister won’t eat things that are too sweet. my mother is in this phase where she won’t eat bread. i won’t eat things that swim, slither, have scales, or include anything my father might refer to as “pond life.” and that is just my immediate family. my grandfather can’t have salt. my cousin won’t eat fish, red meat, duck or vegetables. my parents’ closest friend won’t eat lamb, and my aunt, well, she doesn’t really eat at all.

talk about putting the “fun” back in dysfunctional.

this weekend marks the second annual kick-off of five weeks in the hamptons. it sounds impossibly swanky, and of course it is, but the real highlight is that all of us--family and friends--head out there every weekend (my mom moves out for the entire month) and on saturday nights, without fail, we cook. last year, this generally involved my mother letting me plan the menu and then regretting it later (as in the week we did paella and didn’t eat until midnight), while everyone else was so pleasantly drunk that they failed to notice; or me and my uncle horsing around in the kitchen (what he called imprisonment, since we barely saw any daylight) and being fed the leftover scraps of pasta and pizza we spent hours laboring over.

last year i was all about the breakfast foods. lots of muffins. some life-changing pancakes. several new additions to the ice cream repertoire. a few dinner successes, and i learned a lot about pasta.

this year, i decided i needed to relax and let things happen. not so many plans. not as many cookbooks. extra trips to the farmers markets for supplies and even, on occasion, doing some prep work ahead of time to avoid the pain of not being able to find a mixer or a spatula or a liquid measuring cup in someone else’s kitchen.

and so, the task of planning the first week’s menu fell to me. i pondered. i brainstormed. i made menus and discarded them. and finally, sitting by the pool on a sunny summer saturday, i found inspiration. what i really wanted, i mused aloud, was a fajita. i expected to be shot down immediately and was shocked when i saw some head-nodding happening. “we could do chicken fajitas,” i said, continuing my train of thought. “on the grill, with some veggies, and a big old pot of rice with some lime juice and cilantro.”

“we could make margaritas,” said our guest of the weekend. “or sangria.”
“daddy likes white sangria,” my mother offered, as i nearly died of shock.

“i could get some fresh corn,” i ventured even farther, “and some extra peppers, and onions, and potatoes. we could do a tortilla.”

“ron makes great margaritas,” said our guest.
“ron could make a great corn salad, i bet,” said my mom.

and there it was, in the space of a few moments, my shopping list. 3 farm stands, a specialty deli, a liquor store and a king kullen later, i had gotten my entire list and even found--oh joy--a yellow watermelon for sunday’s lunch. i came home and had just enough time to change and unpack the goods when the family began pouring back in the front door from their various saturday outings. the blender came out immediately, as did a bottle of petron. (in my family, when we drink tequila, we drink GOOD tequila) i started cooking a custard for some raspberry gelato. i set my mother to making some guacamole, and while the margaritas where whizzing away in the blender, ron began devising a corn salad. we cut up the chicken into bits and seasoned it with a taco seasoning mix. the grill was fired up, the custard cooled, we strained the raspberries in a french press when we couldn’t find a strainer.

by 8.30, we were sitting at the table, chowing down on fajita bliss. the corn was sweet, the chicken was moist, the rice had a hint of lime, the tortillas had been pan-warmed (along with my hand, which got in the way of the frying pan in question). even my sangria got high marks after i decided to omit the extra sugar and just soak some fresh fruit in the rioja, topping off the pitcher with a bottle of sparkling water.

the only downside--turns out, the freezer wasn’t cold enough to freeze the ice cream bowl. so what was for dessert? more on that later.


i could so be a browniebabe

this picture is unfair, because this picture isn't going to win me any browniebabe accolades.

but it should.

these were life-changing brownies, startling in their perfection, wonderous in their flavor, lick-up-the-crumbs-with-your-fingers delicious, reforming a man who hasn't eaten cherries since his colonoscopy.

ok, maybe i went too far with the bodily functions on that one.

for the third browniebabe challenge, after missing the first TWO in spite of my love for brownies, i am determined to submit a contender for august.

one of my goals for the summer has been to cook extensively using the most local, fresh, responsible and seasonal ingredients i can find. a side effect of this has been that my cooking has gotten simpler--nigel slater is, after all, my hero--but it's also given me a chance to systematically work my way through the brilliance that is emily luchetti's a passion for desserts.

i should mention also that i am obsessed with cherries. sweet ones, sour ones, queen annes or rainers. doesn't really matter. i've been hoarding them like a fruitarian squirrel (i feel like i have used that simile before, but it still applies). last friday, i came home from work after walking from 86th and the central park great lawn all the way down to columbus circle and then across town to 39th and 12th. i was exhausted. but i opened up the fridge when i made my way home and found myself staring down 3 quarts of cherries. no lie. i knew what i had to do, of course--i had to bake!

i'd been looking forward to saturday for the entire week because i had planned my most favorite activity: sailing. friends of my parents, who are practically my other parents, invited me and my sister up to their boat on the hudson for a sail and a picnic, so i promised to bring brownies. quick, easy, delicious. done. when i saw the cherries in the fridge, i had a flash of brilliance: black forest brownies a la ms. luchetti, using the cherries, giving me a snack worthy of the sail, and giving me a contender of an entry for the browniebabe event.

and thus i present my black forest brownies, inspired by ms. luchetti but executed in hybrid format. i used my staple brownie recipe, king arthur flour's on-the-fence brownies, and combined it with ms. luchetti's directions for adding cherries and flavors. i threw in a quick pour of kirsch and a quick pour of almond extract, because one of the new discoveries of my summer has been the magical mix that is cherries and almonds. they baked up so quick, i didn't even need to dirty any dishes because i could prep everything in the microwave. they smelled unbelievable. and they overnighted even better, because the kirsch soaked into the brownie batter and infused its flavor into every crumb.

i am telling you, this picture doesn't do it justice. but these are browniebabe-worthy brownies.

black forest brownies
(adapted from emily luchetti's a passion for desserts)

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
I ounce unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped
4 ounces (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
8 ounces (about 24) sweet red cherries, preferably Bing,
plus 16 whole cherries with stems, for garnish
i 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
i teaspoon kirsch
¾ cup all-purpose flour
'/4 teaspoon salt
'/2 teaspoon baking powder

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of an 8-inch square pan with
parchment paper.

TO MAKE THE BROWNIES: Melt the chocolates together with the butter in a double
boiler (see page 23). While the chocolate is melting, stem, pit, and cut the 8 ounces
of cherries into eighths.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar and eggs. Whisk in the chocolate
mixture and the kirsch. Mix in the flour, salt, and baking powder. Gently mix in the
cut cherries. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out almost clean but still
with a little batter on it, 30 to 35 minutes. Let the brownies cool in the pan.

mirror cake tasting update

last night, i gathered my courage and stared down the monster in the fridge, the strawberry mirror cake. it had already been a rough day--very long and intense at work, very hot, two hours of time sheet entry for the last day of the month, and chicken tikka masala with zucchini meatballs that proved yes, indeed, i still hate zucchini so much that i can barely force myself to swallow it.

i decided to salvage some of the day with a slice of cake. so now, at last, you have my verdict on the july DB challenge:


i was reading ivonne's post, and she described feeling like she did at the end of the crepe cake challenge: underwhelmed. i have to say that i shared her sentiments. i expected the cake to have more flavor, somehow. i understand now why the soaking syrup needed to be spiked with kirsch--because without it, there was almost no flavor, even with the mountains of strawberry bavarian creme. and all other things being equal, i think i would have preferred grand marnier instead of kirsch. i found the kirsch to be intrusive, and not close enough to strawberry to blend in. grand marnier's orange tinge would at least have complimented the strawberries!


a mirror for my ineptitude - july DB challenge

it is my fourth month as a daring baker, and my third month in a new kitchen, my second month in a new job, and my first month after finding a new, permanent home (beginning in september). to recap, i missed the crepe cake challenge; i bungled the gateau st-honore; i was vaguely repulsed by the bagels. but i learned a lot of things, like the best way to make crepe batter; different techniques for making choux; and the proper way to feed yeast for bread. (i still have a picture in my head of the happy, happy yeast in my bagel dough).

i seem to have set up a streak for myself. in this fourth month, i again tackled the challenge—strawberry mirror cake--with alacrity. i set up my ingredients. i plotted carefully. i thought, for the first time, that i was prepared for the challenge. the trick to this challenge, i decided, was planning ahead and working in stages. accordingly, i baked the cake layers—soft, springy and gorgeous—as i counted down the moments until midnight on july 21st. over the course of the next week, i made the bavarian crème base, the strawberry puree, and got ready to make the mirror.

here is where the customary bungling began.

it took me three tries to make the bavarian crème. i ran out of milk and eggs. i had to buy—i cringe to say it—a&p house brand milk instead of my beloved milk fresh from my csa delivery. i have a long history of seriously screwing up custard bases, to the point where i gave up making custard-base ice cream and despaired of ever getting proper pastry cream. it’s been a unicorn for me, impossible to catch, always out of reach. and people have been telling me for months that it is easy to make, they can’t understand why i continually fail and am quivering with fear at the mere thought of thickening eggs in hot cream.

now, i did, at last, find success. several of my fellow bakers offered this simple but shockingly effective advice: always bring the base ingredients to room temperature when making custard.

worked like a charm. i stared in amazement at the thickened crème, waiting to see the usual bits of curdled egg floating around. they never came. i felt emboldened, which led me to my next bungle—i added the gelatin mixture to the bavarian crème. days before i actually had a chance to spread it all over the cake. so while i sit here, drooling over the picture-perfect smooth creations of some of my compatriots, i am hiding with shame from the thick, somewhat lumpy mass on the bottom shelf of my refrigerator.

most appallingly, i failed to grasp the best possible strategy for the crème—the pouring of the cream over the cake layers. (of course, even had i realized this, i would have been unable to accomplish it, since my crème was perhaps a bit stiffer than the recipe intended, owing to its prolonged stay in my refrigerator) i was flustered by the fact that even with my nine-inch cake rounds, the cake was still smaller than my 9-inch springform. i didn’t understand (until about 11 last night, as i sat trying to watch pride and prejudice but really contemplating my errors), that the slight size discrepancy allowed the cream to pile smoothly around the cake, leaving a relatively clean surface for the mirror.

i, in my frustration, wrapped a layer of tin foil around my cake to contain the mirror, and needless to say, the mirror was neither smooth nor clean (although i will say that it was damn tasty).

i actually haven’t even had a chance to taste the cake as a whole. i know that the elements are delicious, however malformed they might be, so i am not afraid of what awaits me at home tonight.

but for all of that, i will steadfastly refuse to post a picture. if drooling is what you are after, check out some of the others

Strawberry Mirror Cake
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tartar
2 TBSP sugar
2/3 cup sifted cake flour
½ cup water
1/3 cups sugar
2 TBSP kirsch or strawberry liqueur

Strawberry Bavarian Cream

2 ½ TBSP unflavored gelatin
1 ½ cups strained strawberry puree(1 ½ baskets)
5 egg yolks
2/3 cup sugar
1 ½ cups milk
1 TBSP lemon juice
several drops of red food coloring
1 ¾ cups whipping cream
Strawberry Mirror
1 tsp lemon juice
1 TBSP kirsch
1 TBSP water
1 TBSP unflavored gelatin
Few drops of red food coloring

Strawberry Juice

1 ½ pints of strawberries(18 oz)
¾ cup sugar
¾ cup water

1.Preheat oven to 450F. Butter and flour the sides of an 11-by-17 inch jelly roll pan(rimmed baking sheet). Line bottom of pan with a sheet of parchment paper cut to fit bottom pan exactly.
2.Beat eggs, egg yolks and ¾ cup sugar together in a medium bowl until thick and light. Beat in the vanilla.
3.In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy, ad cream of tartar and beat until whites begin to form peaks. Add the 2 TBSP sugar and beat until the whites hold stiff, glossy peaks(do not over beat).
4.Sift flour over the egg yolk mixture and fold in . Stir in one fourth of the whites. Then carefully fold in the remaining whites.
5.Spread batter evenly in pan. Bake until light brown and springy to touch(7 to 10 minutes). Cool in pan 5 minutes. Run a knife along edge to loosen. Invert cake tin to cut out 8 ¼ inch circles of cake. Wrap the cake layers, separated with waxed paper, and set aside. Cake may be frozen at this point.
6.To make soaking syrup: Combine water and the 1/3 cup sugar in saucepan; bring to a boil to dissolve sugar. Cool to room temperature; flavor with liqueur. Set aside or refrigerate in glass jar until ready to use.
7.To assemble cake: Brush sides of 10-inch springform pan lightly with flavorless salad oil or almond oil. Cut out a cardboard circle that is exactly the same size as the bottom inside of the pan; cover cardboard with aluminum foil and fit into bottom of pan. Center one layer of the cake bottom of pan. Brush the cake with some of the soaking syrup to just moisten(not drench) the cake; set aside.
8.Prepare Strawberry Bavarian Cream. Immediately pour about half of the Bavarian Cream over the first layer of cake in the pan. Set the next layer of cake on top of the cream. Pour remaining Bavarian Cream over cake and smooth top of the cream with spatula. Refrigerate until the cream sets(1 to 2 hours).
9.Prepare the Strawberry Mirror.
10.To serve: Wrap a hot towel around the outside of springform pan for a few minutes. Run a small sharp knife tip around the edge of the Strawberry Mirror to separate it form the sides of pan. Mirror will tear when sides are unlatched if it is stuck at ANY point. Slowly unlatch the pan and slide it off the cake. Slice cake in wedges and serve in upright slices.

Prep Work
Strawberry Bavarian Cream
1.Sprinkle the gelatin over the strawberry puree in a small bowl and set aside until spongy.
2.Combine egg yolks and sugar in a bowl' beat until light. Bring milk to a boil in sauce pan. Pour hot milk into yolk mixture ans stir with a wooden spoon(it doesn't say so but I would temper the egg mixture first to be safe). Return this mixture to the saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until your finger leaves a clear trail in sauce when drawn across the back of the spoon.(Do not boil or mixture will curdle.) Immediately remove from heat and stir in softened gelatin mixture. Pour into a stainless steel bowl places over a bowl of ice water. Stir in lemon juice and a few drops of red food coloring. Cool over ice water, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens to the consistency of softly whipped cream.
3.White gelatin mixture is cooling, whip the whipping cream until it holds soft peaks. When the gelatin mixture resembles softly whipped cream, fold the whipped cream into the gelatin mixture.

Strawberry Mirror
1.Prepare strawberry juice.
2.Place lemon juice, kirsch, and water in a small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over this mixture; set aside until spongy and soft.
3.Measure 1 ½ cups Strawberry juice into a small saucepan and bring to a simmer; pour over gelatin mixture and stir to dissolve gelatin. Tint to desired color with red food coloring. Place bowl over bowl of ice water and stir occasionally until the mixture is syrupy and just beings to thicken(do not let jell); remove from ice water.
4.When mixture is syrupy, pour a 1/16-inch layer over the top of cake. Refrigerate until set.

Strawberry JuiceWash and hull strawberries; coarsely chop. Place strawberries in saucepan; crush to start juices flowing. Place over low heat; add sugar and water; simmer slowly 10 minutes. Pour juice and pulp through damp jelly bag or cheesecloth-lined colander and drain into a bowl for 15 minutes(Do not press down on fruit).
Adapted from Cakes and Pastries At The Academy by the California Culinary Academy 1993


mid-summer update

i’ve really lost track of my writing lately. the fact of the matter is, moving is unsettling in so many ways. it’s easy to lose interest in things that once kept you spellbound. it’s hard to maintain old habits as you settle into a new routine. with new causes of stress, the old cures can lose their potency.

but all of these are excuses.

happily, in spite of my appalling lack of daily writing--the major reason i started this journal--i’ve managed to keep cooking. not every day, not by a long shot, and not with as gung-ho a philosophy, but i think these have turned into favorables instead of unfavorables. i’ve stepped back and learned to approach things more calmly and more systematically. with my CSA, i’ve learned to eat new foods and seen new ways to cook old things. with all of the fresh fruit, i’ve got six kinds of ice cream in the freezer. i’ve made pies, and cobblers, fillings and flummeries.

best of all, i’ve finally gotten on my way toward two goals: cooking through the kitchen diaries, and cooking through a passion for desserts.

it’s true that i made a list. probably a bit anal, especially considering my generally sloppy tendencies, but it’s been invaluable to me. every time i pick up some fresh fruit or get a new CSA dropoff, i can look at my list and pick something accordingly.

i carry my list around with me like a kind of talisman. i stare at it and make grandiose plans or daydream on a boring day. i learn new techniques and add new tastes to my repertoire. this has been particularly true with ice creams. last summer, i had a few favorites that i made over and over. this summer, it’s like i’m trying a new one every day. i’ve been hoarding summer fruit in the freezer like some kind of fruitarian squirrel--sour cherries were my most elusive quarry, to be sure.

i’m not settled in yet. i look at the mess i call a pantry and long for the will and the time to pull it all down and organize it properly. i still hate doing the dishes and watch them pile up for days at a time. six types of ice cream have left my freezer with little space left over for real food, and i’ve fallen into bad lunchtime habits with a string of fast-food restaurants on west 48th street. my stomach rebels.

and in the interim, i keep working on my list.

Asian Wraps
Flaky Curry Turnovers
Lotus Chicken Packages
Curried Chicken Salad with Grapes
Curried Coconut Chicken
Tandoori Chicken with Mango Chutney
Seared Steak with Wild Mushrooms
Fried Wild Mushroom Rice Wraps

East & Southeast
Vietnamese Pork Balls
Bok Choy Rolls with Spicy Chicken
Chinese Dim Sum
Indonesian Chicken Martabak
Japanese Soba Noodle Salad
Japanese Fresh Corn Soup
Vietnamese Pancakes
Braised Duck and Ginger

The New Spanish Table
Truffled Turkey and Wild Mushroom Croquettes
Patatas Bravas
Tomato and Bread Soup
Castilian Garlic Soup
Rosa’s Wild Mushroom Soup with Garlic Shoots
Potato Soup with Fried Almonds
Chicken Soup with Mini Meatballs
Cherry and Beet Gazpacho
Chilled Potato and Bacon Soup
Frisee with Pears and Honeyed Lardons
Potato Tortilla
Eggs over Smoky Bread Hasg
Pork Tenderloin with Lightly Seared Strawberries
Braised and Glazed Pork Ribs with Applesauce
Catalan Meatballs
Garlicky Roast Chicken with Apple Compote
Chicken Flamenquin
Chicken and Apples Braised in Hard Cider
Smoky Mashed Potatoes
Creamy Basque Smoked Cheese Risotto
Inma’s Baked Macaroni
Sauteed Wild Mushrooms with Ham and Allioli
Basque Cream and Cherry Tart
Yogurt Cream with Honey Gelee

My Vue
Potato Ravioli with Mushroom Essence
Morels Stuffed with Chicken and tarragon mousse
Wild Duck with Cherries
Duck a l’orange
Apple Crème Brulee

Everyday Pasta
Jamie’s Italy
Fried Ricotta with Tomato Salad
Baked Mushrooms Stuffed with Ricotta
Sliced Mushrooms with Melted Mozzarella and Thyme

The Kitchen Diaries
Lemon and Basil Linguine
Lamb Chops with Lemon and Mint and Potatoes Crushed into the Pan Juices
A really fast cake with blueberries and pears
Roast Pork with Lemon and Potatoes
Raspberry ricotta pancakes
A chicken roasted with new garlic
Chicken and rice salad
Vietnamese Beef Salad
Orecchiette with roast tomato and basil sauce
Strawberry Mascarpone Tart
Strawberry Water Ice
Roast Lamb Rolls with Oregano and Garlic
Lamb-filled flatbread
Peach and Blueberry Sour Cream Cobbler
Orange Yogurt Water Ice
Grilled Chicken with Garlic and Lemon Butter

A Passion for Desserts
Honey Cream-Strawberry Parfaits
Ice Wine Ice Cream with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote
Strawberry Ginger Sodas with Orange Sherbet
Best-of-Summer Shortcakes
Berry Crème Fraiche Cake
Bing Cherry Filo Rolls with Ice Cream
Lemon-Raspberry Bread Pudding
Candied Ginger Shortbread Stacks with peach-blackberry compote
Peach Blueberry Trifle
Red Berry-White Chocolate Trifles
White Peach Melba

A Passion for Ice Cream
Blackberry Sorbet-filled Peaches
Bountiful Berry Compote with Buttermilk Ice Cream
Cherries Jubilee with Butter Crunch Ice Cream
Iced Bellinis
Apple Cider Sodas with Penuche Swirl Ice Cream
Very Berry Sodas
Lemonade-Strawberry Floats with Mascarpone Ice Cream
Tangerine Creamsicle Sodas
Profiteroles with Orange Custard-chocolate chip Ice Cream and Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce

The Perfect Scoop
Chocolate-Rasberry Ice Cream
Vanilla Frozen Yogurt
Orange Popsicle Ice Cream
Toasted Almond and Candied Cherry Ice Cream
Sour Cherry Frozen Yogurt
Blueberry Frozen Yogurt
Peach Ice Cream (Frozen Yogurt)
Strawberry Frozen Yogurt
Fresh Mint Ice Cream
Watermelon Sorbetto
Lemon-Buttermilk Sherbet
Cherry Sorbet


a truly exemplary summer sunday (HHDD - Sorbet)

the day broke here in new york, hot and humid and sunny, the sort of day where one can barely see the skyline through the soup.

a perfect day for an outing and for something cool and icy.

after pancakes for breakfast, i set out for a walk with my friend aaron. we took the R down to city hall and spent the morning walking over the brooklyn bridge, stopping often in the shady bits for a respite and a few gulps of water. by the time we got over, it was lunchtime, and at his offer of lunch i suggested my favorite summertime splurge: ice cream instead of a meal. i must warn that this indulgence is not for the faint of heart, and its privilege is not one to be abused. it is for really hot, gross, sticky days full of exertion and good company ONLY. use with care. we stopped in brooklyn heights at the truly excellent creamery, where we each had the vanilla chocolate crunch. this ice cream was so pure that you could actually taste the cream in it, an oasis in a world full of edys.

this just got me in the mood for more frozen goodness, especially when i fell back through the door of my own apartment late in the afternoon, soaked in sweat and barely capable of forward movement. having had a milkshake for lunch, i couldn't justify another one, no matter how much the quart of homemade strawberry ice cream was calling me from the freezer. i turned, as ever, to my beloved kitchen diaries for inspiration and found what i was looking for: orange yogurt water ice.

i spent yesterday at the union square greenmarket on a quest for sour cherries and new summer garlic, but came home with 5 quarts of cherries, some fresh buttermilk and some fresh yogurt. i disposed of the buttermilk in the pancakes but when i saw this recipe i knew i had found the perfect vessel for the yogurt.

the technique is simple: prepare a simple sugar syrup, take several squeezed oranges, add some squeezed lemon, and the zest of one or two of the oranges. pour in the yogurt. stir vigorously and freeze. nigel writes, wisely as always, "it complements any summer fruit, but especially lusciously ripe peaches and aprictos. perhaps the prettiest way to serve it is as i did, the pale orange water ice surrounded by dark red cherries still attached to their stalks."

he's never steered me wrong before, and i did have all of those quarts in the fridge. i set to. the first swallow was fresh and cold with the smoothness imparted from the yogurt, cooling me to my very soul and making moot the fact that i skipped dinner.

i offer my water ice for this month's "hey, hey it's donna day -- sorbet," hosted by eat drink live.


the 4th on a wednesday??

ok, i spent a nice chunk of last week--as did most of the 9-5 working world--railing against the idiocy of the 4th of july on a wednesday. i mean, how is a girl supposed to really enjoy the holiday when she only gets one day off?? and since i've only just started a new job, i'm ineligible to apply for vacation time for another 6 weeks at least. i was near despair, except for one thing: i was in desperate need of a day off.

not to get too personal, but i've been struggling with my new job and having a difficult time keeping track of all of my new responsibilities, and it's been weighing on me. monday i had my first really great day--i actually got through my entire list of tasks, and got them done properly. this was a big step. tuesday we closed early and although i felt similarly confident in my task list, it turned out--i realized with a stomach-dropping thud as i walked out of the locked office door and noticed that i had forgotten my keys--i forgot one small but (in the grander scheme of things) important task.


so i sat on the subway with a heavy heart on my way to columbus circle, but it only took a few minutes' time in whole foods to feel better about life. i'd decided to make up for my weekend-that-might-have-been and spend my extra daylight hours preparing a delicious meal to help me relax and get into the proper frame of mind. i made wild mushroom soup with garlic scapes, and catalan meatballs with veal, pork, pancetta and applesauce. i made a basque cherry tart (which, in retrospect, is much like the one peabody made, but it is a coincidence, i swear) which, for my first home tart-making experience, came out like a dream. and was super-tasty besides.

the weather, meanwhile, was humid but lovely, not too hot, and i enjoyed the afternoon of cooking with the windows open for a literal breath of fresh air. i eagerly plotted my holiday meal--lunch and dinner.

i took a page from nigel slater, my idol, and went for a long walk along the hudson river followed by a fresh chicken-pancetta-rosemary burger patty with some freshly shredded jack cheese mixed in. yum.

dinner, though, was my real triumph and ultimately the point of this writing. i got back to my oleana tome, spice, and pulled out my bookmarked recipes for fried haloumi cheese and cumin-tomato-brown butter-smothered skirt steak and spent several happy hours making a disgustingly large pile of dishes in the sink. i successfully browned butter. i ate sheep's milk cheese for the first time. i got to use my new all-clad grill pan.

and, best of all, i made ice cream, which i offer up for this month's mingle. in keeping with my middle-eastern theme, i decided to go for a flavor i usually save for the fall and the jewish high holidays, honey. i took out the last of my bottle of wildflower honey, some of my CSA milk, and a new container of , which i blended together in my mixer. to this i added about 3/8 of a cup of honey, a splash of vanilla and a splash of orange blossom water. while this was churning in the ice cream maker, i whipped up a batch of martha stewart's "cocoa bee cookies" from the recent color issue (which, by the way, if you didn't get a chance to see and drool, you missed out). the recipe was quite similar to the one in her baking handbook for chocolate wafers only it used brown sugar and extra molasses instead of regular granulated sugar. the molasses made the dough much more difficult to handle but in the end went much better with the honey ice cream.

which i drizzled with a few spoonfuls of pomegranate molasses.

is that good enough to share with the mingle, meeta?
please say it is.

editor's note - i think i left my camera at my parents' house when i was there last weekend, so this continues to be a text-only blog, at least for now...


my weekend that might have been

here i sit, on my couch, in the middle of a law & order: SVU marathon on a gorgeous friday afternoon when, in fact, i should be at work. and, alas, much as i would love to say that i’m on vacation or better yet, playing hooky, i am sitting on my couch because i lack the energy to move anywhere else. and because my nose starts dripping like crazy when i try.

yes, i’m sick. if there is anything crueler than being sick and drippy when it’s warm and beautiful outside, i’ve yet to discovered it. it’s particularly painful on this pre-holiday weekend because i had grand, grand plans.

firstly, i was going to plunge in, headfirst, to a series of photography projects i’ve been slowly plotting and strategizing about over the past several weeks. i spent a very pleasant couple of hours last night in front of the computer, preparing a set of large-format negatives for alternative contact printing.

secondly, it is cruel because my illness has dulled my appetite to the point where cold, flavorless leftover chinese food is about all i can stomach, and i can barely even taste it. you’ll be weeping with me when i tell you my weekend menu, i promise.

picture me on friday night. my favorite night. the menu is planned: wild mushroom soup with garlic scapes. catalan meatballs with rice. basque cherry tart (all from the new spanish table). i imagine myself lighting my shabbos candles and starting by making the pie dough. probably in the food processor, because that is beyond easy. while the pie dough chills, i start the soup, on low, a back burner, and i start mixing the spices for the meatballs. meanwhile, the rice cooker bubbles happily in the background while i mix the tart filling--pastry cream with facuhon cherry preserves. i can picture myself sitting at my table like a civilized person, maybe watching a movie, perhaps continuing my re-read of harry potter and the order of the phoenix. i am happy. i am proud of myself. i survived the week.

but no. not tart for me. no fresh soup with CSA garlic scapes. no meatballs dripping with saucy goodness over a pile of white rice.
no. if i am lucky, it will be fresh macaroni and cheese. or maybe some polenta and an egg. if i am unlucky, it will be the closest bowl of cereal i can make myself grab.

it gets worse. tomorrow’s menu: fried haloumi cheese with pears and dates. smothered broiled skirt steak with tomatoes and cumin. honey-saffron panna cotta with chocolate spice cookies. (from spice, a delightful tome by the woman who runs oleana in boston)

sunday--i almost can’t even bring myself to write it--roasted chicken. new garlic. pea pilaf. rhubarb and sour cherry pie.

i bring myself this pain only because i feel like the excitement i had over my weekend menu, the plethora of choices, the unlimited potential for joy and disaster, must somehow be recorded for posterity.

feel sorry for me.


DB challenge #7 - Bagels

they’re called real, honest, jewish purist’s bagels. they are basic, handmade, imperfect, boiled and baked.
they are plain.

growing up and going to hebrew school i would grab a bagel--30 cents--on my way in and spend the next hour or so making it last as long as possible. my favorite technique involved peeling off the boiled skin and leaving the soft, airy inside for later. the air would give the insides just the slightest hint of resistance. the only place worth getting bagels from was PK’s, home of gargantuan oblong-ish bits of dough that were boiled and baked to perfection. i admit, i always got a plain one.

i’ve spent the past 25 years growing up jewish and eating many a bagel feast, though, and i’m not sure i would classify these particular bagels as jewish based solely on their plainness. i admit that the author makes certain valid points--a biscuit cutter makes for a very goyishe bagel--but this jew likes her bagels with a bit of sweet, hebrew school traditions notwithstanding. i mean, the main thing i learned in hebrew school was that 9.00 is not too early for a candy bar to help you get through a talmud class.

i feel that my enlightenment came in college. i lived down the street from a lovely little bagel shop called sam’s, that, in addition to making twenty or so particularly delicious bagel sandwich options, also made chocolate chip bagels. it was a revolution for me. i built on this knowledge when i moved to washington, d.c. and discovered bagels etc lurking on a dupont circle street corner. not only did they have chocolate chip bagels, but they had cherry ones. my favorite treat became getting one of each and slathering them, a half at a time, with nutella on the cherry bagel and fauchon cherry preserves on the chocolate one.

so i was a bit disappointed when jenny and freya decided that this month’s DB challenge included a very strict--orthodox, if you will-observance of the bagel recipe. no cherries. no chocolate chips. no nutella.

in spite of these restrictions, i tackled the bagels with enthusiasm. on shabbos, if you please.
the recipe is simple. and not just simple, but easy. i had an epiphany while i was proofing the yeast by feeding it with honey and watched the very happy yeast foam like i’ve never seen yeast foam before. (clearly i’ve been proofing yeast the wrong way for years). i watched in amazement as the sticky, heavy and wet dough came together as i poured all 8 cups of flour into it. i barely had time to turn around and rinse the dishes before the dough had doubled in size--a perfect june day will do that to yeast, i suppose--and half-proofing quickly turned into full proofing as i formed the small holey spheres using the “poke” method.

the bagels weren’t perfect. they rose too quickly. they floated in the boiling water--maybe i didn’t have it hot enough? the shape was totally off and they flattened most unattractively in the oven. they also stuck to the sheet pans with troublesome stubborness.

the real problem, though, was that they just weren’t that good. i didn’t like the texture of the boiled skin, and i didn’t like the taste of the bagel itself. i was disappointed about the floating problem. they just...didn’t taste right.

you want to know the secret to honest, jewish purist’s bagels?
real jews go out and buy their bagels on sunday mornings.

Real Honest Jewish Purist's Bagels
Daring Bakers Challenge #7: June 2007

Hosts: Jenny (All Things Edible) and Freya (Writing at the Kitchen Table)
Post Date: Wednesday, June 27th

Allowed Modifications:

1. Topping of your choice, savory recommended, for the outside of the bagels only. No added ingredients or flavours inside the bagels.
2. Filling or spread of your choice for the outside of the bagel. (i.e. flavoured cream cheese or peanut butter)
3. Recipe ingredient exception allowed only if allergy or an ingredient not available or cost prohibitive in your region

Recipe Quantity: Fifteen (15) large, plain, Kosher bagels


* 6-8 cups bread (high-gluten) flour
* 4 tablespoons dry baking yeast
* 6 tablespoons granulated white sugar or light honey (clover honey is good)
* 2 teaspoons salt
* 3 cups hot water
* a bit of vegetable oil
* 1 gallon water
* 3-5 tablespoons malt syrup or sugar
* a few handfuls of cornmeal


* large mixing bowl
* wire whisk
* measuring cups and spoons
* wooden mixing spoon
* butter knife or baker's dough blade
* clean, dry surface for kneading
* 3 clean, dry kitchen towels
* warm, but not hot, place to set dough to rise
* large stockpot
* slotted spoon
* 2 baking sheets

How You Do It:

Step 1- Proof Yeast: Pour three cups of hot water into the mixing bowl. The water should be hot, but not so hot that you can't bear to put your fingers in it for several seconds at a time. Add the sugar or honey and stir it with your fingers (a good way to make sure the water is not too hot) or with a wire whisk to dissolve. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water, and stir to dissolve.

Wait about ten minutes for the yeast to begin to revive and grow. Skipping this step could result in your trying to make bagels with dead yeast, which results in bagels so hard and potentially dangerous that they are banned under the terms of the Geneva Convention. You will know that the yeast is okay if it begins to foam and exude a sweetish, slightly beery smell.

Step 2- Make Dough: At this point, add about three cups of flour as well as the 2 tsp of salt to the water and yeast and begin mixing it in. Some people subscribe to the theory that it is easier to tell what's going on with the dough if you use your hands rather than a spoon to mix things into the dough, but others prefer the less physically direct spoon. As an advocate of the bare-knuckles school of baking, I proffer the following advice: clip your fingernails, take off your rings and wristwatch, and wash your hands thoroughly to the elbows, like a surgeon. Then you may dive into the dough with impunity. I generally use my right hand to mix, so that my left is free to add flour and other ingredients and to hold the bowl steady. Left-handed people might find that the reverse works better for them. Having one hand clean and free to perform various tasks works best.

When you have incorporated the first three cups of lour, the dough should begin to become thick-ish. Add more flour, a half-cup or so at a time, and mix each addition thoroughly before adding more flour. As the dough gets thicker, add less and less flour at a time.

Step 3- Knead Dough: Soon you will begin to knead it by hand (if you're using your hands to mix the dough in the first place, this segue is hardly noticeable). If you have a big enough and shallow enough bowl, use it as the kneading bowl, otherwise use that clean, dry, flat counter top or tabletop mentioned in the "Equipment" list above. Sprinkle your work surface or bowl with a handful of flour, put your dough on top, and start kneading. Add bits of flour if necessary to keep the dough from sticking (to your hands, to the bowl or counter top, etc....). Soon you should have a nice stiff dough. It will be quite elastic, but heavy and stiffer than a normal bread dough. Do not make it too dry, however... it should still give easily and stretch easily without tearing.

Step 4- Let Dough Rise: Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, and cover with one of your clean kitchen towels, dampened somewhat by getting it wet and then wringing it out thoroughly. If you swish the dough around in the bowl, you can get the whole ball of dough covered with a very thin film of oil, which will keep it from drying out.

Place the bowl with the dough in it in a dry, warm (but not hot) place, free from drafts. Allow it to rise until doubled in volume. Some people try to accelerate rising by putting the dough in the oven, where the pilot lights keep the temperature slightly elevated. If it's cold in your kitchen, you can try this, but remember to leave the oven door open or it may become too hot and begin to kill the yeast and cook the dough. An ambient temperature of about 80 degrees Fahrenheit (25 Centigrades) is ideal for rising dough.

Step 5- Prepare Water for Bagels: While the dough is rising, fill your stockpot with about a gallon of water and set it on the fire to boil. When it reaches a boil, add the malt syrup or sugar and reduce the heat so that the water just barely simmers; the surface of the water should hardly move.

Step 6- Form Bagels: Once the dough has risen, turn it onto your work surface, punch it down, and divide immediately into as many hunks as you want to make bagels. For this recipe, you will probably end up with about 15 bagels, so you will divide the dough into 15 roughly even-sized hunks. Begin forming the bagels. There are two schools of thought on this. One method of bagel formation involves shaping the dough into a rough sphere, then poking a hole through the middle with a finger and then pulling at the dough around the hole to make the bagel. This is the hole-centric method. The dough-centric method involves making a long cylindrical "snake" of dough and wrapping it around your hand into a loop and mashing the ends together. Whatever you like to do is fine. DO NOT, however, give in to the temptation of using a doughnut or cookie cutter to shape your bagels. This will push them out of the realm of Jewish Bagel Authenticity and give them a distinctly Protestant air. The bagels will not be perfectly shaped. They will not be symmetrical. This is normal. This is okay. Enjoy the diversity. Just like snowflakes, no two genuine bagels are exactly alike.

Step 7- Pre-heat Oven: Begin to preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 8- Half Proof and Boil Bagels: Once the bagels are formed, let them sit for about 10 minutes. They will begin to rise slightly. Ideally, they will rise by about one-fourth volume... a technique called "half-proofing" the dough. At the end of the half-proofing, drop the bagels into the simmering water one by one. You don't want to crowd them, and so there should only be two or three bagels simmering at any given time. The bagels should sink first, then gracefully float to the top of the simmering water. If they float, it's not a big deal, but it does mean that you'll have a somewhat more bready (and less bagely) texture. Let the bagel simmer for about three minutes, then turn them over with a skimmer or a slotted spoon. Simmer another three minutes, and then lift the bagels out of the water and set them on a clean kitchen towel that has been spread on the counter top for this purpose. The bagels should be pretty and shiny, thanks to the malt syrup or sugar in the boiling water.

Step 9- Bake Bagels: Once all the bagels have been boiled, prepare your baking sheets by sprinkling them with cornmeal. Then arrange the bagels on the prepared baking sheets and put them in the oven. Let them bake for about 25 minutes, then remove from the oven, turn them over and put them back in the oven to finish baking for about ten minutes more. This will help to prevent flat-bottomed bagels.

Remove from the oven and cool on wire racks, or on a dry clean towels if you have no racks. Do not attempt to cut them until they are cool... hot bagels slice abominably and you'll end up with a wadded mass of bagel pulp. Don't do it.
How To Customize Outside of Bagels: After boiling but before baking, brush the bagels with a wash made of 1 egg white and 3 tablespoons ice water beaten together. Sprinkle with the topping of your choice: poppy, sesame, or caraway seeds, toasted onion or raw garlic bits, salt or whatever you like. Just remember that bagels are essentially a savory baked good, not a sweet one, and so things like fruit and sweet spices are really rather out of place.