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.


SHF: my one true dessert love

i’m not sure i can pinpoint, exactly, my first experience with profiteroles. i *think* it was at chez jenny, an alsatian chicken joint in paris that my dad found in his dk guide, lovingly referred to as “the bible.” chez jenny is the perfect amalgamation of brasserie and hofbrauhaus, serving up that paragon of simple french artistry: the roasted half of free-range chicken.

with sides.

and, as it happens, with dessert. and here is where my crush began, as i looked skeptically at the dessert menu. it was my first night in paris, my first time in paris, and yet another family vacation that did not include a beach or warm weather. i was jet-lagged and suffering from sensory overload and looking at a dessert menu that i could not begin to comprehend. “what,” i am certain my 17-year-old self would have asked, “are profiteroles?” profiteroles au chocolat chaud, glace vanille, to be precise.

the exact mechanics of it escape my memory but i was, at length, persuaded that profiteroles would make an enjoyable dessert choice. and i was smitten.

my second most-memorable profiterole experience comes in london, several years later. it is, sadly, possible that i was unable to experience profiteroles at any time between these two events. this second encounter was nearly as inauspicious as the first one: a classically cold, rainy fall night in london, where the sun had set depressingly early. i had been meant to spend the day in paris, watching tennis matches at roland garros (this continues to be an ambition of mine), only the eurostar had been unexpectedly stopped due to some sort of calamity farther down the tracks. two of my friends, each of whom spent much less time wandering aimlessly around the streets of london than i, were content to follow me as i led them toward an italian place in seven dials i had been meaning to try.

dinner was simple and lovely, with wine on the side. and my heart leapt when i saw the dessert menu included profiteroles. these were positively smothered in hot chocolate sauce and delicious.

which is as a profiterole should be.

so you can imagine my great delight when i first began learning how to cook and saw, deep in the pages of my martha stewart baking book, a recipe for pate a choux…and profiteroles. i became determined to make a choux and yet for nearly two years could not find the time, the occasion or the inclination to do so. mostly i was concerned about leftovers (silly me).

then, last month, at the behest of daring baker helene of tartette, i undertook to make a gateau st-honore. and guess what one of the components includes?

this time, being free from all restraint, i pulled two recipes. one from the sinfully well-photographed seven sins of chocolate, for the choux. the second was from emily luchetti’s passion for ice cream, where she includes a profiterole recipe with orange custard chip ice cream.

i confess that i had originally tried ms. luchetti’s recipe, last week for my saturday dinner. my saturday dinner last week got turned on its head by the dying of my beloved mixer, right in the middle of rolling out fresh pasta dough. since my mixer is also my ice cream maker, i put the orange-custard-ice cream back in the fridge and watched my profiteroles, which were already baking, collapse because i slammed the oven door too hard.

i needed a clean slate this time. i rolled up my sleeves in my newly-cleaned kitchen and made the choux. the seven sins recipe is actually completely simple, eschewing the use of a mixer or anything fancy. i pulled out a wooden spoon, collected my csa fresh eggs, milk and butter, and set to with a vengeance, determined to get it right this time.

for ice cream, i took a pound of my csa strawberries and blended them with still more fresh milk, some sugar, and a squeeze of fresh lemon for a light and super-fruity philadelphia-style ice cream. i highly recommend this method—it was the sweetest, most strawberry-flavored ice cream i’ve ever enjoyed.

at long last, i pulled the choux puffs out of the oven and set them to cool. i was baffled at first by the moistness of the choux interior but eventually grasped that the delightful web of pastry forms as the choux cools. i left well enough alone and came back after dinner to slice the pretty little things in half, scoop a fresh bit of strawberry ice cream on them, and drizzle several generous spoonfuls of fresh strawberry-rhubarb compote (also from my csa) over the result.


wherein i rhapsodize about my CSA

my one regret in leaving our nation’s capitol was leaving my farmers’s market in dupont circle, every sunday morning like clockwork for fruits, veg, meat, cheese, yogurt and most especially dairy.

it’s not like i’m crying over my easy access to the union square farmers’ market instead, just that i loved the convenience of throwing on a pair of shorts on a hot sunday morning with my pajama top and strolling the market for my week’s shopping. for the time being, at least during my pseudo-exile on the new jersey side of the hudson river, i am still without reliable farmers’ market access. union square is just on the far side of a lunch hour.

and then, as if by serendipity, my dailycandy delivered a solution: sweet deliverance NYC. kelly, a marvelous and creative woman, decided to place herself as a middle-woman between the garden of eve farm on long island and the snobbishly food-challenged here in the city. and best of all, she picks up the share each weekend and spends all day sunday cooking an entire menu of options for the week’s share.

for me, i went in for a vegetable, egg, fruit and flower share every other week until thanksgiving, and then sweet-talked kelly into letting me have an extra fruit share every week, raw, for my own cooking fantasies.

i debated over the veg share for several days before i signed up. i don’t usually believe in vegetables. especially green ones. or gourd vegetables, i don’t eat gourd vegetables. or asparagus. or...anything, really. but cooking has really expanded my food horizons and i hoped that maybe i could learn a few new things while forcing myself to each green and leafy plantlife. my skepticism increased when i saw the first week’s menu--there it was, in black and white, asparagus. but the other options included a quiche with arugula, tomatoes and bacon and braised bok choi with shiitake mushrooms. stir-fried kale with white rice and spicy pumpkin seeds. garlicky pea shoots.

for the past three weeks, meal after meal has just cooked itself, as i pulled together elements from my share and fresh groceries. sunday’s dinner? a nigel slater-inspired lamb-filled pita with farm-fresh butterhead lettuce and kale with white rice on the side. friday’s dessert? the tastiest strawberry ice cream ever, making use of a pound of fresh strawberries from long island. i had pasta and A SALAD for dinner last week, trying to use up the lettuce. strawberry rhubarb compote spooned over fresh profiteroles.

all i need are for the fresh cherries to start coming, and my life will be complete.


the second coming of sylvia

i had my second new school class, in pies and tarts. ostensibly it was a seasonal class, using fresh fruits, but it was more of an all-around. it was particularly helpful for me to watch the pie dough being mixed and rolled, because now i’ve seen it done simply and properly. i had fun with the different kinds of filling, particularly the tarte tatin, which was delightfully simple to make and will be something to keep in the culinary arsenal come fall.

i also got some inspiration for the rhubarb i’ve got sitting in the fridge, leftover from last week’s supplementary CSA delivery. i’m going to sweeten the rhubarb with some dried sour cherries--or, if i really get lucky, some fresh ones. i want to make it to the union square greenmarket this week and check out the latest offerings. much to my chagrin, i have not yet visited since i’ve been back in the city. it’s just past the boundary of what can be accomplished during a lunch break and i usually prefer to stay out of the city on saturdays.

the catch, because there always is one, was the instructor of this pie class. i’ve never met a more unpleasant or disagreeable person. it’s like he starts out trying to be nice, and then gives up on it, and then realizes he’s been an ass and turns the vaguest hint of niceness back on. he was rude, mean, arrogant and impatient. he treated everyone in the class as if we were his personal assistants, and he couldn’t keep track of the varying instructions he was giving to everyone, so more often than not he gave contradictory instructions and then scolded the unlucky student for the mistake.

but in the end, it was worth it. i now feel comfortable and inspired to try my hand at pie making as the summer goes on.


the chief and the pastry puke

mikey and i had a harmonious afternoon in the kitchen after suffering through six hours of the Bar Mitzvah from Hell (Part 2). the menu, i think, was perfect--mikey did his chicken tikka, some flanksteak with pimenton, a bit of tuna for mona, and a large pile of beets in honor of mom. mom seemed a bit nonplussed to have us take over the kitchen but got over it quickly and spent the afternoon in more comfort on the back deck.

we had an even division of labor. mikey did all the savory bits, and i tackled my agonized-over dessert menu. i wanted to incorporate something out of passion for desserts, specifically the red berry-white chocolate trifle. but i didn’t think my family were the trifle type. fortunately, inspiration arrived in the form of a new book, dedicated entirely to pies and tarts. i really thought i had hit paydirt when i saw a recipe for a shortbread pie crust.

the reason for this perception of salvation is simple: alain ducasse. the spring jules verne menu incorporated a frais du bose shortbread with a strawberry coulis and a rose petal ice cream. only the shortbread tasted like a light lemon sponge-y perfection. when i compared the photograph of the shortbread pie crust with the memory of the parisian shortbread crust, i thought i had found a way to recreate the wonder at home.

the dough was ludicrously simple to make and had a lovely smooth texture as i balled it for chilling--but it was a bear to roll out. i think there is so much butter in the crust, all you have to do is touch it to have the butter start melting. i ended up flattening a disc of it by hand into a sort of oversized cookie and using that as the crust. unfortunately, it tasted like a shortbread cookie instead of a magical cake.

as for the topping, i turned back to passion for desserts and used the red berry-white chocolate mousse as my tart. i’m embarassed to admit that it took me two tries to get the mousse to mousse. i’m not even sure what i did wrong the first time, only that i wasted over an hour trying to salvage it when it only took me 20 minutes to get it right on the second try. it was delightful when i got it right, though. light and airy, a hint of grand marnier, not too much white chocolate and a nice mousse texture. it was heaven with the fresh berries and the strawberry sauce, too.

i think the family were pleased with our efforts. nothing too heavy and a pleasant way to recover from the Bar Mitzvah from Hell (Part 2). what more can you ask for on a gorgeous saturday afternoon in june?


early summer "scoops"--or, diplomacy is overrated

finding myself with a surfeit of diplomat cream was a bit of a dilemma.
for about five whole seconds.

on the advice of several of my fellow daring bakers, i decided to freeze the custard in an ice cream maker. but i couldn’t leave it at that, oh, no, not me. i poured in half a can of cherry pie filling and no, i’m not even a tiny bit ashamed of myself. it must have been the egg whites in the cream that made the texture so silky. the cream itself is very sweet, but fortunately i like that and i’m already plotting profiteroles.

for my next trick, i turned to emily luchetti and drew praise for her passions. what i failed to mention is that something seriously wonky has been going on with my ice cream maker.

both of them.

my first thought was that the addition of alcohol to the custard base lowered the freezing temperature of the ice cream to the point where it was just not going to happen. i arrived at this conclusion having churned the stuff for half an hour in mixer #1 and another 15 minutes in mixer #2. however, my next attempt, which was tonight, had similarly soupy results and like a lightening bolt struck over my head i thought to check the freezer temperature.

bingo! it was set at 1, the highest temperature setting out of 5. that would do it, all right. i adjusted the setting and turned my attention back to the almost ice cream. shrugging my shoulders, i poured it out of mixer #1, into mixer #2, and let it go until the condensation was nearly pouring off the bowl like water out of a tap. fortunately by this point i had a semi-solid cream, so i spooned it into a container and left it to temper in the freezer.

this was especially heartbreaking because this recipe was a total eureka moment, a perfect mesh of inspiration and leftovers. i took a small pile of the chocolate-covered coconut candy chunk cookies i’d made from chocolatechocolate, spooned in a pile of bittersweet chocolate chunks, and attempted to make an adaptation of my chocolate chip cookie ice cream recipe. unfortunately, i totally spaced out even while i was mixing the custard ingredients and added regular milk instead of the coconut milk i’d been saving. plus, i was out of coconut rum.

between this and the mixer fiasco i haven’t even had the heart to taste it yet...


a really fast cake with pears and blueberries

nigel, oh nigel, how is it possible that i’ve left your kitchen diaries to languish on a shelf these past months when you had treasures such as these, waiting to be plundered?

first there was the lamb, seasoned with lemon, mint, salt and pepper and served over a bed of crushed new potatoes to soak up the pan juices. and while i may have undercoked the lamb and overused the lemon juice, the meal was still a revelation. or perhaps a re-awakening?

at any rate, it reminded me of your brilliance, your wit, your perfect recipes.

not to mention that i have discovered my go-to cake. this “really fast” cake, as you call it, took even less time than that--i creamed the butter as i chopped the pears, and poured the halved batter into a miniature springform in light of the fact that i was my only dinner guest. i love the way the blueberries sunk into the batter, becoming tiny blue jewels within the sweet and spongy cake. and while the pear-blueberry combination was divine, i still spent every bite salivating--if it is possible to salivate while you have your mouth full--over the possibilities that await when peaches make their debut.


first dinner party in the new apartment

for once i actually plotted out an ideal menu, easy to prep, easy to serve, light and yet vaguely impressive.

first course: gazpacho with mozzarella en carozza dippers.
main course: gnocchi in a thyme-butter sauce
dessert: ice wine ice cream with strawberry rhubarb compote.

i turned yet again to giada for advice on the gnocchi. every time i make gnocchi, i feel discouraged at first as i re-read the recipe and then slowly empowered as i remember that it’s really not that much work after all. giada, with her microwave shortcut, would horrify a true pasta purist but saving an hour of heating water and boiling potatoes is right up my alley on a saturday that got swallowed by chores and laziness. for the first time, i get a truly lovely gnocchi dough, which is mixing just as my first guests arrive. in spite of this success, i am forced to classify gnocchi as a work in progress, since i still need practice on forming the dumplings properly.

meanwhile, ms. luchetti continues to inspire and amaze with her passion for desserts. i’ve been saving this particular recipe for the arrival of berry season and it was worth the wait and then some. it’s true i’ve been collecting ice cream recipes for nearly two years now, and i do have a few staples: my chocolate chip cookie ice cream, my raspberry linzertorte ice cream, my cannoli ice cream, my cherry fudge ice cream.

i am absolutely going to have to add ice wine ice cream to the list. the only thing i did is tweak the custard base in order to utilize my own super-duper-secret ice cream strategy. (picture me as the busch’s beans guy, only with a really fat cat instead of the talking dog--only me and indy know the secret, and he’s not talking!)

the tartness of the rhubarb, even when mixed with the strawberry, would seem antithetical to the sweetness of ice wine but when the two met it was like i could hear the romeo and juliet theme in the background, they were so well-matched. it probably helped that due to my secret strategy, the ice cream was uncommonly smooth and that due to my friend dino’s overcooking of the rhubarb compote down to rhubarb pie filling, the fruit was more like a sauce than anything else. we ended up slurping every drop out of the dishes and attacking the leftover fruit with a set of spoons.

Ice Wine Ice Cream with Strawberry Rhubarb Compote
(adapted from emily luchetti’s a passion for desserts)

I cup sugar
4 1/2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
Pinch of salt
¾ cup ice wine
10 ounces rhubarb, cut into '/2-inch pieces
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
I pint strawberries, hulled and quartered

TO MAKE THE ICE CREAM: Warm the sugar, cream, and salt in a medium saucepan
over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until bubbles form around the edges, 3 to 5
minutes. Pour the cream in a bowl and cool over an ice bath (see page 28). Stir in
the ice wine. Refrigerate for 4 hours to overnight.

Freeze the cream in an ice cream machine, according to the manufacturer's

TO MAKE THE COMPOTE: Cook the rhubarb, 5 tablespoons of the sugar, and the
water in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until the
rhubarb is soft, about 8 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cool to room temperature.
Stir in the strawberries and the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Store at room tem-
perature until ready to serve.

PLANNING AHEAD: The ice cream can be made a couple of days in advance. For
freshness, the strawberry rhubarb compote should be served the day it is made.


wherein i feature my favorite night of the week (yet again)

i spent the entire day planning a picnic dinner (kosher, even!!) for the opening night of the hoboken film festival only to be foiled by the lightest of summer showers as i walked crosstown toward the ferry. i had grand plans for another creation out of giada’s everyday pasta to be followed by a batch of easily portable yet oh-so-delicious vegan cupcakes (out of courtesy for my friend, who observes jewish dietary laws).

sidenote: everyday pasta has been my muse these past few weeks, since it is full of very simple, easily adaptable and completely edible ideas for dinners. i’ve determined to whittle down my summer books to just a few, all light and easy with the occasional weekend challenge thrown in: everyday pasta, my vue, the new spanish table, jamie’s italy, wagamama, the kitchen diaries, the perfect scoop, and both of emily luchetti’s passion books. my main challenges for the summer will be marshmallows, croissants (or danish), and chocolate making. i’m ,signed up for a class at the new school in just a few weeks, in fact.

anyway, by the time i arrived home, soaking wet and just as the rain was stopping, it was clear that there would be no picnic, no movie, and no outing. which was, perhaps, just as well, since i had an overwhelming day spent buried in our bloomberg terminal at work. i turned, as ever, to giada and whipped up a baked pastina with some leftover chicken. giada seems to have a bit of a soft spot for “pastina,” the little baby pasta stars i remember with horror from youthful meals of campbell’s chicken and stars soup, and having utilized them in several of her recipes i begin to see the appeal. they are small, easy to cook and have a nice, tender mouthfeel. the blend wonderfully into the casserole, soaking up the tomato sauce and the spices and forming small galaxies suspended in the mozzarella cheese.