Monday, December 12, 2011

Chocolate Meringue Cake with Almond Praline and Citrus Marmalade for #Baketogether

Chocolate Meringue Cake with Almond Praline and Citrus Marmalade

It’s true that you can take a sheet cake or a Bundt just about anywhere, but we all need a couple fancy cakes in our repertoire, if for no other reason than to feel good about the accomplishment. This Chocolate Meringue Cake is a good one to make. Pretty and indeed impressive looking, it also rewards in flavor, texture and relative ease of preparation.

Created by Abby Dodge, the cake graced the cover of Bon Appetit’s December 2009 issue. I remember wanting to make the cake at that time, but got caught up with moving and just forgot.  Abby then selected it for the November-December #baketogether group she runs on Twitter. It’s just so cool that not only do I finally get to make this gorgeous dessert but I’ve also “met’ its creator thanks to Twitter.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Vintage Recipe: An Old-Fashioned Jam Cake

Strawberry Jam Cake
With this recipe for an old fashioned jam cake, I’m introducing an occasional feature on older recipes, those from the early to mid 20th Century. And yes, most of them will be on the sweet side.

I love pouring over old cookbooks, especially the ones published by small organizations — churches, historical societies, service leagues. These collections — idiosyncrasies and all — are rich bites of history, telling us how people lived through what they ate.

One example is George Heritage: Treasured Recipes, the book from which this jam cake is taken. It was published in 1979 by the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in the State of  Georgia. There are all manner of recipes, from pimento cheese to punch serving 100 people.

And even though convenience foods were well established by the late 1970s, they are not prominent in this cookbook. Not a single recipe calls for cake mix.

Speaking of idiosyncrasies: Contributors are listed by their husbands’ names, with the wives’ first and maiden names in parentheses. A few years ago I would have been annoyed at that. Most newspapers used to behave that way and some still may for all I know. But now, so much time has passed, and there are so many things to worry about in the world, well, it’s not a bother. The quaint tradition reflects a particular time and place in society and I respect its historical value.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Recipe for Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Dreamsicle Frosting

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls with Dreamsicle Frosting
What’s your favorite part of a cinnamon roll? The frosting, the outside curl? I like the sweet spot, that very inner circle — the cinnamon roll navel, it might be called. It holds a moist, sweet dose of butter, cinnamon and sugar.

To create that sweet spot, spread butter, sugar and cinnamon right to the very edge of the rolled-out dough. The side you roll first is the where the sweet spot begins. Don’t leave a blank margin.
The sweet spot — my favorite part of a cinnamon roll.
To make this recipe, I used dough remaining from the Pumpkin Nutmeg Dinner Roll recipe. You can see from the photos that the dough bakes to a pretty vivid color.

Most cinnamon roll recipes call for a sweeter dough, but I like the contrast of butter, sugar and spices on bread that isn’t particularly sweet. There’s just 1/3 cup sugar in the entire recipe of Pumpkin Nutmeg Dinner Rolls, hardly enough to be called even barely sweet.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Recipe for Pumpkin Nutmeg Dinner Rolls

Pumpkin Nutmeg Dinner Rolls are perfect for Thanksgiving.

Yeast breads were rarely made at home when I was growing up. Rather, it was cornbread and biscuits that reigned. One or the other would be on the table — and sometimes both depending on the rest of the menu and how many people were gathered round. I don’t recall being taught specifically when to serve cornbread and when to serve biscuits. It’s one of those things you just know, I guess.

But even though the South does tends to be a quick bread region, yeast risen loaves do have their place. We ate commercial sandwich bread (called “light bread” in case you were wondering) because it was absolutely vital for tomato sandwiches. Necessary, too, for peanut butter. (We also ate peanut butter on biscuits, and some in the family even liked it on cornbread.)

Please do not call me a slider.
But for really special meals — such as Thanksgiving — our family would eat those “brown ’n serve” rolls, the ones with the split-top crust. We liked them and they seemed special in the way that store-bought things did at one time. The small package of one dozen rolls didn’t go very far. There were never leftovers.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Fig Preserves

My mother’s fig preserves
The answer to what items I would save from a burning house might include my mother’s fig preserves.

I suppose they are conserves to be more exact — whole fruit, the Brown Turkey variety, slowly cooked in a luscious syrup of sugar and just a bit of lemon juice.

For as long as I can remember, a jar of fig preserves has been within reach. Jars stacked in the cupboards, an open container in the refrigerator. Always, always fig preserves at breakfast. With biscuits. With eggs sunny side up.
A proper breakfast: eggs, buttermilk biscuits and fig preserves.

Though their origins are Mediterranean, figs do just fine in the steamy South and of course love California. It’s nigh to impossible to grow them up North.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Recipe for Apple Pumpkin Walnut Cake

Apple Pumpkin Walnut Cake
In 2010, this Apple Pumpkin Walnut Cake was The Dessert of autumn. I brought it to late afternoon committee meetings, enticing and sweetening collegues to stay just a little bit longer. It went to church, to potlucks, to grieving friends.

Once or twice, I may have baked it for my husband. Sometimes he gets that look and asks, “Who are you baking for this time?”

It’s still a favorite one year later. I’ve been looking forward to baking this cake for months, waiting patiently for apple season to arrive. Last year, there were two abundant apple orchards within a couple miles of our house. If I had drawn a 5-mile circle, several more would have come into view.

The smallest farm I enjoyed most. It was a bit shaggy around the edges, the old house and barn nestled in the soft hills of west Michigan. Small and homey — I loved it. I’d pull in to the circular driveway and then spend a half hour chatting with the gal in the barn. She’d toss me one apple after another for tasting and then I would settle on a variety or two.

Monday, October 31, 2011

October Baketogether: Spiced Coffee Cake + Cocoa Streusel + Chocolate

Spiced Coffee Cake + Cocoa Streusel + Chocolate
Streusel has been a stumbling block.

There’s the messy factor of all those crumbs showering about, landing on your chin or clothing. (But don’t mistake me for a neat freak.)

And while I love cinnamon, sugar, flour and butter, I don’t enjoy them so much on top of a cake. (Or an apple pie, come to think of it.)

So, yes, the streusel appeal (like Broadway musicals) has been lost on me, which I realize sounds a bit un-American.

I was rehashing all this to my husband and before I could finish he said, “I like coffee cake. I like streusel.” He also enjoys musicals.

Abby Dodge’s Classic Sour Cream Coffee Cake for the October Baketogether challenge was too appealing to ignore — a richly spiced cake moist with tangy sour cream. I most definitely like cake. As for the streusel ribbon and topping, I thought I could work with it.

Here’s what I did:
• I substituted about 2 T. cocoa powder for cinnamon in the streusel. (Is it no longer streusel without cinnamon?) Warm spices take so nicely to chocolate — chocolate chips, glazes and frostings with spice cake, pumpkin bread, pumpkin cookies. Love it.

• I added chopped dark chocolate to melt into the streusel mixture.

• For the cake batter, I used 2 t. of mixed pumpkin pie spices instead of the cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves called for in the recipe. This move was purely one of convenience on my part, but I liked the result.

• I used less streusel on top of the cake, not wanting to overdo it. Next time, I will use it all, but probably swirl through the batter a bit more.

Stumbling block removed to streusel success. Thanks, Abby, for organizing #Baketogether and offering a new recipe for my files.

Spiced Coffee Cake with Cocoa Streusel and Chocolate
adapted from Abby Dodge

Chocolate Streusel
2/3 cup (4 5/8 ounces) firmly packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup ( 3 3/8ounces) all purpose flour
2 good tablespoons cocoa
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled

2 cups (9 ounces) all purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spices
1/2 teaspoon table salt
8 tablespoons (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup sour  cream, at room temperature
3 to 4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces

To make the streusel:
In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, flour and cocoa. Drizzle over the melted butter. Using a fork (or use your fingers), mix the ingredients until they are well blended and form small crumbs. Place in the refrigerator while cake is prepared.

To make the cake:
Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour the sides and bottom of a 9 x 2-inch square baking pan.

Combine the flour, baking soda, salt and spices in a medium bowo. Whisk until well blended. Cream butter, sugar and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat at medium speed until well blended, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape the bowl and beaters as needed. Add about half of the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until blended. Add the sour cream and mix just until blended. Using a rubber spatula, fold in the remaining flour mixture.

Scrape half of the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly. Evenly scatter half of the streusel mixture over the batter. Sprinkle half of the chocolate pieces over the streusel. Spoon the remaining batter evenly over the streusel and spread evenly. Scatter the remaining streusel and chocolate pieces evenly over the top.

Bake until the top is browned and a pick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 43  to 45 minutes. Cool the pan on a wire rack until warm or room temperature.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pizza from Scratch: Cracker Crust

Cracker Crust Pizza
Pizza has returned.

I took a break from it this summer. A 500-degree oven seemed a bit excessive considering outside temperatures were in the high 90s or low 100s for weeks.

Since taking Chad Clark’s pizza class at New Pi this spring, I’ve wanted to create a thin cracker crust like the one we sampled. All styles of pizza crusts are good and my goal is to master several varieties. My first few attempts with cracker crust were not at all crispy. This time I am getting closer.

What I’ve learned about making a cracker crust from scratch:

• Flour.
Use bread flour or — better yet — a even higher gluten flour such as Sir Lancelot from King Arthur, which is what Chad recommends. Higher gluten means more chew, crisp and crunch. Sir Lancelot was not in my pantry, so I used Italian Antimo Caputo 00 flour, a type designed for Neapolitan pizza making. This flour can be purchased online or at Italian markets. New Pioneer now sells it, though my first batch came from Gateway Market in Des Moines (a very cool place by the way). If you live in Youngstown, or Pittsburgh, or Chicago, or anywhere that has good Italian grocery stores, you should be able to find this. Read what Chad Clark has to say about pizza flours.

Monday, October 24, 2011

From Paris Sweets: Toast-Point Apple Tart, Tarte aux Pommes au Pain de Mie

Toast-Point Apple Tart adapted from Lenôtre via Paris Sweets
Sometimes we play the warm spice theme a little too often with apple desserts. I’m certainly guilty of adding cinnamon and its friends with nary a second thought.

It’s as if we forget that apples are worthy enough to stand on their own.

And that’s why a nonspicy take on apples can be a welcome change.

Consider this Toast-Point Apple Tart from Lenôtre, which appears in Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets.
Sliced apples are baked in a caramel cream. It’s appley, but not apple-ginger-nutmeg-cinnamoney.

And it’s sweet and custardy, a bit like apple pie and ice cream flavors.

Raisins and walnuts are strewn about, just in case there wasn’t enough textural interest going on.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Recipe for Applesauce Cake

Applesauce Cake based on a recipe from King Arthur Flour
Every autumn for the last several years, I’ve adopted a Favorite Apple Cake. I’ve baked the recipe over and over until family, friends and co-workers grow tired of it. Then, come the following autumn, a new Favorite Apple Cake arrives on the scene.

The 2011 favorite is about as humble and modest as they come. This Applesauce Cake has no extravagant ingredients or techniques, and leaves few dirty dishes to tell the tale. It’s from King Arthur Flour, which happens to be the source of many Favorite Apple Cakes. They do apples well up in New England.

The recipe calls for whole wheat flour and that’s what I used. I love whole grain baking, though I admit some sweets made that way can taste a little too healthy. Not so with this cake. The flour adds depth of flavor and takes well to the warm spices. Your skeptical friends will not know it’s made with whole wheat. Bake it and keep quiet.

The full cup of applesauce ensures it won’t be dry and crumbly. This cake stays moist for days and its flavor develops more fully with time — that is, if you can keep it on hand that long.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

#Irene Chocolate Mousse Cookies with Peanut Butter for #BakeTogether

#Irene Chocolate Mousse Cookies with Peanut Butter Filling

This has not been a year for rain in due season.

Indeed, there’s been too much rain in places, not enough in others.

Abby Dodge, #BakeTogether’s organizer, was among thousands of folks inundated by rain and wind from Hurricane Irene. The storm worked its way up the eastern coast and dumped on New England.

While holed up, she announced these Double Chocolate Mousse Cookies for September’s #BakeTogether event.

As New England and other parts of the country battled water damage and mildew, other parts have hoped for rain. The South and Southwest have suffered under prolonged drought caused by the La Nina weather system.

Many crops have failed, among them peanuts. A shortage is imminent and peanut butter prices will rise. Part of the peanut shortage is due to crop failure from bad weather. The other reason is economics. Some farmers didn’t plant peanuts this year, opting instead to grow cotton whose prices were attractively high.

Monday, September 26, 2011

So Splendid: Jeni’s Lemon Cream Ice Cream

Lemon Cream Ice Cream based on a recipe from Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams opened in Columbus a few years after after we moved away.

My husband had gone back for a visit and was expected to bring home a few pints of Graeter’s (a Cincinnati institution whose Lane Ave. shop in Columbus was where I used to stand in long lines for scoops of coconut or blackberry chip).

He called and said, “Everybody’s talking about Jeni’s. I think you’d like these flavors. Should I bring some home?” He then rattled off half a dozen flavors and I couldn’t decide— which often happens when I am presented with too many choices. (Same reason I could never go to the movie store, but that is another story.)

We settled on pints of Wildberry Lavender and Coriander Raspberry, which were my first introduction to Jeni Britton Bauer’s splendid kaleidoscope of flavors.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home was published this summer and it features her secrets for the home cook. Food52 recently featured her Lemon Cream recipe in its genius collection—and for good reason.

One thing that has always bothered me about some ice cream recipes is the abundance of egg yolks, so many that I could taste the egginess. Not using a custard base, though, often resulted in something a bit more icy (un-scoopable really) and it lacked that desirable smooth mouth-feel of rich ice creams.

The genius move by Jeni is to use cream cheese and cornstarch. The cornstarch did not surprise me because many Italian gelatos use cornstarch to bind and smooth the mixture.  The cream cheese, though, is the real stroke of brilliance. Its fat carries flavor and adds a smooth texture. It is so perfect for lemon because the light tang of cream cheese echoes the citrus.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tomato-Peach Jam with Lime + Vanilla

Tomato-Peach Jam with Lime + Vanilla

Tomatoes and peaches ripen about the same time and both thrive on long hot days. And both of them are good only when they are in season.

They combine well in spicy-savory condiments, such as salsas and chutneys, where their tangy-acid-sweetness can really shine.

But they also play well in a sweet-only theme, too, such as this jam I made recently. There were tomatoes left from my day of canning — not enough to fill a quart jar — and a few quite ripe Missouri peaches staring at me on the counter.

Using the Traditional Old-Fashioned Strawberry Jam as my guide, I combined equal weights of peaches and tomatoes with sugar at 75%. In other words, 3/4 pound of sugar for every one pound of fruit.

To round out the flavors, I added the zest and juice from one lime — plus a very teeny bit (not quite one-half teaspoon) of vanilla bean paste.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

How to Roast Green Chiles

My favorite colors of New Mexico — green chile and turquoise blue.
Sometimes all it takes is a change in latitude. And longitude.

We moved one state south and two states west, and now have access to fresh chiles from Hatch, New Mexico.

It doesn’t fit the 100 Mile Diet, but that’s OK.

New Mexico is among our favorite vacation spots. The landscape, the art and culture. The turquoise jewelry. Green chile, red chile, blue corn.

There, I could eat huevos rancheros three times a day—when I’m not having blue corn enchiladas. And while I like Tex-Mex and Sonoran styles of cooking an awful lot, it’s the flavors of New Mexico that really appeal to me. It’s because of those chiles.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Tomato Dust or Oven Dried Tomato Skins

Tomato Dust — Ground, Dried Tomato Skins
My first thought was that they were pretty, those tomato skins. There they were in a little bowl, squeezed between the saucepan of scalding water and a tall stock pot as I prepped for canning tomatoes.

The next thought was that I hated to waste them. Surely they could be put to good use. I say that about many items — well crafted boxes and sturdy shopping bags, especially—and I say that about people, too.

The pile rose higher.

So I took a break and consulted the oracle Twitter. Seems I wasn’t alone in my query as the Food52 community was discussing what to do with leftover tomato skins. Could they be dried in the oven and ground to a powder, one asked.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Recipe for Tomato Tarte Tatin

The July and August issues of Bon Appetit are favorites because there’s always a gorgeous fruit dessert on the cover followed by enticing recipes inside. The August 2010 issue featured a Tarte Tatin using not the traditional apple, but rather the love apple — the tomato.

Tomato Tarte Tatin
Though they are fruits, tomatoes are type cast as savory stars. I admit that I tend to think of them only for main dishes. Some tomatoes, though, are sweeter tasting than certain other fruits. (I’m thinking of some really tart strawberries and blueberries I’ve had over the years. And bitter blackberries.)

When you see how the tomatoes taste after they are softened and glazed with caramel, you might be inspired to create other tomato desserts.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Recipe for Three-Berry Buttermilk Cake

Three-Berry Buttermilk Cake
I have never met an upside down cake that I didn’t like, and this one is my new favorite.

When the recipe appeared in the June issue of Bon Appetit, I rushed to make it, using the peaches and blueberries I had on hand instead of the blackberries. Round two was again peaches and blueberries.

The third time (can you tell I like this cake?), I used blackberries but delved into a stash of raspberries and blueberries in order to cover the cake sufficiently.

Really, the cake will work with just about any kind of fruit, but do use blackberries if you can get your hands on some.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Peanut Butter Pie of Love and Loss

Peanut Butter Pie from In Jennie’s Kitchen
This creamy peanut butter pie is dedicated to someone I’ve never met. It is for Jennifer Perillo, the talented blogger of In Jennie’s Kitchen, whose husband Mikey died earlier this month. He was very young, just 51, and leaves behind two little girls.

Just days after Mikey’s death, Jennifer posted about one of her husband’s favorite desserts, a creamy peanut butter pie with chocolate cookie crust.

“I kept telling myself I would make it for him tomorrow,” she wrote. “Time has suddenly stood still, though, and I'm waiting to wake up and learn to live a new kind of normal. For those asking what they can do to help my healing process, make a peanut butter pie this Friday and share it with someone you love. Then hug them like there’s no tomorrow because today is the only guarantee we can count on.”

Food bloggers and readers made this pie on Aug. 12, and many others have shared it since. An outpouring of thoughtfulness led to the creation of Bloggers Without Borders, a nonprofit organization to connect bloggers with those in need. Its current project is #AFundforJennie designed to help Jennie and her two daughters with financial security.

My husband loves peanut butter pie, and yet I have never made it for him—until now. Here is the recipe, in Jennifer’s own words, in case you’d like to make it for someone you love.

Creamy Peanut Butter Pie
from In Jennie’s Kitchen

8 ounces chocolate cookies
4 tablespoons butter, melted
4 ounces finely chopped chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup chopped peanuts
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces cream cheese
1 cup creamy-style peanut butter
1 cup confectioner’s sugar
1 – 14 ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

Add the cookies to the bowl of a food processor and pulse into fine crumbs.  Combine melted butter and cookie crumbs in a small bowl, and stir with a fork to mix well.  Press mixture into the bottom and 1-inch up the sides of a 9-inch springform pan.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or in the microwave.  Pour over bottom of cookie crust and spread to the edges using an off-set spatula.  Sprinkle chopped peanuts over the melted chocolate. Place pan in the refrigerator while you prepare the filling.

Pour the heavy cream into a bowl and beat using a stand mixer or hand mixer until stiff peaks form.  Transfer to a small bowl and store in refrigerator until ready to use.  Place the cream cheese and peanut butter in a deep bowl.  Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy.  Reduce speed to low and gradually beat in the confectioner's sugar.  Add the sweetened condensed milk, vanilla extract and lemon juice. Increase speed to medium and beat until all the ingredients are combined and filling is smooth.

Stir in 1/3 of the whipped cream into the filling mixture (helps lighten the batter, making it easier to fold in the remaining whipped cream).  Fold in the remaining whipped cream.  Pour the filling into the prepared springform pan.  Drizzle the melted chocolate on top, if using, and refrigerate for three hours or overnight before serving.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

From Paris Sweets: Fresh Strawberry Tart with Marshmallows

Strawberry Tart with Marshmallows adapted from Paris Sweets by Dorie Greenspan

Supply, time and refrigerator capacity challenge the seasonal cook, especially if she is tries to rely on locally grown produce.

Strawberry season was too short, but I always say that.

I was in a quandary this year about what to do with the berries. I knew that if I didn’t make jam I would regret it come, oh, January when the nights are long and the daylight is puny and cold. But to make even three jars of jam the old-fashioned way requires a good two pounds of berries.

That cut into a supply already diminished by the “car-loss factor” which occurs when the driver eats the warm and juicy berries as she drives home from the market.

Timing is especially critical for fresh-berry desserts and it’s tough to decide what to make.

I was on track to make this fresh strawberry tart with marshmallows in June. Instead, I chose another French dessert, one that has been stalking me since I had it at Lenôtre on a sunny Parisian day.

I had to get it out of my head and onto a plate.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Recipe for Chard Gratin with Parmesan Bechamél and Whole Wheat Bread Crumbs

Red-Stemmed Chard

It was love at first sight.

I’m talking about red-stemmed Swiss chard, surely among the most attractive of leafy edibles, with its  ruby stems and veins coursing through a nutritious, deep green landscape.

Red, gold and purple stemmed chards are newer cultivars of the older green-stemmed variety. And from what I’ve read in various sources, there is nothing Swiss about it. Chard originated in the Mediterranean, where the French now call it blette and the Italians bietole. It was a Swiss botanist (Koch) who gave chard its scientific name. Seed catalogs in the 19th Century added the Swiss name to distinguish chard seeds from those of the cardoon because evidently the French were calling both plants carde due to their similar thick stems. (One source of the saga is here.)

When cooked, chard melts into a grayish green shade, retaining little of its former glory. It also bears  flavor that may put off some eaters at first. Chard tastes earthy like its cousin the beet. Perfect for a gratin.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Summer Cake with Cornmeal and Amaretto Peaches, Plus a Second Variation

Summer Cake with Cornmeal and Amaretto Peaches
Thinking about this cake was almost as fun as baking and tasting.

Abby Dodge offered a Twitter #baketogether challenge for July and I enjoyed pondering variations of her recipe. I’d think about it while washing dishes, exercising, eating other meals. I know I’m not the only one whose mind wanders in this way.

My version substitutes locally produced cornmeal for half of the flour. You could call this a very sweet and moist cornbread. For a frame of reference, this cake is more moist than an Italian polenta cake tends to be.

For the fruit, I selected peaches because I love how the flavor deepens after baking. The peaches hail from Missouri because I’m told peaches do not grow so well in Iowa. (Iowa State University, would you please get on that and develop some Iowa peaches?)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dairy-Free and Sugar-Free Almond Soda

Dairy-Free (and Sugar-Free) Almond Soda
It usually starts late morning. The steady, shaking rhythm sounds like the musical instruments made from dried gourds.

Exactly where the sound originates is hard to identify. It’s just there — in the trees, in the air, all around.


By late afternoon, more individuals have joined the chorus to create a huge wall of sound. Instead of a rhythmic shaking, there is now one continuous noise. The volume rises and falls in waves.

How many there are I cannot imagine, hundreds I suppose by the loudness of it all. I’ve seen several empty and perfectly formed shells attached to blades of grass or shrubs.

Cicadas emerge from their underground sleep, extricate themselves from their skins and start singing. Who can blame them. Stuck in the dark for a year — or 17 — depending on the species.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Salsa Verde with Basil, Cilantro and Mint from Deborah Madison

Salsa Verde with Cilantro, Basil, and Mint
I don’t know about you, but we relish condiments at our house.

At times, the refrigerator seems to overflow with jams, jellies, salsas and sauces. Many are homemade, others are store-bought or gifts from friends.

There’s the jar of my mother’s fig preserves that are used only when we have biscuits and eggs for breakfast, or when I want to serve them with a cheese course. Fig preserves are too precious to slap between bread with peanut butter. For that, we use other something else, such as strawberry jam.

Maybe an overabundance of condiments isn’t a problem for you? You must be the disciplined sort who only opens a new jar of jelly when the other one is finished.

I didn’t think so.

One condiment that I really enjoy is Deborah Madison’s salsa verde with basil, cilantro and mint. The recipe is featured in Local Flavors, a celebration of farmers markets around the country. This is one of my very favorite cookbooks of all time, an essential for any cook who loves local, seasonal foods.

Friday, July 15, 2011

From Paris Sweets: Croq-Télé, TV Snacks for the World Cup

Croq-Télé, TV Snacks for the World Cup
The World Cup is highly anticipated in our household, and we could not be happier that the U. S. Women’s National Team has made it to the final. Their beautiful athleticism and big-hearted play are exciting to watch.

I’m so proud they are representing my country.

For the game on Sunday, I will serve these Croq-Télé — TV Snacks — from Dorie Greenspan’s Paris Sweets. They are salty-sweet, crunchy little things adapted from a recipe by pâtissier Arnaud Larher.

I hoped to make them Wednesday in honor of the USA-France semi-final but didn’t have time. We watched the game without snacks, unless you consider that I bit my nails during the second half, fearing a victory by the formidable French who played with great style and creativity.

It bears mentioning that France’s women played with kilos more class than that nation’s men’s team did in World Cup 2010.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Strawberry Granita with Grand Marnier

Strawberry Granita with Grand Marnier
I made this Strawberry Granita with Grand Marnier using the season’s last strawberries, a variety called Winona.

Winona is one of several types grown by the farmer who delivered a truckload of berries to the market three times a week. A long line of eager customers were waiting for him. Those at the back of the line were understandably a little anxious. The farmer took his time with each customer, chatting and laughing. When there was more than one variety available, he’d recommend a type depending on how the customer was going to use the berries.

As the too-short season progressed, I enjoyed the uniqueness of each variety. The first one I tried was Wendy, a softly complex berry with notes that reminded me of fraises des bois, the wild strawberries I’ve had in France. Then came the bold and sweet Honeoye, which I used for jam, followed by the pretty Jewel and the sweet-tart Sunset.

When I asked the farmer about Winona, he said, “It tastes like a tangerine,” and he was right.  I noticed a sweet orange note as I bit into the first one, and then kept sampling more as I drove home.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Recipe for a Traditional, Old-Fashioned Strawberry Jam

Strawberry Jam

The fragrance of a hand-picked, perfectly ripe strawberry is enough to make you swoon.

We try to preserve that strawberry goodness for cold winter days, to comfort ourselves with biscuits, toast or peanut butter sandwiches.

Some friends love strawberry jam so much that they recently put up 71 jars in the freezer. It is a much-loved summer ritual for mom and the kids. They need a lot of jam because, on a typical day, this family of 6 can easily go through one half-pint jar in a single sitting.

When asked how long she expects this arsenal to last, my friend replied, “I hope until spring.”

My freezer isn’t very spacious, so a couple years ago I started making strawberry jam in the traditional, old-fashioned way, without pectin.

I did this primarily because I decided the old-fashioned style tastes better. It has a deeper, more concentrated strawberry flavor.

The other reason is that a package of pectin is yet one more thing to forget at the supermarket.

The “open kettle” or “long boil” method is neither difficult nor time consuming. I made three jars of strawberry jam in about one hour.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Rose Bakery’s Chocolate and Banana Cake

Chocolate and Banana Cake
I recently came home with a haul of bananas. An estimated 15 to 20 just-ripe fruit were in the paper sack, and they were mine for 99 cents because the supermarket was letting them go for reasons I’m not quite sure. I stood there, weighing whether to take them or not, and the thought of desserts and smoothies tipped the balance.

The first thing I made was this chocolate and banana cake from the cookbook Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery. The book features recipes for soups, vegetable tarts, pizettes, little salads and sweets — a selection of dishes offered at the Paris bakery.

Briton Rose Carrarini launched the bakery with her French husband in 2002. Before coming to Paris, Rose and Jean-Charles ran Villandry in London. Villandry came about after the couple realized their passions ran toward food instead of the knitwear business they’d been engaged in for many years.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Five Days to Chocolate Ice Cream St. John

Chocolate Ice Cream St. John (or Five Day Ice Cream)

Do you remember how Darren would call Samantha at the last minute to say he’s bringing Larry Tate over for dinner? And there the pretty Samatha would be, not worrying about dinner itself, but rather how to get one or more odd relatives to (literally) disappear.

Dinner would be ready when Darren walked through the door, alone or with guests.

Today’s world finds us scheduling social occasions as far in advance as dental visits. It’s only now that I am away from an office job that I have the luxury to plan for dinner guests.

One thing to be said for planning is that you can spend a lot of time kvetching about what to eat. Early notice also allows you to serve, for instance, a chocolate ice cream that takes five days to prepare.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From Paris Sweet: Punitions

Butter cookies based on a recipe from Boulangerie Poilâne via Paris Sweets
These are elegant cookies.

But they are not expensive cookies. Indeed, they are comprised of kitchen basics: butter, sugar, flour and eggs.

Their elegance is the simplicity of ingredients, the lack of unnecessary adornments, that combine to highly satisfying affect. Cookies that are enjoyed for themselves, not for extras thrown in or an icing on top.

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