As I write this, it’s 10am and temperatures are already in the mid-80s. I’m sitting outside and there’s a pleasant breeze, but I know I only have about an hour (if I’m lucky) before things become unbearable and I have to take shelter. It’s expected to hit 95° today, and we haven’t yet put our lone window A/C unit in, so I may be spending the remainder of the day in the basement. If things get really bad, I might have to resort to turning into one of those people who write in coffee shops for the day.
These unusual-for-Michigan high temperatures have thrown everything off kilter for produce. Most notably, the fruit trees all blossomed prematurely and the blossoms then got killed off by a frost. For a state with a major fruit-growing industry, things are not looking good: we’ll see little if any apples, cherries, peaches, pears, plums or anything else that grows on a tree.
Despite this setback- one that affects me personally as a small business owner trying to use local produce- there are still several fruits that should still thrive this year, like raspberries, blueberries, currants, gooseberries and of course, strawberries. Strawberry season, which usually starts around this time, has already been going strong for a few weeks, and probably won’t be around much longer. As soon as we were able, in late May, my partner Molly and I went to a U-Pick farm on a beautiful spring morning and picked 60 pounds of the most gorgeous berries I’ve seen in years (see below). Last year’s strawberries were somewhat watery due to a lot of rain, but these were deep red with concentrated, complex flavor.
In addition to making jam for our business, we each took a few pints for our own personal use. While not much can beat the simplicity of a bowl of sliced berries with a small sprinkling of sugar and maybe a touch of lemon, my favorite thing to do with them other than that is to make ice cream. I had recently checked out Jeni Britton Bauer’s book Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home from the library, and as someone who makes lots of ice cream, was intrigued by her no-egg method. Rather than make a custard base, she uses a combination of cornstarch, cream cheese and corn syrup to give the proper consistency and scoopability to her creations. I was a bit skeptical at first- I’m trying to limit consumption of GMO corn products- but decided to go ahead with a couple substitutions, using tapioca for the starch and an organic corn syrup. Incidentally, Jeni’s is a cool regional (Columbus, OH) company who generously sent several pints for us to sample at the first annual Gourmet Underground Detroit potluck picnic, which is happening again this Saturday! Everyone loved the Bangkok Peanut, Wild Berry Lavender and other creative flavors. Continue reading
My in-laws are serious eaters. At all the gatherings I’ve attended, the quantities of food would make the Two Fat Ladies blush, and we always come home with several containers of leftovers. This Christmas was no exception! My mother in law hosted Christmas Eve, as is getting to be the tradition. She veered away from the usual Puerto Rican fare this year (roast pork, arroz con gandules) and went Mexican, making posole, ceviche and nopales (cactus) salad. One of his cousins brought an interesting new (to me) PR dish of chicken gizzards cooked with green bananas and a few green olives (something like this except it was served warm instead of like a salad). The dish is an unglamorous greyish color, but the flavor was great and the gizzards were much more tender than when I’ve made them. It re-inspired me to try making gizzards again after an unsuccessful attempt last summer.
With all this great food in such abundance, it’s always hard to know what to bring. My MIL never wants to assign me a dish; she always demurs, saying that there will be enough food, or to just bring “whatever I want”. I know this is because she doesn’t want to impose, but I have somewhat mixed feelings about it… she knows I like to cook; I’m part of the family now; shouldn’t that warrant a side dish assignment? To be fair, for all I know she does the same with all the other relatives and they just bring whatever they feel like. But a small part of me would be flattered to be entrusted with something specific. Continue reading
When it comes to indulgences, I prefer to blow my “calorie budget” on an exquisite piece of cheese*, a succulent slice of fat-studded saucisson, or a glistening leg of duck confit (with accompanying duck-fat-roasted potatoes, of course). In fact, I’ll usually forgo the dessert course altogether, having sated myself on one or more of the above. But I was making Marvin a Valentine’s supper, and the menu didn’t feel complete without dessert. Things were going in a somewhat Italian direction (rabbit braised in red wine; polenta with roasted garlic & honey; broccoli raab sautéed with anchovy & red pepper) so I thought of an olive oil cake- not too rich, just a subtly sweet ending.
The recipe I chose was a plain, unadorned sponge cake, enlivened with the zest of a lemon and an orange, a slug of late-harvest dessert wine, and some finely chopped rosemary. This simple, clean flavor combination struck me as the perfect ending to a rich meal. (If it sounds a bit too austere, don’t forget that you’ll have that open bottle of dessert wine to sip along with your cake!)
This cake was especially appropriate for Valentine’s Day (or an anniversary for that matter) because rosemary symbolizes “remembrance and fidelity”. It’s often used in weddings for this very reason- in fact, I attended one wedding where rosemary plants were given out as favors for the guests to take home. I like to think that remembrance is meant not just in terms of looking back on something in the past, but rather in the sense that we should always keep our partner in our thoughts on a daily basis, remembering why we chose them and not taking them for granted. Fidelity has the obvious connotation of sexual fidelity, but it also refers to being loyal to your partner- letting them feel secure in the knowledge that you’ve got their back no matter what.
I can’t say that either of us were thinking any of these deep thoughts while eating our cake, but it was interesting to look up the meaning of rosemary and to know that it had a symbolic connection with what is supposed to be a day of celebrating romance. Although Valentine’s Day may be behind us for this year, I urge you to make this cake anytime you want to honor remembrance and fidelity, or anytime you want a simple, uncomplicated ending to a rich meal.
(*This cheese is pretty amazing with dessert wine too if you’re ever looking for something really special- it’s an artisan blue cheese wrapped in grape leaves that have been macerated in pear brandy. It’s pricey, but no more pricey per pound than really good chocolate- for 4 bucks I bought a small piece that we didn’t even finish.)
5 eggs, separated
2/3 cup sugar
2 packed tsps rosemary leaves, very finely minced
zest of one lemon
zest of one orange
4 oz. fresh, whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup Moscato, vin Santo, or other late-harvest white wine
1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
3/4 tsp sea salt
Preheat the oven to 375. Prepare a 9″ or 10″ springform pan by buttering the sides and lining the bottom with a parchment circle. Beat the yolks and sugar until pale. Stir in the citrus zest and rosemary.
In another bowl, stir together the ricotta, salt, olive oil and wine until combined. Add the ricotta mixture and the flour to the yolks, a third at a time, alternating the two.
Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks and fold them into the batter. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 20 minutes, then reduce the heat to 325 and bake an additional 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Be careful not to overcook, as this is a cake that can quickly go from perfectly done to dry.
Cool on a rack for 10 minutes, then unmold onto a plate and allow to finish cooling. DeBlasi suggests serving a few roasted nuts alongside the cake, as well as the dessert wine you used in the cake. If you like, you can decorate the cake with a sprinkling of powdered sugar as pictured. My favorite way to do this is to put the sugar in a mesh tea strainer and lightly tap it over the surface of the cake (use a cardboard cut-out for a “stencil”).
The April 2009 challenge is hosted by Jenny from Jenny Bakes. She has chosen Abbey’s Infamous Cheesecake as the challenge.
I’m not a huge cheesecake fan- it’s not that I dislike it; it just wouldn’t be my first choice for empty calories (just give me the cheese plate instead!)- but I figured I would kill two birds with one stone and use it as my contribution to Easter dinner at Marvin’s mom’s house. Turns out, his family all LOVES cheesecake- so much so that there were at two other cheesecakes at the get-together. At least mine was the only one with lemons!
I had gotten the idea for candied lemons because a few weeks ago there were Meyer lemons all over the grocery stores and I wanted to take advantage of the season (go here and here to see all the citrus goodies I made). Just after the idea had come to mind, coincidentally a fellow blogger whose blog I’ve started reading regularly posted a ricotta cheesecake with candied lemons. I was glad not to have to hunt for a candied lemon recipe, but a tiny bit disappointed that someone had just posted on the same concept. Ahh well, I suppose with the amount of food blogs out there these days, it’s hard to be totally original, unless you’re the Colloquial Cook!
The recipe itself was pretty darn easy, mainly just combining ingredients in a bowl and dumping them in the pan. And fortunately I didn’t have any issues with waterlogged crust or a crack in the top. I thought this was a good albeit very rich recipe. There was no flour (is there usually flour in cheesecake? I have no idea. I thought maybe there was a little), so the consistency was very soft and not at all “cake-y”, and it got kind of melty at room temperature, but was much better chilled. The consistency may have changed a little due to my adaptation as well. To flavor the cheesecake, I substituted 1/4 cup marmalade for 1/4 cup of the sugar, added the Microplaned zest of one lemon, and substituted lemon juice for the liqueur (too bad I didn’t have any Limoncello on hand!). You’d think it would have turned out ultra-lemony, but it was actually pretty subtle. The candied lemons on top were what really gave it some kick; I liked how their slightly bitter bite offset the sweetness and richness.
Incidentally, we had a great time at the family get-together, where we played a spirited game of Cranium with his cousins, and ate WAY too much food. I’m still working through some of the leftovers! In addition to ham AND turkey, there was a delicious pork and bean dish with three kinds of pork, the ubiquitous arroz con gandules (this is the Puerto Rican side of the family), homemade grape leaves (a remnant of his mom’s marriage to his Chaldean father), several other side dishes, and about 15 different desserts including flan (which I polished off for breakfast with some banana and strawberries). One of these days I am going to get together with his mom and learn some of the traditional recipes. Meanwhile, I’m happy to bring my contributions, and was relieved at not having a whole cheesecake sitting around my house. Unfortunately, I forgot to take my camera to Easter, so I only have the few photos I took before we left. The photo of the cheesecake without the pan and the pics below of me photographing the cheesecake are courtesy of Marvin.
I had seen this “Daring Baker” logo around a few different blogs I frequent, but wasn’t sure what it was all about, so I decided to check it out. For those of you who are unfamiliar, it’s basically a group of food bloggers who all make the same recipe once a month and post about it on a pre-determined day. I had seen some of the completed challenges on fellow MLFB blogger Maggie‘s site, and they looked pretty difficult, but I thought it would be fun to challenge myself. I signed up at the end of January and almost laughed out loud when I got the challenge recipe- a flourless chocolate cake. Ironically, flourless chocolate cake is my “ace in the hole” dessert, the one I can make in my sleep, when I need something that is simple but tastes like a million bucks, and for which I will likely have all the ingredients without having to make a trip to the store. It’s probably the only recipe for a dessert that I have memorized. I like to switch it up by adding different flavors such as cinnamon and cayenne for a “Mayan” cake, espresso powder, or a little orange oil or hazelnut oil. Since the top of the cake caves in and is not much to look at, I usually pile billows of lightly sweetened freshly whipped cream on top. People go into ecstasies at this cake, and it’s only a few ingredients. Once you master the knack of folding the egg whites into the chocolate, you’re golden.
(We’ll pause here for a word from our sponsors: “The February 2009 challenge is hosted by Wendy of WMPE’s blog and Dharm of Dad ~ Baker & Chef. We have chosen a Chocolate Valentino cake by Chef Wan; a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Dharm and a Vanilla Ice Cream recipe from Wendy as the challenge.”)
I was intrigued by the recipe given to us since it varies from mine in that it uses no sugar, less butter and an entire POUND of chocolate!! If you’re feeding a crowd, maybe this is the recipe for you, but this is an extremely rich cake as it is, and I’ve never met anyone who could eat more than a small-to-moderate size piece. But, I was curious to see how the DB recipe stacked up to the one I was used to using. The final product was pretty similar to what I was used to, and may have even been slightly more chocolatey. (My recipe yields a smaller cake, and is a little lighter, less fudgy and more “crumbly” on the edges.) I didn’t make it for Valentine’s Day, but Marvin had invited a couple friends over for dinner last night so I decided that would be as good a time as any. And hey, it wouldn’t be in character for me to make anything more than a day before the deadline!
For the ice cream, our hosts provided a couple recipes for vanilla, but were gracious enough to let us pick our own flavors if we so chose. I was going to do hazelnut ice cream, until I got to the store and found out that hazelnuts were $7.99 for an 8-oz bag. Boo!! I changed tack and chose raspberry instead, seeing as how a bag of good quality frozen raspberries can be had for a few bucks.
If you’d like the Daring Bakers recipe for the cake, it can be found on either of the host blogs linked above. I’m going to give “my” recipe below. If you’re a chocolate lover, make them both and do a taste test and let me know what you think. I have a slightly sentimental attachment to my recipe, as it comes from the first cookbook I ever owned, a tome entitled France the Beautiful Cookbook. In the book, the cake bears the somewhat un-politically correct name “Le Nègre”, but if you can move past that, it’s a good recipe. The ice cream recipe comes from Nigella.
Flourless Chocolate Cake (aka “Le Nègre”)
7 oz best quality bittersweet chocolate
7 oz unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
4 eggs, separated
Directions: Preheat the oven to 375. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan. Melt the chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Or, do what I always do and nuke them on really low power. I do 5 minutes at 30% power, give it a good stir and then another 3-5 minutes at 20% power. Set aside to cool.
While the chocolate is melting, separate the eggs, putting the whites in a metal bowl if you have one (I use my stand mixer). It’s important that the bowl be very clean and grease free, or the whites will not attain their full potential. (If you get any yolk in with the whites, start over, like I had to do, and save them for scrambled eggs.) Whisk the yolks with half the sugar (you can do this by hand) until mixture becomes pale in color. Whip the whites, gradually adding in the rest of the sugar, until glossy and forming stiff peaks. (This is another difference in my recipe- because the whites have sugar added, they are sturdier when beaten, and I think easier to fold in to the chocolate.)
Once the chocolate has cooled, stir in the egg yolks. Take a large dollop of the egg white and beat it into the chocolate to lighten the mixture. Gently fold the chocolate into the egg whites until completely incorporated and no white remains. The way I go about this is to pour the chocolate a little at a time down the side of the bowl and then stir with a spatula with a scooping motion, down the side, along the bottom of the bowl, up and over.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let cool on a rack. The cake will fall considerably, but c’est la vie. If you want to decorate it, you can turn it out on a plate so the flat side is on top and use a stencil and powdered sugar to do a design.
Raspberry Ripple Ice Cream (adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson)
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups half and half
6 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups raspberries
1 1/2 tsp best quality balsamic vinegar
Whisk together egg yolks and 1/2 cup sugar. Heat the cream until almost boiling, then pour the hot cream into the egg mixture, whisking. Return to the stove over medium-low heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the custard thickens. Let cool, and freeze in an ice cream maker according to instructions. (If you don’t have an ice cream maker, the Daring Bakers hosts give instructions with their recipes.)Make the raspberry sauce by putting the raspberries, balsamic and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a blender and pureeing until smooth. (The balsamic may seem like an odd ingredient, but it really amps up the raspberry flavor.) If desired, put through a fine-mesh strainer to remove the seeds. When the ice cream is almost frozen but still soft enough to stir, put it into a container a little at a time in layers, drizzling the raspberry sauce in as you go. Use a skewer to swirl the sauce through the ice cream. Freeze for another 1-2 hours until firm. I made extra raspberry sauce to drizzle over the top of the cake.