7.17.2014

Parsley Cake with Crème Fraîche and Honey, It's Vermont After All


I was in Waitsfield, Vermont last weekend.  Nowhere is vacation mode more apparent than a town that seems to propel itself on beer, bikes, and National Geographic hair.  The town is perpetually breezy.  I get the feeling July is alive and well there all year round.

I visited a vineyard and sat in the grass with friends, and a baby, and listened to a local band named the Grift, and drank wine in jam jars.  We ate Israeli couscous salad and shards of sharp cheese and rolled up cured meats surrounded by grape vines.

In the morning, we went to the farmers’ market where we had blackberry Danish and looked at sheepskin rugs touting local origins and tasted beer jelly made from Vermont brew. We bought red-skinned potatoes and haricot vert and dill, all of which found entry into a potato salad drenched with local crème fraîche later that evening.

We sampled smoked chèvre and an aged ash cheese called Black Madonna from the Sage Farm Goat Dairy lady, and I felt closer to France than I have in a long time.  Then we went on a search for Heady Topper, for which there was none in the entire state.  Apparently, we were too laidback in our acquisition efforts—even compared to native Vermonters, who all seem to know that the beer delivery happens on Monday and must set their watches accordingly. 

So we hiked. Then went on a bar crawl for three. Chatted with the owner of Localfolk Smokehouse about his recent perfection of a spicy barbeque sauce recipe.  And finally found some loosies of Heady Topper at the bar of Hostel Tevere, run brilliantly by a husband and wife team.  All the while in the company of a three-month-old possessing a very chill Vermont-y attitude, until the witching hour of 7 pm.

That evening I saw fireflies after dinner, and felt closer to childhood than I have in a long time.  And in the morning we had parsley cake for breakfast.

Which I will file away as the unofficial dessert of the Green Mountain State.  It is fern-colored and pleasantly grassy, if you will permit me to use such a ridiculous phrase as a selling point. It carries laidback sweetness, which allows the herbs to become softened by dairy. 

For this role, I recommend crème fraîche spiked with honey.  Old-fashioned vanilla ice cream would work equally as well, though less traditional as a breakfast option.  As one friend put it, the sweetened fraîche tasted of “warm ice cream.”  So there’s that, too.

I interpreted this positively, since he had multiple servings throughout the weekend.  No judgment on either account. It’s Vermont, after all.

The recipe is from a restaurant in Brooklyn called Roberta’s with a cult following.  In full disclosure: I haven’t been, though it wields an inspirational vibe and appears to be the kind of joint that can make pizza and parsley infinitely interesting, and unexpected.

Kind of like beer in jelly. Babies in bars.  And parsley in cake.

Parsley Cake with Crème Fraîche and Honey
Adapted from Food52 and Roberta’s Cookbook

Ingredients:

130 grams (about 3½ tightly-packed cups) parsley leaves (stems removed)
50 grams (about 1½ tightly-packed cups) mint leaves (stems removed)
165 grams (¾ cup) extra virgin olive oil
290 grams (2 cups plus 1 tbsp) flour
15 grams (1 tbsp plus 2 tsp) cornstarch
7 grams (2¼ tsp) kosher salt
8 grams (1½ tsp) baking powder
4 large eggs, room temperature
330 grams (1 2/3 cups) sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
zest of 1 lime
zest of 1 lemon

serve with
crème fraîche (sweeten with vanilla bean and honey or maple syrup, if desired)
honey (to drizzle on top)

Instructions:

In a food processor or blender, place 1/3 of the herbs and process until well crushed and broken down.  Add the remaining herbs in one or two more additions, depending on the size of your machine, and puree, stopping occasionally to stir the herbs and scrape them off the sides and toward the blade.

When the herbs are fairly well pulverized, stream in half the olive oil and pulse until combined.  Add remaining oil and blend for 10 seconds longer.  Scrape into a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking powder; set aside.

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, whip the eggs for 30 seconds; add the sugar and mix on high speed until light yellow and fluffy (about 3 minutes).  On low, slowly stream in the herb mixture and mix until combined.

With the machine on low, add the flour mixture a third at a time (do this quickly and don’t allow the flour to incorporate in before adding the next bit—this shouldn’t take more than 10 or 15 seconds).  Stop the mixer and add the vanilla and zest and stir with a rubber spatula until just combined (the flour should be fully incorporated but take care not to overmix). Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 and up to 24 hours.

When you are ready to bake, set the oven to 340 degrees.  Butter a loaf pan (I used two narrow ones—10 x 3½ and 7 x 3½), line with parchment paper (with the paper hanging over the sides), and then butter the parchment.  Pour in the batter and smooth with a spatula.

Bake for about 40 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted into the center of the cake. (The reference recipe has the cake bake for only 15 to 20 minutes, but they use a sheet pan which makes for a shallower cake and a faster cooking time; watch closely depending on your baking receptacle.)

Let cool in the pan.  Serve with a dollop of crème fraîche and a drizzle of honey.

Serves about 12

Notes:
-Any leftovers can be stored in the freezer.

-Note the batter hangs in the fridge for a least 6 hours before baking.

7.09.2014

Salty Vanilla Bean Cake with Black Pepper Balsamic Berries. Bang. Boom. Cake Feet.


Four people are sitting around a kitchen table.  It’s the fourth of July.  It’s raining. There’s prosciutto and capicola with some salty cheeses, sour cherry jam, and a rosé (a Lagrein sturdy enough to handle the charcuterie aggression). It’s a primer for what’s coming.

Chickpeas are tossed in the first pesto of the summer with local beans sautéed in Pernod.  There’s also a tomato basil salad with peaches and mozzarella, drizzled in balsamic vinegar and a grassy olive oil.

Plus homemade fettuccini made earlier in the company of warm rain.  Rain that canceled the scheduled fireworks.  So the freshly made nests of pasta will have to do.  Boom.

They are served with spicy tomato oil littered with dried peppers and sweetened with a spoonful of honey.  By the pasta course, another rosé has been taken down and most of another bottle of red is gone.  The evening has begun its descent towards an Amarone assigned to cover dessert.

And dessert does come.  By this time the votives are flickering their final breaths and Frank Sinatra’s crooning has mellowed full bellies.  Laugher is louder. Opinions with hearty conviction take hold. All this is preparation for the pleasant destruction that follows.

A salty vanilla bean cake with pastry cream insides.  It’s dense and unapologetically onerous. Slightly mellowed by a sidecar of summer berries tossed in Saba, balsamic, black pepper, and a spoonful of strawberry jam. A dessert that isn’t for the timid, yet is pretty much incapable of being disliked by anyone.

A dessert that causes body parts to puff.  There is a whole tablespoon of salt hidden in the cake, mind you.  But the wine and salty accoutrement do little to help the cause.  Feet swell a whole shoe size. So much so that it becomes difficult to put rain boots back on.  Cake feet, as they are quickly nicknamed in response.

But the cake. Oh, the cake.  Its thick slices have soft, creamy middles.  The dessert could easily stand on its own; in fact, it becomes forked at later in the evening by sated guests who still can’t stop.  But the berries add a spark of summer, and so they come highly recommended.

The night crackles.  Everyone rumbles home.  Slightly banged up, and fully satisfied.

Salty Vanilla Bean Cake with Black Pepper Balsamic Berries

Ingredients:

pastry cream (makes extra)

4 cups whole milk
½ cup (100g) granulated sugar, divided
pinch kosher salt
¼ cup cornstarch
9 large egg yolks
2 ounces (55g) cold butter, cubed
3 tbsp vanilla paste

butter cake

16 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
16 ounces (450g) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla paste
3 large eggs, room temperature
13 ounces cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp kosher salt

peppered berries

1 cup blueberries
2 cups cherries, pitted
½ cup currants
splash saba (grape must)
splash balsamic vinegar
few cracks of fresh ground black pepper
1 tbsp strawberry jam
pinch of salt

Instructions:

For the pastry cream, place a medium bowl inside a larger bowl filled with ice; set aside.

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk, ¼ cup sugar, and salt and set on medium heat.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and remaining ¼ cup sugar. When the milk has come to a boil, reduce the heat to low (watch the milk and turn it off if it starts to bubble).  Whisk the yolks into the cornstarch mixture.

Slowly whisk a little (about ¼ cup at a time) of the hot mixture into the yolk mixture; continue to mix in a little hot liquid in small amounts until the yolks become warm to the touch. Whisking constantly, slowly pour the warmed yolk mixture into the saucepan with the remaining milk. Cook over low heat, stirring, until it thickens (stay close by to prevent the eggs from getting too hot and scrambling).

Remove from heat and whisk in the butter and vanilla bean paste.  Transfer the pastry cream to the prepared ice bath.  Cover with plastic wrap pressed to the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming.  Allow to cool slightly and then place in the fridge to completely chill. 

Once the pastry cream has chilled and you are ready to make the cake, set the oven to 325 degrees. Butter one or multiple springform pans (see notes for sizing), line with parchment paper, and butter the parchment and sides.  Flour the pan, tap out the excess flour, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, scrapping down the sides of the bowl every minute or so.  Add in the vanilla paste and then the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape the bowl and then add the dry ingredients on low speed until just combined.

In two pint glasses, place a pastry bag or ziplock bag and open each wide so batter can be filled in one of the bags and pastry cream in the other.  Smooth down the cake batter so it fills the bottom of the bag (clip a small corner of the bag if you are using a ziplock) and pipe a ring of batter in the bottom of your prepared pan, starting at the outer edges of the pan and slowly working in towards the center so that the entire bottom is covered.  Then pipe another ring along the inside perimeter of the pan on top of the first layer (see here for pictures).  This will hold the pastry cream inside. 

Fill the pastry cream bag, again ensuring the liquid collects in the bottom (clip a corner of the bag, if necessary) and pipe pastry cream along the inner ring, inside the space created with the batter.  Essentially, the batter will hold the pastry cream.  (You will not use all the pastry cream.)  Pipe another layer of batter on top, keeping it level with the ring of batter and sealing in the pastry cream.  (You may have extra batter.)  With moistened hands, gently smooth down the top of the cake.  Repeat with the second pan, if using.

Place a baking sheet under the cake pan(s) to collect any dripping batter. Bake the cake for 60 to 75 minutes, or until the top is deep golden brown and set.  Avoid opening the oven door for at least 50 minutes; try to rely on your oven light as necessary.

Allow to cool to room temperature before unmolding.  While cooling, combine all ingredients for the berries and chill until ready to serve.

Serves about 12

Notes:
-You can easily cut the pastry cream recipe in half. I served extra with the cake and made the remainder into popsicles. I’d advise making the cream ahead of time (it will keep at least 2 days). 

- I used an 8-inch springform and had enough batter leftover for a scant fill of a 6-inch springform pan, as well. I didn’t have any issue baking the smaller cake and leaving it in the oven for as long as I did the 8-inch. (The pastry cream and high percentage of fat helps to keep everything nice and moist.)  Of note, the cake really rises so you’ll want the pans to be at least 2½ to 3 inches high.

-Any cake leftovers can easily hang in the fridge for a few days, or can be stored longer in the freezer.

-I mail-ordered vanilla paste (which is essentially vanilla bean plus sugar and thickener).  Theoretically, you can substitute one 1 vanilla bean pod per tbsp of the paste, though I’m not sure how this would affect the texture. 

Salty Vanilla Bean Cake with Black Pepper Balsamic 

6.28.2014

Ferber’s Strawberry Preserves, Stick with the Berries.


I promised some folks—including my mother—a recipe for strawberry rhubarb muffins.  Muffins that behave like shortcakes.  Muffins that are really quite wonderful, and certainly worthy of a few hundred words. 

I am sorry.

By now I am bored to tears with rhubarb and needed a break from the stalks.  You might very well share a similar sentiment, after its commandeering gin entry and usurpation of leftover rose.  When I realized I had very recently gone through four pounds of the plant and was choosing to clean my toilet over write about it again, I thought it time to fast-forward straight to strawberries. 

So I have a recipe for you from a Frenchie instead.  A fourth-generation pâtissier from Alsace named Christine Ferber.  Her jams are packaged in red polka dot caps, tied with bows, and sold to people with deep pockets and sweet tooths.

But perhaps the best, simplest introduction to all this is that I’ve been waiting forty-nine weeks for the first quarts of strawberries to appear at the farmers’ market. And when they did, it was nary a full forty-eight hours before toast and jam made the breakfast menu.

It was also ninety degrees the day I planned to cook down the berries, which is de rigueur anytime I take on a summer project requiring a stovetop.  Instead of behaving like a normal human, I set my alarm for six AM with the priggishness and pride of a Kamikaze pilot.  Secretly hoping to outsmart the earth before it could heat up.

I didn’t.  But I don’t regret it.

Making these preserves isn’t incredibly difficult, mind you.  It does require an overnight advance. Plus being comfortable briefly turning your kitchen into a steam room—without the white towels and general nakedness. No one wins combining nudity and hot fruit.

But this jam is winning.  It is madly strawberry, by both flavor and sight.  Its small fruits remain intact, becoming jeweled and suspended by sugar.

Purists may scoff at the raspberry, balsamic, and black pepper additions.  But they are there to add oomph to the berries and deepen their intensity.  So just try not to think about it too much.  Consider them a sweet, sanctioned form of cheating.

The preserves are particularly wonderful with cheese and spread on thick slices of buttered sourdough toast.  And—I might add—are also quite fetching partnered with a political mug in the morning.  Heck, they probably go well with nudity too. 

But we won’t go there.

Ferber’s Strawberry Preserves
Adapted from Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber by way of butter tree

Ingredients:

(790g) 1¾ pounds strawberries (about 1½ pounds once rinsed and hulled)
(800g) 4¼ cups sugar
juice of 1 lemon
(565g) 1¼ pounds fresh raspberries
1 tbsp plus 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
5 peppercorns, ground

Instructions:

Halve the strawberries (quarter large berries and leave the tiny ones whole so they are all about the same size).  In a large bowl, combine the strawberries, sugar, and lemon juice.  Cover with parchment paper and place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, place a small plate with four or five small spoons in the freezer (you will use them to test the jam for doneness).  In a small saucepan, combine the raspberries with 3½ ounces of water and bring to a boil.  Cook a few minutes until the berries breakdown and then strain out the seeds through a wire mesh sieve to collect the juice.  Discard the pulp or save for another use (see note).

Place the raspberry juice in a large heavy pot or saucepan.  Using the same sieve, strain the strawberry juice into the same pot and set the berries aside.  (You will likely have some residual sugar that stays with the berries, that’s okay, just try to get what you can in.)

Bring the juice to a boil over medium-high heat, skimming off the foam that forms on top.  Cook until the jam reaches 221 degrees with a candy thermometer, or about 10 to 15 minutes, skimming occasionally. (Admittedly, my candy thermometer didn’t reach all the way into the pan so I half improvised with this.)

Add the strawberries to the pot and return to a boil then cook for 5 to 15 more minutes, occasionally skimming and stirring gently.  To see if the preserves are ready, place a small amount on one of the spoons in your freezer and leave it in there; check after 1 minute.  If you push the jam with your finger and it wrinkles a little, it’s ready. (Start checking after 5 minutes, it took me closer to 15.)  If it is not ready, continue cooking the jam for a few more minutes and then test again.

When the jam is ready, turn off the heat and add in the balsamic and peppercorns.  You could either process the jam in sterilized jars to can it or simply store what you won’t use up immediately in your freezer.

Makes about 2 pints.

Notes:
-Look for smallest and sweetest smelling berries you can find.

-I reserved the raspberry seeds and used them as a receptacle when skimming the jam.  The seeds are sweetened by the little bit of jam that is discarded as the foam is removed and this eases my guilt of throwing out food.  I mixed a little in yogurt all week.  You know, for the fiber.

-The peppercorns are easily ground with a mortar and pestle.  It’s about a scant 1/8 tsp.

6.19.2014

Braised Vanilla Rhubarb in Rosé. The Art of Living for One.


Living alone has its downsides.  If you fall in the shower you either have to shelter in place or crawl nakedly to freedom. It can be quite difficult to unzip cocktail dresses and hang pictures.  And opening a nice bottle of wine often requires a commitment to over-serving yourself.

People also act awkwardly when you tell them you are childless and thirty-one and paying more than a suburban mortgage for a one bedroom rental.  There’s often a pause.  “You’ll find him,” they say.

Maybe not.

What I think people forget about living alone—or never get a chance to experience—is the quiet freedom of caring for one.

You can eat radishes with lazy man’s Caesar dressing for dinner, if this sort of thing pleases you.  There is also no one to stop you from ordering a bright pink bedroom rug from a man named Ibrahim in Turkey.  Nor is there any shame that comes with listening to the lyrical magic of Phil Collins and his No Jacket Required album. None.

And if you wake up at 6 AM and feel like braising rhubarb at this ungodly hour, you can.  And if you want to do it in some of that leftover rosé you overserved yourself with last night, you can.  No one is going to tell.  It’s all yours.

You can eat it in the company of the quiet morning sun.  Or with the company of Bob Oakes from WBUR  and a discussion on botched Oklahoma executions.  The point is, there are upsides to this sort of lifestyle.

Today, in the interest of brevity, we are going to focus on the freedom to cook rhubarb.  Which, of course, can be done at any hour. By anyone.  Single or coupled. 

This has become my favorite way to eat it.  A tried and true seasonal recipe to come back to year after year.  The recipe is a riff on a version of Canal House Cooking, courtesy of Molly Wizenberg.  It’s fabulous with dry white or rosé wine and makes a fast acquaintance out of a split vanilla bean.  I also like to nestle in some citrusy coriander and white peppercorns. 

And that’s pretty much it.  Bake until it softens and turns the color of a pink Turkish rug.

And then eat it within the lifestyle life has awarded you.  You may share it with your husband, or daughter, or even a man named Bob.  Unfortunately, today, here, I have none left to offer.  No rhubarb. Just a photo of a sunlit gang of softened stalks bathing in sugared rosé.

Too late to share.  And this is fine by me.  To utter the wise words of a man named Phil, “Who said I would?”

Braised Vanilla Rhubarb in Rosé
Inspired by Canal House Cooking (Volume 3) and Orangette

Ingredients:

1 pound of rhubarb stalks
½ cup sugar
½ cup dry rosé wine
pinch of salt
about 10 to 12 coriander seeds
about 8 whole white peppercorns
1 vanilla bean, split

Instructions:

Set the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the rhubarb stalks into pieces roughly 4 to 5-inches in length.  Place in a baking dish or casserole.  In a small bowl, mix the sugar, wine, salt, and whole spices. Scrape the seeds from the inside of the vanilla pod into the bowl; stir to combine.

Pour the mixture over the rhubarb.  Wedge the vanilla bean pod in among the stalks.  Bake for about 30 minutes, gently turning the stalks half way through to ensure even cooking.

Let cool and then chill and serve cold.

Yield is variable, pending your preferences and lifestyle

Notes:
-Don’t have white peppercorns?  I wager the more ubiquitous black ones would work well here too.

-This is really great on top of yogurt or ice cream.  

5.24.2014

Rhubarb Rose Ramos Gin, Minus the Fizz. Lessons in Forgetfulness.


I can generally behave myself on beer, and wine if there isn’t bubbles involved.  Gin, however, lends an air of invincibility.  Invincibility followed by waves of death in the morning.  One particularly infamous New Year’s Eve, after drinking a bottle of champagne, I ushered out the evening with an extra dry gin martini.

Except the bar was out of olives and cocktail glasses, so technically I drank a glass of gin.  What happened next is what one might call a broach, in sailing terms.  I quickly found myself in danger of capsizing, crisscrossing to “Come Fly with Me” and clinging to anything semi-stationary.

Some 2 AM scrambled eggs and cheese helped.  But I’ve certainly had Saturday mornings that were more pleasant. I suppose we shouldn’t cast champagne as innocent in this tale, but that is not the point of the story.

I mention all of this because I drank a gin fizz on Friday night.  A rhubarb Ramos gin fizz.  Except I forgot to add soda water.  So technically it was a rhubarb Ramos gin.  No matter.  I’m prone to a jettison of classic cocktail elements.

I followed it with pasta carbonara.  Partly because I had a leftover yolk to use.  And partly because, in my twenties, I may have formed an unbreakable bond between gin and eggs.  Not to say things got all slant-y Sinatra.  For one, I know the limits of my thirty-something liver.  For two, I was in my bathrobe.

This might be my new favorite way to drink gin (the bathrobe is optional, but encouraged).  I had to share it, immediately.  It's frothy, and tart, and behaves a bit like a well-balanced spring creamsicle.  Which I say with trepidation, because I don’t want to give the impression we’ve sugarcoated a classic. 

It is flower petal pink, for certain.  But also a breath of fresh air in the booze department.  Dare I say something even a gin-hater could love.  Which usually turns gin-lovers off, but I assure this cocktail will win most rational—and nearly all irrational—drinkers over. 

Despite the name, and its appearance, it’s not incredibly difficult to make.  It just doesn’t take well to impulse.  You’ll need cold rhubarb syrup, for one.  And also the cocktail accoutrement of a well-seasoned drinker.  But the result is something a Bogart heroine could love.

Sure, a martini still has its place.  But mostly when I want to hate myself in the morning.

Rhubarb Rose Ramos Gin Fizz
Adapted from Food52

Ingredients:

for the rhubarb syrup

1 pound rhubarb stalks, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 cup sugar
1-inch piece of peeled ginger root
pinch of salt

for the cocktail

2 ounces gin
½ ounce lemon juice
½ ounce lime juice
2 ounces rhubarb syrup
1 ounce half and half
2 drops of rose water
1 egg white

Instructions:

In a medium saucepan, place the rhubarb pieces, sugar, ginger, salt, and 2 cups of water.  Simmer on medium heat, stirring occasionally.  (Reduce the heat if the liquid comes to a vigorous boil.)  Cook about 35 minutes, or until the liquid reduces to slightly more than half and turns deep pink.  Strain out the rhubarb pulp using a mesh strainer; save for another use.  Chill the syrup.

In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients and shake vigorously for 30 seconds.  Add 4 or 5 ice cubes and shake for another 30 seconds.  Strain into a cocktail glass.

Makes 1 cocktail

Notes:
-As is de rigueur with gin fizzes, the recipe originally called for soda water.  Which is optional here.  I’d start with an ounce, if you are adding it.  I should also note I used half and half in place of heavy cream (simply because I always have it for my coffee).  I suspect this helped to cut down on the thickness of the drink a bit, much like the soda water would.  (Add the soda water after you shake and strain the cocktail.)

-Gin fizz recipes often call for orange blossom water.  This one uses rose instead, which lends a subtle, soft perfume that I absolutely loved. 

-The rhubarb pulp would be great on top of yogurt.