Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Two loves, united.

As you all know by now, I love France. This love started as a sort of pining, probably around the time I started taking after-school French lessons in the first grade. In those lessons, we learned, among other things, to count to ten by memorizing stories. For example, for un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, we learned the following story:

"One day, a cat wanted to cross a river, but didn't think it could swim across. A snake named Trois, resting in the branches of a tree on the opposite bank of the river, convinced the cat it could swim across easily. The cat believed Trois, began to swim, and sank. Repeat after me: Under Trois, Cat sank."

Lovely, non?

And yet, despite this gory tale, my love of France and the French language persisted and flourishes to this day, fueled in part by an ever-growing love of French cuisine. It's only natural, then, that the food-based French idioms Clotilde Dusoulier shares on Chocolate & Zucchini each week have me entranced. They combine a few of my favorite things. A few choice phrases:

"Aller à quelqu'un comme un tablier à une vache." Literally, "like an apron suits a cow," it's used to describe something that is bizarre or simply unbecoming on a person.

"Le ver est dans le fruit." Literally, "the worm is in the fruit," it means "the damage is already done," but it's so much more poetic.

Go check out the whole list, and let me know which ones are your favorites!

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rainy travels, part one.

Last weekend, my friends Miles and Hall invited me to join them on a trip to Milford, Pennsylvania, in the Delaware Water Gap area. Nestled in a valley just west of the river, Milford is tiny but bustling, full of weekending New Yorkers and inhabited by a cast of characters worthy of Stars Hollow.

Our home base for the weekend was the Hotel Fauchère, established in 1852 by Louis Fauchère, then master chef at the legendary Delmonico's Restaurant in New York. Miles and Hall own a beautiful hotel of their own (Otahuna Lodge on New Zealand's South Island), and discovered the Fauchère through their Relais and Châteaux connections. The existing hotel was built in 1880, and is a gorgeous example of Italianate architecture, complete with clean, straight lines and flat roof.

Upon arrival, we were shown to our rooms, right next to one another on the third floor of the hotel, overlooking the garden. While the boys had a glassed-in shower in their room, mine featured a deep, claw-footed soaking tub. The rooms were pleasant, and the beds were very comfortable, but the bathrooms were gorgeous, all grey-streaked marble and Pennsylvania bluestone. Overall, the hotel gives off an air of summery ease, with plenty of spots to lounge, read, or play a game of dice (as Miles and I did on the super-rainy Saturday afternoon).

About fifteen minutes after check-in, Miles knocked on my door to let me know a little welcome gift had arrived: cheese, apple walnut bread from the hotel's patisserie, and an ice-cold bottle of Schramsberg. We headed out to the garden to enjoy these delights, enjoying one of the weekend's few hours of sunshine.

Next up, the sights of historic Milford, including a walking tour and a visit to Grey Towers. Oh, and, you know: food.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Cinnamon buns, two ways.

A couple of weekend ago, I set myself a challenge: make a whole hell of a lot of cinnamon buns.

Cinnamon buns are one of my favorite things of all time, but I'd never, ever made them at home before. I had no idea where to start (an internet search for recipes yielded, as you can imagine, an overwhelming number of options), and so I consulted my new go-to: my tweeps.

They came through with two very different recipes: one a quick-rising, buttermilk-based, biscuity version, and one a more traditional yeasted bun, with nuts and a caramel topping. Both are delicious, but different enough to satisfy two very different kinds of cravings. (Click the link for the buttermilk recipe; see below for the for yeast-risen recipe.)

The buttermilk biscuit version is chewy, slightly salty, and tangy from the buttermilk and cream cheese topping. The yeasted version is lighter in texture and has a deep, caramel flavor, made even richer by the addition of nuts to the filling. It also makes about three times as many rolls, so be prepared to either freeze your leftovers (they keep well for a few weeks) or invite over an army of friends to eat them while they're hot.

No matter which you choose (or if you make both), make sure to roll the filling tightly into the dough, something key to an evenly-baked, moist bun. And, of course, you must enjoy at least one bun with a cup of coffee - there really is nothing better than that.

Katie's Cinnamon Nut Buns

Makes approximately 24 buns

For the rolls:
1/4 cup warm water (about 110-115 degrees)

2 packets (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm whole milk (110-115 degrees)

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1/4 cup sugar

2 1/4 tsp. salt

3 large eggs

6 cups all-purpose flour (plus more for work surface)

For the filling:
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
2/3 cup pecans

1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

A pinch of salt
1/2 cup butter, at room temperature

For the glaze:

1 cup packed dark brown sugar

6 tbsp. unsalted butter

2 tbsp. water

Sprinkle yeast on water in small bowl, let stand until foamy (5-10 min.).

Butter two 13x9 (or three 9x9) baking pans; set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together milk, butter, salt, sugar, and eggs. Add yeast mixture.
Using a wooden spoon, stir in 6 cups flour, until you have a soft, shaggy dough (if needed add more flour).

Turn dough out onto a floured work surface; knead until smooth (5 to 10 min.) Butter the inside of a large bowl; place dough in bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm spot until dough has doubled in size, at least one hour.

Place all of the filling ingredients - except for the butter - in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Pulse until coarsely ground; set nut mixture aside.

Divide the risen dough in half (keep the other half covered). On a flour-dusted surface, roll dough out into a rectangle about 16 inches by 10 inches. Spread 4 tablespoons of the butter over dough, leaving about 1/2-inch border all around.

Sprinkle half the nut mixture over butter. Leave a border around the filling so it doesn't spill over. 
 Roll the dough tightly, crosswise, like a jelly roll. Once you've finished rolling, use a sharp knife to cut the log crosswise into 12 equal pieces.

Place buns, cut side down, in the prepared pans. Cover pans loosely with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm spot until doubled in size (about an hour).

Place the oven racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat to 375°F. Bake buns until golden brown (25 to 30 minutes), rotating pans back-to-front and top-to-bottom halfway through.

Remove pans from the oven and let cool in pans, on racks, for fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the glaze:

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, mix the brown sugar, butter and water, stirring gently until the mixture comes to a simmer. Cook one minute more, then drizzle the glaze over the cooled buns. Let stand 10 more minutes before serving.

Buns keep well, cooled completely and then frozen in plastic bags, for up to four weeks. Thaw overnight and warm gently in the oven before serving.

Many, many thanks to @lostplum and @KathrynYu for the awesome recipes!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Change of season.

The asparagus are few and far between, strawberries are everywhere, and the tomatoes are starting to pop up at more and more stands...this can only mean one thing: summer is here, however cold and rainy it may be. I'm looking forward to a couple months of tomato, basil & corn salads, roast squash, beets galore, and stone fruits.

What are you most excited about this summer - food-related or no?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gallivanting around Pike County.

Hello there, dear readers! This is one of those posts where I'm the one looking to you for advice and wisdom.

I'm headed to Milford, Pennsylvania tomorrow for a long weekend with some very good friends (Miles and Hall, who decamped to New Zealand a couple of years ago when they bought Otahuna Lodge, the most amazing lodge you'll ever see), and am wondering what you wise folk recommend we do.

Obviously, a visit to the fluviarchy is in order, as is a stop at the patisserie in our hotel. But what else, what else? Do tell!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I'm a nerd, and a sucker for detail.

My latest obsession, as many of you may already know, is Battlestar Galactica. I only got "real" cable (as opposed to randomly-there-when-you-plug-into-the-wall-NYC cable) last year, so I wasn't able to watch the SciFi Channel's re-imagining of the seventies miniseries from the beginning. Since people have been raving about it to me for years, I decided the right and proper thing to do would be to wait till I had time (read: till my shows were off the air for the summer) and watch the entire series on DVD.

Well, I just finished season 2, and I'm in love.

For those who don't know, Battlestar Galactica (BSG, to those of us nerdy enough to tweet about it on a regular basis) chronicles the struggles of a group of 50,000 human survivors of a massive holocaust of their 12 colonies. They've been wiped out by the Cylons, a race of machines originally created by humans to help out around the house (and the factories and airports, one imagines). This group of 50,000 are a society in unexpected exile; things are decidedly low-tech, as far as space travel with gravity goes.

One nifty manifestation of the series' analog sensibility is the ubiquity of the mason jar as drinking cup and all-around handy vessel. I noticed the mason jars about halfway through season one, and it was one of the tiny little touches sprinkled throughout that demonstrate the show's incredible attention to detail.

After all, mason jars were created for canning; it represents our terrestrial connections, our link to the rhythm of the seasons and the need to preserve them throughout the year. They are decidedly low-tech and old-fashioned, and yet the space-faring vessels depicted in BSG all seem to have them in spades. (The image above is of an actual prop from the show.)

Highly practical, as they're darn useful, and hold a generous helping of ambrosia.

Photo of the mason jar courtesy of www.aarondouglasfans.com.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Speedy shortcake.

The other night, on my way home from work, I got a hankering for something sweet. I try not to eat "real" dessert very often, but sometimes the voice inside will not be denied. I had some gorgeous strawberries just sitting at home, on the brink of going bad, so I decided the time was right for some strawberry shortcake.

However, it was already 7:30, I wasn't home yet, and I wasn't much in the mood for cooking dinner AND baking dessert. So, I crossed my fingers and stopped off at Two Little Red Hens on my way home. Sure enough, they had a few buttermilk biscuits left. I snagged one and ran home with my treasure.

After I'd eaten dinner, I sliced a few berries, sprinkled them with sugar, and set them aside to macerate a bit while I whipped a little cream (spiked with a touch of vanilla extract). I sliced open the biscuit, saved half for breakfast the next morning, and put together my half-homemade, half-storebought delight. Juicy, sweet berries spooned over buttery, flaky biscuit, with a generous portion of whipped cream on top.

Who says you have to do everything from scratch, every time? Not I.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Me, pickled, with pickles.

Wondering what to do with those ramps you pickled a few weeks ago? How about a Gibson?

A Gibson is a classic Martini, but with cocktail onions in place of the traditional olives. Since I'm one of those freak shows who doesn't really like olives (I'll drink a Martini, but I'll leave the olives behind in the glass - though offering them up is a good way to make friends.), Gibsons are, for me, the perfect solution.

Loyal readers of this here blog know about my aversion to dry and/or vodka Martinis; that said, I think everyone should drink that which he or she truly enjoys - so, if you must, feel free to substitute vodka for the gin in this recipe. But please don't leave out the vermouth - try a real Gibson at least once. I promise you'll love it.

Pretty please?

Gibson with Pickled Ramps
Serves one, or multiply to serve as many as you like.

4 parts gin (I like Plymouth these days.)
1 part dry vermouth
2 pickled ramps per cocktail (In the absence of ramps, cocktail onions work, too!)

Combine ingredients in a pitcher (or just a large glass, if only making one or two cocktails) filled with ice. Stir slowly and gently until the glass fogs, then strain the cocktails into chilled cocktail glasses. Garnish with onions and serve.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Late spring.

A photo tour of the Union Square Greenmarket over the last few weekends...enjoy!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

For more than pies and compote.

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to branch out beyond dessert when it came to rhubarb. I'd been thinking about rhubarb cocktails for a while, and decided to make my dream a reality.

A bit of casual Googling turned up this recipe for rhubarb simple syrup from The Greene Grape, a blog from the owners of a Fort Greene-based wine store. All it called for was boiling up some water, sugar and chopped rhubarb, reducing the mixture to a simmer, and letting things hang out for a bit.

I got to work, adding the rhuarb, water and sugar (I used turbinado sugar for my first batch) to the pot, and the result was a cup of goreous, dark-pink syrup. (I thought the turbinado sugar would add a nice molasses tone to the flavor, and it did. However, the heavier turbinado sugar fell out of syrup form pretty quickly once I refigerated it, so I'd recommend sticking with plain white sugar. For a second batch, I used refined, white sugar, and the syrup came out the promised bright pink.)

So far, I've been using the syrup in a simple cooler: syrup, gin, seltzer, and a squeeze of lime. Garnished with a strawberry (which gets nice and boozy while it waits for you at the bottom of the glass), it's pretty much the girliest-looking-but-not-tasting drink I've seen in a long while.

Queenie's Rhubarb Cooler
Multiplies to serve as many as you like

1 part rhubarb simple syrup
5 parts gin
2 parts seltzer
Squeeze of lime
1 hulled strawberry, for garnish

Place a few ice cubes in a glass (or lots of ice cubes in a pitcher, if you're making multiple cocktails). Add the rhubarb simple syrup and gin. Stir to combine. Add the seltzer and lime juice and stir again, more gently, until the mixture is just combined. Garnish with a strawberry (one to each glass) and enjoy!

Monday, June 1, 2009

My mom.

I was listening to NPR's weekly food podcast today (subscribe here to enjoy the same geeky excitement), and this week's edition featured a conversation with Nigella Lawson, who was explaining the different ways she's involved her children in her cooking over the years.

Her descriptions of batter-stirring and bean-trimming sent me off into a reverie, thinking about the different ways my mom introduced me to the glories of the kitchen. Sometimes people ask me where my love of cooking came from - this seems, to me, to be such an odd question, but probably only because the answer seems so obvious to me.

I grew up in a house where the only food on hand for snacking was fruit, vegetables, or the kind you made yourself. As a result, I learned to bake chocolate chip cookies and how to arrange a cheese plate (complete with grapes, fancy crackers, and sliced saucisson) before I turned 10.

We were never forced to eat something we disliked (when the family had swordfish - which I still hate with a fiery, burning passion - Mom always grilled me some chicken), but we had to try everything once. As a result, I was the only first-grader who listed her favorite foods as strawberries and cucumbers.

On Parents' Night, our parents had to find our desks based on this information. While the other grown-ups wandered around, comparing endless worksheets that read "pizza" or "spaghetti," my parents were perched at my seat, patiently waiting for those with less cuinarily adventurous progeny to find the right desks.

My mom is an incredible woman - a successful, single (Well, not single anymore!) businesswoman who raised two (fantastic, funny, smart, kind, immodest) children, and she passed her love of good food, good wine and good cocktails down to me. In our house, dinner parties were the norm, and cocktail parties lasted long into the night. And, of course, we had to bake all our own sweets.

And so, in honor of my mother, I'm going to share one of her favorite recipes with you. These fudge brownies are incredibly simple to make, but have never failed to make people swoon on cue. I've tweaked the original recipe ever-so-slightly with the addition of a little espresso powder to bring out the flavor of the chocolate - but they remain, at heart, my mother's favorite brownies.

I hope you love them as much as we do.

Jane's Favorite Brownies
Based on a recipe from The Everyday Gourmet

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 cup butter
4 eggs
2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1 tbs. instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
6 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
2 tsp. vanilla extract

the oven to 350°F. Grease a 13x9 baking pan and set aside.

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a double-boiler set over very low heat. Allow to cool slightly.

Beat the eggs and sugar together until pale yellow. Add the cooled chocolate mixture and beat until well-combined. Mix in the flour, espresso powder, baking powder and salt and stir until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and vanilla.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and back 25-30 minutes, until just set in the center. Allow to cool on a rack before cutting.

Makes 16-20 brownies.

Sunday morning sweets.

Some days I crave a savory breakfast, complete with eggs, sausage, and Tabasco - but, this Sunday, it was all sweet, all the time.
Toasted focaccia (left over from a gorgeous, pillowy loaf my sister-in-law, Miriam, brought to our book club meeting on Thursday) spread with a little Nutella, strawberries from the Greenmarket, and a cup of steaming coffee, black, with turbinado sugar.

Took about five minutes to make, but it was one of the best meals I've had in a while. There's something magical about the homey, vital taste of toasted bread that surpasses even the fanciest dishes, isn't there?
Blog Widget by LinkWithin