Saturday, March 1, 2014

Crunchy Lemon Syrup Cake

This cake has been a reliable crowd-pleaser for the last twenty years of my life. At home, I often requested it for birthdays or special occasions until I took it upon myself to start baking it when so desired. The recipe comes from the Crabtree & Evelyn Cookbook, which my mother acquired back when it was first published in 1989, and is the only recipe from the volume I've ever sampled. 
If you're in the need of a light, simple cake to celebrate or dream of summer days, I recommend this heartily. The crunchy glaze of lemon juice and sugar is applied when the cake comes out of the oven. Add a dollop of whipped cream (made with 1 tsp of lemon zest) and a handful of fresh raspberries, and your guests will be asking for seconds (and thirds).

Crunchy Lemon Syrup Cake

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
Pinch salt
4 Tbs unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg (or 2 small eggs)
1/3 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1 Tbs freshly grated lemon zest

Lemon crunch topping:
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a large mixing bowl, cream together butter and sugar with an electric mixer or by hand until light and fluffy. Add egg and beat at high speed for 1 minute or vigorously by hand. Alternately add buttermilk and flour mixture in three additions, with mixer at low speed or stirring by hand. Stir in lemon zest. Turn batter into a buttered and floured 8-inch springform, smoothing the top of batter with a spatula. Bake in the center of oven for 30-35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into center of cake comes out clean. Before cake is finished baking, in a small bowl combine sugar and lemon juice until it forms coarse crumbs. Spoon this crunchy topping evenly over cake as it comes out of the oven. Set cake, in its pan, on a wire rack to cool. 6-8 servings. 

Sunday, September 9, 2012

One Month in Tuscany (and Beyond)

Since arriving in the blazing heat of Italy just over a month ago, great fortune has allowed me to delve into the beautiful produce from across Tuscany. After just a few days of getting over jetlag and realizing that the daily 105ºF oven exposure would not get any easier, I wandered west over the hills to visit friends in the countryside near the source of the Arno river, not too far from the medieval hilltown of Poppi. There I sampled incredible Vera Claudia plums (seen below), porchetta from a little butcher in the center of Arezzo, and a little too much of the most perfect burrata I have ever tasted. A wild week traversing the Highlands and inner Hebrides of Scotland with a friend served as kind relief from the stifling heat of August in Italy. But back I came.

Once back in Florence, getting my bearings in my new neighborhood in between Santa Croce and Sant'Ambrogio, my curiosity has drawn me regularly to sample each of the many fruit and vegetable vendors of Mercato Sant'Ambrogio, who vary considerably in charm and quality of individual fruits/vegetables. With most shops in Florence outside the touristy center closed for the August holidays, my options were limited (not always a bad thing). From these early morning scavenging trips, I have been able to assemble soups, fruit salads, sauces, and a variety of contorni, all requiring as little work as possible from me, save a little chopping and combining, so as to highlight the ripe sweetness of these summer treasures. Then, there were pork chops. Now I am still eager to curious to make this salad and this tomato and squash gratin, before the cooler weather (i.e., 75ºF) arrives.

Here are two vegetarian recipes I have discovered since calling Florence my new home. Neither are really Tuscan at all, but the ingredients for them are aplenty here. Buon appetito!

[from Matthew Fort's Sweet Honey, Bitter Lemons]
serves 8

10 medium eggplants (aubergines)
250 ml (1 cup) olive oil
1 celery stalk
500g (about 2 cups) green olives, pitted
1kg (2.25 lbs) onions, sliced very thinly
250ml (1 cup) red wine vinegar
5 Tbs caster sugar
1l (4 cups) sugo (tomato sauce)
200g strattu (very concentrated tomato purée)
50g capers

Wash the eggplants and, without peeling, cut them into small cubes. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan. Fry the eggplant cubes until lightly browned. Drain on paper towel. Slice the celery stalk and blanch the celery along with the olives quickly in boiling water, then dunk both into an ice bath to stop cooking. Heat more oil in the frying pan. Fry the onions until soft, then add the vinegar and sugar, cooking until a sweet-sour balance is reached. In a saucepan heat the sugo and the strattu. Add the sweet-sour onions and the olives, celery, capers, and eggplant. Remove from the heat and mix well. Cool for at least 24 hours.

Carrots with Taleggio Cheese
[from Vegetables from an Italian Garden: Season-by-Season Recipes]
serves 4

2 Tbs olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1.75 lbs (800g) carrots, cut into 1/2-in slices
butter, for greasing
6 oz. (180g) Taleggio cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup (240g) grated Parmesan cheese
scant 1/2 cup (118ml) milk
1 Tbs chopped parsley
salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the shallot and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes, until softened and translucent. Stir in the carrots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and cook for another 5 minutes, then remove from the heat. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Grease an ovenproof dish with butter. Mash the Taleggio in a bowl until creamy, then beat in the eggs, Parmesan, and milk. Season with salt and pepper. Put the carrots into the prepared dish, spreading them out evenly. Cover with the taleggio cream and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the chopped parsley, and serve.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Working with New Mexico Chiles

The original version of this recipe calls for cubed boneless chuck roast, but I've swapped in boneless pork shoulder. For a slightly more complex take on this red chile stew, try a similar recipe from Saveur that calls for dried New Mexico chiles and chile powder as well as honey, white wine vinegar, cumin, and cloves. If you'd like to buy this New Mexico chile powder, try your local spice store [like Christina's in Inman Square] or online.

Pueblo Red Chile Stew [serves 6-8]
adapted from Foods from the Southwest Indian Nations

2 Tbs olive oil
1 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut into chunks
1 onion, diced
1/4 cup New Mexico or Anaheim red chile powder
8 cups water
8 medium russet potatoes, peeled, if desired, and cubed
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp dried oregano

Add oil to a skillet and brown the pork for 2 minutes on each side over medium-high heat; then decrease the heat to medium and add the onion and red chile powder, stirring constantly. Cook for 3 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a sauce pot, bring 6 cups of the water to a boil with the meat and dried red chile mixture. Decrease the heat and simmer, until the meat is tender, 1.5-2 hours. Add the potatoes, salt, oregano, and the remaining 2 cups of water and continue to simmer for another 15 minutes, until the potatoes are soft. Add water, if too thick. Simmer longer to thicken.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bourbon and Cheese for dessert?

Many people cannot stand cheesecake. And yet many people swear by it. Last night I was offered a bourbon-caramel cheesecake at a birthday gathering, a feast that also included cayenne dry-rub smoked ribs, hush puppies and Sriracha-infused mac & cheese. I thought I might die of cardiac arrest, but the first bite prepared me for any potential medical emergency that might ensue from said meal: a state of serene bliss. I asked my friend for the recipe and offer it here with adaptations and thoughts on perfecting the recipe. Let me know what you think.

Bourbon Caramel Cheesecake

1.5 cups graham-cracker crumbs [or perhaps a mixture of crushed pretzels, chocolate cookies, and ground almonds]
3 Tbs brown sugar
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3 Tbs unsalted butter, melted

3 packages (8 oz each) cream cheese, room temperature
1.25 cups sugar
6 eggs, separated
1 pint sour cream
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tsp vanilla
Zest of 1 lemon
1/3 cup bourbon, plus more for brushing

Bourbon-Caramel Topping
1 cup refined white sugar
6 Tbs salted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1-2 Tbs bourbon
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

To make crust: Grease 9x3-in springform pan with butter; place pan in center of a 12-in square of aluminum foil and press foil up around side of pan. Combine graham-cracker crumbs (or other mixture), sugar, cinnamon and melted butter in a small bowl until blended well. Press 3/4 cup of crumb mixture into bottom and side of pan. Chill prepared pan while preparing the filling.

To make filling: Beat cream cheese in a large bowl until soft with electric mixer. Beat in sugar gradually until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks, one a time, until blended well. Stir in sour cream, flour, vanilla, lemon rind and bourbon until smooth. In separate bowl, beat egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Fold whites into the cheese mixture until blended well. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake at 350ºF for 75 minutes, or until top is golden; turn off oven heat and allow cake to cool in oven for 1 hour. Remove cake from oven and allow to cool on a wire rack at room temperature. Chill overnight before serving. The next day, before adding the topping, prick the top of cake with a toothpick and brush with an ounce or two of bourbon.

To make caramel topping: Melt the sugar over medium heat in a medium saucepan, then add butter, stirring vigorously. Remove from heat and carefully add cream, stirring until incorporated. It will bubble up and is extremely hot. Stir in bourbon and vanilla. Mixture will thicken as it cools.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Cocktails in Boston

Happy 2012! This here is my updated list of Boston-area cocktail establishments, organized by neighborhood. Consider it my New Year's gift to you all. Rather than run the course of ranking them, I'll let you decide. However, the asterisks do point to some especially recommended places. Question marks are places for which the jury is still out. Please share the list with friends and share your ideas (additions, deletions, rankings, etc) with me. Happy New Year! and- Cheers!

Cambridge: Harvard Square

West Side Lounge - 1680 Mass Ave (btw Harvard & Porter Sq)

Rafiki Bistro – 1682 Mass Ave (btw Harvard & Porter Sq)

*Russell House Tavern - 14 JFK St (Harvard Sq)

Casa Blanca - 40 Brattle St (Harvard Sq)

Noir @ Charles Hotel - One Bennett St (Harvard Sq)

Rialto @ Charles Hotel - One Bennett St (Harvard Sq)

The Red House - 98 Winthrop St (Harvard Sq)

*Upstairs on the Square – 91 Winthrop St (Harvard Sq)

Cambridge: Central Square

Rendezvous - 502 Mass Ave (Central Sq)

*Green Street Grill - 280 Green St (Central Sq)

Lord Hobo - 92 Hampshire St (north of Central Sq)

Brick & Mortar – 569 Mass Ave (formerly Enormous Room; just opened) ??

Craigie on Main – 853 Main St (between Central and Kendall)

Cuchi Cuchi – 795 Main Street (between Central and Kendall)

Cambridge: Kendall Square

*Blue Room - One Kendall Square (Kendall Sq)

Think Tank – 1a Kendall Square ??

Hungry Mother - 233 Cardinal Medeiros Ave (Kendall Sq)

Abigail’s – 291 3rd Street (Kendall Sq)

Catalyst – 300 Technology Square (between Central and Kendall)

Area Four – 500 Technology Square (between Central and Kendall)

Inman Square / Union Square / East Cambridge / Somerville

*Trina’s Starlite Lounge - 3 Beacon St, Somerville (near Inman Sq)

*Backbar – Union Square, 9 Sanborn Court (part of Journeyman)

*Bergamot - 118 Beacon St (corner of Kirkland/Washington & Beacon)

*Highland Kitchen - 150 Highland Ave (Somerville)

Davis Square

Foundry on Elm - 255 Elm St (Davis Sq)

*Saloon – 255 Elm Street, Davis Square [underneath Foundry]

Five Horses Tavern – 400 Highland Ave, Davis Sq

South End

*The Gallows - 1395 Washington St

Gaslight Brasserie - 560 Harrison Ave

*Coppa - 253 Shawmut Ave

Franklin Café - 278 Shawmut Ave

*Union Bar and Grill - 1357 Washington St

Estragon Tapas - 700 Harrison Ave

Post 390 – 406 Stuart St., Boston ??

28 Degrees – 1 Appleton St ??

Toro – 1704 Washington St

*South End Buttery – 314 Shawmut Avenue

Beacon Hill

Beacon Hill Bistro – 25 Charles St

Scampo – Liberty Hotel

*No 9 Park – 9 Park Street

Downtown Boston

*Woodward @ Ames Hotel - 1 Court St (near Gov Center)

*Scholars - 25 School St (near Gov Center)

Stoddards – 48 Temple Place (near Downtown Crossing)

Bristol Lounge @ Four Seasons Hotel - 200 Boylston St (Boston Common)

*Marliave - 10 Bosworth St (near Gov Center) 

North End

*Neptune Oyster – 63 Salem St

Aragosta Bistro – Fairmont Battery Wharf Hotel – 3 Battery Wharf

Kenmore/Back Bay/Fenway

*Eastern Standard - 528 Commonwealth Ave (Kenmore Sq)

*Island Creek Oyster Bar - 500 Commonwealth Ave (Kenmore Sq)

Citizen Public House  and Oyster Bar - 1310 Boylston (near Fenway)

Towne Stove and Spirits – 900 Boylston Street

Sorellina – 1 Huntington Ave, Copley Square

The Brahmin – 33 Stanhope St [near HardRock Café / Copley] ??

Cafeteria Boston – 279a Newbury Street ??

*The Hawthorne – 500a Comm Ave

Sweet Cheeks – 1381 Boylston St [near Fenway] ??

South Boston

*Drink - 348 Congress St (Fort Point)

Franklin Southie - 152 Dorchester Ave (Southie, near Broadway redline T stop)

*Local 149 – 149 P Street (Southie)


Matt Murphy's Pub - 14 Harvard St (Brookline Village)

Washington Square Tavern – 714 Washington St

*Orinoco – 22 Harvard St (Brookline Village)

Beacon Tavern – 1032 Beacon Street (not far from Fenway)


*Deep Ellum - 477 Cambridge St (Allston/Brighton) 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Salt-Cured Pork Jowls?

If you've never tasted guanciale or attempted to cook with it, you're missing out. Drop what you're doing and look for some. Now. Yes, yes, we're talking about pig cheeks (er, jowls). Jowl is a brilliant-sounding word that probably has you imagining Karl Rove, Mark Shields, or Jabba the Hutt, but if those jiggling double-chins haven't revolted you toward another page yet, let the Italians show you what one can do with pig jowls, or guanciale [from the Italian, guancia, for cheeks].

Italians (especially the Umbrians) are fond of curing pig jowls in salt and pepper for several weeks. It's often compared to pancetta, which is the Italian take on cured pork belly. [By the way, if you ever dream of making your own pancetta and have the patience to wait three to four weeks before sampling, you could turn here (gulp).] But pork cheeks are not pork belly, either anatomically or gastronomically. The flavors and textures are different. And since guanciale, like pancetta, is not smoked, it is much more delicate in flavor than most bacons one encounters. For those in the Boston area, there are a few places in Cambridge that offer it, including Formaggio Kitchen, Central Bottle Wine + Provisions, and Savenor's. Also, Russo's in Watertown. If you're interested in curing your own [pig] cheeks, one can turn to Mario Batali or Josh Friedland for instructions and accompanying recipes.

Now, what to do with these prized cheeks? Homemade bucatini all'Amatriciana is a revelatory treat. Not only will you enjoy sampling guanciale, but you can see how a tomato- and onion-based pasta sauce can become infused with this deep porcine flavor. I share here Bon Appetit's recipe from last May, ready in about 45 minutes. It's really worth the extra effort to find guanciale. One word, out loud: jowls!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Thai yellow curry in under 10 minutes

I hosted my brother and his wife for a last-minute dinner this evening and wanted to make something very simple and quick. I turned to Mark Bittman and Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Simple to Spectacular. There I found their recipe for curried sauteed chicken chunks with coconut milk, fresh lemongrass, chopped cilantro, and cashews. Together with microwaveable Trader Joe's jasmine rice, this dish hit the spot for me and for them. I share it here for your replication. As the Thai might say: ขอให้เจริญอาหาร!
 BIttman/Vongerichten Thai Yellow-Curry Chicken

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2- to 1-in dice
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp minced fresh chile or red pepper flakes
1 Tbs minced lemongrass
3 Tbs butter or neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed
1 cup canned unsweetened or fresh coconut milk
2 Tbs nam pla [Thai fish sauce]
1 cup salted peanuts or cashews
1/2 cup roughly chopped cilantro

1. Toss the chicken with the curry powder, salt to taste, chile, and lemongrass.

2. Place the butter in a medium skillet, preferably nonstick, and turn
the heat to medium-high. When it melts, add the chicken. Cook the
chicken, stirring occasionally, until it loses its raw color. Add the
coconut milk and turn the heat to medium.

3. Cook for another 2-3 minutes until cooked through, then stir in the
nam pla and nuts and cook for another 30 seconds. Garnish with the
cilantro and serve.

Serves 4. With rice.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Roasted Duck with Cherries

While wandering through Whole Foods the other day, I came upon a pitting device next to a majestic heap of fresh cherries. I thought to myself about what kind of dish would need so many pitted cherries that one would get fed up pitting them by hand, not so unlike dreaming of a garlic peeler while making 40-clove chicken. Sure enough, this simple recipe from Alice Waters came to mind. Half a pound of cherries may not seem like much, but the $8 investment will have you returning to this dish regularly, if for some odd reason the succulent roasted duck doesn't. To make this, you'll need one 3-4 lb duck, ½ lb cherries, some Madeira wine and some chicken or duck stock.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Too Darn Hot

The heat index is well over 100ºF today and beyond my A/C-chilled windows it looks unbearably balmy. I offer today a few fruit drink recipes to keep you hydrated and distracted from the heat wave. At the end, there's even a Tuscan summer salad that doesn't require any cooking but can definitely serve as a main dish. Then again who has any appetite in this heat? Perhaps the best solution is to eat popsicles and ice cream...

Ginger Limeade

¾ cup sugar
¼ boiling water
1.5 tsp grated peeled fresh ginger
1.5 tsp grated lime rind
¾ cup fresh lime juice (about 4 limes)
2.5 cups cold water
4 lime slices (optional)

Combine first 4 ingredients in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk until sugar dissolves. Strain mixture through a sieve into a pitcher. Add juice and 2.5 cups cold water. Chill completely. Serve with lime slices, if desired. Makes about 3 pints.

Or if you're heading to the store today to pick up a few things or just to read the newspaper in the freezer section, I'll recommend hunting down the ingredients for these two interesting quenchers: Heidi Swanson's specialty Blackberry Limeade, which calls for fresh blackberries, kaffir lime leaves, and cardamom pod; and also her Lime, Grapefruit, and Ginger Juice, which is quite strong but easily cut with soda water and ice.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Buckets of strawberries

Strawberries are everywhere. From festivals to markets to fruit salads to cobblers, we cannot stop finding them or eating them. To celebrate this deluge of fresh fruit, here are a few recent finds and favorites. Saveur recently offered a bright strawberry cake from Bertha's Kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina, that uses a strawberry cream cheese frosting, while Poires au Chocolat gives a terrific strawberry cream layered sponge cake that's now on my baking agenda. If you have access to Thomas Keller's Bouchon cookbook, I recommend his strawberry tart with its sweet crust, pastry cream, and fresh berries. And for a cocktail that uses fresh strawberries, try Dale DeGroff's Strawberry Nirvana, which makes use of a slightly fussy (but worth it) *triple* syrup (2 parts agave syrup, 2 parts simple syrup, ½ part honey syrup). 

However, the go-to recipe for piles of fresh strawberries in the summer is and should always be strawberry shortcake. Orangette recently posted a recipe with details on making the biscuits, and here I offer the recipe from Alice Waters's The Art of Simple Food for those with access to or recipes for the perfect sweet biscuit. Happy summer!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When it's all about the broth

For five summers now, I've gone clamming with friends in Rhode Island's quahog-rich waters. Rake in hand and potato-sack tied to our waists, we've waded into waist-high water (or neck-high, depending on the tides and one's competitive streak) of Point Judith Pond for a few hours of digging up quahogs and cherrystones in the bright summer sun. Mind you, wearing shoes and employing a rake can be more cumbersome than efficient. Giving up on the shoes and rake often leads to a routine of barefoot digging (usually blindly in the murky waters) and then gasping and diving, all of which is an adventure in and of itself since this process lends well to churning up all walks of sea life. In the end, it's always good fun and involves a fair amount of laughing at oneself and one's friends (especially when the horseshoe crabs get curious). On the boat ride back to shore, cracking open that first freshly caught cherrystone leaves one unable to do anything but raise a toast to summer.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

"Easy yet delicious" green beans

A friend wrote to me asking for "something easy yet delicious and snack-like one can do with green beans." Here's a quick and fresh recipe from Dean & Deluca: The Food and Wine Cookbook.

Haricots Verts with Garlic

1.5 lb small green beans, trimmed
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs unsalted butter
2 garlic cloves, crushed
a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice (optional)
coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large saucepan of water to a boil. Add the beans and cook for 3-4 minutes from the time the water returns to a boil. Drain and refresh under cold running water. Set aside. Heat the oil and butter in a skillet. Add the garlic, beans, and salt and cook over high heat for 1 minute, stirring. Remove from the heat, then stir in the chopped parsley and lemon juice, if using. Sprinkle with pepper and serve.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Almonds: Blanched, Ground, and Baked

My trip to Spain begins in less than two weeks and while I'm sadly not exploring Galicia, I wanted to share a recipe from Claudia Roden's The Food of Spain: Tarta di Santiago-Galicia, a terrifically simple tart of eggs, almonds, sugar, and citrus zest. For a somewhat similar tart that has a pastry shortcrust base, try Maxine Clark's Torta di limone e mandorle, which I share here. When making the tart filling and you're grinding your own blanched almonds, Clark recommends grinding the almonds with half of the sugar, then beating the eggs with the remaining sugar, and finally stirring the two mixtures together. This prevents the almonds from becoming too oily. Whipped cream and fresh berries would accompany either tart well.