Monday, April 26, 2010

Sunday Supper

I recently wrote a post on Jezebel about all the heartbreakingly beautiful lifestyle blogs and how demoralizing they can be. Someone made a comment, though, that really made me think: "featuring just those parts of my life that are really nice inspires me," she wrote. And I think there's a lot to that. It's something to aspire to, something to work towards, and in the spirit of "whistle a happy tune," taking special care with one thing - faking a beautiful life - can make it more true.

Anyway, I'm trying to take more pictures and keep more of a record - especially nice when I'm on my own, in the Judith Jonesy spirit of treating oneself. Last night's meal was nothing fancy, but here goes: salad, and then halibut baked with minced shallots, melted butter and a little smoked paprika. Fingerlings and marinated asparagus on the side.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Rainy-Day Women

Or, as the case may be, banana bread!

I was inspired to bake by three things: the bananas I had in the freezer; the delicious descriptions in Molly Wizenberg's A Homemade Life; and the rainy NY weather.

I used Wizenberg's basic recipe for Banana Bread with Chocolate and Crystallized Ginger- a bit cakier than I like, but very tasty - but omitted the ginger and added coconut. I used the leftover chocolate from yesterday's cake, cutting the bar into irregular hunks and shards. In fact, I don't love chocolate - or coconut! - but felt like something a little "dessert-y." I also added a shower of raw sugar for a crackly top, and on a whim baked it in three little pans instead of one.

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Coconut
Makes 1 loaf or 1 8-inch round cake or 3 mini loaves

6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup coconut
2 large eggs
3 large ripe bananas, mashed
1/4 cup well-stirred whole-milk plain yogurt (not low or nonfat*)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
A handful of raw sugar (optional)

1. Set a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat to 350F. Grease a 9- by 5-inch loaf pan or an 8-inch round cake pan with cooking spray or butter.

2. Melt the butter on the stove or in a microwave and set aside to cool slightly.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate chips and coconut and whisk well to combine. Set aside.

4. In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Add the mashed banana, yogurt, melted butter, and vanilla and stir to mix well. Pour the banana mixture into the dry ingredients, and stir gently with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides as needed, until just combined. Do not overmix. The batter with be thick and somewhat lumpy, just make sure all the flour has been incorporated. Scrape the batter into the loaf pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle with sugar, if you like.

5. Bake into the loaf is a deep shade of golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 mins to an hour. If the loaf seems to be browning too quickly, tent with foil. (The minis took roughly 40 minutes, give or take.)

6. Cool the loaf in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then tip out onto the rack, and let it cool completely before slicing**. The loaf freezes well wrapped in plastic wrap and again in foil to protect from freezer burn.

*I used low-fat, most uncharacteristically. It was fine.
** I didn't do this.

Since these pix were taken, I've delivered a still-warm loaf to the downstairs neighbors/landlords. They, in turn, returned the plate on which I brought them meringues last week.

Happy All the Time

I am kicking myself for not taking any pictures at last night's "all-Laurie-Colwin-recipes (plus salt!) dinner party." This was E.'s inspired idea (the dinner, not the failure to take pictures) and as such, took place at her lovely second-floor apartment, with its old, wide floorboards and warm light. The event, which was conceived as a partial-potluck (but with more coherence) sent the emails flying.

'I will happily bring dessert...the "nantucket cranberry pie" is actually delish, and I've always wanted to try "Elizabeth David's Chocolate Cake!"' I wrote.

L. replied that he would "be happy to bring biscuits or maybe the bread. (Also, head's up to Sadie, the "Happy Winter Fudge Cake" that appears in the chocolate cake chapter is not that great.)"

Sadie: Have always been curious about that fudge cake...

Requests: please don't make Inez Fontenez' succotash, a batch of which languished in my fridge for a month. Or a "palate-teaser of spicy brussels sprouts." I always secretly pity her guests, eating that endless procession of ever-odder baked chickens and broccoli rabe concoctions...

I can tell you I've had good luck with the "mustard chicken" (also in NY Cookbook), and, oddly, the tomato pie - which everyone else finds bizarre.

It occurs to me maybe I should make something really odd, like Suffolk Pond Pudding!

E: Is that the one where a lemon is coated in suet?

L: Or that Steamed Chocolate Pudding, which I have the hardest time picturing! And ditto on her poor dinner guests. It seems so weird that she should fixate on baked chicken.

E: It also seems like she literally did not put salt in ANYTHING after a certain point which also seems inhumane.

Sans the marinated brussels sprouts, the New Years meal in More Home Cooking seems about right (broiled salmon with italicized salsa, etc. And I have been wanting to try that jalapeno creamed spinach though I will use fresh, not frozen spinach).

S: Sounds good! And I'm sure the sprouts are actually fine, I added some odd things which she suggested, like Pickapeppa sauce. (Although that rice pudding, which I made recently, was pretty spartan.) I can probably be talked out of the suet-wrapped lemon. Easily.

(End convo.)

In the end, I was happily stymied not by a lack of suet, but by the out-of-season shortage of pudding steamers. And I did, indeed, make the chocolate cake, which proved - especially for an 80s affair - quite mild, containing a mere 4 oz. of chocolate along with ground almonds and eggs and sugar and was, to my mind, the more digestible for being less decadent. (But then, I'm not a chocolate-lover.) L. did indeed bring biscuits - scrumptious biscuits, sided with a notable mulberry preserve - and gingerbread - for which he obtained the "last can of cane syrup" (a pet product of LC's) in Brooklyn. I had my wedge for breakfast and then again with tea. The hostess, for her part, provided a roast chicken made tawny with paprika, and roasted fingerlings, and then a lovely soft lettuce salad. And, yes, the creamed spinach with jalapeno peppers, which truly is so good that one wants to "sit up and beg like a dog." (Although no one did.) And while the meal may have been rather less eccentric than its namesake might have preferred, it was certainly scrumptious, and fueled with laughter and good company and, yes, some of her prose, so I daresay she would have approved. Also, given her early commitment to the local and sustainable, I think she would have found the pedigree of just about everything, from chicken to eggs to cheeses to jam, to her liking.

I love themed dinners, when the theme is relatively organic. We're going to have another LC potluck - this one very likely based on her "Friday Night Supper" menu - but I hope we won't stop with that. There's a whole world of food writing out there, and many good meals waiting to be cooked and eaten with friends.

Elizabeth David's Flourless Chocolate Cake

* 4 oz bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate
* 1 t vanilla
* 1 t brewed espresso (or any other *strong* bre
* 1 t brandy
* 6 t butter
* 1⁄2 c Sugar
* 1⁄2 c ground almonds
* 3 large Eggs, divided

1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. and butter and 8-inch springform pan. 2. In a heavy saucepan over low heat, melt chocolate with vanilla and brewed espresso and brandy.
2. Add butter, sugar, and almonds and heat the mixture until the butter has melted.
3. Remove the pan from the heat and cool slightly.
4. Beat the 3 egg yolks until they are lemon colored and stir them into the chocolate mixture.
5. Whip the 3 egg whites until they are just stiff and fold them into the chocolate mixture.
6. Turn the batter into the pan and bake the cake in the middle of the over for 45 minutes.
7. The cake will have some cracks on top, and a tester inserted into the cake will not come out clean.
8. Let the cake cool completely on a rack and remove the sides of the pan. The cake will rise and then fall.
9. Serving suggestions: brush with raspberry jelly; sprinkle with powdered sugar; cover or serve with whipped cream.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Another Recommendation: Wine!

Wine Spectator says:"Vivid passion fruit, lime peel, guava and quince flavors are refreshingly juicy and light-bodied, with good focus and a distinctive mineral note. Drink now."

I say: cheap and absolutely delicious! Got it at that wine shop on Broadway in Williamsburg near the Williamsburg Bridge.

Pomelo 2008 Sauvignon Blanc

Buttermilk Ice Cream!

If you're near Marlow and Daughters in Williamsburg, pick up a pint of this: I don't know who makes it - I'll ask next time I go - but had some with rhubarb crumble the other night and it's fab!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Best Key-Lime Pie

Sometimes, I disagree with Cook's Illustrated's definition of perfection. Sometimes I don't think all the steps are necessary. But other times, there's just no arguing! Their key lime pie was one such case: pretty basic, but a paradigm of its kind. And so, although I've not so far made a habit of recording recipes verbatim, I have to get it down! (By the way, extra thanks again to David B. for the Cook's Illustrated Baking Book!)

Key Lime Pie


Lime Filling
4 teaspoon grated lime zest
1/2 cup Key lime juice (3-4 key limes*)
4 egg yolks
14 ounce sweetened condensed milk
11 graham crackers, processed to fire crumbs
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
5 tablespoons melted butter

Whipped Cream Topping
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 lime, sliced thin and dipped in sugar**


1. Whisk zest and yolks in medium bowl until tinted light green (aprox. 2 minutes). Beat in milk, then juice. Set aside at room temperature to thicken.
2. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Mix crumbs and sugar. Add butter, stir with fork until blended. Press into pie pan. Bake 15 minutes, until lightly brown and fragrant. Cool to room temperature, aprox 20 minutes.
3. Pour filling into crust, bake 15-17 minutes, until center is set but wiggly. Cool to room temperature then refrigerate for 3 hours.
4. Whip cream, add sugar.

*Let's face it: I've used regular old Persian limes and it was just fine.

**I didn't make the sugared lime. Instead, I decked the top with a little heap of sugared zest. But that's as you wish; I know some people even consider whipped cream an abomination!

Furious Cooking!

Last night I made myself Roast Chicken with 4 Alliums. Nothing fancy: just half a good chicken roasted over split leeks, surrounded with ramps and garlic cloves and a few scallions just because I had them.

A friend brought me something I had never had before up from North Carolina - branch lettuce. She says it's the centerpiece of her family's annual spring supper: "branch lettuce (a wild green served with spring onions and wilted with hot bacon drippings and vinegar), cornbread, pinto beans and crispy smoked pork." Wow! I, rather boringly, just mixed mine with arugula, sliced Jerusalem artichokes and ramp greens for a spring salad. I loved it: tart and slightly fuzzy - it reminded me a little of the clover-shaped sweetgrass we used to pick and eat when I was little.

Anyway, had that salad tonight with my friend Ruby. We also had that simple pasta of shells, bacon, peas, ricotta and Parmesan. Dessert was a strawberry-rhubarb crumble and some of the delicious buttermilk ice cream I got at Marlowe and Daughters yesterday. I pushed some blueberry muffins on her as she was leaving, since I made a batch of Cook's Illustrated's (I shouldn't say so, when I didn't follow all their instructions and added the berries whole instead of cooking half of them into a jam!) and can't possibly eat them all while Matt's out of town...

Oh! Sunday, some friends and I tried the new pie shop, Four and Twenty Blackbirds. The space was adorable and one of the pies - Lemon Chess - outstanding, sort of like a wedge of lemon square. The pear-ginger was just not my kind of palate and as to the Shoo-Fly, why, she who orders shoo-fly pie should know what she's getting, especially if she's just had some in Philadelphia two days prior!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

On Coffee

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that I don't like good coffee.

Let me revise that: I don't like the new wave of good coffee. I am particular about the coffee I brew every day (I should be, I drink enough of it); we get our beans delivered every ten days from d'Amico in Carroll Gardens and I "decant them into glass" as Laurie Colwin would say and grind them as needed. But as to all the boutique coffees springing up all over town, I just don't...get it.

In principle, I was gung-ho! I am all for fair trade/small batch/artisanal stuff and most yuppie food movements have pretty delicious results. But from the first time I tasted the coffee at my local spot in Greenpoint, regarded as a vanguard of the boutique coffee movement - so serious are they that they host regular "coffee-tastings" to educate the palate - I knew doubt. I didn't like the bright, acid flavor or the amber color or, frankly, what it did to my admittedly weak stomach. And this conviction has only strengthened as I've gamely worked my way through roasting plants and caffeine meccas around the city. Whereas I used to see "Stumptown" or "Counter-Culture" or and have a moment of happiness, now my heart sinks. I alternate between calling myself a Philistine and bitterly muttering about naked emperors. I guess it's really, at the end of the day, just a question of taste: I like old-school, oily, dark-roasted beans. I like d'Amico and Porto Rico Importing Co's "Danish Blend" and am eager to try the venerable "Texis Coffee" in Queens. Heck, I'd as soon have a good Bustela with hot milk, frankly. There, I said it.

On Baked Beans, Simplicity, Eccentric Entertaining

As far as entertaining goes, sometimes I think people have lost the courage of their convictions. Take this passage from the Tasha Tudor Cookbook, introducing the (rather iconoclastic) recipe for Baked Beans:
These I learned to make from Nell Dorr, the well-known children's photographer. No one, to my mind, has exceeded the art of Nell and her Rolleiflex camera. No posing, no flashes, just pure magic. Nell Dorr gave memorable supper parties in her home, the West Branch, in Westport, Connecticut. I recall the many artists who attended these agreeable gatherings; Robert Lawson was one. It was all delightfully informal, with small tables set about the four small rooms. Nell looked lovely, as she always did, in her long frocks, with Queen Anne's lace in her dark hair. Her famous baked beans and homemade bread were always served, and no other baked beans can compare.

(If you're thinking that you need to buy this cookbook RIGHT NOW you're not wrong.) Dorothy Draper's estimable Entertaining is Fun (which you also need if you don't have it) often advocates a similar approach, suggesting menus of lots of one thing, and no apologies. I remember reading somewhere about some famous hosts who were known for serving only sugared bacon at their cocktail parties and someone else who always offered whiskey and peanuts. As soon as I develop my gimmick, I intend to do likewise. (Although it must be said that the party at which I only served different kinds of deviled eggs was regarded as peculiar.)

I was inspired by this to make baked beans today; I didn't follow Tudor's instructions to "parboil the beans until their skin pops when you blow on them" then simmer until squashable (I soaked and pre-cooked them instead, although I'll admit to a little futile huffing-and-puffing at a bean's skin, just by way of experiment.) They are baking away now, and very savory they smell too on this rather chilly, San Francisco-ish day. No homemade bread, alas, but I do have a key lime pie and (to use up the resulting whites) some chocolate-chip meringues.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Spring Fling

Making a real spring meal for a change: salmon, roasted asparagus, new potato salad! (I like the potato salad from Simon Hopkinson, just potatoes and scallion in a thick, mustardy vinaigrette. For "picnic" potato salad, I like the one Elaine and I had on Tangier Island - as detailed in the Hilda Crockett Inn Cookbook, which I own - which involves mayo, grated onion, chopped egg and, most important, chopped sweet pickles and their juice.) I also made some rhubarb compote, which I sweetened with maple because, ever since a maple farmer told me that as a kid his favorite snack was new rhubarb stalks dipped in maple sugar, I've fancied the flavor combination. Happy Spring!