Saturday, May 20, 2006

The Epic Journey

The Epic Journey has begun. Leg 1 took us into London for 2 full nights of theater, cheese shops, artisanal chocolates... On to Norway where we found a 1 pence flight so how can it be resisted?

The fjords are coming...

Monday, May 15, 2006

The City Gardener #6

Here is a good final send-off, the last of my city garden, for now anyway. While D and I are leave for our epic voyage (locations yet to be disclosed), my mother will be taking the reins around here. Ever so nice to fly in from Chicago, mom will hold down the fort, care for the kitty parade, enjoy the garden bounty, nurse ailing orchids, and delve into whatever other household matters she may care to cover (I overheard a rumor about a stove cleaning).

So here it is. The picture of my inability to rush Mother Nature and my cornucopia of lettuce. Holding a purgatory of semi-stale growth we have lettuce, radishes, tomatoes and Swiss chard—actually, the radishes are doing quite nicely (background), and will hopefully hold out for my return. And though I previously mentioned being fearful of planting more tomatoes, maybe I can keep the odd 80-year-old-purple-haired predator away upon my return— electric fence?

So here you see it and soon neither you nor I will. As my mother has no digital camera, I cannot ask her to keep up the photo montage-- the camera will be in my hands. Her task is to eat and enjoy the freshness of my labors.

The City Gardener will be up and running in three weeks time. Until then… I ask you to hold out for the odd reports from abroad.

The City Gardener #5
The City Gardener #4
The City Gardener #3
The City Gardener #2
The City Gardener

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse

I seldom have so many sweets creeping up on me, but I suppose everyone is entitled to a little sweet tooth every now and then, no? And because D and I are gearing up to high tail it out of here, I know these sugary treats will be consumed in no time flat. With Mother’s Day just around the corner, I tried out a few recipes and found this one to be a winner. My own mother agrees, having devoured two servings already.

I found this recipe scanning The Chicago Tribune this weekend. While flowers can be particular per person-- allergies, matching colors and varietals all play into effect-- most of us can agree on the decadence of chocolate. I know few mothers who could resist this sugary kiss that says love.

This dessert is brought to us from Wolfgang Puck, adding a guaranteed winner to the recipe box. If done right, it is seductively light, making it an ideal warm weather dessert. Enjoy it with a tall glass of milk, champagne, or a kiss. Any way you enjoy it, mom will know it was made with love (and quite easily too!).

A quick note: do not use ultra-pasteurized whipping cream. It was all I had in the house and because departure is upon us I did not want to buy more. Ultra-pasteurized “whipped” cream turns out flat, as pictured above. Still, it is just as delicious.

This is the recipe as it appears in the Tribune.
Preparation time: 20 minutes. Cooking time: 3 minutes. Yield: 6 servings
* 1-½ cups whipping cream plus more for garnish
* 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped into 1/4-inch pieces
* 4 whites of pasteurized eggs, see note
* 1/8 teaspoon each: cream of tartar, salt
* 1/4 cup sugar

1) Heat half of the cream to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat; pour the cream over the chocolate in a large bowl, making sure all of the chocolate is covered with cream. Set aside 1 minute. Slowly stir the mixture together with a heatproof spatula until blended; set aside.
2) Beat the egg whites with a mixer on medium speed until whites begin to foam, about 2 minutes. Beat in the cream of tartar and the salt, beating until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle in the sugar, beating just until stiff (but not dry) peaks form, about 4 minutes. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture with a spatula until blended.
3) Add the remaining cream to the bowl used to beat the egg whites; beat on medium speed until soft peaks form, about 3 minutes. Gently fold the whipped cream into the egg white-chocolate mixture.
4) Spoon the mousse into individual parfait glasses, ramekins or small bowls. Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate until well chilled and firmly set, at least 2 hours. Garnish with whipped cream, if desired.
Note: Due to the possible presence of salmonella, pasteurized eggs are recommended for mousse. They are available in large supermarkets in the egg department.

In non-food related news, Eat Stuff brings us the beloved WCB. Today Whiskey & Kitty BoJangles show a little love to the outdoor world awaiting the arrival of somebody special.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

New Orleans & A Few Good Books

Another posting on the WellFed Network. Please take a gander if you have the opportunity...

New Orleans Recipe Library article.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Sunshine Cake

D is at it again. He spies a girl on the street eating a fluffy lemon poppy seed muffin and crave mode hits. Like a greedy child in a sandbox, another has the object of your desire and it must become yours. Better yet, why have the same toy, when you can make it bigger and better? Why make a lemon poppy seed muffin when a cream cheese glazed cake is that much more seductive? Why inhibit your sweet intake by making wimpy cupcakes when you can increase your serving portions with an entire cake?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a fan of D's overactive food desires, and when he came home the other night researching lemon poppy seed cakes I knew it was time to step back: “I just need to have it!” So I retreated, awaiting the results. He finally found the object of his desire on his old favorite, Martha Stewart Living.

He returned complaining that every found recipe called for something along the lines of “add powdered lemon poppy seed mix.” It was when he found the Martha recipe, calling for three sticks of butter and 7 eggs, that he knew he found gold, or rather, citrus yellow.

A few months back I was dropping a CD off at a bakery for a friend. I was told upon delivery, “get the sunshine muffin before you leave.” When I arrived, every homemade delicacy looked amazing: mixed berry scones, peanut butter muffins and the sunshine muffin. I bagged one of each meaning to eat a little on my way home, bringing the remains back to D. The remains turned into a tasting spec of the peanut butter muffin and the berry scone—the sunshine muffin, or lemon poppy seed, was happily in my belly. This cake would ensure no muffin would be eaten before D would have a taste.

Without further ado, D has done the research for you to find the ultimate lemon poppy seed cake recipe. This one is quite good: terrifically moist, with sweet cream cheese frosting holding the layers together. The recipe below, taken from Martha’s website, was followed with a few exceptions: lesser shiny cream cheese frosting was made and used. We added it between the layers, then thinned it with some lemon juice and added poppy seeds to drizzle over the top. D also wanted a pure lemon cake and we replaced the orange and lime zest for all lemon. I’m sure the original recipe is just as decadent.

Makes 1 eight-inch-round layer cake
So the glaze will be soft and shiny, apply it just before serving.
* 1-½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
* 3-¾ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
* 2-½ teaspoons baking powder
* ¾ teaspoon salt
* 2-½ cups granulated sugar
* 7 large eggs, lightly beaten, room temperature
* 1-½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
* 1 cup milk, room temperature
* ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
* ½ teaspoon grated orange zest
* ½ teaspoon grated lime zest
* 1/3 cup poppy seeds, plus more for sprinkling

1) Heat oven to 350°; place two racks in center of oven. Butter three 8-by-2-inch round cake pans; line each with a circle of parchment paper. Butter paper, and dust pans with flour; tap out excess. Set aside.
2) Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Set aside.
3) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter on medium-low speed until lightened, 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually add sugar; beat until color has lightened, 3 to 4 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl once or twice. Drizzle in eggs, a little at a time, beating on medium-low speed after each addition until batter is no longer slick but is smooth and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Stop to scrape down bowl once or twice so batter will combine well. Beat in vanilla on medium-low speed.
4) Reduce the mixer speed to low. Alternately add reserved flour mixture and milk, a little of each at a time, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Scrape down the bowl once or twice. Beat in lemon zest, orange zest, lime zest, and 1/3 cup poppy seeds.
5) Divide batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake 30 minutes, then rotate pans for even browning. Bake until a cake tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, 5 to 10 minutes more. Transfer to wire racks to cool, 15 minutes. Turn out cakes, and set on racks, tops up. Cool completely.
6) Remove parchment from bottom of each layer. Save best-looking layer for the top. Place one layer on the serving platter. Spread 1 1/2 cups cream-cheese frosting over the top. Place second cake layer on top, and spread remaining 1 1/2 cups frosting over top. Place reserved layer on top. Chill cake, loosely covered with plastic wrap, 1 hour.
7) To serve, stir lemon glaze well, then pour onto center of top layer of cake, letting it run down the sides. Using a single-hole zester, cut long strips of zest from orange and lemon, if desired. Arrange zest in loose spirals on the top of cake, and sprinkle lightly with poppy seeds.

Makes 3 cups
Let this frosting chill for at least three hours before spreading. Use this to frost Citrus Poppyseed Cake or your favorite cupcakes.
* 12 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
* 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
* cups confectioners' sugar

1) In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese on medium-low speed until smooth, about 1 minute. Add butter, and cream until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add confectioners' sugar on low speed, and mix until completely combined.
2) Beat frosting on medium speed until smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Transfer to an airtight container, and chill until firm, 3 hours or overnight

I did not copy the lemon glaze, but you can find it here.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Soda-Braised Beef

D and I are gearing up for what we are dubbing The Epic Voyage. We leave next week and my mother is a doll to fly in from Chicago (okay, she was already coming for a short visit), but will be extending her stay to care for the cats, my plants and my little City Garden (I don’t think she actually knows the extent of her duties!). As D and I begin to get our trip in order, tie up loose ends, put in extra hours at work, finish open projects—don’t even mention packing—we are trying to clear out some perishables my mother will probably not use, e.g. the dregs of a cola bottle.

While D and I do some last minute scrimping, we figured a good cheap braise was in order. It would clear out our refrigerator and last us through the beginning of next week. So when I told D to just grab “whatever” in the fridge, he pulled out the soda: “Coke?” I thought for a few seconds before, “of course, soda can go in BBQ, marinades, and you can put juices in a braise, so why not soda? Dump it.” D splashed the remains into the pot and took the last swig for himself.

When I was younger, all sodas-- or colas, depending on where you are from, I referred to as, “coke”. My family would go to a restaurant and I would ask: “What kind of cokes do you have?” I received one of two stares: “idiot,” or “smartass.” In the Chicagoland area, “coke” came in diet and regular. I was supposed to ask for soda.

It was not until later that I found out that “coke” as a term for all carbonated beverages really is common. It is mostly used in the south, especially Georgia, where the Coca-Cola Company has their main headquarters. Still later, I found out that in my home state’s almost-neighbor, Ohio, cola was the proper term when discussing carbonated drinks, but they also say crick, begel and ruff (instead of creek, bagel and roof), so I don’t know if it is optimal to use their “cola” term.

Phraseology varies all over this country—don’t even start on the world. It is interesting, whether through travel, or everyday encounters, to find these idiosyncrasies. So as we creep ever closer to Memorial Day and the official start of summer travels, keep an ear out for these cultural flare-ups.

Oh, and the braise was pretty darn good. The sauce was not too sweet with an overall robustness that was quite delicious when paired with the meat. The carrots and celery especially took on the soda very well, turning into sticks of caramelized goodness. The new potatoes were perfect—a last minute decision to purchase these instead of using up some russets we had. Because the new potatoes were left in-tact, they held together nicely, took on the broth and were even better when dipped in a dab of sour cream.

Makes 6 servings. Active Time= 20 minutes. Cook Time= 3 hours.
* 6 pounds of beef, left whole (or in 2-3 pieces to fit in pot)
* 3-4 cloves of garlic, crushed
* 2 stalks of celery, cut 1-2 inches in length
* 2 carrots, cut 1-2 inches in length
* 10 white button mushrooms, cut in half
* 10 pearl onions, left whole (or 1 medium onion, sliced into 1 inch cubes)
* 15 new potatoes, washed well and left whole
* 2 cups beef broth (or water and bouillon)
* 2 cups Coca-Cola (Pepsi, Tab, Dr. Pepper or other dark soda)
* salt/ pepper to taste
* 2 bay leaves
* fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, tarragon, parsley work well)
* 3 Tbl butter or oil

1) In a dutch oven, or other pot with tight fitting lid, warm the butter on medium-high heat. Rinse the beef and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add to pot and brown on all sides. Add garlic.
2) Once meat is thoroughly browned, remove from pot and set aside. Add celery, carrots, mushroom, onions and potatoes. Sauté about 8 minutes, until onions are translucent.
3) Return beef to pot, add beef broth, soda, bay leaves and fresh herbs. Cover and bring to a boil. Remember: this is not a stew, it is a braise. Liquids should come just under the top of the beef.
4) Turn heat down to medium-low, leave covered and cook for 2½ - 3 hours, until meat falls apart.
Note: Served with fresh crisp bread or a good salty cheese this makes a great dish.

For all the herb lovers out there Kalyn’s Kitchen hosts WHB. My herbs this week: rosemary, parsley and thyme in this braise.

In non-food related activities we have WCB over at Eat Stuff. I really attempt to capture Kitty BoJangles in action. It is not that it is so rare, but it is true, she is often asleep. Her fun time is what I call her "night crazies." Just after dinner when she bolts the length of the apartment a few dozen times. There is no use getting a shot of her then, because frankly, if you get in her way it is damaging. Instead, I took a picture of her on a box post-night crazies. Shortly after this picture was taken, the box was thrown away. She had grown quite attached because she stared at me viciously as I removed her cooling pad.

And then there is the usual tormentor, Whiskey. He looks very innocent here, be warned, it is all a cute cover.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Chocolate-Espresso Tart

Chocolate is too seductive to dismiss. I have forgone meals to satisfy my craving, and I have drenched ice cream in fudgy syrup, making the original flavor unidentifiable. As a child, I would pull a bottle of chocolate sauce from the fridge and squirt the sugary treat direct on my tongue—chocolate milk was a daily addiction. Needless to say, I have trouble trusting those who claim, “I am not really into chocolate.”

Just out of college, I had a roommate any chocoholic would love: she worked at a haut chocolate shop. I quickly turned monthly visits to the store into daily happenings. With each drop in I claimed to be taste testing the wasabi-tinged truffles, ancho chili spiked hot chocolate and bars of white chocolate infused with lavender. In truth, I was in heaven.

When I spy chocolate on a menu I make sure to leave room for dessert—even better is when chocolate is part of the main course! D is often worse than me when it comes to the dark temptation: pushing to order the richest dessert when I might crave a lighter fare—and I thought girls were real chocolate junkies.

When I saw this dessert while flipping the pages of Marth Stewart Living it was too difficult to resist. Once tasted, I knew this tart would satisfy even D’s chocolate cravings: The cocoa crust lingers with the faint flavor of marscarpone in the filling, and the smooth rich ganache permeates with bitter espresso. It is a perfect dessert. Below is the recipe as it appears online.

Makes 8 servings.
Better than a box of chocolates, this dessert is triply indulgent. The cocoa shell forms a crisp rectangular foundation for two decadent fillings: creamy, tangy mascarpone cheese and generous rosettes of silky-smooth espresso-flavored chocolate ganache.
For the Ganache:
* 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (preferably 61 percent cacao), chopped
* 1-¼ cups heavy cream
* 2 tablespoons good-quality ground espresso beans

For the Tart Shell:
* 1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for parchment paper
* ¾ teaspoon salt
* 1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
* ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
* ¼ cup sugar
* 1 large egg
* ¾ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* 3 tablespoons heavy cream

For the Filling:
* 1-½ cups mascarpone cheese

1) Make the ganache: Put chocolate into a medium heatproof bowl, and set aside. Bring cream and espresso to a boil in a small pan. Pour through a fine sieve over the chocolate; discard solids. Let stand 2 minutes, then whisk until smooth. Let cool to room temperature, 1 to 2 hours.
2) Make the tart shell: Sift flour, salt, and cocoa powder into a medium bowl; set aside. Put butter and sugar into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment; mix on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, and mix until combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Reduce speed to low. Gradually add the flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with the cream. Shape dough into a thick rectangle; wrap in plastic. Refrigerate until cold, about 30 minutes.
3) Preheat oven to 350°. Roll out dough between 2 pieces of lightly floured parchment paper to a 16-by-6-inch rectangle, about 1/4 inch thick. Press dough into a 14-by-4 1/2-inch rectangular flan frame set on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Trim dough flush with top edge. Prick all over bottom of shell with a fork. Bake until firm, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let cool completely. Unmold.
4) Put ganache into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; beat on medium-high speed until soft peaks form, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip (such as Ateco #828).
5) Smooth mascarpone cheese over bottom of tart shell with an offset spatula.
6) Pipe ganache rosettes, one next to the other, on top of mascarpone to cover. Store in the refrigerator up to 1 day.
Note: Great Ganache: To turn out smooth ganache every time, make sure the mixture is at room temperature before whipping. Any warmer or colder, and its cream is likely to seize or become grainy.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

MFK Fisher

Click here to see my most recent review posted to the WellFed Network.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The City Gardener #5

Death. Life.

Two things a gardener must deal with. It is hard enough to contain the excitement when your sprouts finally bloom, but when those little tikes take a tumble, it’s even harder to cope. Worst of all, is when the gardener is at fault.

Or so it would seem.

I assume I am the only one to blame. My giddiness of witnessing my assorted lettuce, beets and arugula come to life has passed onto me an overactive watering cycle. Like the proud mother who "unknowingly" feeds her child candy until his jowls wiggle in-sync with his belly in laughter, my children grew strong—until I drowned them when they were only a few weeks old.

Take in the spectacle of my destruction. Weep with me in mourning…

And then we cry in joy. As some survivors were strong enough to be transplanted this weekend. See the tiny tots in their recycled buckets brimming with fresh soil and a place in the sun. Don’t we all deserve a place in the sun? I even threw on some new seeds so they can soon make new friends.

And then I will eat them.

The City Gardener #4
The City Gardener #3
The City Gardener #2
The City Gardener

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