Comfort / Food

Month: June, 2014

Sunday Strawberry Bars

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As promised, my take on smitten kitchen’s strawberry rhubarb crisp bars. I didn’t change the recipe one bit, but next time I will try them with olive oil instead of butter (decreasing the amount to 1/4 c. plus 1 tbsp.)

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Big Girls Small Kitchen’s ‘Anything-Fruit’ Minimal Effort Hot-Days Cake

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Cara hit the nail on the head with this post. My kitchen ambitions have an inverse relationship with the thermostat.  We had guests this weekend, but in an effort to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible, I served fresh fruit for both breakfast and dinner. I did so without shame.

This cake, however, looks like something I could handle on those nights when it’s 9 PM and my shirt is still stuck to my back.  

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake

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(Sorry for the radio silence there, folks. We’re prepping for the Fall semester at work and my evenings haven’t been my own.)

I love how rituals change with the seasons. In the winter, with slushy roads and icy wind, my Saturday afternoons were reserved for baking with friends. Every week around noon I would find myself seated at the island in our little kitchen (how lucky are we, three 20-something-year olds, to have an island?) with a cup of irish breakfast tea.  In it: a spoonful of milk, a dollop honey, and the teabag, weighed down with a spoon (I never take it out, blasphemy, I know.)  Friends would stop by to help knead or eat, depending on the stage of the process (never got any complaints about the latter task.) My roommates would come home in the early evening and we’d roast up a big dinner, cramming five, seven, ten people into the space between the sink and the fridge, eventually plucking up the courage to turn our faces into the cold and move, pack-like, to one of the closer Squares.

Rainy Saturdays in April and May often found me settled into the corner of a bookstore, usually Bryn Mawr or Porter Square Books, with a hot coffee and a waterlogged umbrella. I went through a bit of a dry spell then, where I couldn’t muster the energy or desire to cook full meals or save leftovers. I ate a lot of toast and soup that month (no complaints here) and rarely touched the flours in my cabinet, save birthdays and special occasions. I bought a few plants; they bloomed and are still blooming. I steadily worked my way through Bryn Mawr’s collection of art criticism. Not sure if the owner was thrilled with my weekly visits, but I did buy an old textbook (this one) that I’ve been looking for since I read it two years ago.

These days I have a new weekend routine, a series of activities made possible by the beautiful New England weather, my bike (recently mended), and my new library card (why did it take me this long??) Saturday morning, I take my bike to the sun-lit, glass-walled, simple and clean Cambridge Public Library, where I spend as long as I want browsing the stacks. After passing many hours at work in the Harvard Library last year, I feel very at home running up and down stairs and weaving through aisles. An hour or two later, I’ve returned books, picked up a new one if necessary, and collected a massive stack of magazines. Magazines! This month, I’ve really learned to love magazines. According to my library card, I have recently checked out multiple copies of the following publications:
Wired (4)
Vanity Fair (2)
Food & Wine (3)
Cook’s Illustrated (3)
Saveur (4)
Bon Appetit (3)
ARTnews (3)
Lucky (2)
Cooking Light (1)
Archaeology Magazine (2)
Not a bad collection. Bounty in hand (or, more accurately, in bike basket), I pedal to one of my favorite cafes, where I plunk myself down at a table, purchase a tea, sandwich, pound cake, etc, and read to my heart’s content. (Having worked at restaurants and cafes in the past, I feel it necessary to note that I will leave the table to other paying customers if they start to get busy.)
I’ve started baking regularly again, but usually late in the afternoon. The early afternoon breeze feels too good to ignore.

I’ve had this recipe bookmarked for a while now, but couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to change it up until a couple of weeks ago. Here’s my take on it, baked late one Saturday afternoon, Archaeology Magazine in hand:

Gather your ingredients. 1/2 c. AP flour, 1/4 c. whole wheat, 1/4 c. almond meal, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp baking powder, 1/4 tsp salt, 2/3 c. + 1 tbsp sugar, 1/2 stick butter, zest of 1 lemon, 1/2 tsp vanilla, 1 egg, 1/2 c. “buttermilk”*, raspberries.

*for buttermilk, I used 1/2 c. of 2% milk and 1/2 tbsp lemon juice, then waited 5 minutes ’till it clabbered.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Batter 9” springform pan & line with parchment paper. Mix flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In mixer or by hand, beat sugar (2/3 c. only) and butter. Add lemon zest, vanilla, and egg. On low speed, mix in flour in three batches and buttermilk in two (so flour, buttermilk, flour, buttermilk, flour.) Pour batter into cake pan. Scatter berries on top. Sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar over the top of the cake. Bake for 25 min, but check at 22. Most of the raspberries will sink under the surface, so I poked a few holes after the cake had cooled and added some on top for added prettiness.
N.B. you MUST let this cake cool before you dive in! The almond meal makes it more crumbly than it normally would be, so it’s essential that it firm up a little.

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Gather

Gather-Journal

Do yourself a favor and check out GATHER‘s visually delicious, fun-to-navigate site. My personal favorite is the ‘notebook’ section, with curated mixtapes, reviews of lesser-known food publications, and carefully considered city guides and essays.

Larry Horowitz

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My friend’s dad is an artist and I love his work– his paintings and pastels are magic to me, as they perfectly capture the light, color, and atmosphere of an otherwise ephemeral scene (standing at the edge of the marsh on a cool summer evening/looking through the trees from their back porch/ sitting on the wet sand at dawn.)  He paints around Wellfleet a lot, so whenever I’m feeling a little homesick I like to take a look.

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Sea Story

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It could be the rain coming down hard outside, droplets pummeling my windows, Lilliputian tributaries running in rivulets down the cloudy panes, or it could be the promise of the weekend spent in the salt air with my family, but today all I want is good clam chowder.

“But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained…It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuits and salted pork cut up into little flakes! the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt.”

and later:

“Chowder for breakfast, chowder for dinner, and chowder for supper, till you began to look for fish-bones coming through your clothes. The area before the house was paved with clam-shells.  Mrs. Hussey wore a polished necklace of codfish vertebra; and Hosea Hussey had his account books bound in superior old shark-skin.”

Herman Melville, Moby Dick, from Chapter 15- “Chowder”

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Food52’s Yogurt Bread with Molasses

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This recipe nearly snuck by me, but luckily a friend’s mother sent it back my way. Food52’s recipe yields a hearty, flavorful loaf that adapts well to sweet or savory toppings and is easily customizable. It is a true quick bread, meaning unlike banana bread or orange-pecan breads, which adopt the title so lightly, it isn’t overly sweet and there isn’t (gasp!) a stick or two of butter involved. If you like boston brown bread, you’ll like this: think of this loaf as its more serious cousin. 

I haven’t made it recently, but I’m leaving the recipe here so I remember how great it is. This is definitely one of those undertakings that requires minimal effort but yields a wonderful result.

I like it toasted with butter and honey (unsurprising, that’s how I take all my bread products), my dad ate it with peanut butter and marmalade, and my mom devoured slices smothered with cream cheese.

Recipe (and more photos) on Food52.

A Fresh Tomato Pasta and a few thoughts

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Keeping this blog–trying to post one recipe a week–has been great for a lot of reasons.  Among them: I actually have a record of the changes I made to that cake, or this pasta; it’s a kind of visual journal, where (as opposed to my actual journal) I can include art or images that appeal to me in the moment; and instead of forgetting what I like to cook when spring rolls around, I have a written account of what I’ve made and enjoyed. I find that as the seasons change I get a sort of seasonal amnesia, like: ‘I know I ate well a year ago, and I know I had a few go-to recipes…what were they?’ Of course I make more dinners and desserts than I put on here (lately, WAY more desserts…) but it feels good to have a weekly goal, and to think about how to approach each recipe.  I’ve started to feel kind of lazy when I just throw a recipe up without any reflection. I’ve also learned a lot about the amount of thought that goes into each post for individuals running popular sites, like DALS or The Wednesday Chef.  I’d always known it couldn’t be easy coming up with all that content, but the consistent quality of their posts is really remarkable.  I can’t imagine how they find an angle, or an anecdote, for every single recipe. In the academic world, I think it’s common for classmates and coworkers to lament a creative dry spell. But with ‘lifestyle’ blogs, because the writing is more colloquial and the topics less literary, I find that consumers are less appreciative of the effort that goes into composing frequent, noteworthy posts.  (See the bottom of this post and the comments section for both sides of that issue.)

Coming from an academic background, I’ve also had to re-learn how to write in a conversational way.  For me, that shift consists of second-guessing myself less and allowing for lots of parenthetical asides, em dashes (–) and run-on sentences.

That’s all to say that a lot of thoughts were swirling around my head when I decided to include this recipe. I have a hundred anecdotes surrounding it (another key part about transitioning from academic to casual language: allowing for hyperboles) and it’s a recipe that I think embodies the essence of informal Italian cooking. It’s also simple, creamy (thanks to starchy pasta water) and the sauce works well on eggs or even fish.

One of my favorite memories of this dish is from two summers ago, when I was on vacation at the beach with a big group of friends (half american, half italian) and we ate some variation of this pasta most nights, still wearing our bathing suits, smelling of salt, and with sandy calves and hands. One night (Ferragosto) we added a couple of spoonfuls of vibrant green pesto to the finished dish and ate sitting on the beach. Looking down the coast towards the towns that dotted the shoreline, we could see pinpricks of light that flickered as they rose into the air. Lanterns are a big part of ferragosto, so after dinner we made our own.

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Here’s the recipe.

Gather your ingredients: as much pasta as you’d like to eat (let’s say for two.) I used whole-wheat penne. A pint of cherry tomatoes. 2 cloves of garlic (sliced.) Red pepper flakes. Olive oil. Salt. Parmesan, for grating. A few basil leaves per person.

Put a big pot of water on to boil. As water boils, put a large, heavy saucepan (the pan must be big enough to hold the amount of pasta you want to cook) over medium heat and add 2 tbsp olive oil.  Once oil is hot, add sliced garlic and saute until lightly browned. Add a couple of shakes of red pepper flakes (very little if you don’t like spice.) Add cherry tomatoes whole, push garlic to the side so it doesn’t burn, and turn heat up to medium-high. Cover and cook for 10 min, or until tomatoes blister and burst. Once the tomatoes blister, push down with spatula (careful not to splash yourself!) to release juices, then turn heat down again until the sauce just simmers.  At this point the water should be boiling– add pasta. 2 crucial things need to happen now: 1) you need to take about 1/2 c. of the starchy pasta water right before you drain the pasta and add it to the sauce and 2) you need to take the pasta out 2 minutes or so before the package says it’ll be done. Once the pasta is drained, add it to the sauce and bring the heat up again, stirring and reducing until the sauce coats the pasta and the pasta is cooked. Plate and add grated parmesan along with a few torn basil leaves.

quail eggs

speckled quail eggs at the farmer’s market

The Nibble pan, for nibblers

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Yes!! What an excellent idea. I love this. I need this. I once brought a cake to a party (my friend’s father’s birthday, an occasion I was flattered to be a part of in the first place) but as soon as the cake was cut and everyone took a bite I knew that something had gone terribly, horribly wrong. It turns out I’d misread the recipe and added 2 TBSP baking soda (come on, common sense should’ve caught that one, so there’s no excuse!) They were good sports about it, but I endured a lot of comments like “no really, it tastes fine!” as they suffered through the metallic taste and chalky texture. In addition to the 8″ cake, the ‘Nibble’ pan bakes a tiny cupcake in a silicone cup so the baker can taste their creation before serving it to a group.  The pan would also keep me from skimming thin slices of cake off the top, a bad habit that means either a) the cake is lopsided or b) half the guests get an extra centimeter of frosting on their slice.

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My friend forgave me, by the way. Luckily I’d brought along a couple pints of fresh strawberries, an impossible-to-ruin dessert.

(It’s a pity, too, because that cake– the chestnut cake from Silver Palate minus chestnuts, plus more wine–is my favorite, and I request it for my own birthday every year.)