Comfort / Food

Month: July, 2014


As promised, here’s my take on these delectable mouthfuls.

They made a great summer dessert.  The banana coins got cold enough to give me brain freeze (nice and refreshing), and the combination of banana and peanut butter made them crazy creamy.

I used crushed and toasted pecans instead of peanuts. My mom was the lucky recipient of these treats, and she is the pecan queen.

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Michael Mazur

Michael Mazur, master printmaker, painter, and sculptor, spent time in both Cambridge and Provincetown.  I feel a strange closeness to him.  I once read that he latched onto Dante’s Inferno early on in life; he later went on to illustrate Robert Pinsky’s translation.

Here are a few of his images from Inferno.

Canto_Vi“Canto VI, The Lustful” / etching and aquatint

Canto_IV“Canto IV, Limbo” / etching and aquatint

Canto_XXXIVii“Canto XXXIVii, Once More the Stars” / etching and aquatint

Not all of his work is so dark, so here’s something to cheer you up


“Rain on Water” / woodcut

All images from here and here.

The Cake (chocolate cake with raspberry filling and espresso buttercream, whew!)

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Last weekend I made a cake. It turned out to be the best cake I’ve ever made. Around here (at least for me), the cake to beat is the Mocha Cake from Rosie’s Bakery. I’ve only ever had two cakes on my birthday– one is the Chestnut Cake (we just call it ‘the wine cake’) from The Silver Palate, smothered in a sweet chocolate-hazelnut buttercream. The other, a relic from the days where my mom worked 50 hours a week at Mt. Auburn hospital, leaving no time for baking, is the Rosie’s Mocha Cake. As much as I enjoy that cake on the day of, it’s even better frozen.  I wrap the remainder tightly in plastic and place it at the back of the freezer, strategically arranging less desirable frozen items– soup from a couple of months ago, corn (should that even be in here?)– around it like camouflage.  There is nothing more satisfying than sneaking into the kitchen long past dinner to carefully trim a sliver of cake, feeling the cold crumbs under my fingers and the silky-sweet buttercream on my tongue.

This is a recipe for a chocolate cake with raspberry filling and espresso buttercream.

Here’s your shopping list.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 presetSmitten Kitchen‘s CAKE:

3 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1.5 c hot brewed coffee
3 c. granulated sugar
2.5 c. AP flour
1.5 c. cocoa powder
2 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 tsp salt
3 large eggs
3/4 c. vegetable oil
1.5 c. buttermilk
3/4 tsp. vanilla


2 oz unsweetened chocolate, 1 tbsp espresso, 2 sticks unsalted butter (softened), 3 c. confectioner’s sugar.


6 oz. frozen raspberries.

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For the CAKE:

For the batter, I used Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for chocolate cake (ingredients above.) I’d used it in the past and remembered that it produced a deeply flavored, incredibly chocolatey dessert. I did not change her recipe one bit, besides using ‘homemade’ buttermilk (1.5 tbsp lemon juice to 1.5 c 2% milk.) A couple of tips– if you’re using a springform pan, be sure to put a cookie sheet underneath it as it bakes. The batter is not very thick and has a tendency to drip through.  Also, listen to Deb and line the bottoms of your pans with a circle of wax paper. The cake is very moist and can be difficult to remove (I remembered this from last time I made it and still didn’t heed her advice.  It took a few tries and a fair amount of finagling to get the cakes out in one piece.)

Let the cakes cool for a few hours. Start reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s new book.

Once they seemed cool enough, make the frosting. I remembered that Deb’s cake called for coffee in the batter, and this cake was for a coffee lover, so why not doubly caffeinate everyone at her party? Espresso buttercream would do the trick.

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Melt 2 oz unsweetened chocolate (basic Baker’s chocolate) in the microwave, zapping it at 20 second intervals and stirring in between to avoid any burning. Once it melts, mix in a heaping tablespoon of regular espresso. (A lot of people call for instant espresso powder, but I found the real thing worked just fine.) Heat it up quickly again (maybe 7 seconds?) to really get the espresso flavor going. Add the chocolate/espresso mixture to a mixing bowl and cut in the butter. Mix thoroughly, then add sugar, one cup at a time. I happen to like a high ratio of sugar to butter in my buttercream, but taste as you go and stop whenever you’d like.

Make sure the cakes completely cool, then place the first layer on a flat surface. Cover the top and sides with buttercream (my buttercream was about 1/4 inch thick.)


Toss 6 oz frozen raspberries in a blender and pulse until they’ve broken into pieces. I didn’t want a smooth texture, but if you do, add a little water to puree and then strain them through a fine-mesh strainer (as Deb suggests) to get rid of the seeds. Spread the raspberries over the bottom layer, leaving a border of a 1/2 inch (this is important if you want to keep your frosting job pristine, without any raspberry drips.)

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(I was a little overzealous with my raspberry filling.)

Place the other half of the cake on top and smooth the frosting over until it’s uniform.  Put the finished cake in the fridge to chill, but be sure to remove it 45 minutes or an hour before you want to cut into it so it will be at room temperature.

There are a lot of cake recipes out there, but I can honestly say that I’ve never had so many happy friends as when I served up thin slices (it’s so rich!) with ice cream.  You better believe I stole home with a piece for the freezer.


At the farmer’s market, Cambridge

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A friend’s birthday dinner at The Market, a seasonal restaurant in Gloucester where the menu changes daily. Sicilian meatballs with pine nuts, currants, polenta.

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Cleaning up at gram’s house in Orleans

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Touch Tours

Did you know that many museums– the MFA, the Met –will offer touch tours to art lovers who are blind or partially sighted? I first heard about this last winter when the Globe did a quick article about students from Perkins School for the Blind visiting the Museum. Apparently the MFA gave Helen Keller a touch tour while she was a student at Perkins.

This is all to say that I came across these photographs by Matt Ducklo and I find them so affecting.



MD 02.web

“Labneh” Tart

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The title of this post is somewhat deceiving, as I didn’t actually buy any labneh to use in this wonderful tart (stay with me!) Labneh isn’t too difficult to find in Cambridge, but it isn’t something you can pick up at your neighborhood grocer, either, so a couple of weeks ago when I found myself staring at a recipe in Saveur with a steady thrumming in my chest (my ‘gotta-make-it-now’ symptom), I decided to make do with what I had. Granted, I live walking distance from Cambridge’s Formaggio Kitchen on Huron Ave, so ‘what I had’ happened to be the thick, creamy yogurt from Sophia’s Greek Pantry. I’d bought it a few days prior in a moment of weakness (I usually enter Formaggio with a strict ‘look but don’t touch’ mantra) and I’d been looking for an elegant way to eat it that didn’t involve my fingers.

I didn’t know much about labneh, but my mom’s been buying it for a while now– she serves it at dinner parties with a swirl of olive oil and a generous shake of za’atar (she has no idea how hip she is, what with the recent Jerusalem craze.) I had an notion that labneh should sit somewhere between greek yogurt and goat cheese in terms of consistency, so the first challenge I faced was thickening up the already dense yogurt. After googling around I came across several posts that recommended straining the yogurt in a cheesecloth. No cheesecloth to be found in the kitchen of three friends in their twenties, so I grabbed a clean dishtowel (the thinnest I could find) and set it over a a sieve, then placed that over a large bowl, made a cup of tea, read my book (this one) and took a nap. A few hours later I checked on the yogurt and it had yielded around 1/4 c. of liquid. Not enough, but I decided to hurry the process by gathering the cloth and squeezing until drops of milky liquid gathered and dropped steadily into the bowl.

This is all to say that labneh is easy to fabricate, and also that the tart is not picky or finicky when it comes to thickness of yogurt.  If you have regular greek yogurt, this recipe recommends straining it like I did, but for a few days until it resembles “soft goat cheese.” My ‘labneh’ definitely didn’t get to goat cheese consistency, and if I had tried to roll it into balls (as the BonApp recipe requires), it would’ve wound up on the floor. My yogurt had the texture of thick sour cream when I’d finished with it, and I found that it worked just fine.

Satisfied with my slightly-thicker yogurt, I began to make the tart.

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Gather your ingredients for the crust: 3/4 c. white-whole wheat or AP flour (didn’t test with whole wheat), 1/4 c. almond meal, 1/4 c. sugar, 1/4 tsp. salt, 6 tbsp butter, 3/4 tsp vanilla. (NB the original recipe calls for 1 c. AP flour, so no stress if you don’t have almond meal on hand.)
For the filling: 1 lb. labneh (or full-fat greek yogurt), 1/4 c. sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, 1/8 tsp. salt, 3 eggs

Prepare labneh, whatever that means to you: strain, squeeze, or purchase. As I said before, I found this recipe to be fairly forgiving, so it doesn’t have to be exceedingly thick.

Preheat oven to 350F. Combine flours, sugar, and salt in medium bowl. Add butter and vanilla, mix until dough forms. (I reduced the amount of butter from 8 tbsp to 6 tbsp, and I even think it could even be reduced further to 5 tbsp. It was still very buttery!) Plonk the dough down into a pan (I used my 8 inch springform), spread it out using a spatula, and prick it all over with a fork. Line it with parchment paper and fill with dried beans (I have a jar of beans in my cabinet that I use for this purpose) and bake 15-17 min. Remove weights carefully (I didn’t have a problem with the dough sticking to the parchment paper, but if you do, scrape it off and push it back into the pan– it’ll be covered by the labneh anyway) and bake until brown, an additional 7-8 min. Let cool. I usually pop it in the fridge/freezer to accelerate the process.

As crust cools, lower oven to 300F. Mix labneh, sugar, vanilla, salt, and eggs, pour filling into cooled crust. Bake until set, about 20 min. Let cool before serving (hot yogurt is a very strange thing, unless you’re making this, which I haven’t yet been bold enough to try.)

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Simple Summer Dessert Round-Up

Desserts, desserts, desserts. I love them and I feel sad when a week goes by and I don’t pull a pie, a tart, a cake, or a crumble out of my oven. When the temperature hovers around 90 degrees fahrenheit with 1000% humidity, however, I do my best to eschew all use of the stove (farro salad all day, every day!) Luckily, a lot of bloggers around the interwebs are taking notice and they’re here to save us from our cravings.

The dessert that started it all, with all the elements of perfection: Joy the Baker’s Peanut Butter Banana Bonbons

Coconut-Fig Popsicles from Into the Gloss, made with both coconut water AND coconut milk (so basically, a health-fad miracle.)

If you’re looking for some fancy styling (lots of colored popsicles sticks, perfect manicures) check out Cupcakes & Cashmere’s Layered Caramel Crunch Pops. I’m not usually a huge fan of Emily’s blog, but I do like anything with a crunchy peanut topping…

BGSK’s Easy Mango Sorbet.  You couldn’t pay me to skip the coconut cream topping on this one.

And, always and forever, Smitten Kitchen’s espresso granita. If you’ve spent any time in Italy (Rome especially) you’ll be familiar with this omnipresent, omnipotent afternoon indulgence.

Congrats! You are now equipped with the tools to host a formidable dessert party.

Winslow Homer

A visit to the MFA last weekend reminded me of how much I love the atmosphere in Winslow Homer’s watercolors. A few favorites:

Even though the first and final images have similar subjects and central composition, the quality of light and the brushstrokes imply that they’re meant to represent different times of day and different labors.