Monday, March 23, 2009

crepes - two ways

This past weekend I indulged in much needed Sunday morning in front of the stove. With music playing in the background, steaming coffee in hand and my roommate reading the Times on the couch (okay futon), I set about making crepes. Since I’m very much into the “variety is the spice of life” philosophy when it comes to food, I cooked up two versions: original and buckwheat.

For fillings I simply went to the pantry. Since Meyer lemons have been a constant in the apartment for the past few weeks, they were cut in half for easy access to their fragrant juice. Dusted with powdered sugar, those sweet, lemony crepes are always a favorite. I also brought out the jar of Nutella that seems to take up residence wherever I am in the world. (I have very fond memories of eating Nutella straight from the jar in my apartment in Rome, using thin breadsticks as merely transportation for the gobs of the creamy, chocolaty goodness that is Nutella.) Smeared with the chocolate-hazelnut spread and sprinkled with a dusting of toasted slivered almonds those crepes were reason enough to get up in the morning. I also set out maple syrup, butter sweetened with sugar and vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon-sugar and a variety of toasted nuts to round out the spread.

The best part of the day – other than the fact I got to cook barefoot in a sunny kitchen and eat crepes all afternoon – was that I froze the rest of the crepes for a quick, decadent breakfast/lunch/dinner in the (very) near future.

Since I have qualms about publishing someone else’s fabulous recipes on the site, you can find the recipes I used here and here.

Crepe Tips:
1. Don’t fear the crepe. In my experience, they’re easier than pancakes could ever hope to be.
2. The first of any batch is always a dud, no worries. Either toss it in the trash, feed it to the dog…or do what I did and eat it anyway.
3. Use a heavy, nonstick skillet as well as non-stick spray and butter. It may be a bit overcautious, but they slide out paper thin and flawless every time.
4. Use your fingers to flip rather than a spatula. Total control. (Plus you have the added pleasure of pseudo playing with your food).
5. To freeze, allow crepes to cool completely. Stack in layers with parchment or wax paper between each crepe, place in ziplock bag et voila! Crepes anytime!
6. Make crepes savory by filling with mushrooms, shallots, brie, turkey, parmesan, asparagus…the options are endless!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sour Cream Cookies With a Pistachio Twist

My obsession with pistachios has taken another turn. It began simply with the humble nut, cracked open as a lovely, slightly salty, snack. Then it was the pistachio flavored puff pastry shaped into vol au vents, then pistachio cream layered on decadent chocolate cake. This time my craving it took the form of pistachio – sour cream cookies. These cookies are a riff on a particular sour cream cookie, which has always had a special place in my heart - and my stomach.

During my first restaurant job, I got into the (wildly popular) habit of bringing home-baked sweets to work on a regular basis. One particular day, I had a seriously dangerous excess of cashew – sour cream cookies. (Those who know me well know the truth: cookies are my weakness. It is a proven fact that I can…okay, have…alright, am…eating an entire batch of cookies as I write this.) So, that day, I brought those little temptresses to work.

At 10 a.m. one of my favorites chefs to work with at the restaurant, Chef L., gobbled up the first of my cashew – sour cream cookies with browned butter frosting. Well, let’s just say that, on that particular day no one else was made known of their existence. From then on, I managed to surprise Chef L. frequently with those special sweets.

So, when I got this latest craving, my thoughts immediately went to these addictive sour cream cookies. Creamy, soft and almost cakelike, my rift on the originals boast a pronounced pistachio flavor and a luscious pistachio browned-butter frosting.

Oh, oh... I may have just eaten the last one in the house.

Pistachio – Sour Cream Cookies
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

For the cookies:
½ c brown sugar
½ c white sugar
½ c butter, softened
¼ c pistachio paste
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla
2 ¼ c flour (bleached cake)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
½ c sour cream
½ c pistachios, chopped

For creamy browned butter-pistachio frosting:
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 c confectioners’ sugar, sifted
4 ½ Tbsp milk/cream
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1 tsp pistachio paste, optional

Preheat oven to 375˚ F.

Combine sugars and butter, beat until fluffy, scraping down sides often. Add the pistachio paste and beat until completely combined. Whisk together eggs and vanilla, adding in several additions; allowing each to fully incorporate before adding the next.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Reserve a bit of the flour mixture and toss with chopped pistachios, set aside.

Add dry ingredients alternating with sour cream to the butter-pistachio mixture, leaving the mixture streaky after each addition. Gently fold in nuts.

Drop by rounded tablespoons onto a parchment lined cookie sheet; bake 10 to 12 minutes until the edges are golden. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, make the frosting. Brown the butter over low heat in a saucepan. Remove from heat and whisk in milk and vanilla. Add a bit of confectioners’ sugar to make a paste then add in cup increments until fully combined. Fold pistachio paste in completely and adjust thickness by adding a bit more milk or cream.

Frost cooled cookies with creamy browned butter frosting and garnish with finely chopped pistachios.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Food = Love

... at least in my book. One of the biggest factors that affected my decision to enroll in culinary school was that feeding people with food I have made always makes me so incredibly happy. The best nights hanging out with my friends always begin with a homemade, potluck meal (accompanied by copious amounts of wine, of course).

It was my desire to turn my affection into something tangible, edible, that led me to the French Culinary Institute. And halfway through the program, there I was: faced with an assignment to make a special occasion cake. Any cake my little heart desired.

Okay, we were given some parameters - I had to make a chocolate cake with chocolate glaze. But as for the flavors and decorations, the decisions were left up to us. Being that this is the time of year that J. and I have decided we started dating, I decided to make a cake just for him. (Don't ask, it's a long and complicated story. Let's just say that we celebrate our anniversary somewhere between St. Patrick's Day and before March Madness is over.)

The inspiration for this cake actually stemmed from our first fight, just over three years ago. The cause is negligible; the thing that I remember from that argument was my late-night, teary phone call to my friend A. He comforted me, calmed me down, and told me to be the bigger woman and apologize for the sake of the relationship, telling me, "You guys are great - I mean, you go together like peas and carrots!"

This phrase, cliche as it is, has stuck with us for the past three years. It just feels right - comfortable, familiar, and classic. So for this cake I stuck with flavors that evoked those feelings by layering the chocolate cake with sweet and salty peanut butter buttercream, and added a spike of rum soak for the cake itself for a bit of excitement. The end result? A cake that is simple but delicious, and one that we have been nibbling steadily on for this past week. I think of it as a way of stretching out my anniversary love over more than just one day of celebration.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

recipes as promised

In an earlier post this month I promised to put up my recipes for
Meyer Lemon Crème with Beurre Noisette Shortbread Crumble and Edible Flowers as well as another edible flower recipe for a fabulous Caprese Salad with Rosemary Reduced Balsamic . Well as promised - here they are! Originally published in the March issue of Eat Life, you can read the entire story, plus see more of my photography, Tulip Petals Taste of Cucumbers here.

Meyer Lemon Crème with Beurre Noisette Shortbread Crumble and Edible Flowers
serves 4
Meyer Lemon Crème
Meyer lemons juice 1/2 cup
Meyer lemon zest from 3 small meyer lemons
Tangelo zest from ½ medium tangelo
Granulated sugar ½ cup
Whole egg 1
Egg yolk 1
Butter 4 Tbsp / 2 oz / 56 g; cut into small, even pieces
Heavy whipping cream ½ cup / 4 oz / 115 g

Beurre Noisette Shortbread Crumble
Confectioner's sugar ¼ cup
All-purpose flour ¾ cup
Unsalted butter 6 Tbsp
Thinly sliced almonds 1/4 cup; toasted
Salt pinch

Confectioner’s sugar
Edible flowers

To make the Meyer Lemon Crème:
1. Zest the lemons and juice through a sieve. Whisk together zests, juice, sugar and eggs in a heatproof bowl set over a bain marie. Stir constantly until thickened; 10-15 minutes.
Test to see if it’s finished by drawing a line with your finger across a wooden spoon; if the line stays and no liquid slips down the curd is finished.

2. Remove the bowl carefully from heat and stir in the butter till completely melted.

3. Strain the mixture through a sieve to remove any curdled egg yolk and zest. Chill completely.

4. When curd is completely chilled. Beat the heavy whipping cream to a soft peak and gently fold into the lemon curd. Cover and chill until ready to use.

To make the Beurre Noisette Shortbread Crumble:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

2. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat till browned but not burnt; stirring frequently. Allow to cool slightly.

3. In the meantime, finely grind the cooled, toasted almonds in a food processor.

4. Sift together the confectioner’s sugar, flour and salt into a bowl. Add the butter and almonds and mix just until combined.

5. Evenly spread the dough about 1/4 inch thick on a parchment-lined sheet pan and bake until the top and bottom are lightly browned about 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely then crumble with your fingers to the desired consistency. 

To assemble:
1. Spoon the Meyer lemon cream into a small bowl or plate, sprinkle shortbread crumble generously on top. Dust lightly with confectioner’s sugar and decorate with edible flowers such as such as pansies, nasturtiums and/or geraniums.

Chef’s notes:
* The Meyer lemon curd will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 1 week. Once you incorporate the heavy cream serve it the same day.
* Orange zest may be substituted for the tangelo

Easy Caprese Salad with Edible flowers
Serves 4
Heirloom tomatoes 4 medium; sliced
Fresh buffalo mozzarella 1 lb; thinly sliced
Edible flowers

Balsamic Dressing
Balsamic vinegar 1 cup
Fresh rosemary sprigs 2
Butter 2 Tbsp
Black pepper
Sea salt

1. Slice the tomatoes and cheese 1/4" thick. Arrange the slices of tomato and cheese on a serving platter.

To make the rosemary balsamic reduction:
1. Place 1 cup of balsamic vinegar in a medium saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil.

2. Add the rosemary and boil gently till reduced to about ¼ cup.

3. Remove from heat, add 2 Tbsp butter and mix to combine. Remove rosemary springs and drizzle over tomatoes and mozzarella.

4. Garnish with edible flowers, a nice crack of black pepper and sprinkling of sea salt. Serve with extra reduction on the side.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

egg salad and grandma's house

I remember the day, not so long ago, I realized that I actually like egg salad. It was at Grandma’s house, about a 30-minute drive from college, during one of our regular lunch dates.

I sat down at the long wooden table, perpetually accented with gorgeous flowers from her garden, and reached for the coffee. Served black and untainted, this particular roast was purchased with some of the more fastidious women of our family in mind, but that is another story… I was mid-swallow when she happily set down a sandwich overflowing with freshly made egg salad. Not one to offend Grandma, I smiled with (faux) enthusiasm and dug in, keeping my coffee mug as close as possible to wash down, what I thought would be, the unseemly flavor of egg and mayo.

To my surprise, the coffee mug never made it to my lips. Simultaneously, the sandwich was both subtle and bursting with flavor, creamy with mayonnaise and crunchy with hearty bites of celery. It was a moment of revelation in my food world – I loved egg salad.

These past few weeks, I’ve been longing for home. New York is absolutely marvelous, but the city can be exceptionally demanding; life moves here at a faster pace, triumphs are greater and failures more intense. Some days you just need something as simple as a lunch with Grandma to remind you of who you are and where you are going.

Since my grandmother now lives a 16-hour drive away, I had to make do with egg salad. But, in order to conjure up that warm memory, only a fantastic egg salad would do. I combined creamy hard-boiled eggs with the piquant bite of onion and the fresh flavors of parsley and tomato and held it all together with just a dollop of mayonnaise. To this I added a squeeze of leftover Meyer lemon juice to brighten up the flavors, a pinch of salt to round them out and more than a few good turns of black pepper because, really, what would life be without a decent amount of freshly cracked pepper?

Served with a cup of black coffee, a few grapes and a lovely dessert of chocolate-oatmeal cookie dough balls I had lingering in the freezer, I felt (almost) as if I were back at Grandma’s sun-drenched kitchen table.

Egg Salad Sandwiches
Makes 1 ½ cups

4 eggs; hard boiled and coarsely chopped
1 celery stalk; finely chopped
¼ red onion; finely chopped
1 Tbsp parsley; minced
1 tsp Meyer lemon juice
5 cherry tomatoes; seeds removed* and roughly chopped
1 Tbsp mayonnaise
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

Soft multigrain bread
Mixed greens

To hard boil the eggs, place them in a saucepan and add just enough water to cover completely. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook eggs, covered, for 9-10 minutes. Immediately remove eggs from saucepan with slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of cold water. Allow eggs to sit until cool enough to handle, about 2 minutes, and remove the shell.

While the eggs are cooking, combine celery, onion, parsley, lemon juice, tomatoes and mayonnaise in a medium bowl. Coarsely chop the shelled eggs and add to the mixture. Stir to combine and flavor with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, spoon egg salad onto soft multigrain bread and top with mixed greens. Enjoy with a cup of (black) coffee.

*Chef’s note: Technically speaking there is no particular need to remove the seeds of the tomatoes. This practice is merely homage to Mom, who doesn’t particularly like the squishy parts of tomatoes. Thus, I’ve been trained from an early age to squeeze out the excess pulp, and since this recipe is truly about bringing a bit of home to the table, I couldn’t imagine not accommodating Mom. That said; feel free to leave the seeds in your own tomatoes

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

miniature birthday cake for francis

Two layer white cake with chocolate-dulce de leche frosting and coconut.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

a cookie for a long road home

I moved to New York almost six months ago and hadn’t made cookies in my apartment until today. Sure, I bake three days a week in class; am constantly testing and baking for PattyCake; and spend my free time devouring desserts and sweet treats around the city. But to bake at home - in that kitchen?

Let me back up…

When I lived in Wisconsin (my home state), I had a fabulous kitchen – open and spotless with hardwood floors, high ceilings, skylights and two-year-old appliances. My gorgeously worn-in Boos butcher block took center stage during weeknight meals, weekend dinner parties and spontaneous baking sprees. To that effect, there was a constant supply of cookies in the designated jar, dough resting in the fridge before its final baking and raw dough in the freezer for a quick and easy weeknight dessert (baked or unbaked).

However, when New York came a-calling, I traded in my clean, bright space for, well, a New York kitchen: small, dirty, ill-lit and old (except for the fridge which broke two months into my life here; that's new, and yes it makes me smile). Also, it doesn’t help that I live with three boys, who while relatively tidy, are still boys who enjoy copious amounts of burritos on a daily basis. A major deviation from my old (female) roommate whose boyfriend was a chef and thus knew the merits of a clean kitchen. Regardless to say, when I traded states and kitchens, I traded my kitchen habits. I opted for eating out, baking out and staying out - of that kitchen.

Consequently, I didn’t really start baking at home in New York until today, when the urge to eat my favorite chocolate-oatmeal cookies couldn’t be satiated by any one of the many fantastic bakeries New York City has to offer. Although my oven surrendered a shroud of smoke as it preheated, forcing me to force open windows and stifle coughs, the cookies turned out just as splendid as I remembered.

Throughout the years, I’ve perfected these little nuggets of joy – mildly sweet, slightly salty with fabulously large nuggets of chocolate mingled with the nutty flavor of rolled oats and toasted walnuts. Perhaps these cookies can persuade you to take your oven out of hibernation – or merely warm it up from the last use (if you’ve been doing any small bit more of baking at home than me in the last six months) – and enjoy a little taste of (my) home.

Chocolate-Oatmeal Cookies

Makes 50-60 small cookies

Unsalted butter 16 Tbsp/8 oz/225 g
Granulated sugar 1 cup/8 oz/228 g
Muscovado sugar 1 cup/8 oz/225 g
Eggs 2 large
Vanilla 1 tsp
All-purpose flour 2 cups/16 oz/450 g
Baking powder 1 tsp
Baking soda 1 tsp
Salt 1 tsp
Old fashioned rolled oats 1½ cup/12 oz/340 g
Chopped 61% chocolate 1 cup/8 oz/226 g
Chopped 70 % chocolate ½ cup/4 oz/113 g
Chopped walnuts; toasted 1¼ cup/10 oz/288 g

Beat together butter, granulated sugar and Muscovado sugar until light and fluffy. In a separate bowl, combine eggs and vanilla and beat gently to combine. Add gradually to beating butter-sugar mixture in three additions, allowing each addition to be fully incorporated before adding the next.

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add all at once to butter mixture and beat slowly till almost combined. Stir in chocolates and walnuts. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and chill in refrigerator for 12 – 36 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350˚F. Use a small ice cream scoop to measure out 1–inch balls. Place dough balls on parchment lined baking sheet, staggering to allow for proper air flow during baking. Bake cookies 12 -15 minutes, turning half-way through, until the cookies are medium brown and the edges have begun to set but the centers are still soft. Allow cookies to rest on baking sheet for a few minutes, then remove and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

*Chef’s note: I love to “age” cookies, a process that has made me a bit weird in the eyes of the common man (aka: non-bakers) and a bit of a tease in the minds of my roommates (“What? We don’t get to eat them tonight?”) Nonetheless, I can promise you it makes a huge difference in the flavor and texture of the final product. Letting the cookies to sit in the fridge for 12-36 hours allows the eggs to slowly distribute themselves completely into the dough, producing a firmer, drier dough, which, in turn, bakes more evenly. Even more important, aging helps to create the trinity of texture that I find so irresistible in a good cookie: a crunchy outside, a chewy middle ring and a meltingly, soft center. Finally, the process develops the flavors of the cookies, allowing that delectable brown sugar, caramel-toned sweetness to become more pronounced.
*Chef’s note: I use chocolate discs or pistoles in addition to chocolate chips to vary the texture, size and flavor in my cookies.

Monday, March 2, 2009

edible flowers and a meyer lemon craving

Ah the beauty of being a food writer. The newsletter I work for when I'm not baking for PattyCake, Eat Life (, allows me the pleasure of delving into the foods I love; by this I mean any food at all. Comforting foods, quirky combinations of flavors and textures, tantalizing sweets…you get the idea. Today I spent the blustery, snow-laden day warm in the kitchen, testing a recipe I wrote for Eat Life titled Meyer Lemon Crème with Beurre Noisette Shortbread Crumble and Edible Flowers (can you tell I’m a student of the French pastry arts with a name like that?)

I’d had a craving to bake with Meyer lemons for the past few weeks, in fact I’m fairly certain that all those in a 20 mile radius of my life are grateful I finally did as I couldn’t stop jabbering about it, my eyes raised to the heavens as I imagined their glory. And glory they had.

I chose to make a traditional curd, adding just a bit of tangelo zest for good measure, allowing it to chill, then folding in softly whipped cream to create a light, airy and irresistibly tart crème. Instead of baking the curd atop its traditional shortbread accompaniment, I made a beautifully simple beurre noisette, or browned butter, shortbread. I started by melting unsalted butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until the milk solids turned light brown and a nutty aroma hovered in the air. To this I added sifted confectioner’s sugar, all-purpose flour, finely ground toasted almonds and a pinch of salt. Baked in the oven till lightly browned, cooled and crumbled the shortbread created a fantastic not-too-sweet foil to the citrusy crème. To finish, I merely dusted the layers with a bit of confectioner’s sugar (an ode to one of my favorite parts of a lemon bar) and sprinkled a few edible flowers on top (because edible flowers were indeed the main focus of the article).

Perfection in an afternoon snack. Afterwards, I played with my camera for a bit, documenting the beauty of edible flowers, canary-yellow Meyer lemons and the fact that even as the snow falls outside, spring is just around the corner.

*Chef’s note: The recipe for Meyer Lemon Crème with Beurre Noisette Shortbread Crumble and Edible Flowers as well as another edible flower recipe for a fabulous caprese salad with rosemary reduced balsamic will be published in the March issue of Eat Life (out on March 15th) and I’ll be sure to post it, as well as photos, here after its debut.