Wednesday, November 2, 2011

LET THEM EAT CAKE!

I have a slight, okay major, obsession with 18th Century France and the reign of Marie Antoinette. I simply could not avoid the temptation to pay homage to the storied queen with an elaborate cake made today for her birthday. Marie Antoinette married Louis XVI in April 1770 and became Queen in May 1774 after the death of Louis XV. Be it from revolutionary propaganda or simply the truth, the perception of her in the public was one of decadence and promiscuity. Of course most people know one thing and one thing only about Marie Antoinette today “Let them eat cake!”.


The original quote is “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” and was written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau. There is absolutely no evidence that these words were ever spoken by the woman to whom they are credited. In the fever of the French Revolution Louis XVI was deposed and executed in January 1793 then Marie Antoinette the same year in October.

Truth be told, the recipe for this cake has absolutely no historical significance. Cakes of the time were more similar to bread than the way we think of cakes today. The decoration of the cake is a nod to the French tricolor. Swirled with raspberry jam, the cake offers an unexpected surprise inside. Egg whites are whipped before adding to the batter to give the cake a light, voluminous texture and for a perfect rise. After all, the last Queen of France certainly would not have a small cake on her birthday!

Happy birthday Marie Antoinette!



INGREDIENTS
18 tablespoons (2 sticks plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for pans
4 1/2 cups cake flour (not self-rising) plus more for pans
1 1/2 cups whole milk
9 large egg whites, lightly beaten
3 cups raspberry jam
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 pint raspberries (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 350, grease and flour two round cake pans.

1. In a medium bowl, stir together, milk, egg whites, and extracts. Into a second medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside.

2.In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for 30 seconds. With machine running, gradually add the sugar. Continue beating until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl as necessary.

3.Add one-third of the flour mixture and one-third of the milk mixture, and beat on low speed until just incorporated. Add remaining flour and milk mixtures in 2 separate batches beating between additions to fully incorporate. Scrape down sides of bowl, and stir by hand to finish.

4. Pour ½ of the batter into each cake pan.

5. Add three tablespoons of raspberry jam to each cake

6. cover the first layer of batter and the raspberry jam with the remaining ½ batter.

7. swirl the batter with a butter knife.

8. Bake 25-35 minutes until cake tester comes out clean.

9. Frost with basic frosting, add raspberry jam to the middle, if desired

10. Garnish with raspberries, and enjoy!

Monday, September 26, 2011

LAVENDER-PUMPKIN CUPCAKES



This past weekend I had a wonderful time contributing to a seminar on harvesting herbs from the garden and what to do with them. Of course being an enthusiast of just about every culinary herb known to man, I had countless ideas for recipes. My class in particular focused on lavender. I absolutely adore lavender. The captivating, romantic fragrance, the beautiful gathered bouquets synonymous with English and Provencal country décor, but above all--the delicate yet deep flavor of this magnificent herb.

Although lavender is revered the world over for its’ oh-so-famous fragrance and oil, I feel it is terribly underrated as a flavor. This is because people don’t know quite enough about it. In my opinion, lavender flavor is best when it is the essence of the herb without the sometimes overwhelming taste of biting into a highly antiseptic, or as some say: soapy-tasting, bud. I achieve this by steeping lavender in other ingredients and removing the bud. This leaves behind all of the good and none of the bad. That being said, if you feel so inclined, by all means leave the buds for an even more intense flavor.

These pumpkin-lavender cupcakes were not on my original plan to serve for the class. Actually I had planned to serve lemon-lavender cupcakes. On Friday when I was to prepare all my dishes for the class on Saturday, I was so struck by the deep grey sky, the wind causing the first leaves of the season to fall and dance, and the air crisp with a light chill I just felt there was no way I could serve summery cupcakes on the first weekend after the Autumnal Equinox. I quickly dismissed the combination of pumpkin and lavender…thinking such a floral flavor like lavender and such an earthy flavor like pumpkin would simply not work. I hadn’t ever seen them combined before--I then thought it through again; pumpkin is always best paired with herbs and spices that cut through the deep, saturated flavor and texture. I then thought lavender would be able to do just that. Infusing the earthy, quintessentially icon of the autumn with the lovely, light essence of late summer seemed to be the absolutely perfect treat for the Equinox and for my class. The wonderful people in my class were very intrigued (and somewhat skeptical) of this combination, and I guarantee they were very pleasantly surprised. The combination worked beautifully! And I’m thrilled to have yet another outlet for my very favorite herb. After all that is the beauty of growing your own herbs, learning to infuse them into your creations that are uniquely yours.


PUMPKIN-LAVENDER CUPCAKES

Makes 18 cupcakes
Preheat oven to 350

2 cups flour
2 cups sugar
¾ cups butter (1 ½ sticks)
¼ cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
15 ounces canned pumpkin puree, usually ½ can
3 Tablespoons dried lavender
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Over a double boiler on low, melt the butter. Once melted, add the dried lavender. Let steep about 20 minutes. Pour butter through a sieve. Discard lavender buds (unless you’d like to bake them in the cupcakes). Let cool to at least room temperature. I stick it in the freezer for a few minutes.

2. Combine flour. spices, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in bowl.

3. In separate bowl or mixer, add butter, pumpkin, sugar, oil., and vanilla extract. If using a stand mixer, use paddle attachment. Once combined, add eggs one at a time.

4. Begin slowly adding dry ingredients, with the mixer on a low setting. Stop mixer every so often to scrape down. The important key to remember during this step is the less you mix the flour, the better. When flour and sugar mix they begin to form gluten. This is exactly what you want while making bread, and exactly what you do not want while baking cakes. Over mixing the flour will result in a tough cake.

5. Once combined, using an ice cream scoop (for consistency), scoop into lined muffin pans.

6. Bake for 15-20minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.

7. Let cool completely and frost.

LAVENDER BASIC FROSTING

Makes about 3 cups

3 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
2-3 cups powdered sugar
3-4 Tablespoons cream or milk
1 Tablespoon lavender
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
For lavender color, optional:
1 drop red food coloring
1 drop blue food coloring

1. Over a double boiler, heat cream and lavender for about 20 minutes. Pass through fine sieve and discard lavender buds. Refrigerate until cold.

2. Mix butter

3. Begin adding powdered sugar. Add until mixture is very thick and fluffy. The exact texture will be determined by your preference.

4. Begin adding cooled lavender cream until mixture is light and fluffy, but thick enough to spread or pipe.

5. Add food coloring to achieve desired shade of lavender.
I achieved my shade of lavender by first adding red, to color the mixture a light pink. Then added very conservatively the blue.

 
 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

BELLINI ROSA


While picking up a few things at the grocery the other day, quite out of character and palette, I found myself admiring a bottle of rosé ! I absolutely love prosecco and other dry sparkling wines; but for some reason felt overwhelmingly compelled to bring home a bottle of quintessentially feminine rosé …I think the fact that I had decided to watch Sex and the City all night must have had something to do with it.

A little side note about rosé , it is a misconception that rosé and “blush” are the same thing. A blush wine is the mixing of a small amount of red wine into a larger amount of white. Leaving the white wine still primarily white, just with a “blush” of color. True rosé is produced by allowing the crushed black skins of the grape to remain in contact with the juice only about three days. This leaves the majority of the tannins, which are found in the skin, out of the final product. Leaving the wine much more similar to a white than to a red. The longer the skins sit in the juice, the deeper the color and more bodied the flavor. Another misconception is that there is ANY similarity between white zinfandel and rosé ! Other than both being pink (no offense to you white-zin fanatics, some of my favorite people love that stuff!).

So, with two or three bottles of rosé in inventory (what? I have the entire series on DVD) and several pounds of peaches I decided to put a spin on one of my very favorite cocktails: the Bellini. Because it is Italian history I simply cannot post this without sharing a brief history of the classic Bellini: The Bellini was conceived sometime in the late 1930s by Giuseppe Cipriani at his restaurant Harry’s Bar in Venice. Made with prosecco and peach purée, its pink color reminded him of a toga in a painting of a saint by Giovanni Bellini. What could be more Italian--combining art, saints, and wine??!

I thought it might be fun to amp up the pink in a classic Bellini and use rosé instead of prosecco. I happened to have a huge bundle of lemon verbena a friend had given me so I added a little bit of that as well. While optional the lemon verbena really plays on the zest of the rosé and cuts through the sweetness of the peach. A slight bitter note that brings the cocktail a more earthly flavor. Served with blackberry-peach and courvoisier pie it is the perfect way to bid arrivederci to summer!

INGREDIENTS
makes 4 Bellinis
2 peaches, peeled and cored
1 bottle of rosé , I used Martini and Rossi
2 leaves lemon verbena (optional)

1. purée the peaches with the lemon verbena leaves. Either in a blender or food processor.

2. divide the purée among four champagne flutes

3. pour rosé to top, garnish with two lemon verbena leaves, and enjoy!

Friday, September 2, 2011

BLACKBERRY-PEACH COURVOISIER PIE


Being Labor Day weekend, I doubt I am the only one trying desperately to enjoy what’s left of summer. So at the farmer’s market on Wednesday I might have gone a little overboard. I bought about 15 pounds of peaches. I’ve already made a few peach pies this season and wanted to make something a little bit more exciting. Luckily I had also bought a few quarts of the most beautiful fresh blackberries. It’s not a combination I’ve seen before; but I imagined it working quite well. The tartness of the blackberries cutting through the almost sticky-sweet nectar of the perfectly ripe peaches. But I still felt the pie needed a little more back bone. Cognac.

I am a huge believer in the addition of liquor to cooking. First and foremost I’ve been known to enjoy a cocktail or two while in the kitchen. Secondly, alcohol is considered to be a conductor of flavor. It carries and amplifies flavors to a whole other level. Think vodka sauce. Vodka has no real flavor of its’ own, yet vodka sauce has a much more intense flavor than a basic marinara. The difference is the way in which the vodka intensifies all the other flavors in the sauce. This is exactly the same case when adding cognac to the pie. The cognac carries and blends the flavors, while also intensifying them. The difference between cognac and vodka is that cognac has spectacular flavor by itself..

There really is no other flavor quite like cognac. It is deep and almost smoky, yet has a pungent, light zest to it. It is the perfect compliment to the peach and blackberry. By adding it to the pie it brings out an entirely new flavor to the peach. Served with blackberry whipped cream and a verbena bellini, it’s the perfect last hoorah!

Preheat oven to 415

INGREDIENTS

1 recipe double crust pastry
12-15 peaches, peeled, cored, and sliced
½ cup blackberries
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons cognac, I used Courvoisier
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1. Combine all ingredients into a large bowl. Fold with a rubber spatula. It is best to use a rubber spatula because you are less likely to break the fruit

2. Once incorporated, fill pie crust shell, cover, and set in refrigerator for 20 minutes to rest. Letting a pie rest before it bakes helps the butter in the pastry crust to cool again, making a flakier pastry once baked.

3. Bake in a 415 degree oven for15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue to bake for another 45 minutes-hour
For a shiny crust, brush with egg wash (1 egg + 1 teaspoon milk) and dust with sugar. The best way I have to dust, and not end up with big spots of sugar is to take a small amount and rub it between your hands like sand.


4. Serve with blackberry whipped cream and a verbena bellini (recipe will be posted tomorrow

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

THE BREAD BAR


I tend to be a little bit…extravagant; some might even say flamboyant. This extravagance and/ or possible alleged “flamboyance” usually serves me very well; however from time to time even I will admit I go overboard. I have gotten myself into trouble because I want food that is equally delicious and unforgettable in appearance. Going back to Sara Moulton’s constant reminder on her long-gone TV show “your eyes eat before your mouth”. It’s true. A seduction encompassing all five senses is what differentiates a meal from an experience. I believe that is why so many covet Italian cuisine and atmosphere. Italian gastronomy is one of the few that emphasizes the unique importance of each sense and yet ironically is one of the easiest to master. Unpretentious, beautifully rustic, and of course fabulous in taste, the understated elegance and beloved flavors of Italian cuisine lend themselves perfectly to summer entertaining. The truth of the matter is, no one is coming to your party just for the food. If you are in the kitchen stressed while guests are arriving, frantically arranging perfectly matched julienne strips of carrots and celery (into a herringbone pattern) on the hors’ oeuvre platter you were supposed to have out 15 minutes before the doorbell rang…it will show and make your guests feel uncomfortable. And I’m pretty sure whether you spend $50 or $500 you’ll have the same guest list/ That being said, it’ll still be a frosty day in hell before I serve cocktail wieners from a crock-pot. Unless Anthony Weiner is coming, then I think it might be funny.
The dilemma is how to create a truly show-stopping spread that doesn’t pose the possibility of a nervous breakdown. I scanned my mind for the most beautiful food I’ve ever seen, and then how far ahead I could make it. The winner seemed to be bread. Who doesn’t love bread? It’s cheap, beautiful, and can be made and frozen weeks even months before the party. In my mind I began to build the concept of a “bread bar”. A collection of beautiful breads with customizable accouterments. The Bread Bar took a decidedly Italian turn when I included staples of antipasto--marinated Sicilian olives, roasted sweet peppers, and young, spicy red wines. This created the experience that defines Italian countryside cooking. The smell of the freshly baked bread mixed with the sweet zest of sun-dried tomatoes and fresh basil. The vista of a table packed to the gills with vivid color. The sounds of bread being torn and wine splashing into glasses. The crunch of the bread in juxtaposition to the smooth skin of an olive. And of course the one and only taste of homemade bread the perfect canvas for the slight sting of a young wine and the salty brine of an olive. It is this symphony that creates the lush characteristics of Italian dining. Best of all, once your guests arrive, your only responsibilities are to uncork more wine and slice more bread.
I have included the recipes for the bread and sun-dried tomato dipping oil. I prefer to make my own roasted peppers, the recipe is hereBASIC BREAD DOUGH (makes three loaves)
for interest and variety, I recommend one rectangular loaf of basic white bread, one baguette ,and one round loaf of herbed bread
6 cups all purpose flour +
2 cups water+
1 egg
2 Tablespoons sugar (or honey)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt

I did not work with yeast for years because I had one bad experience. Don’t be afraid it really is easy. The only part that can kill the whole project is if you literally kill the yeast, to avoid this just be mindful of the temperature of the ingredients, specifically the water in step 1. After that it’s easy. This recipe uses a starter which is a yeast mixture of water and sugar. Once yeast is live in the warm water it needs food in the form of some kind of sugar. I use sugar but you can also use honey.
1. Heat one cup of water between 100 and 110° F (yeast dies at 120 but is fairly inactive below 80) mix in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and two tablespoons of sugar. After water, sugar, and oil and combined add the yeast. combine. NO salt goes in the starter. it should look like this
let sit for about ten minutes, in this time the yeast will bloom and look like this
2. In mixing bowl (the taller the sides, the better) add all six cups of flour. With your hand create a well in the middle by pushing the middle of the flour out toward the edge of the bowl. Add salt, egg, starter, and 1 cup of water (just warm tap water). Begin mixing. At this point, you are better off having too much water than too little, so if the dough is not easily incorporating add a little more water. If dough is too wet, add more flour in increments of ¼ cup After mixing a few minutes you want it to look like this
3. Turn out onto a floured surface and press into an even circle

4. Oil the blade of a knife (so it doesn’t stick) and cut the circle into three wedges (if you want to make one loaf with herbs [recipe] you can set one of the wedges back in the mixing bowl)

5. Knead each wedge a few minutes until it is smooth and elastic (meaning if you try and flatten it it shrinks back) at this point you will probably add a little bit more flour just to prevent it from sticking to the counter, that is okay just be mindful that the less flour you add the better.
6. Lightly oil a large bowl. If doing one loaf with herbs, oil two bowls. It will rise separately to prevent discoloration of the white loaves. Add the balls of dough to the bowl and lightly oil their surfaces. Cover very tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise one hour or until doubled in size. I write the time on the plastic wrap in case I forget exactly how long ago one hour was…

7. Punch down the dough. this releases all the gas that has accumulated inside the dough as a byproduct of the yeast feeding on the flour. Instead of actually punching the dough down, to protect its shape and surface, I grab it from the bottom and fold the top into the bottom creating another perfectly smooth surface. Cover again and let rise until doubled again.
8. Shape loaves. I have the method for shaping a baguette on my website. As for the remaining two loaves, you can go to a lot of trouble to shape them perfectly in a more natural fashion--or you can place the dough into pans the shape you want the loaves to be. I wanted a rectangle and a circle, so I used a small roasting pan and a springform cheesecake pan. Or you can let a free-form loaf rise on a cookie sheet lined with foil. Whatever you bake them in, line the bottoms and sides with 1 teaspoon of flour and 1 teaspoon of oil

 9. Let rise another 20-30 minutes and brush either with oil or egg wash to prevent the dough from oxidizing and forming a filmy crust.
10. bake about 35-50 minutes depending on your oven. Your loaves should be a deep golden color (deeper gold or mahogany if you used egg wash). To test their doneness, knock on the middle of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it is baked through. Let rest at least 10 minutes before cutting. Cutting immediately from the oven can result in moisture escaping so rapidly that the loaf falls in on itself.
 
 
SUN-DRIED TOMATO AND HERB DIPPING OIL
2 Tablespoons fresh finely chopped herbs, I use sage, rosemary, thyme, and basil in equal quantity.

3 Tablespoons sun-dried tomatoes* chopped finely
1 teaspoon melted butter
2 cups extra virgin olive oil*
Combine all ingredients, and let sit at least 6 hours before serving.
 ASSEMBLING THE BREAD BAR
I assembled my bread bar into two sections, wine and food. This makes for great conversation and smooth procession through the bar. Your table should flow from left to right. Although sometimes it isn’t the best aesthetically it never works smoothly otherwise (unless of course this Bread Bar is at a left-handed support group). If you like you can set out red and white wine. Although for this, red really is a much better pairing. A home bar does not need to include everyone’s favorite cocktail (I’m talking to YOU Ramona Singer!). And because bread is so beautiful and inexpensive to make, I love to present the table with an abundance of loaves that your guests can take home.

As you can see I have one large platter with cubed bread for dipping arranged around the sun-dried tomato oil and another platter to the side with olives, roasted peppers , and room temperature butter for slices of bread.

The Bread Bar has the dramatic appeal to be the star of any cocktail party and lets the simple ingredients of summer shine. It is impressive and bountiful yet inexpensive and easy. I hope you’ll try it!

*When it comes to Italian pantry ingredients like oils and packed vegetables, I encourage you to go Italian markets and find your own favorites. I have gone to Carfagna’s forever and it is one of my favorite places in Columbus. But if you can’t find what you’re looking for I have info on a few of my favorite products from the Bread Bar.
Olive Oil- I have tried countless brands of olive oil and have decided the king is Minerva Extra Virgin. An import from Greece, it has incredible flavor with a delicate texture. It is the perfect oil for a dipping sauce.


Sun-Dried Tomatoes- First of all, you always want your sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil. If they are dehydrated and come in a plastic bag, they lose their subtle spice. My favorites are the Roland San Remo Imported from Italy.


Balsamic Vinegar- Like I have with olive oil, I have searched for years for the perfect balsamic. It needs to be acidic yet not too pungent, sweet but not sugary, and fruity but earthy. This flavor only develops with age. Del Duca is aged in Modena for optimal flavor.

Friday, June 10, 2011

PINEAPPLE MOJITO

My absolute favorite fruit is the pineapple. Sweet but with a tang they lend themselves to many different recipes...I use them for classics like pineapple upside-down cakes all the way to a marinade for flank steak (their acidity makes a great tenderizer and their natural sugar makes great caramelization).  Right now Kroger has pineapples on sale-10 for $10. This is a ridiculously good deal as usually pineapples are about $5-6 each. So equipped with ten pineapples and no clear purpose I had to get creative. I thought of various tarts or cakes but wasn't completely sold on any of them. And then I had a complete stroke of genius (if  I do say so myself)--a pineapple mojito. Because of a pineapple's acidity it lends itself extraordinarily well as a substitute for lime juice; however because it does not have the bitterness of lime it lets the flavor of spearmint be a little bit more prominent. And of course if you have mint in your garden there is an endless supply, considering it regenerates practically overnight.

A couple of quick guidelines for pineapples:
-like any acidic fruit it should not be refrigerated, the flavor will be compromised
-they produce the best flavor and most juice when fully ripe (gold on the outside, not green)
-you can buy a greener pineapple and let it ripen a few days on the counter
-once ripe and golden on the outside, you want to use them quickly

INGREDIENTS (makes 4 mojitos)
1 whole pineapple
ice (about 4 cups)
4 cups water
1 cup white rum
2 oranges (optional)
1/3 cup sugar substitute like Splenda (or regular sugar)
about 4 sprigs of spearmint
dash of salt

1. Remove the green top of the pineapple. The easiest way to do this is hold the base of the pineapple with your right hand and twist the top where it meets the fruit. It will pop right off.  Once you have done this, cut off the top and bottom of the fruit,  exposing the flesh and creating a level surface for you to stand it up and peel. 

2. Discard of the green top. Set the top and bottom aside, they'll be used in the syrup. For an optional garnish, at this point cut a disc from the fruit about an inch wide.  Cut that disc in half. Cut each half in half again so there are four pieces (leaving the skin on makes for a more attractive garnish). Set garnish aside. Peel the remaining pineapple by slicing down the sides with a sharp knife.  You want to cut deeply enough to remove the eyes (brown spots from the skin) but leave as much flesh as possible. Save the skin and set aside. Once peeled, stand up and cut in half.  Cut those halves down the middle leaving four triangular columns.  Cut the point (the core) off each column and set the core aside with the top, bottom, and skin of the fruit. Cut each of the four columns of fruit into smaller pieces and place in a food processor or blender and add a pinch of salt (helps extract more juice).


3. In the food processor or blender, either put the juice of one orange or about 1/4 cup water to aid in liquefying the pineapple.  Blend until mixture is smooth.  Place a fine sieve over a bowl and pour mixture into the sieve. Press the majority of the mixture though with a spatula. You should get about 1 cup of pineapple juice

4. in a medium saucepan, add the top, bottom, and skin. Add 4 cups of water, sugar substitute, and the juice of the second orange (optional). Turn to medium heat and cover. Let cook for 10 minutes, turn down to simmer and cook another ten minutes. Strain this mixture into a bowl and chill at least to room temperature.

5. Add to the bottom of 4 tall glasses 1 sprig of mint and 4 or 5 ice cubes. Using a muddler (or the handle of wooden spoon), crush the ice and mint together. Bruising the mint like this in the glass keeps all of the flavor from the oil released in the cocktail.


6. Add more ice, about half way up the glass

7. Add 1/4 cup of the pure pineapple juice (not the pineapple syrup) to each glass and 1/4 cup (about one shot) of white rum

8. Add about one cup of the cooled pineapple syrup to each glass, stir with a straw

9. To garnish, cut a little slit in the end of the pineapple wedge and stick it to the rim of the glass, skin side up

10. Enjoy!