Monday, December 23, 2013

A Tale of Two Cakes, or I Probably Shouldn't Admit This

I want it, I want it, I want it...

Dear Marg,

It's the holiday season. I guess you know that. But none the less, it means holiday dinners. In our case, two back to back with no overlapping guests. For the first one I made a chocolate cake from Nigella. I know, but I like her. I think she's funny and her recipes work out for me. She's not uptight about things like measuring or how the cakes look. And she uses words like squidgy. She is the opposite of Miette.

The cake was flourless, so basically eggs, butter and chocolate. It was supposed to rise and then fall in the center creating a volcano-like crater for the cook to fill with whipped cream, which it did. It was okay. People liked it, or said they did, but no one wanted to take the leftovers home. It was light and sort of gentle, in a soft way. Pretty but vapid. I prefer a chocolate cake with more fortza. Maybe the fact that it was called Chocolate Cloud Cake should have tipped me off. I resolved to do better and thought wistfully of the chocolate cakes I hadn't made - especially the Chocolate Cherry FruitCake from Ready for Dessert.

The next night I was behind before I began. Amos offered to go to the store which was sweet but since his day was full he didn't get there until late so I couldn't start on the Chocolate Cherry Cake because we didn't have the cherries. Since time was short, the book was out and chocolate cake was clearly on my mind, I quickly settled on Racine Cake and began cracking eggs and melting chocolate. It was only when I was folding the eggs into the chocolate that I realized I was making basically the same cake. A little more chocolate, a lot more eggs, but the same general idea. No flour in sight - where was Alison?

It was better than Nigella's with more body and presence, but still in the same cloud-like camp.

I think I'm gearing up for a bout of OMG brownies, or the chocolate sour cream layer cake from Rosie's All Sugar, Fresh Cream, Butter Packed, etc etc etc...

Friday, December 20, 2013

Jet Lag Dinner

Hi Marg,

I meant to post about this a month ago, literally. When we got home from Bhutan I went on a jet-lag-fueled-bonding-with-my-kitchen extravaganza. This dinner was the one of the results.

First, turkey meatballs with zucchini and the most delightful sauce made of yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and sumac. It's a spice made from sumac berries. I bought it for the cookbook Jerusalem and have used it quite a bit. The spice and the book both.

The meatballs have mint in them and green onions and italian parsley which I use instead of the cilantro called for. I don't like cilantro. According to Harold McGee and the NY Times I am not alone. Apparently Julia Child said that if she found it in her food at a restaurant she would take it out and throw it on the floor. I'm with her.

Regardless, the meatballs, or little patties really, are delicious and you can eat the entire recipe which is supposed to serve 4-6 with just two people easily. They are fresh and light and satisfying all at the same time. And the sauce is fabulous even if you get all healthy and leave out the sourcream. Unlike the meatballs, there will definitely be sauce left over which is good because you can dip carrots in it, or smear it on leftover roast chicken, or just eat it off your fingers.

Second, for desert I made a great polenta cake with almonds, I think. I honestly can't remember what recipe I used but the pictures look like it's polenta and almonds. Although the recipe could have called for pecans, or pine nuts for all I can remember. There was a 19 hour time change remember. I have a feeling it was from David Lebovitz' Ready for Dessert because honestly that book has to be part of any bonding-with-your-kitchen extravaganza.

 Now it's a month later and I've had a cold for 2 weeks and would give anything for a measure of the energy that fueled this meal. The halls are decked but the cupboards are not far from bare and there is nary a christmas cooky in sight. I wish we lived closer so I could ride on your baking coattails.

love, Elise

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Some of what I have been baking


I've been baking. The consequence of all that time spent on Yumprint.

         Salted butter chocolate chip cookies from David Lebowitz, baked as a Blondie. I made some caramel and drizzled that over the top before baking. Terrific!

           Hungarian Shortbread from Dorie Greenspan's Baking with Julia. You make the shortbread dough, freeze it, and then grate it into the pan. I used raspberry jam in the center. Next time I'll try apricot jam and tart it up with some lemon juice, the jam, not the shortbread. This keeps and gets better each day. You could bake it on Wednesday and add it to a Christmas Cookie tray on Saturday.

           Oatmeal Cookie Cream Bar and Pecan Praline Bar. That jar in the back is Cookie Cream, something that has the consistency of Skippy peanut better and the flavor of those Biscoff Biscuits. If you are right now thinking to yourself that you aren't familiar with Biscoff Biscuits, one taste would take you right back to any European airport. These are good and if you can get past the whole European airport association, they are very good. I can't get past it.
          The pecan praline bar is just what it looks like, pecan shortbread crust, chopped pecans and a topping of mostly brown sugar and butter poured over it. Then you bake it. These are really good and with a little tweaking, could be great.

So maybe it isn't me, maybe I haven't lost the baking magic. I wish you were here to taste test.

Love, Margaret

Friday, November 29, 2013

That bitch, Nigella

                We were having a few friends over for dinner and I had been menu planning, the highlight of any dinner party. Since I’ve emerged from my paleo fugue state, I do nothing but look at dessert recipes on line. I haven’t read a paper or checked the weather or perused my email in weeks. It is all Yumprint and Dessert Stalking all the time. BTW, if you don’t have these sites bookmarked, you don’t know what you are missing. As riveting as Petfinder but without the consequences.
                Dessert had to be gluten free. Just as well because something had to narrow down the field of contenders. I finally winnowed the options to Individual Cheesecake Pots with Salted Caramel Sauce and Nigella’s Chocolate Raspberry Pavlova. His Lordship wanted the cheesecake, but after further reflection, we both decided to go with the Pavlova.
                Most of the dinner guests are cyclists, and cyclists (present company excluded, bien sur) are food weird. The Pavlova has fruit and that’s healthy and the meringue is fat free and mostly egg whites and we eat egg white omelets. So far, so salubrious. Then there is the cocoa powder, all theobromine and flavenols. The Pavlova is essentially fruit with some protein and antioxidents and just enough whipped cream to bind it all together. Health food, really. Throw in a few chia seeds and it could be your refuel snack after hot yoga. 
                So we chose Nigella. I should have known better. Nigella is the Devil’s Spawn from Christmas 2010. I followed the recipe, I didn’t once imagine that I knew better and add cream of tartar instead of vinegar, or beat when folding was called for. Still, my Pavlova was flat. It roamed all over the sheet pan, emerging as thin and boneless as a Dali clock. 



               Undeterred, beaten but unbowed, I piled up the whipped cream, loaded on the raspberries, shaved a little chocolate around the edges. I tried to remember that as the founder of Magenta Arborvitae, my motto is, The only thing pretty is our name.
                I think the Devil’s Spawn’s motto is, It tastes as bad as it looks. OK, it didn’t exactly taste bad, but I didn’t want seconds and I had no desire to go near it the next day. It was the ugly early of desserts. 

                Of the cyclists, two refused outright, one accepted a small piece and ate half, the other two cleaned their plates. I’m not blaming any of that on the Pavlova.
                I made the Individual Cheesecake Pots the next day and they were disappointing too.
                As they say in Alanon, if you meet more than two assholes in a day, who’s the asshole? Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m being overly ambitious, (cheesecake?) or have lost the baking magic. I’m not giving up. The only failure is the person who doesn’t try again the next day. I wonder if I could find a poster with that on it, maybe featuring a kitten in tight spot.

Love, Margaret

Thursday, November 28, 2013


Look, Marg! For the first time in history the Nantucket Cranberry Pie* unmolded without a hitch. I am shocked.

Used wax paper on the bottom of a springform pan and unmolded it exactly 7 minutes after it came out of the oven. Critical, I'm sure.

Anyway, very excited so wanted to share it.

Happy Thanksgivukkah!





From Lori Colwin's More Home Cooking


Monday, November 25, 2013

Pre-func, or Pumpkin Ramekins

*photos taken with Ipad, excuse garish yellow color of pumpkin filling

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Still Yummy After All These Years

Hi Marg,


In need of comfort food for my jet lag and poor mangled Achilles I made Lone Star Chicken from The Supper Book by Marion Cunningham. I made it years ago and the note in the book says "made exactly as written - yum!".


This is relevant bc when you read the rice you immediately think of all the ways it could be improved. Saute the onions seems obvious, brown the chicken even more so. A little fresh thyme would fit nicely. But all those things take work and since I can only stand up for 5 minutes at a time browning and sautéing are kind of outside the realm of the possible. Even if I felt like it, which I didn't. So once again, I made it exactly as written, and once again, you guessed it, yummy.


Here's how it goes. Put a can of tomatoes and their juice i n a big ovenproof pot. Add a chopped up (un-sautéed) onion, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, a little vinegar, and some oregano. Cook for 30 minutes. Put in in-browned chicken parts even though you think there isn't enough liquid and bake, or is it braise? at 350 for 45 minutes or so. S and P to taste and serve over brown rice. The chicken is just as pale and anemic looking as you would expect, but tender and delicious. And easy. And comforting.




Then pretend that you are too crippled to do the dishes.


All my love, Elise


PS Despite the inordinate sums spent on camera equipment, photos are from IPad. Don't judge me, as my friend's tween says.


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Humphrey is missing a few teeth

We ate street food in Bangkok. Annie, our guide, has lived here for 23 years and only gotten sick twice, both times from something she cooked. It's been 2 days and so far so good...

Don't worry mom, we Purelled first.

Sawadeekha, Elise


Friday, November 1, 2013

Fruit Soup, A Paleo-ish Dessert

         Paleo dinner parties are pretty easy, some protein, some vegetables, no one complains about the lack of bread. 

         Paleo dessert is more challenging. 

        This was probably my most successful effort. Of course, other than this, the only dessert I ever provided was a bowl of berries with a side of whipped cream. So most successful should be understood in that context.

        I started with a James Peterson recipe, Fruit Soup in a Spice Broth.

        First, the spices.
        There is some sugar, that's what makes it paleo-ish, but it is also what makes it dessert.  


       Then the fruit.

        His Lordship said that I had really upped my game, and this was the sort of thing one might be served in a fancy restaurant. That could have been the bowl of berries talking.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Asia ahready

This the food served in the lounge. Make your own yaki soba. Drink til you drop. All for the price of a business class ticket - or a zillion miles.


We are off to Bangkok! I'll send a picture of pad Thai.


Love, Elise


Testing 123

Dear Marg,

We are in the Star Alliance lounge in LA waiting to board and I'm testing to see if I can blog from my iPad.


Meatless Monday II

                You visited on a Monday and we went meatless. Or mostly meatless. There was the beef broth, but that had been made on a Wednesday and had been in my freezer for months. Of course, if that’s permissible, can I eat the beef stew that has been in my freezer for months? Probably not. What if the broth were made with a carcass, something that would otherwise have been discarded, will that get it a pass?
                This whole meatless Monday thing isn’t as easy as it sounds. WWMBD? (what would Mark Bittman do)
                For our meatless Monday we had to decide between curried vegetable swamp and mushroom ragu over polenta. We settled on the mushroom ragu because it was a different sort of vegetable swamp. And I’m easing out of the Paleo lifestyle so polenta sounded good to me.
                Armed with two pounds of mushrooms, we commenced.  
                Sweat some onions and garlic
                Add the mushrooms and sauté until most of their liquid has cooked off


                Add some red wine and your unforgivable beef broth



                At this point we diverged from the recipe.  Instead of layering the mushroom ragu with the polenta and some mozzarella cheese, three layers of each, we just served the ragu over the polenta, one layer each, and eschewed the mozzarella altogether.

                Under other circumstances, it would have been disappointing. We probably should have cooked it a little longer and allowed the sauce to concentrate and become syrupy. We probably should have followed the recipe.  
                Meatless Monday concluded with a unambiguously meatless French Apple cake. This dessert is made up of three parts apples to one part cake. Really the cake is only there to seep into the few small spaces between all those chopped apples. I liked it. We had it with whipped cream, which covers a multitude of sins from the mortal—too much fruit to be called a cake—to the venal—bland.  


             I guess the dessert was also a little disappointing. I didn’t really notice. Having you here made everything shine like the top of the Chrysler building.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ribs again

Dear Marg,

It's been a braised pork month. Pork shoulder two weeks ago and ribs this week. The usual soy and orange ones from Epicurious. I add fresh ginger. Usually I add cornstarch to the sauce at the end - just mix a tablespoon or two with some sauce and then stir that back into the simmering pot - but this time the cupboard was bare of cornstarch. How a person uses up an entire box of cornstarch is beyond me.

The sauce was very liquidy and consequently didn't sit on top of the ribs when I grilled them but rather ran off the sides and threatened to douse the flames. Not as successful but we managed to choke them down. 

Served them with kale from our vacationing neighbors never ending CSA, joining the masses worshiping at the redemptive shrine of this woody vegetable. I felt like Grandma Grace when she learned that cottage cheese was thinning and began adding a serving of it to every meal.

Love, Elise

Friday, October 11, 2013

Simmer once, Simmer twice, It's a night for cozy rice

                Cold rain, 48 hours of it and another 48 predicted. Tis the season for gruel.
                I decided to make Sue’s lamb and rice casserole. Both you and Mom informed me that for this I’ll need leftover lamb, leftover lamb gravy and rice. I have rice.
                I needed to create a simulacrum of the other two. Brown some ground lamb, sweat some garlic and onions, well, shallots bc my onion had turned. Combine it with the rice and a few cups of that homemade chicken broth I have in my freezer from last week’s roast chicken. Toss in some rosemary bc I remember that part from Sue’s version and some fennel seeds bc that sounds good. Then let it simmer to reduce the liquid. It simmered while Riley had a brief elimination walk. The timing was perfect.

                It wasn’t Sue’s casserole, but it was cozy, warm and soft on a night that is cold enough for all the dogs to need blankets. 


                Love, Margaret