30 September 2015

Something old, something new

In a way it feels silly to post this. But when I've made the same thing maybe 5 times over the past 2 months, to not talk about it feels like not telling a close friend my innermost thoughts. The classic NY Times recipe from 1983, the Purple Plum Torte, something old, is still being made and that's for a reason, clearly. A magical thing happens in the oven...the baking powder and egg puff up the thick-battered torte into cakey lightness, the plums sink through to develop into jammy pockets and the cinnamon speckles bake into the top crust to give it the slightest crackle. One of the farm market vendors I frequent has still had a heap of these little Italian plums on a weekly basis and I can never not pick them up. It being 2015, not 1983, I decided to give it a new twist: I make a half-recipe, swap in a smidge of whole wheat flour, and bake it in shallow tart pans instead of a tall springform one.

This not only cuts the baking time a bit, but makes it a little more svelte, designed to feed less (though it freezes well and is best after it sits overnight). To that point, Amanda Hesser stated on Instagram last week that if the only time you have to bake is 10pm on a weeknight, then you should make this torte.  Marian Burros knows Italian prune plums, and she knows they need to be baked to be fully enjoyed. If you've never made her plum crumble, that is the other essential thing to do with seasonal Italian prune plums. I talked about it last year, and just made it again the other day with more of these little plums I had around. But today, I took out a slice of the torte again.

It's an around-the clock kind of item. Good for dessert, afternoon coffee treat, and breakfast. We ate some for breakfast before we left for our wedding rehearsal because it ages well overnight (see above) and I clearly considered the shape of slices I cut, to be smiley faces for good luck. It is also the most elegant excuse to eat cake for breakfast I know.

(Svelte) Purple Plum Torte  adapted from Marian Burros via NYT
Note-an 8-inch x 1-inch tart pan  or a 4 x 14 tart pan with removable bottoms work well here

6 Tbs (70 grams) sugar
4 Tbsp (55 grams)/ 1/2 a stick unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 cup (63 grams) all purpose flour  (I sneak about 1 Tbsp/8 grams whole wheat in)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 egg
8 Italian prune plums, small-ish, halved and pitted

To top:
1 tsp lemon juice
~ 1/2 tsp sanding sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon 

-Heat the oven to 350
-Whisk well together the flour, baking powder, salt
-In a stand mixer or beaters, cream butter and sugar til fluffy and light, scrape down as needed and add the egg, scrape down. 
-Add the flour mix carefully in two additions, mixing on low until just combined, scrape down sides and bottom as needed. 
-Scrape batter into prepared tin and smooth top. 
-Place plums cut side down onto batter.
-Sprinkle with lemon juice, cinnamon and sugar 
-Place in oven for about 40 minutes. Check @ 35. A wood skewer will come out clean, top bounce back to touch.
-Cool on rack, un-mold bottom to serve once fully cooled. Good left overnight, wrapped after cooling. 

18 September 2015

I don't intend to stop

The night we returned from our honeymoon, I pulled a mini loaf of zucchini bread I'd stashed in the freezer before we'd left for the wedding festivities. To be honest, I was already thinking about it on the plane ride back when I realized we would not be having Adriatic seafood the next day or for that matter until we planned another trip. The next best option seemed to be to brainstorm uses for the rest of summer's bounty and strategically deal with the available seafood here. But back to the zucchini bread. My freezer is so small I do not have the ability to forget what's in there. And a loaf of this, which defrosts beautifully overnight on the counter, was there, ready to be sliced, toasted and schmeared the next morning.
I've made this bread several times over the summer... (why did I wait to share it ?!) and it's a keeper. I first saw it on Food52 made with orange and rosemary, flavors I would never pass up. And while that was a wonderful rendition, it's the vanilla, cinnamon and chocolate combination that I always seem to have more at my fingertips. I really like it this way so that's what I'll share here. As far as technique, you'll want to mix till just combined, like a muffin. This isn't a fussy, mixer-based, buttery desert cake but rather on the rustic side and hits the marks of being tender-crumbed, not too sweet, able to withstand a bit of whole grain flour, and willing to be studded with some chocolate for image and taste enhancement. To make matters even more attractive, this leoparded zucchini loaf's olive oil base is cut with a bit of plain yogurt. I keep seeing zucchini at the market even now, and somehow we have not stopped roasting it, shredding it into meatballs, and baking it up into this bread. And as far as this Indian Summer is going, I don't intend to stop until I no longer see the zucchini. 

Zucchini bread with whole wheat and chocolate
Makes 2 hefty mini loaves or 1 regular loaf
Inspired by Food52 

Notes: Measure your zucchini on the scant side so it doesn't overly saturate the bread. That said, depending on the moisture of your zucchini, you may have to bake your loaf or mini loaves longer ...mine have gone from 45-60 mins even for tall mini loaves. Do not fret, just test with a skewer and a finger pressing into the top and use your judgement. Don't be afraid to let it go till the top is a nice golden. It should spring back to the touch of a finger, and a skewer come out clean ; ) The loaves keep a day or two wrapped in plastic at room temp or frozen for a bit longer. Defrost on the counter and rewarm individual slices if desired. 

1 1/4  cups (157 grams) all purpose flour
1/4 cup (30 grams) whole wheat four
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup finely chopped dark chocolate

1/4 cup (50 grams) olive oil
1/4 cup (58 grams) plain whole milk yogurt (room temp)
1 tsp vanilla
Zest of half a small lemon or orange
1 1/2 large (75 grams) eggs (room temp)
3/4 cup + 2 Tbsp (165 grams) natural cane sugar
1 cup shredded zucchini

Butter and dust barely with flour, two 5x3 inch loaf pans or 1 larger loaf pan and tap out excess. Turn the oven to 350 degrees F.

Shred and squeeze the zucchini in a paper towel briefly to remove a little moisture. 

In a medium bowl, whisk to combine flours, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and soda, and half the chocolate. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs then add the sugar and whisk again. Add the yogurt, oil, vanilla and zest and whisk to blend smoothly. Stir in the zucchini.

Add the flour mix gently to the wet mixture, in two additions, folding to combine. Mix until no streaks of flour remain but do not try to smooth batter. Add in a little more chocolate and pour evenly into the pans. Sprinkle top with remaining chocolate and a pinch of sugar if desired.

Bake on the middle rack for 40-60 minutes. Test with a wood skewer. It should come out clean, be golden on top and bounce back to the finger. Cool on a rack then unfold and cool completely. 

06 September 2015

Venice + Croatia

We're back in the states after visiting Venice, Italy and Croatia for our Honeymoon journey and I have to say, really missing the view. Both lands of photo-paradise and adventure. The first stop was Venice, arrival around 11 am, and this here below the first photo I took after exiting the Alilaguna. 

Venice: We ate at 2 restaurants in Venice on our evenings there: Ai 40 Ladroni and Osteria Anice Stellato, both in the Canareggio neighborhood where we stayed, and more on the local spectrum than those towards San Marco. At Ladroni, I nearly froze when we sat and realized we were in the company of only locals-- smoking, drinking and eating multiple courses of shellfish in the garden and not speaking a word of English, and we'd have to play it cool with the staff. We immediately ordered a carafe of wine. Then a pesce misti for 2, and it was perfetto. The photo above is the slightly more modern but homey, Anice Stellato. We loved this place and were there for about 3 hours. I'd go back right now if possible. Noteworthy is the fish and vegetable antipasti, with tiny samplings of cooked vegetable and fish pushed in rows to the sides of the plate, and the bucatini with head and tail on shrimp, as well as the grilled fish fillet. 

Croatia: Dalmatian Coast We began in Dubrovnik and then drove to Split, both on the coast but a bit different. When on the coast, focus on the Adriatic seafood which is super fresh and sweet. If you tell anyone familiar with the area that you are to visit, you'll most likely be asked, "do you like seafood?" The answer should be yes, and even if you think you aren't as into mussels, clams and (not fried) calamari, you will be wrong. Everything is delicious. A platter of mixed fish is the best way to sample the offerings. We ate at Plava Alga in Hvar, Nautika (!!!) in Dubrovnik, Makarun in Split. Also, a boat trip with lunch is an authentic, economical experience (2nd below). We saw a few islands that way. And when you're craving meat, head for Konoba Dubrava--a simple setting (3rd below) but not to be missed, even for the winding drive up to it. The grilled meats (steaks, cuts, kabobs) are the specialty here or iron-bell slow-cooked advanced ordered lamb. We went during an off time, for a late lunch and many of the tables were already set and reserved for dinner. 

Croatia: Plitvice/Zagreb Heading inland, we spent a good part of the day at Plitvice Lakes National Park--an incredible force of nature, then drove to Zagreb where we were flying out of, for the evening where we stayed the night and left far too soon in the morning. For the evening, though it was late my dying phone led us on a 6 minute walk into town to Lari & Penati, an example of a Pinterest Pin turned reality thanks to the iPhone. Think East Village cafe nestled on a side street in the middle of the capital. We got crispy chicken tenders served with dips and mixed greens and again couldn't make out much English on the packed front patio. 

When planning our trip we tried as much as possible to piece together an outline beforehand while leaving some fill in the blanks. And while from here those blanks felt daunting, it's those moments of surprise that are most memorable now. It's amazing how you could have no lay of the land from afar, just areas, but completely throw yourself in and see the etched map in your head once you're in it. Kind of like how I felt when I moved to New York 12 years ago...

Until next time! 

Dubruvnik - Old City
Lead Photo-Dubruvnic: coast
Accommodations in Croatia : Bellevue (Dubrovnik)
                                                Divota Apartments (Split)
                                                Esplanade (Zagreb)

17 August 2015

A lucky one

Saturday evening, 9-ish, after a late breakfast, a late lunch, a lot of administrative work, and slice of afternoon dessert (see above), we find ourselves at the corner Vietnamese restaurant (cuz if you are marrying a 6'2 ft man there will never be a late lunch + dessert that also suffices as dinner) : )  

Everything is the same about this place, always. I will order grilled wild shrimps, Ed beef or pork and we will never have to wait. There are people there but not too many. The family running it available but not intrusive, the dishes authentic but not trendy, fresh but not farm-y. The one minute walk there, often an extension of a concentrated day not needing any more accoutrements but the mint leaf garnishes. 

On this visit Ed ordered a good Belgian beer which was, within minutes, spilled as our waiter set down dishes. With karate-like reflexes, it was propped back up, the wetness graciously blotted with towels. Not much was lost but a new bottle was brought. A lucky one, perhaps. And just as I thought I'd want more later, my Sauvignon Blanc was, too, refilled with the last of the bottle. Did they know we'd be married in a week, I wondered?

It is a good life lesson to aim to put in something extra. I remind myself this daily when the option to disengage comes up, the opportunity to give less, to ask for less, to shy away, to be sharp. I'm not saying it's always easy, but why not aim to rise to the occasion? When it comes to Rose Levy Berenbaum and pastry, she's an occasion, and if you're already following her, you are on the road to baking better, and that in itself is rewarding.

Along the way, of making this peach galette, there will be notes and tricks that seem out of the way, automatic no's, and your experience will totally depend upon what you know to be  most important...the non-negotiables. 

Her method with peaches here is non-negotiable, one I will always come back to. And her cream cheese dough? Excellent--even though I did not use bleached AP flour nor spoon the mixture into a plastic bag and knead it from the outside or chill the bowl for 30 minutes as she originally suggests, I just hand-made the dough per usual and chilled it. 

Someday, I will follow her to a T, I fantasize, but for now I am just happy she gets me to pursue something worthwhile. 

Summer Peach Galette
Adapted from Rose
Note: After chilling dough, I sliced the disc in about half, and used the slightly larger one here, and froze the smaller one for future use. I cut the below peach filling in half. You can either get one large tart out of this or two smaller ones or one smaller one using half the dough and half the filling. 

Cream Cheese Dough (for a large galette or 2 smaller galettes)

6 Tbsp very cold unsalted butter, cubed small
1 cup / 125 grams all-purpose flour
1/4 cup /2 oz cream cheese, cold
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp baking powder
1.5 tsp cider vinegar
1 Tbsp ice water

Filling (for a large galette or 2 smaller ones)

1.5 lb/~20 oz/~3 cups (about 4 medium) peaches, peeled, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1.5 tsp fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup/~60 grams sugar
pinch salt
1/8 tsp almond extract 
1 Tbsp butter
2 tsp cornstarch

Milk + Turbinado for brushing

Make Dough: Whisk together flour, salt, baking powder well. Add the cream cheese and work in with your hands to form a coarse meal. Add the butter cubes, pressing with a snapping motion so no pieces larger than a pea remain. Use your palm to flatten some of the butter shards, too, in the bowl. Now mix the water and vinegar together and sprinkle over. Toss with a silicon spatula to moisten, then press into a rough ball. Place a piece of plastic on a counter and dump the dough onto it, pushing it together lightly and using the wrap to press into a disk. Refrigerate at least an hour, up to 2 days or freeze a month. 

Filling: Toss peaches with lemon juice and sugar and allow to sit for 30 min-1 hr. Set a fine mesh strainer over a wide measuring cup or bowl and carefully pour peaches over, letting the juice drip for a few minutes. Pour the juice mixture (there should be ~1/2 c ) into a saucepan over medium heat and add the butter. Swirl but don't stir the mixture until it is reduced by half and lightly caramelized. Remove from heat and toss with the peaches in a bowl. Add the almond extract and cornstarch and toss to coat until no traces remain

Roll dough out to ~12 inch round on a lightly floured parchment surface, keeping it moving. Transfer parchment to sheet pan, and if dough has gotten a little soft, stick the tray in the freezer a few minutes. Mound peaches in center and evenly pleat the dough over to cover. Use a bench scraper to release dough from parchment and aid in pleating if necessary. 

Place galette in fridge loosely draped with plastic and preheat oven to 400 for about 15 minutes. Brush edges with a little milk and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake about 40-45 minutes until bubbly, the peaches tender and the crust a nice golden brown/crisp, rotating tray around 30 min through. Cool completely, a few hours, before cutting. 

07 August 2015

Wine Truffles

Ever since I posted that recipe for Amaretto Truffles back around Valentine's Day (which are really good), I've been making truffles quite regularly. IMHO, it's one of the most simple sophistications you can have sitting around your kitchen, one that doesn't require much effort at all. Something you can take out of your back pocket like...oh, there's truffles... Eating them requires nary a napkin. Each bite is so strong, you only need a few, and when you announce these ones are made from booze, not cream, you'll get even more interest. I even brought them to a family gathering when I couldn't get it together to make another dessert. Once rolled, they'll last a few good days in a container. The only trick is setting aside the nice size bar of chocolate you'll need, but once you have, you'll be saving the last trickles of the bottle of red aside just so another batch can happen soon.

You'll start like you would any other truffle: dark chocolate, of the 70%-77% cacao variety, gets chopped and set in a bowl. Liquid is heated to just boil and poured over to soften. Now this is where things get different; the mixture doesn't step foot in the fridge. A little butter is then melted in the same pot and added and then the whole thing is stirred. It sits out and cools off, between stirs for up to an hour. You'll have to babysit it for a bit at room temperature, giving it stirs, but once it's scoopable, you'll roll your truffles into a little cocoa, store them and call it a day.

A note on the wine: Any red works here, and it doesn't have to be just opened! Use wine that has been opened already. While I don't recommend using deliberately staled and forgotten wine, something that you neglected for a few days will work just fine. I happened to recently visit a meadery in New Jersey and just as we were tasting the sweet honey wine, I knew I had to try some of it in these wine truffles, so I bought a bottle of the berry flavored mead (called Berry Chic) and swapped in some for the usual red wine. I didn't go all mead, because I think that could be too strong, but the hint of berry tang the mead delivered here was a welcome dimension. Feel free to use all red wine, or try some mead if you can get your hands on it--both ways are great.

Wine Truffles
Inspired from Pastry Affair

30 ml/ 2 Tbsp red wine
30 ml/ 2 Tbsp Mead** (or use all red wine--I do both)
pinch sea salt
drop vanilla or almond extract (optional)
15 grams/ ~1 Tbsp butter
4 oz dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces
~2 Tbsp cocoa powder for dusting

Method: Place chocolate in a bowl. Heat wine and mead in a saucepan until just giving off boiling bubbles. Immediately pour over chocolate and let sit a minute. Swirl butter into same pan to just melt, heating again if necessary, then pour into chocolate bowl. Add pinch of salt and drop extract if using, and stir until completely smooth. Set aside in a cool place in the room and stir every 5-10 minutes. The process of tempering will depend upon how hot it is in the room. Allow for an hour. Once it's thickened and resists a spoon slightly when stirred, it's good to roll. Spread cocoa into a bowl, scoop balls and shake around in the bowl of cocoa. Tap off excess and set on a piece of parchment to set for a few minutes. Store airtight in a dark cool place (if it is very hot they keep in the fridge-bring to room temp to serve)

27 July 2015


About once a week, I pick up Griggstown chicken sausages at our farmer's market along with whatever vegetables are seeming new. Sold frozen raw,  it's a delicious product, infused with parsley, white wine and garlic, or sundried tomato and basil, and it serves as assurance that if I have no idea what to make one day coming up, it's there and ready to go without the demands for breadcrumbs or other accessories like meatballs need. When I get home from the market, I set it in the fridge to defrost: tomorrow will require a dash less thought. And then, that's done. While I believe the popular thing to do with these sausages is to grill them, a large percentage of us don't have that outdoor access even during these months, and I've completely fallen for this oven application. Sometimes, I don't even envy grillers...sometimes. This is one of those times.

I snip the casings open, discard them, then pinch and dollop the raw sausage onto a lightly greased sheet pan. Vegetables are then trimmed to even size and I stick to a formula of something that will cook in 20-25 minutes (red peppers, broccoli, asparagus, (when it was abundant), and currently, zucchini), an aromatic (leek rounds or scallions cut in half--shown above), toss it all in olive oil, salt, pepper, and thyme or oregano and spread it out for browning amongst the sausage. Everything gets roasted in a hot oven, shaken halfway through and when it leaves the oven, you'll wonder if you should even bother transferring it to a serving dish. A lemon wedge, smatter of herbs and a serving spoon is all you need. Well, salad and bread is nice, too.

Chicken Sausage and Vegetable Sheet Pan Supper

12 oz seasoned raw chicken sausage in casings (like Griggstown)
1 medium zucchini (or pepper or broccoli head), sliced into coins
2 small leeks, white part sliced into coins, or 6 scallions, halved and trimmed of tops and bottoms
sea salt and pepper
1 tsp white wine
olive oil
fresh thyme or oregano

Heat the oven to 425 F. Use your finger to lightly grease a sheet pan with about 1/2 tsp oil. Toss vegetables in a glug oil and salt/pepper. Sprinkle with oregano or thyme. Transfer to pan and spread out. Open the sausage casings and use your fingers to pinch off pieces about 1.5 inches--I usually get about 5 pinches per sausage. Divide among the sheet pan. Drizzle sausage with a tad more oil and pinch of salt and oregano, pour the 1 tsp wine around the vegetables, and transfer to oven. Roast 20 minutes, then remove and shake pan, tossing. Return to oven for 2-4 minutes more, until sausage is firm to touch, cooked through but still tender (cut into one to see no pink or take temp) optionally broiling for the last minute if you want more char--but watch it! I only do this sometimes if I've crowded the pan. If you've spread everything out you should be nicely browned. Let cool a few minutes, then transfer to serving dish. Serve with lemon to squeeze, and sprinkle herbs on top.

16 July 2015

An ideal berry crisp

I had begun a mental list of things I wanted to do without my husband-to-be while his brothers swooped him for a "bachelor" weekend. I thought of any movie, drink, or food that could make a 36 hour appearance, but the list felt silly. When I remembered that he also expressed interest in the new documentary about the gay "voice" I abandoned the list. Despite the fact that he'd likely pay me at this point to stop. discussing. centerpiece flowers. right. now., we like to do most things together.

When a surplus of cherries and blueberries bought for their trip returned home, I noted: berry crisp! on a scratchpad. So today I'm sharing this crisp. It's a go-to. The filling is adapted from Heidi Swanson's 'tutti fruity' filling and isn't too sweet. Berries are already sweet. You don't want them cloyingly so. A little red wine is a weapon in that department.  It is one of the easiest desserts you can make in the summer.

I learned  last fall, after a few apple crisps sourced around the Internet, that one size does not fit all. Just because apples are baked down with a crumble topping it does not a good crumble make. I experienced a goldilocks effect with the three I'd tried and even thought I was 'not that into' apple crisp at one point... until I found the one! And good thing, because I don't think it's possible to not be into apple crisp : )

The difference included education on the crumble/crisp science and using the right apples. In the end, there are some secrets to keeping the topping, as I like it, crispy, and I think the trick is in the baking powder. The other key is to let it cool down before serving. The last time I made this we ended up waiting a good 3 hours after it came out of the oven, which makes it an ideal thing to make slightly ahead. A dollop of lightly whipped cream of creme fraiche alongside is a nice finishing touch.

Summer Berry Crisp
Serves about 4. I've cut in half for 2 : )
Filling adapted from Super Natural Everyday, Topping adapted from Rock Recipes. Berries are totally customizable.
1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup spelt flour (or use all all-purpose)
1/2 cup rolled oats
scant 1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp  baking powder
Few swipes lemon zest
small pinch of salt
6 Tbsp cold, cubed salted good butter
1 1/2 teaspoons all-natural cornstarch
2 1/2 Tablespoons ( 3/4 oz) natural cane sugar or muscovado sugar
2 1/4 cup of berries – a mix of ripe, pitted cherries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, rhubarb etc.
~scant 2 Tbsp jammy red wine, like port or a fruity pinot noir

Heat the oven to 360 and lightly grease a ceramic or glass baking dish of about 8.” A small-ish oval baker is a good size. Begin by making the filling. Stir together flours, salt, oats, zest, baking powder and sugar. Pinch in butter with fingers until incorporated into a mass. Don’t overwork. It should look like a rough cookie dough ball. Place in fridge while you make filling.
In a large bowl stir cornstarch and sugar. Toss in fruit, and wait three minutes. Then add the wine and toss again. Transfer berry mixture to prepared dish. Remove topping from fridge and break off pieces the size of your thumb top. Scatter those on top of the berries but don’t press down.
Place in the oven for about 40 minutes, until the top is golden and the berries are bubbling. Remove to a wire rack and cool at least 15-20 minutes before scooping servings. Serve alongside creme fraiche, a dollop of whipped cream or the like.