On one Mother’s Day many years ago, my sister and I ordered our mother a beautiful bouquet of flowers. Although unoriginal and basically thoughtless, the idea might have been somewhat good had we not used mom’s credit card to pay for the transaction. Oops. Let’s just say once the details of the purchase surfaced, mother was less than pleased.
“Have I taught you nothing?!” she cried. “All I want is a card! All I EVER want is a card! It’s so simple. A handmade card!”
While I likely knew all of that back then, over the years I have learned that I can’t go wrong on gift-giving occasions when I keep in mind the things that truly make our mother happy, namely said handmade card, photos, phone calls, tins of sardines, cold beer, popcorn, Jack Black, tea (preferably PG Tips served in thin-thin porcelain cups), an extra pair of scissors… simple things, really.
Last summer, my sister and I escaped to NYC for 36 hours. We packed in a show, some good shopping, and a lot of good eating including breakfast at Eataly and dinner at Momofuku. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this getaway before — sorry, I don’t get out much — but after discovering that Danish pastry dough can be made in the food processor and, as a result, that cheese danishes can be whipped up in just a few hours, I found myself dreaming about other danish-like pastries, croissants in particular, ones brimming with prosciutto à la Eataly specifically.
Now, the breakfast pastries we ate at Eataly were served at room temperature and filled with slices of meat sandwich-style. And while they were delicious, I was craving something more like the pain au jambon I had read about in the Tartine cookbook, in which smoked ham and cheese are rolled and baked with the dough. So, guided by Tartine, I layered thin slices of prosciutto and batons of gruyère over my faux croissant dough, and before too long, a half dozen crackly golden pastries emerged from my oven, cheese oozing from the ridges, salty meat entwined with each flaky layer.
On Christmas Eve my mother served this torta caprese — a flourless, chocolate-almond torte originating from the Isle of Capri — for dessert. If this is any indication of how it was received, not a single person sitting at the table, nine in total, turned down seconds. Later that evening, Santa even helped himself to thirds.
I love this class of cakes, those that can stand on their own, that don’t beg for layers of buttercream, pools of crème pâtissière, glazes of chocolate ganache or even dollops of whipped cream. This one, like the orange-and-olive oil cake and the Chez Panisse almond torte, fits into this class.
Containing no flour and leavened only by whipped egg whites, this torte is at once light, rich and moist. Ground almonds give it a wonderful texture throughout, and a splash of Grand Marnier offers a hint of orange. Made with bittersweet chocolate, it is perfectly sweet, and when it bakes, that brownie-like, most-delicious, paper-thin crust forms on the top-most layer. It is every bit elegant the finale of a special occasion should be, Valentine’s Day or otherwise. I hope you find an occasion to celebrate it soon. Read More
Some of you know my sister Lindsey. Some of you have only read about her here and thus only know about her penchant for crust-based dishes — pies and quiches in particular — and her love for Peeps and leftovers.
Let me tell you a little bit more. Lindsey, while a wonderful cook, doesn’t quite share the enthusiasm for cooking that many of the women in my family do. She doesn’t go to bed with a full belly dreaming about what she might cook up tomorrow morning nor does she subscribe to a single cooking magazine; to her, nothing could be more boring than a tv program on cooking and a discussion about recipes might send her straight into another room; and she has been known on more than one occasion to exclaim, “Why does everything have to be such a production?!” Read More
When I tell you that, if forced, I had to pick one and only one recipe to share with you that this — my mother’s peasant bread — would be it, I am serious. I would almost in fact be OK ending the blog after this very post, retiring altogether from the wonderful world of food blogging, resting assured that you all had this knowledge at hand. This bread might just change your life.
The reason I say this is simple. I whole-heartedly believe that if you know how to make bread you can throw one hell of a dinner party. And the reason for this is because people go insane over homemade bread. Not once have I served this bread to company without being asked, “Did you really make this?” And questioned: “You mean with a bread machine?” But always praised: “Is there anything more special than homemade bread?”
And upon tasting homemade bread, people act as if you’re some sort of culinary magician. I would even go so far as to say that with homemade bread on the table along with a few nice cheeses and a really good salad, the main course almost becomes superfluous. If you nail it, fantastic. If you don’t, you have more than enough treats to keep people happy all night long.
So what, you probably are wondering, makes this bread so special when there are so many wonderful bread recipes out there? Again, the answer is simple. For one, it’s a no-knead bread. I know, I know. There are two wildly popular no-knead bread recipes out there. But this is a no-knead bread that can be started at 4:00pm and turned out onto the dinner table at 7:00pm. It bakes in well-buttered pyrex bowls — there is no pre-heating of the baking vessels in this recipe — and it emerges golden and crisp without any steam pans or water spritzes. It is not artisan bread, and it’s not trying to be. It is peasant bread, spongy and moist with a most-delectable buttery crust.
Genuinely, I would be proud to serve this bread at a dinner party attended by Jim Leahy, Mark Bittman, Peter Reinhart, Chad Robertson, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. It is a bread I hope you will all give a go, too, and then proudly serve at your next dinner party to guests who might ask where you’ve stashed away your bread machine. And when this happens, I hope you will all just smile and say, “Don’t be silly. This is just a simple peasant bread. Easy as pie. I’ll show you how to make it some day.” Read More
Nearly a decade ago, a pan of brownies emerged from my oven that changed everything. Before discovering this recipe, I couldn’t stash enough brownie recipes away, particularly those sounding most outrageous, the ones loaded with chocolate, the more varieties the better.
What inspired me to give this recipe a go, I do not know. There is nothing eye-catching about the ingredient list — unsweetened cocoa powder is the sole chocolate product — or intriguing about the method — it’s a simple two-bowl, no-mixer job. But I did, and while I know there are lots of fantastic brownie recipes out there, I have not tried another recipe since. And every time I bite into one of these brownies, I wonder in amazement how unsweetened cocoa powder on its own can impart such a deep, intense chocolate flavor all the while producing a fudgy, moist and utterly delicious brownie.
I still do not know its secret. I am no food scientist. But over the years I have gotten better at eyeing up recipes and am not so eager to bite at the ones sounding most outrageous. In cakes and quickbreads, it’s ingredients such as buttermilk and oil (as opposed to butter) and unsweetened natural cocoa powder that catch my attention. So when I saw the ingredient list in this chocolate cake recipe on epicurious, I suspected it would be a good one. (The 1,517 positive reviews and blue ribbon decoration may have played a role in that, too.) Read More
Before heading to the beach last week for a little vacation with the family, I spent some time in the kitchen preparing a few items to pack along: granola, granola bars (which, unfortunately, were inedible) and this no-knead oatmeal toasting bread, a tried-and-true family favorite. The goal was meal supplementation — to avoid eating every meal out — and in retrospect, I wish I’d prepared more, namely biscotti, which were sorely missed, and something chocolaty to satisfy our post-dinner sweet tooths — midweek we caved and stocked up on chocolate-almond Hershey bars from the local convenience store … never have they tasted so good.
But this bread was a savior. We ate it every morning toasted and slathered with peanut butter and nearly every afternoon, at times with lettuce, tomato and bacon wedged in between, at others with nutella and peanut butter, and at others with a thick layer of melted cheese and sliced tomato.
It is a cinch to prepare — true to the title, no kneading is involved — and the bread, chewy in texture and slightly sweet, is just straight-up delicious, a treat to have on hand on vacation or not. My only goal tomorrow is to restock my freezer with another two loaves, and thanks to the 100ºF forecast, I’m almost certain to achieve it. Perhaps insufferable heat isn’t all that bad? Just trying to stay positive. Hope you’re all staying cool.
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 3/4 cups old-fashioned oats
3 cups boiling water
2 tablespoons of butter
1 pkg active dry yeast = 2.25 teaspoons
1/4 cup warm water
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1. Place brown sugar, salt and oats in a large mixing bowl. Add boiling water. Add butter. Let stand till lukewarm. Note: This is the only place where you could mess up the recipe. The mixture must cool to a lukewarm temperature so that it doesn’t kill the yeast.
2. In a small bowl, sprinkle yeast over the 1/4 cup warm water. Let stand for about 5 minutes. Stir. Add this yeast mixture to the oat mixture and stir.
3. Add the flours a little bit at a time. My old recipe says to add it one cup at a time, but I’m never that patient. Add it as slowly as you can tolerate, stirring to combine after each addition.
4. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl and cover with a damp tea towel or plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm spot until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. This is what I always do for my “warm spot”: preheat the oven to its hottest setting for 1 minute. TURN OFF THE OVEN. (Note: Only preheat the oven for 1 minute total — in other words, don’t wait for your oven to heat up to 500ºF and to sit at that temperature for 1 minute. You just want to create a slightly warm spot for your bread to rise.) Place covered bowl in the oven to rise until doubled.
5. Grease two standard sized loaf pans generously with butter. When dough has risen, punch it down. I use two forks to do this. I stab the dough in the center first, then pull the dough from the sides of the bowl towards the center up onto itself. Then I take my two forks and, working from the center out, I divide it into two equal portions. Place each portion into your prepared loaf pans. Let rise until dough creeps above the rim of the loaf pan.
6. Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Bake loaves for 10 min. Reduce heat to 350ºF. Bake for another 40 to 45 more minutes or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped — you have to (obviously) remove the loaf from the pan to test this. Turn loaves out into wire racks immediately to cool.
We had a wonderful time on vacation. We stopped in Williamsburg on the way to Virginia Beach (obviously to give Ella and Graham a little history lesson); we stayed in awesome cabins; we bought as-fresh-as-fresh-can-be fish (rockfish and sea bass) every night from Dockside, which we grilled whole and devoured; and we spent hour upon hour at the beach.
Many of you already know of this bran muffin, a Nancy Silverton creation served at the widely adored La Brea Bakery. Made with toasted wheat bran, freshly grated orange zest, and simmered and puréed raisins, it is one of the most delicious muffins — bran or otherwise — out there. This is a true bran muffin, not a brown muffin under the guise of bran muffin. Despite being nearly one hundred percent whole grain in makeup, it is perfectly sweet and super moist. This is a muffin you feel almost OK about eating by the half dozen and one you feel truly OK about packing into lunch bags and taking on road trips.
Is it a little fussy? Toasted bran, grated zest, plumped and puréed raisins? Yes, a little bit. But I would argue that the bran muffin to end all bran muffins deserves to be so. I think you’ll agree.
Notes: Because I don’t love the texture of raisins in baked goods, I puréed all of them in step 3 versus saving a half cup to fold in at the end. If you like the texture of raisins, however, by all means, save a 1/2 cup to be folded in at the end.
2 cups (125g) wheat bran
1 1/2 cups (190g total) dark raisins
1 1/2 cups (370ml total) water
1/2 cup (120g) buttermilk or plain low-fat yogurt (I used buttermilk)
zest of one orange
1/2 cup (105g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 cup (65g) flour
1/4 cup (35g) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or grease with butter or oil or use these free-standing paper liners, which are fun and pretty.
2. Spread the wheat bran on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for six to eight minutes, stirring a few times so it cooks evenly. Let cool.
3. While the bran is toasting, heat 1 cup of the raisins with 1/2 cup of the water. (Note: I simmered all of the raisins (1.5 cups) at once with 3/4 cups water, then added the remaining 3/4 cup water to the batter (step 4) afterwards.) Simmer for ten minutes, or until the water is all absorbed (I simmered for 10 minutes and all of the water was not absorbed, but I figured it was OK, and it was). Puree the raisins in a food processor or blender until smooth.
4. In a large bowl, mix together the toasted bran, buttermilk or yogurt, 1 cup water (or 3/4 cup water if you have simmered all of the raisins with 3/4 cup water), then mix in the raisin puree, orange zest, and brown sugar.
5. Stir in the oil, egg and egg white.
6. Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and sift (or not) directly into the wet ingredients. Stir until the ingredients are just combined, then mix in the remaining 1/2 cup raisins (if you haven’t puréed all of them already).
7. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, making sure the batter is mounded slightly in each one. Because muffin tins can very in size, if your tins are larger, make fewer muffins.
8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the muffins feel set in the center.
Have you ever spotted Kerrygold butter at your super market? Inexplicably in the cheese section? And wondered if it were any good?
Well, it is. My mother brought me some this weekend. She spoils me, still, at age 30. Along with the butter, she brought her favorites from the Greek market — a tin of olive oil, a branch of dried oregano, a block of manouri cheese; some pantry items she knows I hate spending money on — cheese cloth and parchment paper; and of course, some baked goods — Bakery Lane’s honey-whole wheat bread and toasted coconut-raspberry jam bars. Delicious. As my mother says, I felt like a bride.
But don’t be too jealous. No sooner had she unloaded the basket of goodies had she pulled out her travel file, spilling with newspaper clippings along with her latest neuroses.
“Just read the middle paragraph,” she insisted waving the clipping in my face, “about human skin cells and dander and dust mites and their feces. And about how much humans perspire every evening. And about…”
“Sure thing, mom.” I didn’t want to eat my breakfast anyway.
Yes, my friends, my mother is worried again. She’s worried about the ungrounded outlets in my bathroom; the dead, unfelled pine tree in our backyard; the dime-sized rash on my 6-month-old’s neck; and the copper can I store olive oil in — “What’s that lined with?” she asks every visit. These are worries I expect, however. Par for the course, really. But this latest concern — a personal hygiene affront veiled by a When to Clean the Sheets article — was a first. I’m starting to develop a complex.
I suppose some things never change. My mother worries about me, still, at age 30. Oh mama, you know I love you. And thank you for being such a good sport.
OK, on to some fun stuff:
1. As I mentioned, Kerrygold Butter, made from the milk of grass-fed cows in Ireland, is delicious. It’s definitely a splurge, best saved perhaps for spreading on good bread and topping with radish slices, if you’re in to that sort of thing.
2. C4C Flour. Several months ago, after watching Thomas Keller make polenta waffles and fried chicken on tv using his new C4C flour — a gluten-free mix that can be subbed one-for-one with all-purpose flour — I immediately ordered a bag. Beyond curiosity, I didn’t have a reason to buy this gluten-free flour, but I’m so happy I did. So far, and I’ve only made a couple of things (shortbread and waffles), I’m impressed. It’s pricey, certainly, but it’s a good product — worth it for the mere convenience of being able to use it in nearly any pastry, dessert or quick bread.
Follow-up (5/4): Apparently making your own gluten-free flour mix is easy. Recipe Girl pointed me to this post on making your own mix.
Side note: My mother recently tipped me off about a simple substitution when making our favorite brownie recipe gluten-free: She swaps the flour for almond flour. So simple. You’d never know the brownies were gluten free, and the almond adds a nice flavor, too. I suspect this works best when little flour is called for.
3. Lemon Shortbread. Melissa Clark’s shortbread continues to be one of my favorite foods on the planet. I find a reason, it seems, to make the rosemary variation at least once a month. Inspired by a visit to 2Amys, where a wedge of lemon shortbread stole the show (after the pizza of course), I had to make a batch. A few appropriate adjustments to Clark’s recipe produced a lemon shortbread to swoon over. This time, I also added lemon thyme from our CSA and used gluten-free flour. I can’t stop eating it.
Incidentally, the article my mother passed along, When to Clean the Sheets, is informative and entertaining, if you can get over the yuck factor. It’s perhaps best not read at mealtime.
When making shortbread, it’s important to not over pulse the dough. This is about what the mixture should look like:
Lemon-Thyme Shortbread, Gluten-Free or Not
Yield: One 8- or 9-inch shortbread, about 16 pieces
Source: Melissa Clark of the NY Times
A few notes:
The thyme or lemon-thyme is purely optional. It’s a very subtle flavor, one I really like, but if you’re not into herbed sweets, just leave it out.
2 cups all-purpose flour or C4C gluten-free flour or your favorite gluten-free substitution for flour
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of finely chopped fresh lemon thyme or thyme (optional — this flavor is very subtle)
zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon plus 1 pinch kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted cold butter, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 1/2 tsp. honey
2 teaspoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1. Heat oven to 325ºF. In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, thyme, zest and salt. Add butter, honey and lemon juice, and pulse to fine crumbs. Pulse a few more times until some crumbs start to come together, but don’t overprocess. Dough should not be smooth.
2. Press dough into an ungreased (or parchment paper-lined for easy removal) 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake until golden brown, 35 to 40 minutes for 9-inch pan, 45 to 50 minutes for 8-inch. (Note: When I bake this in a 9-inch pan, it takes about 32 to 35 minutes minutes. And When I make it in my 8-inch pan, it takes about 35 to 37 minutes.) Transfer to a wire rack to cool. Cut into squares, bars or wedges while still warm. (Note: I have let the shortbread cool completely — cut it the next day in fact — and had no trouble cutting it up when cool.)