July 29, 2010 § 1 Comment
The thunder rolled in and out, the sky just cleared after a sudden downpour. I’m tucked into a hidden enclave in a Starbucks, idly passing the hour between the end of work and my dinner plans. This sounds a lot more comfortable than it actually is, like that image of yourself tucked under the covers in bed with a warm mug of hot chocolate on a rainy day. Except it’s summer, so I’m drinking iced tea and the Starbucks is air-conditioned to the highest degree I ever thought possible. Or should that be the lowest degree? Either way, it’s cold. Very cold. Kind of like my office building, which seems to fluctuate between being an oven and being a freezer. But never mind, it’s summer and the minute I step outside again, I’ll forget all the problems I have with air-conditioned buildings.
And apparently Starbucks closes at 6 p.m., so that will be sooner rather than later. I have never heard of Starbucks closing earlier than 11 p.m. before, but I am hardly surprised in this city, which seems to operate on the strangest schedule. It’s like one world of the city shuts down after 5 p.m. and a whole new world opens for the evening. Never get caught sitting in a coffee shop when it’s time for happy hour and dinner reservations and barhopping to begin.
These hazelnut cakes are perfect for summer, light enough for those 100 degree days and homey enough for when the storms roll in. They are spongy and delicate, due to two types of leavening — whipped, fluffy egg whites and baking powder. I made these because I wanted to finally use a new jar of raw honey, that I bought a long time ago at the Princeton Tuesday Farmers’ Market. That and I wanted to use my brand-new fluted tartlet pans.
Gâteau aux noisettes et au miel
Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini and Les Gâteaux de Mamie
6 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup flour
A pinch of salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup hazelnuts
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 level tablespoons honey
Pre-heat the oven to 360°F.
Blend together the sugar, flour, salt, and baking powder. Separate the eggs. Add the eggs yolks to the flour/sugar mixture. Melt together the butter and honey in a small saucepan, and pour this into the batter. Chop the hazelnuts, and fold them into the batter.
Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.
Pour into a floured cake or tart pan. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes (25 for cupcakes, more for a single cake). Let it cool down a moment, then turn it out on a rack to cool completely, and serve at room temperature.
July 16, 2010 § Leave a Comment
I feel as though I have been absent for a very long time. Like the days have gotten ahead of me and it’s somehow 1 a.m. and I’m not home yet but it feels like I just left the house for work. The recipes have gotten ahead of me, the bookmarked ones have been adding up and the ones I have made have been disappearing before I have a chance to think about them. There were the molten chocolate cakes (baked in my new cake pans) that we made one night in about twenty minutes, which disappeared just as quickly. The blueberry crumb bars, of which I cut a small sliver to save — gone by the time I got home from work.
But despite these disappearances, I have been learning quite a bit about food. We made risotto, using the entire box of rice, quickly realizing just how much rice an entire box of rice is. We pan-fried risotto balls, stuffed with fresh mozzarella and breaded, the next night for dinner. Perhaps a better day of cooking was when we had tomato-mozzarella tart for dinner and plum clafoutis for dessert. The plum clafoutis was easy to pull together, the crepe-like batter is simply poured over cut plum slices, skins on and everything.
From Gourmet Magazine
1 lb black or red plums, pitted and cut into eighths
2 tablespoons Armagnac or other brandy
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar, divided
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon pure almond extract
Confectioners sugar for dusting
Preheat oven to 400ºF with rack in middle. Butter a 2-qt shallow baking dish.
Toss plums with Armagnac and 1 Tbsp sugar in a bowl and let macerate 15 minutes. Transfer plums to baking dish with a slotted spoon and pour juices into a blender. Add eggs to blender with milk, butter, flour, salt, extracts, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar and blend just until combined. Pour over plums.
Bake until puffed and just set in center, about 35 minutes. Cool 15 minutes, then dust with confectioners sugar.
…we excursioned to the fish market by the waterfront and bought live lobsters and soft-shell crabs…then looked up how to cook them. The lobsters sat on our kitchen floor for a bit while we boiled them one by one in the small pot and fried the battered crabs until brown and crispy. I made a honey cornbread to go along with the seafood and one of the boys grilled fresh clams in the backyard.
About two weeks later, I headed over to the Eastern Market after work (which I hear is better on weekends) and bought crushed-chili hummus, stuffed grape leaves and chocolate cream ravioli, which didn’t totally win my heart. Perhaps it was the disconcerting idea of chocolate pasta, but I ate it feeling like it was all a bit strange. We’ve spent Friday evenings at the jazz concerts in the Sculpture Garden on the mall, dining on crusty bread, hummus, guacamole and sangria. And late weekend nights at Five Guys.
July 7, 2010 § Leave a Comment
Houses stacked on top of each other, walls touching, vines wrapped around balconies as if to protect the inhabitants from the streets, which are invariably delicately smudged with dirt and garbage and fallen fruits from the trees above. Buses are packed full of businessmen and women, middle-school children who giggle obnoxiously loudly and 30something men who casually sit in the back and make you distinctly uncomfortable with just one look. This, in my eyes, is a city. Here, I see people at three times of the day, 8:50 a.m., lunchtime, and 5 p.m. During those times, the pristine metro is packed, the streets bustle with people in a rush to get to their destination — which alternates between the office, the restaurants, and home — and for a brief moment, I am reminded of home. During the other times, I am shocked by the empty streets, surrounded by 6 story buildings with glass walls, housing cubicles, and, if you’re lucky, large personal offices. Washington D.C. seems to me a city made to be a city but not much else. Maybe I am just shocked by a city government that actually keeps the sidewalks clean and the streets drivable, but there is so much vapid, empty space here and it makes me uncomfortable.
Yesterday, I took the metro up to Friendship Heights after work. I wanted new baking pans from Williams Sonoma so that I could finally bake in shapes other than a 9-inch circle and a brownie pan. I picked up a long, rectangular tart pan, a couple mini tartlet molds and a set of four 5-inch spring-form cake pans, which are super adorable. Then I decided that since I was on Wisconsin Ave. anyway, I might as well walk home. I had no idea how far it was until I was halfway home (I checked on the metro maps at all the bus stops, yet somehow did not get on a bus) and I had already been walking for 40 minutes. When I finally got home, I decided a run was unnecessary and went right to breaking in one of the new pans.
I was really excited to use my new rectangular tart pan. At home, the Boulangerie Bay Bread makes all their tarts as rectangles and sells them by the slice. I used to love their thick slices of flan after school. Nothing other than a traditional tart would do to christen my new pan. I made a traditional flaky crust with just a smidgen of sugar, layered a bit of almond flour at the bottom, then topped it with a creamy vanilla custard. As soon as the custard was mostly set in the oven, I topped the tart with a layer of fresh nectarines, gently dusted with cinnamon sugar and turned the broiler on. The sweet custard, juicy, tart nectarines, and crackled, golden, sugar topping made this tart a true winner.
I wish I could post better pictures of the tart. Unfortunately, blogging from this house is becoming incredibly difficult. Often, I get home around 8 p.m., spend about an hour deliberating over what to make and crossing out recipes for which I don’t have half of the ingredients. When I finally get something out of the oven, it is too dark to get a reasonable picture. The biggest hurdle is getting through the night; there has been many a time when I wake up the next morning, intending to get a good picture in the daylight, only to find that whatever it was I left out on the counter has been devoured by my housemates. When there is a tiny sliver left to photograph, I run into camera problems. My own camera is still chilling somewhere next to the IRAs race course in Camden, NJ or (equally likely) being enjoyed by the clever person who managed to steal it at the regatta.
Flaky Tart Dough
Adapted from Tartine
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup very cold water
3 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
1 cup + 5 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
In a small bowl, add the salt to the water and keep in fridge until ready to use.
Add the flour to the work bowl. Cut butter into 1″ chunks and scatter across the top of the flour. Pulse briefly until you have large crumbs. (I don’t use a food processor and instead do this with my hands) Add the cold water/salt mixture and pulse until the dough begins to come together in a ball but is not completely smooth. You should still see chunks of butter (about pea size).
On a floured surface, divide the dough into two balls, shape into disks 1″ thick (work the dough as little as possible). Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight.
To make the custard:
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups milk
In a small bowl, whisk the eggs, vanilla, sugar and salt until smooth and frothy. In a saucepan, warm the milk until just before boiling. Add the milk to the bowl and whisk until combined. Pour the custard mixture into the tart pan.
Assembling the tart:
Take the tart shell out of the refrigerator. Sprinkle a generous layer of almond meal over the inside bottom of the shell; this will help absorb the moisture from the custard and prevent a soggy crust. Pour the custard mixture into the shell and brush the side of the tart with an egg white. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the middle of the tart is set. Remove the tart from the oven, layer with thin slices of nectarine and sprinkle (sparingly) with cinnamon sugar. Put the tart back into the oven under the broiler on HI for a couple minutes or until the top is just starting to brown.