Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Elisha's First Post: Rasberry Buttermilk Cake

Another inspired recipe. (her pictures are so much better than mine:

I was looking for something that would lend itself well to toddler cooking, as I dream of playing in the kitchen with Elisha, and figured best to get her started enjoying it as soon as possible. This cake looked perfect, as it is quick to make, all basic ingredients, and easy to assemble. Plus I liked that Elisha would have fun with the fruit, and it wasn't overly sugary. This cake delivered on both the "great with kids" front, and also tasted really good. I've also made it again since this session, this time with jarred morello cherries from TJs, and it was very tasty with those too. This is great for a brunch or lunch dessert or any casual meal, especially if you have buttermilk around, as you can just throw it together with stuff typically in your kitchen.

A few things I did that worked well for keeping Elisha engaged and having fun throughout:

  • Mise en place-- I premeasured everything and had LOTS of little bowls with each ingredient. That way I let Elisha have the fun of dumping stuff into bowls, which is always great toddler fun, and it made things go super fast, so she didn't get bored
  • Let them run the machines-- I gave her the great honor of turning the kitchenaid on and off. Action reaction, what's not to love if you are 2?
  • Finger play--her favorite part was placing the rasberries in the batter, as she got to squish them in place, and she loved the tactile fun. She also loved "sprinkling" the sugar on the top-- the more touching/interactivity, the better!
  • Be relaxed/have fun--I didn't have enormous expectations so I was totally fine if a splash here or there got missed, or the batter may have gotten overworked, or the sugar sprinkled on top wasn't exactly even, as the most important thing was we had a great time. (and it turned out great anyway!)

Placing the rasberries (and note her comment at the end of the recipe about what happens if they are turned up or down! neat trick! it works.)

Sprinkling the sugar on top

Eating the spoils! Yum.

Raspberry Buttermilk Cake
Adapted from Gourmet, June 2009 (from
You can just ignore the word “raspberry” up there and swap it up with any which berry you please, like blackberries or blueberries or bits of strawberries or all of the above. This is a good, basic go-to buttermilk cake (not unlike a lemon yogurt cake before it) — moist and ever-so-light — a great jumping off point for whatever you can dream up.
By the way, I was having a “moment” when I made this and for once, remembered to weigh my ingredients as I measured them, for all of you people out there that know weighing is way easier than dirtying a zillion cups and spoons. Now let’s just hope my scale is accurate.
Makes one thin 9-inch cake, which might serve eight people, if you can pry it from first two people’s grasp
1 cup (130 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick (56 grams) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup (146 grams) plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (22 grams) sugar, divided
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (optional)
1 large (57 grams) egg
1/2 cup well-shaken buttermilk
1 cup fresh raspberries (about 5 oz)
(jb note: I added 1/2 teaspoon almond extract just because I love it)
Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt and set aside. In a larger bowl, beat butter and 2/3 cup (146 grams) sugar with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about two minutes, then beat in vanilla and zest, if using. Add egg and beat well.
At low speed, mix in flour mixture in three batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour, and mixing until just combined.Spoon batter into cake pan, smoothing top. Scatter (see Note) raspberries evenly over top and sprinkle with remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons (22 grams) sugar.

Bake until cake is golden and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pan 10 minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool to warm, 10 to 15 minutes more. Invert onto a plate.
[Baking time updated, shortened, after so many of you concurred that this cake bakes crazy quickly.]
Note: Directions like “scatter” always scare me. Where’s the science? Here’s what my neuroses taught us: the ones that were downward were almost all swallowed by the batter. The "o" ones stayed empty, like cups. Both were delicious.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Corn, corn, corn!

Julie's cornbread recipe in my wonderful recipe book (that you all put together for me ... thank you again!) got me started on a cornbread kick that I've been playing around with for several weeks now. For the first attempt I used the Cook's Illustrated recipe as provided. While good I thought it was a little too dry and the flavor not as pronounced as it could be. On the next round I used another friend's recipe that called for more butter and canned creamed corn as well as white sugar instead of brown sugar and 4 eggs instead of 2 and no baking soda. Better in terms of flavor, but it rose too much (overflowed actually), and still not perfect . On the next round I used fresh corn (parboiled for 3 min in salted water and shucked) which I then soaked in fresh cream for about 10 minutes before adding to the mix and omitted the buttermilk from the first recipe in lieu of the cream. I cut the eggs back down to 2 and hand mixed instead of using a KitchenAid. And I salted a little more than the recipe called for. Even better, but still too crumbly, still not as moist as it could be, and still too much rising. On this last round (which I made using fresh corn from Chino Family Farms), I added back some baking soda, I used one stick of butter to cream with the sugar and then melted the second stick and mixed it in right at the end (like the Cook's Illustrated recipe does) and using inspiration from Hesser's Almond Torte which is a huge favorite in our house, I added a dollop or two of sour cream. Voila. It rose perfectly, browned beautifully, tasted wonderful, and held together which is so important for spreading honey butter! Plus, the next day leftovers straight out of the fridge were absolutely delicious.

Mix 1 and 1/2 cups of flour (I'm now using half Wondra and half all-purpose), 1 cup corn meal, 2 tsps baking powder, 1/4 tsp baking soda and 1 and 1/4 tsp salt. Set aside.

Take 1 to 1 and 1/2 cups fresh or canned corn and add about a cup of fresh cream. Let sit.

Cream 1 stick of butter and 3/4 to 1 cup sugar. Add 2 eggs and mix. Add cream and corn. Add a dollop or two of sour cream. Add dry ingredients and mix to just combine. Take another stick of melted butter (if you use microwave, do it when you begin so its not too hot when you add to the batter), and swirl into your batter.

Melt some butter in a cast iron pan and add batter. Then transfer to a preheated 400 degree oven. I like the melted butter in the cast iron as I think it makes for a really nice all around crust. But you can also make in a glass pyrex and not worry about heating it up -- just add batter and bring to oven. I probably cook it for about a half hour ... but not positive. I take it out when its set and golden brown.

Serve with fresh whipped honey or maple butter.

Far cry from Elaine!

Elaine and her mastery of cookie decorating is like those HGTV shows that make you feel like of course it must be really easy to refinish a deck in 30 minutes by yourself. She makes it look and sound so easy, and her product is so beautiful, that you think OF COURSE I can do that too. Right.

After seeing her ridiculously pretty holiday cookies, and then the outrageous Jer wedding cookie (SO easy she swears), I got the bug. So first things first I had to go out and arm myself with all the toys. Well, first lots of blog reading to see others designs to get some inspiration. Then to the shopping: cutters, piping bottles, gel colors, non-pareils, meringue powder--it was tough to stop.

Then I needed an occasion. Since our own little Kaoru is bringing forth a life soon, could there be any better need than the shower, surrounded by ladies sipping tea? I decided on a sugar cookie recipe from one of the blogs, for some reason. I should have stuck with Elaine's butter cookie recipe. Problem 1. Problem 2-- I unknowingly used whole wheat all purpose flour instead of my regular (unbleached) all purpose flour. Hmm. Problem 3-- I forgot one tiny detail. I have NO artistic talent. There is a reason I'm in finance.

I had visions of delicate baby boys (denoted by their blue onesies) with lovely rosy cheek faces, on a crisp delicious cookie. My version came out more like stick men on a wheat cracker but they were still sorta cute, in a kindergarten effort sort of way.

And those little plastic bags and a ribbon go a long way towards somehow making them look more presentable. They are like the glamour shots lenses, they sort of blur everything in just the right places :)

Oh well. I had fun with the process, and the ladies were all polite enough to ooh and ahh. I did really enjoy the creative time and just playing with colors and painting and such-- made up for all those art classes my parents eschewed. ("not practical, what's the point, how's that going to get you a job?" said to elementary schooler. All the immigrants out there know exactly what I'm talking about!)

With the extra dough I decided to take a few practice runs at what I could do for Elisha's birthday in September. From one blog I got this monogram idea but it is a little much for a 2 year old.

So taking inspiration from Elisha's favorite things (the color yellow and "her" letter) I came up with this.

Still some sloppy execution, but I like the design so I think I'm going to attempt to make 60 of these for her birthday party next month. I'm switching to Elaine's Poilane butter cookie recipe, and in fact, already made the cookies--they came out delicious. Light, crisp, buttery. Elisha gave them two thumbs up. They are sitting happily in the freezer waiting for their decorating session. Wish me luck!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Peach picking and Peach Pie

A couple weekends ago, one of Chris' co-workers came to the office bearing stories of delicious pick-your-own peaches for 75 cents a pound. Being a stone fruit loving family, who hate the $4/lb pricing at whole foods and even at some farmers markets, we couldn't pass up this opportunity to explore. We packed up Elisha, and headed out for an adventure. We drove 45 minutes, and even though Elisha kept asking if every store we passed was the farm we had promised her, we finally arrived at an honest to goodness farm. Well it was more of a peach and plum orchard, no animals to be seen, but we convinced her it was a farm. We had a grand time. They supplied wagons for the peaches (or your toddler)

We picked to our hearts' and wallets' desire-- 28 pounds later we were all set. We bought gorgeous peaches, plum, and some heirloom tomatoes in several colors that were extraordinarily beautiful and juicy.

The tomatoes were so gorgeous I just served them sliced with some chopped basil and good olive oil and grey salt. With those kinds of ingredients, I just try to get out of the way.

We ate plenty of fruit right out of the fruit bowl, but we bought so much, I needed to think of some creative uses for the fruit. I made a peach tart with an almond crust that got a mixed review, as it was pretty but wasn't enough peaches to the crust. But this peach pie got strong reviews all around. I made the crust and attempted my first lattice top and it came out pretty well.

It rises a bit, and gets crispy bits, almost like a puff pastry.

I got the recipe and inspiration from Bake at 350,

The inside filling was delicious but a little runny, as the recipe called for just a few tablespoons of flour as a binder. I think next time I might use some tapioca pearls or a bit of cornstarch. But I loved the seasoning of the filling, with a touch of nutmeg and cinnamon, and a hint of lemon, it was just right.

Pie Crust
(modified from The King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion)

2 & 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 c. cold shortening (Crisco)
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 to 1/2 c. ice water

Reserve a few tablespoons of flour, set aside. Whisk together remaining flour and salt. Cut in the shortening until it is crumbly.

Place the reserved flour on work surface and coat butter in it. Use a rolling pin or your hand to flatten the butter until it is about 1/2 inch thick. Break the flour-coated butter into 1 inch pieces and mix into the dough until it is evenly distributed.

Sprinkle water over the dough while tossing with a fork just until it is easily squeezed into a ball. Flatten into 2 disks, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.

On a floured surface, roll each disk into a 12 x 9" rectangle (approx). Fold into thirds, like a letter, then fold again in thirds to form a square. Wrap both pieces again and refrigerate 30 more minutes.

After 30 minutes, let rest at room temperature for 5 minutes, then roll out to the size needed.

Peach Pie
(modified from who modified a Williams-Sonoma recipe)

pie pastry for a double crust pie
6 cups peeled, pitted and sliced peaches
2 TBSP fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
2 pinches cinnamon
2 TBSP unsalted butter
beaten egg
sparkling sugar (i used demerera sugar)

Preheat oven to 425. Roll out dough for bottom crust and line a 9" pie pan. (Optional: brush bottom crust with lightly beaten egg works to prevent a soggy crust!) Roll out dough and cut into strips for a lattice top and set aside.

Place peaches in a bowl. Sprinkle with lemon juice and toss to coat. In a small bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Add to the peaches and stir gently to combine.

Pile the fruit into the dough-lined pan. Dot with bits of butter.

Use the strips to make a lattice top. Brush beaten egg on top of lattice and sprinkle with sparkling sugar.

Bake for 25 minutes, the reduce heat to 350 and bake about 25 minutes longer, until bubbly and top is browned. You may need to cover the edges during baking...though I didn't.

Porcini rubbed steaks

I've been cooking/baking a fair amount lately so have a bit of a backlog of posts-- brace yourselves. The first is a perfect summer recipe I bootlegged off of Mario Batali. It is a porcini rub that you rub on rib-eyes (though I've also done it on New Yorks with great results) The steaks bask in the goodness for 12-24 hours, then you grill them up, and honestly, turn out AMAZING. I've done this probably 4 times this summer already and folks' eyes always roll backwards in their heads :)

In this picture it was leftovers the next day, so I sliced it and served it with a mixed greens salad and a succotash of summer squash and zucchini. When I serve it for company they just get a big imposing steak on their plate and they can dig into it themselves!

By the way, I got these steaks from Costco, where they occasionally have prime NY and rib-eyes for $10.99 and $9.99/lb respectively. This is a ridiculously good value, and the steaks are delicious, so if you see any, snap them up. They only have them occasionally and they go fast!

Batali's Rib Eye Rub

3/4 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, finely ground in a spice grinder
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1-2 good sized rib eye steaks (3 inches thick)
Balsamic vinegar, for drizzling (optional)

1.In a bowl, mix the porcini powder, sugar, salt, black pepper, red pepper, garlic and olive oil. Rub the paste all over the steak. Cover and refrigerate for 12 hours or overnight. Scrape off the excess paste; let the steak stand at room temperature for 1 hour.
2.Light a grill, or heat a grill pan and preheat the oven to 450°. Grill the steak over high heat until crusty and brown, a couple minutes per side, then move to indirect heat for 20-30 mins or until an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center registers 125° for medium-rare. (cooking times vary by thickness of steak-- best judge for me is by feel of the steak, but a thermometer is a great check to make sure you have it just the way you want it!) Alternatively, brown the steak in a cast iron grill pan over moderately high heat, about 8 minutes per side, then roast in the oven for about 30-40 minutes.
3. Either way, let the steak rest for 15 minutes after cooking

Monday, August 03, 2009

Paella for our neighbors

Is there anything better than one pot meals that feed a family or two ... or ten! Our lovely upstairs neighbors from Buenos Aires were in town and we finished off a fabulous week of fun meals and fun times with one of Fernando and Paula's favorite meals - seafood and chicken paella. So easy and always so fun and delicious. I am loving our new range as the long central burner allows me to do the whole dish on the range as opposed to finishing in an oven which I had to do in the past. Plus, only with a long gas burner can you get a really good socarrat which is frankly my favorite part of the whole dish. When I made this for them a few years back on one of their annuals trip to Los Angeles, Fernando said the paella tasted like his grandmother's. That comment was enough for me to want to make it for him every time they come to town!

This last photo is to share one of our new favorite toys ... an umbrella light. It falls into the "Why didn't I think of that!" category!

Paella (basic recipe; change as you wish)

Use a paella pan. Sur la Table carries good ones and they’re inexpensive.

Saute a diced onion or two in some olive oil.
Add some diced bell peppers (2-3 depending on size)
Add some chopped tomatoes (canned is fine) – tomatoes are optional, if you don’t want to add or don’t have, don’t fret
Add some garlic if you want, if you don’t, no worries.

Add a decent sized pinch of good Spanish saffron. TJ’s saffron is cheap but doesn’t have much flavor. I’d splurge on good stuff.

Add 2 cups paella rice to pan (not Arborio) and toast/sauté for maybe a minute or two (this feeds 4-6; adjust as necessary).

Add 4 cups chicken broth, when heated, reduce to low and simmer. Once you put broth in, don’t mix/touch the rice. Taste for salt/pepper.

Add some browned chicken to the pan and tuck into the rice. I usually cut up one whole chicken and brown it in some olive oil earlier in the day. I also usually take the wings and back to make my stock for the paella … but obviously only do if you’ve got the time and the inclination.

Add some sliced Spanish chorizo to the pan (Spanish, not Mexican … Spanish is not as spicy while Mexican chorizo can be pretty spicy … unless of course you want your dish spicy). Also, I use the imported, packaged version (usually vacuum packed). If you buy fresh, obviously, cook it before slicing and adding to pan.

With about 10 minutes left in your rice, add some jumbo shrimp (the bigger the more dramatic and delicious). I also like adding small manilla clams. If you want to use mussels, great, I usually just stick with chicken, shrimp and clams.

When your rice is done, turn the heat up on the gas to cook/almost burn the bottom of the pan. This part is the socarrat and it is delicious as the rice gets toasted and then a little burned. Some love it, others don’t. You’ll smell when it’s ready as you’ll smell a little burning … I don’t know, maybe 5 minutes.

Turn heat off and cover pan with some parchment paper or a moist towel. Let sit/stand for 10 minutes or more. I normally gather the table when it’s done and serve/eat the first course so that the paella sits/rests while we’re eating salad.

Serve with lemon slices.