Tuesday, October 5, 2010

a quick story

in the picture you can see all the stuff i received after winning a giveaway on one of my favorite blogs. surprising factors: i won - i never do - and also, this is a romanian blog. you don't see that many giveaways on romanian blogs, especially not ones that allows u.s. residents to participate. cristi's bucatar maniac, which translates to maniac cook, has been gathering momentum for a while now and i'm besides myself to see his talent validated. if you don't speak romanian, there's the google translator in the sidebar. but seriously i doubt you'll need it, because cristi's shots are so incredible, they don't require explanation. you'll find lots and lots of stuff - jams and preserves (wait until you see those pics - if that won't make you crave jam, nothing ever will) a big dessert category, and an amazing savory section. what i really love about it though is that cristi will post every now and then about a simple, peasant dish or a very traditional pot, or better yet, snacks we all grew up on that i'd forgotten about. it takes me back and it warms my heart. lastly, cristi has a daughter. how is that relevant? pony cakes. cakes with ponies on them! multicolor, psychedelic ponies!!
about a month back i went over on my regular round, to find him hosting this giveaway for a $100 csn store gift card. can't hurt, i thought, and i left a comment, although i've never won anything before. well, won i did and i got a pasta machine, a silpat and a dough mat. and even though i had to chip in a bit to get the rose muffin pan, i couldn't resist. you see how cute it is! the dough mat - the yellow roll -  is wonderful. it stays into place on your counter, and its easy release helps tons when you work with difficult dough. it's also big enough to roll a 16 inch pie. i've been using it intensely. the silpat works exactly like you'd expect. nothing ever sticks to it, so it's a great piece to have around, especially as i've been baking some meringues. the pasta machine has yet to meet pasta dough. i've been busy, but apparently not sufficiently so that it would keep me from spending half the night trying to roll chocolate plastic through it. i've discovered it works good and dandy, but it helps to have another set of hands. it's not the kind you screw to the table, and it tends to get a bit hairy when you're trying to hold up a sheet in the air, crank the machine and hold it in place at the same time. i'm keeping my fingers crossed, waiting for the magical intersection of enough time, husband home, and husband willing to make fresh pasta. finally, look what the muffin tin produced, much - much - to my daughter's delight:

edible roses. i had picked up a delicata squash, and made it into a side dish by braising it in apple cider, with pineapple sage and rosemary until the cider reduced into a glaze. she did not eat it. (i've given up wondering why she doesn't like foods kids usually fight over). anyway, i refused to end it there, and as the squash was quite perfumed and sweet i pureed it with some ricotta and used it as a filling in these. i made a regular vanilla muffin batter, filled the tin half-way, spooned some squash in each and topped with more batter. did i mention the rose shape? zhara begged for more. if your picky eater might like these, please leave a comment for details.

Monday, September 27, 2010

um, i don't have a title for this.

what i've been up to, or why i've fallen off the face of the earth sound like reasonable enough ones, or please, lost routine come back and suffocate us with your monotony, we miss you! seriously, i've missed you. i missed this space, and seeing what everybody's been doing. first zhara got sick, her entire preschool class got knocked out. when she got better, hubs collapsed, and when he was fine, it hit me. i haven't been this sick in years! it was truly horrible, but i have to admit it was nice to be taken care of, for a change. (not that i was able to enjoy any of it, but husband did bring me toast and chicken broth to bed. and he was on toddler patrol the whole time so i could rest). then i got better and went back to work and the day-to-day. and i never resurfaced... i have packed what feels like a million lunches and snacks. i have made enough laundry to have some sort of softener overdose. (i'm all for the arts and such, but could we use a bib when we're glueing glitter to dry leaves?! i swear she messes up three outfits a day.) work has been beyond exhausting. draining. and it seems more complicated than ever to divide the day into more bits than the mandatory stuff. get the kid dressed and fed, and to daycare. get to work. breathe, don't blow a gasket. get dinner on the table. get tomorrow's lunch packed up. get the kid bathed and kissed and tickled. get to bed. repeat. at the end of the day, when i'm showered with never ending requests for 'just one more story' i have to make a very conscious effort to be nice to my kid. i have to pace myself so i can patiently explain yet again why it's night and therefore, bedtime. this kid never wants to go to bed. i could sleep standing, like a horse. it was an intense couple weeks, and i felt like i could talk about nothing else. i can also see very clearly that it would bring everybody down if that was the whole story, but it's not! because every now and then i remember why we do it. we're building a business, and that's never easy for anybody. every beginning implies lots and lots of legwork, and it's unrealistic to expect anything else. no one gets the red carpet from day one. (unless you're gwyneth paltrow.) everybody pays their dues. i decided to simply stop feeling so tired, or more precisely, that being tired is the end of the world. tired doesn't have to equal mean cavewoman. it doesn't have to mean that right now, your bones are mush. tired can mean you've tried your best. tired can mean you're on your way. so you can feel tired and content. they're not mutually exclusive notions.
in between, we have managed to get out and pick raspberries. zhara had a grand time rolling in the grass like a dog, and eating raspberries straight off the bush. i made the best jam ever. and cake, and cupcakes. we had regular plum fest, with jam, compote, pie and ice cream all out of italian plums. we made zacusca. this is a traditional canned veggie spead. i'll do a post on it as soon as i get around to taking some pictures. we made a batch of roasted tomato passata with all the heirloom toamtoes we've been picking from the garden. (speaking of which, i have a lot of green ones that i doubt will ripen with this cold weather - does anyone have a nice recipe for canned green tomatoes?) we've made pear compote. the sourdough starter is still alive, i'd say despite me. we've had some very good sourdough waffles, but the bread is not working out the way i'd hoped. i'm not giving up.
the liquor up there is good stuff. you take a bunch of sour cherries, and you mix them with half their weight of sugar. let them sit overnight to form syrup. then you add alcohol 3 to 1. and then you wait around doing nothing for two weeks. and then you bottle up the liquor, and use the cherries in truffles or something. this is a sweet drink, very fragrant and fresh. a shot before or after a nice meals round things up like nothing else.

these are the tomatoes that got roasted for passata. there's shallots and garlic and all those herbs (all from the garden), i can't begin to tell you how good this is! each time i open a jar i feel i'm making a sacrifice, and i ponder whether the dish is worthy. silly, but it can't be helped.

look at this treasure. they really were so delicious! and the jam is incredible. it's a low-sugar recipe from pam corbin. they also made a delicious mousse in a dark chocolate cake. it got wolfed before i even had a chance to put it on a cake plate.

over the course of my absence, i've won a giveaway hosted on a wonderful blog. i'll tell you all about it tomorrow. (i really, really, hope i do). i was supposed to post about it as soon as i got my loot, and then it all got away from me. in all honesty i haven't had a chance to use half the stuff, and so there wasn't much to say about it...
next weekend we plan to pick some apples. jelly is not my thing, but i'm thinking some more jam can't possibly harm us. tomorrow i'll take a pic with all the canned stuff sitting pretty on a shelf. i want to go pet them. and if that's me plain and sober... maybe i'll drink some of that cherry liquor and take a bath in raspberry jam.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

peach ice cream

i know that increasingly this place is turning into a shrine for all things lebovitz. it's just the natural effect of buying his book, let it run its course and don't complain - you're ruining my mood. and in a mood i am! my job is very stressful. i make it a point of not bringing it up here, lest it take over the place and suffocate everybody, the way it did my friend this afternoon (sorry!). some days can get truly hectic, and when you couple that with the rigors of potty training and the general toddler discourse, you're in for a treat. and not the kind you bake. it's too hot for baking anyway. hence all the ice cream, because making ice cream is relaxing and fits the schedule. i make the custard in the evening, chill it overnight and then churn it before dinner. this one is the easiest ice cream you'll make - no egg tempering required. matter of fact, no eggs required. just peaches and cream, slap me if this combo ever gets old!

what's that it sits on? old habits die hard, that's what. it was 10 PM and i had a ridiculous hankering for mom's apple tart. did the filling before discovering i had nowhere enough white flour, so i used whole wheat pastry flour in an inordinate proportion, and it's not the best crust ever. don't worry, the ice cream made it all better. see how it keeps saving the day? told you it's worth keeping around.

peach ice cream
from david lebovitz's the perfect scoop

4 large peaches, pitted, peeled and cubed
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 ts vanilla extract
a few drops lemon juice

cook the peaches with the water over medium heat, covered, until the fruit is cooked through, about 10 minutes. remove from heat, mix in the sugar and let cool. puree the peaches and their juices with the sour cream, heavy cream, vanilla and lemon juice to a consistency you like. refrigerate the mixture until it's very cold, then churn in your ice cream maker.

it's a divine clean taste. goes with everything, on everything. apotropaic treat, promptly ends toddler meltdowns. the apotheosis of summer's end. somebody stop me or we could be here awhile.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

my beautiful heirloom tomatoes, and the delicious soup they make

remember these guys? well, it's payday. all the fuss planting the tiny seeds, making sure they got enough sun and water those critical first six weeks, then transplanting them in the garden, the constant weeding and watering, staking poles to give them support as they grew - it's all paid off. i now have red, yellow, purple and green heirloom tomatoes ready for picking every day. they are very juicy and sweet, and i can tell each variety by taste alone. i love them all, but my favorites right now are those green-yellowish ones. they have a pale green flesh that is a bit more tart than the others. it's lovely in salads. the purple ones are good slicers for sandwiches. the tiny yellow ones are sweet and flavorful, but soft, so they're harder to slice. they are going to get roasted for passata.
(and by the way: this post is a long time coming! every time i went in the garden, at any hour, i was assaulted by a gazillion blood thirsty mosquitos and it was impossible to stay longer than 30 seconds. today i braved it and i am ravished beyond repair. it's like the 11th plague is ongoing in my backyard. anyone know why they're so vicious this year?)
anyway, they're still worth it.

big gal on the left clocked in 1 lb 13 oz, or 835 gr.

and the best part yet: there's more to come!

the first thing i always make after eating a few of them raw, in salads, is cream of tomato soup. it's as comforting to me as a giant hug, if hugs were filled with summer and sun. it's a very simple thing. these tomatoes are so tasty they require little intervention. i like it with croutons, and i've been know to bake meatballs in it once i've had my share.

summer cream of tomato

2 tb olive oil
2 cups onion, julienne
1 cup carrots, thinly sliced
1 cup celery, diced
4 pounds heirloom tomatoes, roughly cubed
1/4 cup lightly packed basil, chiffonade
2 ts coarse sea salt
1/3 cup half and half

saute the mirepoix in the oil over medium heat until the onions are soft and translucent, but not browned. add the tomatoes and the salt and cook on medium hight heat, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have given off their juices. do not add water. when the tomatoes start to boil lower the heat to low and simmer partially covered 30 to 40 minutes. stir in the basil. remove from heat and go at it with your immersion blender or puree in batches in a food processor. stir in the half and half (or cream, milk, sour cream) and correct seasoning. you're done, enjoy.

lemon cherry cheesecake

i love cherries. each june i tre-pi-date with anticipation. i eat pounds after pounds and i'm unable to cook them, no matter what great recipes i have stashed. nothing beats a bowl of chilled cherries, crisp and plump and so juicy all the t-shirts i own bear the proof. i think their short season is one of nature's meanest way of reminding me who's in charge. local cherries are long gone, but i can still get good washington ones. the monster craving is appeased, so i finally got around to trying this cheesecake that's been on hold long enough.
my husband loved it, and he's not much for cheesecake. i was very pleased with the taste, especially starting on day four, but the texture i think could be improved. it all depends on which side of the camp you reside: if you like fluffy, airy, light, sort of moist, you'll not be head-over-heels for this. if you think cheesecake by all means should be firm and intense, you'll think this is perfect. (and i'd say it kinda is, if i weren't too polite for such tasteless vaunt).

i had a single meyer lemon, incredibly perfumed and sweet, and i used both juice and peel. you'll want to reduce the juice by half if using a different variety. the cherry topping is better than this picture may lead you to believe. it only has one prerequisite - use fresh fruit. it's easier to make then opening a can, anyway. and lots tastier. no goop. this cheesecake is based on an old raspberry white chocolate recipe i have, but heavily adapted to accomodate the lemon and the cherry topping. don't forget to take the cream cheese out of the fridge a few hours beforehand. i left it out overnight.

for the crust:
9 graham crackers, or 5 oz, or 145 gr;
1 cup or 4.2 oz or 125 gr toasted blanched almonds;
4 1/2 tb or 2.1 oz or 60 gr butter, melted.

for the cheesecake:
2 x 8 oz packets or 450 gr cream cheese;
2.8 oz or 80 gr white chocolate, melted;
2/3 cup or 5.4 oz or 150 gr sugar;
2 ts pure vanilla extract;
2 eggs;
juice and zest of one lemon.

for the sour cream topping:
8 oz or 225 gr sour cream;
3 tb or 45 gr sugar;
1/2 ts vanilla extract.

for the cherry topping:
3 cups or 450 gr cherries, halved and pitted;
1 tb cornstarch;
1/3 cup or 75 gr sugar.

preheat oven to 325F. get your 8 inch springform out. grind the grahams with the almonds and when they're pulverized add the butter and mix. line the pan with this mixture, pushing it all the way up the wall. (this is my personal preference, if you like your crust on the bottom only, or half-way up the wall, that's your business. you can freeze leftover crust mixture.) when you have an even layer (some plastic wrap helps) bake it until golden, about 10 minutes. maintain oven temp.
melt the chocolate in the microwave, in 10 second bursts, mixing after each one. mix cream cheese with the sugar, lemon juice, the lemon peel (very finely grated), and vanilla. then add the eggs, beating well after each one. mix in the white chocolate. pour in the crust and bake 40-45 minutes, until the edges are set but the middle still jiggles when you give it a shove.
prepare the sour cream topping by mixing all ingredients together. let sit on the counter while the cake bakes.
pit and halve the cherries. sprinkle the sugar over them and let sit a few minutes. mix every now and then and the juices will melt it. sprinkle the cornstarch through a fine sieve and mix. put the pot on the stove and cook over medium heat just until the juices thicken some, about 5 minutes. the cherries will not be cooked through. you should still have a bite to them. the point is only to tie the juices. set aside to cool.
when the cake is baked, remove from the oven but maintain temp. let it cool 5-10 minutes, then pour the sour cream and spread it in an even layer. return to oven and bake 5 minutes more. let cool until the topping is set. then arrange the cherry topping all over the cake. refrigerate overnight. heads-up: pace yourself, because it peaks on day 4. believe me, you want to still have a slice on day 4. you're welcome.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

seared mahi mahi with green tomato-pineapple sage sambal

in thai and filipino cuisine a sambal can designate a multitude of sauces or sides. usually it's gonna be a scorching red sauce, but it varies greatly in components and there's green sambals too. the usual suspects are peppers or chillies and shallots. they can incorporate tamarind, fish sauce, mango leaves, all sorts of unexpected ingredients, depending on region. mine was gonna be a casual pineapple salsa, but i had this green tomato that had fallen to the ground during the last storm. (i think one more of those and my garden is going to rot from the roots up, jeesh).  maybe it's a bit improper to name it sambal, because i can't add any heat to stuff i feed my daughter, but the methodology is the same - you chop up whatever you want in, and then you stir-fry it quickly on high heat. 
the fish is a very simple story - you just rub some coarse salt on it, you heat up a tiny bit of oil in a pan, and when it's very hot you sear the fish about 2 minutes on each side. done. the sambal has a bold profile, so to avoid conflicting flavors we season the fish simply.

for the sambal:

2 shallots, or 1 onion, chopped finely;
1 green tomato, cubed, about 1 cup;
1 cup pineapple, cubed;
1/4 cup packed fresh pineapple sage leaves, minced, about 10 to 12;
1 hot pepper, finely chopped, optional;
2 ts sugar;
2 ts sherry vinegar.

once you have everything cubed bite-size, heat up two teaspoons of olive oil and saute the shallot. when it's soft, add the green tomato and the sugar. once it's melted stir in the vinegar, then add the pineapple and mix.  finally, stir in the chopped sage and remove from heat. if you wish to add heat, use your favorite pepper - a mild poblano or a gutsy habanero - throw it in after softening the shallot. the whole thing will take you about 5 minutes, and it should all be done on high heat. spoon over the fish and serve.

this was a big hit over here. my daughter eats fish pretty well, but the great thing about this was that she ate the side rice, too. the rice had green beans, carrots and mushrooms, and she really doesn't like the green beans, but when i perched a piece of pineapple on top it had a whole new allure, and for once there was no drama. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

cold cucumber-avocado soup with beet mousseline

i wonder if the comments you leave for me count as social interaction. perhaps if i responded promptly, like i used to, it would. the thing is, i'm ready to move someplace secluded, deep forest, forgotten island, if it will get me some quiet. if it's not some horrible thunderstorm - seriously, did anybody sleep saturday night? - it's neighbours having parties - and when did i turn into the jerk who blows the whistle on party folk? geez, i don't even recognize myself anymore. and it's all from lack of sleep. hence the moving-away-contemplation-thingy. i'm wondering if what we do here counts for human contact. the days i'm not wandering around forgetting what i set out to do, like an old geyser, it does. i can't wait to see what you think. if you replied to my messages. while i take every comment seriously, there's a few people out there whose opinion really matters to me, people i'm not likely to ever meet, but people i've connected to, despite that. so if i take my sweet time responding to comments and emails, it's not because i don't appreciate you. it's because of my drunken-pothead-neighbouritis, okay? it's a serious condition, there's no cure, and the only way to manage it is, well, if you can't beat them...ahem
luckily, there's this soup. if you've been trying to induce sleep, by methods unnamed, you'll be patting your own backs the next day when this just needs to be poured. you don't even need a spoon, (god knows how people put up with that racket anyway.) it's great if you can chill it overnight, but two to three hours will do. room temp will do. it's delicious, a lot more delicious than i ever imagined cooked cucumbers could be. you can even dispense with the whole mousseline affair, which is just a puree with some whipped cream folded in. if you have the time, though, it's worth it, i've been eating the leftovers on tortilla chips - it put a lot of dips to shame.

cold cucumber-avocado soup, with beet mousseline
adapted from epicurious

for the beets:
4 small to medium red beets
1 tb balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup creme fraiche or sour cream

preheat oven to 400F. wrap each beet in aluminum foil and roast about 1 hour. let cool and rub off skins. pulse in food processor or blender until very smooth, then mix in vinegar, cream and season to taste with salt and pepper. refrigerate.

for the soup:
4 seedless cucumbers, or 8 short stubby ones, peeled, seeded and chopped
1 large onion, chopped
1 avocado
1 tb lemon juice
2 tb oregano, finely chopped
1 tb olive oil
2 cups stock or water
1/3 cup sour cream
pinch of white pepper

heat the oil and sweat the onion until translucent. add the oregano and the cucumbers and saute 2 minutes more. add the stock or water and bring to boil. season, then simmer 20 minutes. let cool a few minutes, then blend it up or puree it with an immersion blender. cut the avocado and remove the pit. add the flesh to the soup and douse immediately with lemon juice. blend again til smooth. mix in the sour cream, correct seasoning - salt, white pepper - and you're done.
when you're ready to serve, ladle the soup in bowls and top each serving with a dollop of beet mousseline. garnish with herbs and perhaps a few crushed pistachios. i was out, and just so you know: the original recipe which doesn't contain avocado asks for dill, not oregano, which i think would still work very well here, try it if you have it on hand.
when you mix the two the entire bowl takes on a crazy, completely crazy fuchsia shade, and you think you're still having side effects from the unnamed methods, but then you take a slurp and somehow it makes sense.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

roasted grouper with mushrooms and asparagus

yesterday i had to drive all the way to springfield, so i got up extra early, dropped off my daughter to daycare and by the time i returned my back was hurting, my legs were cramping and i was starving. the traffic was horrible getting back, but i didn't want to stop to eat fearing i wouldn't make it by the time the daycare closed. i realized the fridge was mostly empty and there it is, an unpleasant day all-around. we're all busy. we have long, exhausting days, kids who never tire and zero time for slaving in a hot kitchen. even if we enjoy cooking, there are days when everything seems dead set against a hot meal. i have a few go-to menus set aside for that kind of days. they're not take-out menus. they're dishes you can cook blindfolded and faster than delivery. a lot of them involve pasta, which is fine on a rainy day, but with these insane melting temps i wanted something lighter. in the morning you move some fish from the freezer to the fridge. that's your prep work. when you get home you season it and you put it in the oven. by the time you've washed up, dinner's ready. afterward, you can have one of the lovely peaches you can find now. the day has just gotten better.

this is all you do: preheat the oven to 400F. line a  big tray with aluminum foil. trim the asparagus to get rid of the woody part. use a moist paper towel to gently wipe the mushrooms, and halve them if necessary. toss them with a bit of oil and vinegar. i use more than one combo, sometime hazelnut oil/sherry vinegar, sometime olive oil/balsamic, depending on mood and availability. use whatever you have on hand. you need just enough so that everything is coated, but there's no liquid pooling around. season with salt and pepper and lay in a single layer on the baking sheet, leaving room for the fish. put it in the oven. get the fish out and rinse it in cold water if needed. i found a very fresh grouper that still had bone fragments from hasty filleting. dry it on paper towels, then sprinkle evenly with salt, pepper, sweet paprika, garlic powder and dried basil. pour about 1 ts olive oil and work it with your fingers all over. squeeze a few drops of lemon juice and again spread it with your fingers. if your fish still has skin on one side, that's the side you lay it on the sheet, don't bother removing it. the mushrooms and asparagus should have a five-minute head start when you put the fish next to them. cook an additional 15 minutes.

my daughter loves this dish. she gets very excited every time because she gets to do all the sprinkling of condiments on the fish. she's very proud when she eats something she helped cook. the mushrooms absorb a lot of flavor, and they're plump and very juicy, and she likes to mop up the juices with bread. the asparagus is crisp and nutty and it all works together. delicious, efortless and healthy. and because you lined the sheet with foil, you have no pans to wash. it all sounds good to me.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

lemon rabbit ragout

my aunt and uncle have been keeping rabbits ever since i can remember. my aunt cooks it like no one else. she makes unbelivable stews and roasts after marinating the meat for days. her recipes always yield a moist, lean meat, juicy and so flavorful. and i haven't had any since i switched continents. deciding enough is enough, i got one, proceeded to hack it in pieces, and called my aunt to ask what next. of course that's the moment my service provider must act up and refuse to connect anywhere in europe. delightful. no biggie, says i, i'll just marinate it according to julia, and in those 3 days i'll reach my aunt. after 3 days of futile dialing (and  the destructive behaviour my phone has had to endure as a result) i switched providers. went over to an uk based company. it works just fine now, but of course by the time the change took effect the rabbit had to be cooked. did not really have a choice but to continue with julia child's recipe.

i adore julia, but this dish cannot hold a candle to my aunt's stew. the meat was juicy and tender, no doubt, but see those lemon slices in the pot? they lend a bitter theme to the dish. if you enjoy a salad of endive and radicchio this will be right up your alley, but for me it lessened the experience. i'd have enjoyed a clean citrus tone a lot more. easily fixed if next time i leave out the lemon slices.

ragout de lapin au citron
adapted from julia child

for the marinade:
one rabbit, cut up
8 garlic cloves, peeled and quartered
3 medium onions, finely sliced
2 medium carrots, sliced
1/3 cup olive oil
1 ts whole-grain mustard
1 lemon, zest minced and juice strained
2 bay leaves
1 rosemary sprig
2 thyme sprigs
1/2 ts salt

mix everything up in a bowl or ziploc bag, then add the rabbit pieces and turn them around so they're covered in the marinade. refrigerate for up to three days, turning them over several times each day. when you're ready to cook it, scrape the marinade off, give it a quick rinse in cold water if it's stubborn and then dry it with paper towels.

for browning and roasting:
2 slices pancetta, cubed (julia says salt pork, but who has that on hand?)
about 1/2 cup flour
2 cups veal or chicken stock

preheat oven to 375F. in a wide, tall skillet heat up a bit of oilve oil. fry the pancetta until crisp, then remove to paper towel to blot excess fat. dredge the rabbit through the flour and sear it on both sides in the rendered fat. be sure it's very hot before you put it in, and don't crowd the pan. remove to side dish. strain the marinade - reserve liquid, and add the vegetables to the hot fat. brown veggies lightly. turn them in a sieve to discard excess fat. now put veggies, rabbit and pancetta in an oven-proof skillet. add the marinade liquid. (at this point you're instructed to lace the dish with one thinly sliced lemon, to each his own!) pour enough stock to barely cover the meat. bring to simmer, taste for salt and put it in the oven. when it's happily bubbling away reduce heat to 325F and let cook about 1 hour, maybe up to 1 1/2 hours. turn and baste every now and then, and do check the meat 50 minutes in. you want tender, but not so much that it falls apart. you can also simmer this on the stove the same amount of time. skim any accumulated fat off the surface.
according to julia, you're supposed to have sauce in the pan by this time. my veggies remained surprisingly intact, so i removed the herbs and the lemon slices and i gave it a go with my immersion blender, then cooked it a little longer with a knob of butter before returning the meat to it. not a bad dish, but my rabbit craving is still unscathed.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

blueberry hazelnut muffins & fromage blanc

i started this post a bunch of times, but didn't have the stamina to finish it. things have conspired to keep me away, but not all of them work-related. we had a nice weekend in the wisconsin dells and we went to michigan to get a bunch of sour cherries. i made jam and liquer and ice cream and i can't wait to tell you all about it. but in my last post i said i would talk about the fromage blanc i used to make the chocolate mousse for the pavlovas. most of the leftover cheese was just slapped on these muffins and eaten together. it was a great flavor combo, if somewhat heavy. the muffins, tolerant enough to accept company, are no push-overs. they know they're not cupcakes. they don't need the frills. they have enough bang on their own, and in this case my beautiful fromage blanc was as superfluous as a frothy ballerina dancing to firecrakers. take off your slippers and enjoy the pretty colors, lady. tomorrow you go back to work, but you're not needed right now. that, and the fact i've lost all but one of the photos, makes me redirect your attention to this artful presentation of fromage blanc. it's a slight adaptation of the recipe i used, from emeril.

it really is a delightful fresh cheese. a lot of people liken it to cream cheese, but i don't think that's quite right. and i certainly don't think them interchangeable in recipes. i find it closer to a very fine-grained ricotta. an improved ricotta al latte, if you will. i like it more than mascarpone. it's not as smooth, and that makes it more versatile. it's spreadable, and you can use it as you would mascarpone, but you can also pile it on toast with a drizzle of warm honey for a great breakfast. it's my favorite for desserts. ever try to make gateau au fromage blanc using cream cheese? don't bother. it's just not the same.

the muffins are a simple affair. what set these blueberry apart for me was the toasted hazelnuts. especially the topping, without it they would be plain, but with that crunch they don't need anything else.

blueberry hazelnut muffins

10 oz or 275 gr fresh blueberries
4 oz or 100 gr chopped toasted hazelnuts
10 oz or 275 gr all-purpose flour
1 tb baking powder
1/2 ts salt
2 large eggs
3 oz or 75 gr caster sugar
6 oz or 170 ml milk
2 oz or 50 gr butter, melted and cooled
2 oz or 50 ml roasted hazelnut oil
1 ts vanilla extract

for topping
4 oz or 100 gr hazelnuts
4 tb turbinado sugar

preheat oven to 400F or 200C. toast all the hazelnuts about 5 minutes and let cool. maintain oven temp. remove skins form hazelnuts and chop finely. sift the flour with the salt and baking powder. in a large bowl mix eggs with sugar, milk, butter and oil. add the vanilla extract. mix to combine well. sift once more the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and fold quickly. fold in blueberries and 4 oz nuts. try to keep stirring to a minimum. spoon in muffin tins just enough to fill. pulse the rest of the nust with the turbinado sugar until finely chopped. divide evenly between muffins - you may not use all of it. bake on high shelf 20 minutes for minis and up to 30 for big ones. remove to rack to cool. yields 24 minis and 6 jumbos.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

daring bakers: chocolate pavlova

i had long wanted to try a chocolate pav, but as usual i procrastinate until the daring bakers make me do it. only one thing to say about it: if ever i make another pav, it'll be a chocolate one. i find it vastly superior to the original white one. once again, i will not transcribe a long story, when you can see it with a click.

The June 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Dawn of Doable and Delicious. Dawn challenged the Daring Bakers’ to make Chocolate Pavlovas and Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse. The challenge recipe is based on a recipe from the book Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard.

the meringue part of the equation went without a hiccup. easy-peasy. cockyfied by the success, i take on the mascarpone mousse, only to wreck the chocolate. i honestly don't know what i did to it, but it separated and i had to toss the whole lot. this greatly diminished my modest chocolate stash. and obliterated the mascarpone supply. so i set to remake it, this time aiming for half the quantity - and even so i had left-over mousse! i have no clue how high it was expected to be piled on... anyhoo, i used fromage blanc instead of mascarpone, which i made myself, yay, and i'll tell you all about it tomorrow. it worked flawlessly, i think.

once that was done the mascarpone cream still loomed ahead, and while usually i think anything that lists one recipe creme anglaise as an ingredient is pure evil genius, i simply did not have it in me to add six egg yolks to this dessert. wimp, i know. instead i pooled strawberry coulis underneath. (or, as it was known in its former life, left-over cobbler sauce). to my taste, this was far better than the creme anglaise thing. before you tell me what an arogant prick i am, let me say i know on whose recipe i'm making notes. and i'm not, really - it was just incredibly hot today and the strawberry lent a tart finish that was refreshing, as did the fruit on top.

this was a great challenge. it got me very excited, and even with the mousse fiasco i enjoyed making it. i can't decide if i like the shell or i'm only eating it to get to the fluffy interior, but either way, this is a great recipe to have in my arsenal. and these individual pavs are very elegant, and don't require slicing, which may a considerable plus during a dinner party.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

strawberry cobbler

this past weekend we went strawberry picking at a small organic family farm. it was late in the season, already second pick, which means the fruit is not as big, and i was worried we wouldn't find enough. but there were plenty, and we were enchanted with the quality of it. it didn't look like much when you first looked at it, just rows of plants, not a spot of red in sight. strawberries like to hide, you have to wave your way between the leaves to find them. you couldn't smell them either, the way you can when you go to the market and a smart salesman has placed boxes of them right by the door, to entice you. you can't eat them in the field, either. so you start picking and the first thing you notice is just how much deeper the red of their juice is on your fingers. it stains, so right away you look like you're trying to get away with murder, squatting in some bushes to avoid detection. then you start to smell them. it's sweet but mild, more a memory than an actual olfactory sensation. that's until you load up the car and start back, and the perfume floats around you like thick ropes, forcing you to pull over to get some in the front. you bite, and there's a surprise. there's pure flavor in your mouth. a simple, unadulterated strawberry, becomes so difficult to describe. a lot of supermarket fruit makes me think green. or grass or watery sweet reminiscent of fruit. all i could think when eating these, was red, red all the way back to my fertilizer/pesticide-free childhood.

zhara had a lot of fun. she did some picking, too, and did not discriminate against under-ripe fruit. she got to feed the rotten ones to the chickens, and she was very proud of herself. i was proud of how seriously she took the whole thing, taking great care to not step on any plants, doing all that was asked of her immediately. she was very taken with the resident cats, more than any other animals. i think pretty soon we'll start hearing pleas around here to get a pet. the self-proclaimed strawberry superbaby ate a lot of fresh strawberries, strawberry pancakes, strawberry jam on coconut waffles, and strawberry ice cream - including on top of this cobbler.


i found the recipe for this on the whole foods website. it is delicious, the flavors very well balanced, with just the right amount of sweet. served with ice cream it is downright sinful. the only mandatory observation is this: the 13x9 dish you use better be a tall one, cause this will bubble over with the wrath of hades. and have the sense to put a baking sheet underneath, unlike this idiot here. also, i used turbinado sugar on top instead of brown, and that's the only thing i changed. it makes a lot, serves 10 easily, so you may want to halve it. i'll let you know how it freezes!

p.s.: do not get me started on the eggs we got at this farm. husband thought i lost my head, the way i was fawning over a raw egg in a pan. he said i spent half that time figuring out the new ice cream maker.
p.s.s.: we plan to go back next year.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

coconut ice cream

meet my newest bff. it's the first ice cream i made myself, and to have such success means only one thing: my ice cream maker is going to see a lot of action this summer. this is a very refreshing dessert, with a really nice mouthfeel that will never make you think it's homemade. my machine is not high-end by any means, and still it produced a lovely texture, very creamy with no ice crystals. i am a coconut fanatic. i love it in any shape or form, so this had to be the first thing to try in my brand new ice cream maker.
this recipe comes from bruce weinstein's the ultimate ice cream book, a wondeful collection that includes sorbets and granitas, drinks, toppings, homemade waffle cones and even some savory concoctions. it's one of my favorite cookbooks at the moment. you can also find more ice cream on mark and bruce's blog, real food has curves.

coconut ice cream
featured with permission

1/2 cup toasted shredded sweetened coconut flakes
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1 ts cornstarch
1/4 ts salt
1 cup half and half
1 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut milk
1 cup heavy cream
2 ts vanilla extract

beat the eggs with the sugar until pale and thick. beat in the salt, cornstarch and vanilla. mix the half and half with the coconut milk and heat until just below boil. temper the eggs with half the mixture, then return everything to the pot and cook until it coats the back of the spoon. strain to get any cooked egg bits out. let cool 5 minutes, then add the cream and mix. add the coconut if using, cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and refrigerate until cold, at least 5 hours or up to overnight. churn in your ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. [these are not bruce's instructions. i find retelling a recipe helps me memorate it, and i really like knowing the recipes i use so i don't always have to look them up. and i don't have the patience to copy something down word for word.]

i did not have shredded coconut on hand, so i added 1/2 ts coconut extract, fearing it wouldn't be coconutty enough. i did have some quality coconut milk, so it would have been okay without. cornstarch is in there to help the texture. if you have a performant machine you may omit it.
it's a great ice cream, i hope you'll all try it.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

eat real food

it's not easy to buy food anymore. i remember having no choice at the market. there was one kind of sugar, one kind of eggs, and you could only find whatever fruit and vegetable were in season. not once during my childhood have i eaten strawberries in december. today i go to the grocer and there's seven kinds of eggs. conventional, organic, antibiotic-free, no added hormones, free range, and on it goes with everything until i feel like i'm recovering from a vertigo spell. then you hit the meat counter and the implications run deeper than i had imagined.
do you know where your meat comes from? in sweden they've added a second bar code, that brings up images of the farm where the animal was raised, genetic information, health history, what it was fed and other such details. chances are if this were done here you'd loose your appetite. i simply can't believe we've reached a stage when talking about the origins of our food has become inappropriate dinner conversation. salmon farmed like chickens, fed on grain, like chicken. cattle pumped full of antibiotics every day, as preventative measure. the corn they eat mixed with their own fat, which led to the outbreak of mad cow's disease, and has since been replaced with chicken and/or pork fat. add to that some nice feather meal. add to that chicken litter, growth hormones and antibiotics. this is what happens today in industrial cattle feedlots, and it's all deemed acceptable by the FDA and USDA. a cow grows from 80 pounds at birth to 1,100 pounds in 14 months. it used to be at least 3 years before they headed for the slaughterhouse. in 'the omnivore's dilemma' michael pollan recounts how during a visit on a feedlot he asked a manager why they don't liquefy the enormous quantity of manure to spray it on the neighbouring farms. it's because the farmers don't want it: it's so toxic the crops would die. there's more: of the cattle reaching the slaughterhouse, 30% to 70% have abcessed livers. this is the meat we eat, from animals with shot livers and toxic shit.
there's still more: ever give your kid a chicken nugget? me, too. but never again, and here's the many reasons why not: it's 54% corn. of the 38 ingredients, 13 can be derived from corn. on top of those, there's several completely synthetic ones, obtained not from chicken or corn, but from petroleum in a chemical plant. leavening agents, anti-foaming agents, and preservatives, including dimethylpolysiloxene, a suspected carcinogen and an established mutagen, tumorigen and reproductive effector. worse still, 'to help preserve freshness' nuggets are sprayed directly with tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ. this is a form of butane, and according to FDA standards it can comprise up to 0.02% of the oil in a nugget. says pollan, 'which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation and collapse. ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill'.

what's with the junk in the picture? it's proof that not all processed food is junk. i bought the pizza dough at trader joe's, and it's done essentially as i would do it. the pizza sauce i got from a can. to those tomatoes only herbes were added, not high fructose corn syrup or thickeners and emulsifiers. the vegetables are organic, and they are local, which means they're as fresh as they come. the goat cheese is a processed food, but only contains goat milk, herbes, garlic and a cheese culture. no exotic molecules. and if you're wondering if it tasted better than its frozen/delivered counterpart, consider this: those veggies, fresh and crisp do not require much intervention. but i did toss them in a bit of cold-pressed olive oil, mixed with a bit of walnut oil, and a splash of toasted sesame seed oil. serve it on a bed of spicy, tender arugula, and this pizza is as far from junk as cake is from cauliflower.

this was brought on by mark's recent post on how to distinguish real food in the sea of processed food. my theory is this - since none of us carry mass spectrometers to the market to analyze the chemical signature of foods, simply and carefully read the ingredient list. do not be duped by flashy 'heart healthy', 'fat-free', 'all-natural' boasts. just look at all the ingredients, and if there's anything in there that your grandma would not recognize, find an alternative. it may be convenient to buy processed foods. but convenient for whom? i think it's more so for the food industry than it may for the consummer. food is my passion, and my absolute priority is my child. and i refuse to feed her stuff that will endanger her health. read 'the omnivore's dilemma' if you haven't already, and read 'real food has curves' by bruce weinstein and mark scarbrough, which is a practical seven step plan to get off processed foods. i can't commit to fully organic, i simply can't afford it. but i can avoid those products so laden with chemicals they can't be called food anymore. and i can look up a near-by farm and sign up for their CSA program, which will provide me with fresh veggies every week, and will at the same time support local agriculture. convenient. and healthy, too.

Friday, June 11, 2010

summer squash oreganata

this little dish has become a staple in my kitchen lately. it's very simple, but incredibly versatile. so far i've made a bed of it for a white, meaty fish. then i've used it as a spread - i was actually considering naming this squash jam/marmelade, it's so inspired as spread! if you add a bit of heat it can put a salsa to shame. it makes for a great base on pizza, under some goat cheese and olives. finally, i used it as garnish on pork chops, just as i would onion marmelade.
this is based on a traditional transylvanian dish i ate frequently growing up. though for some unexplained reason my mom didn't make it, i always found it at friends' houses. it's a delicious puree that uses either leeks or green onions, the squash, and some cream and thyme to finish it. i love it, but my daughter wouldn't go for it. i had to tweak it to make it more attractive for her, and as she likes tomato-based dishes, this is what resulted. she ate it twice already, it's a resounding success!

2 leeks, white and light green parts only, finely sliced
4 medium sized summer squashes, grated
3 tb butter
3/4 cup tomato sauce
1 tb fresh basil, chiffonade
2 tb fresh oregano, minced
salt, white pepper to taste

first heat up the butter and saute the leeks over low heat until they are soft, about 10 minutes. grate the squash - i do it on the coarse grater, because i like some texture. add the squash and raise the heat to medium high. give it a stir and once everything is heated through lower the heat to medium low and cook it down until most squash juice is gone, about 15-20 minutes. add the tomato sauce (i like to simmer mine to make it thick and pulpy, and i take care to season it well) and cook a few minutes more. add the herbs, season, and done. good hot or room temp. try using half squash, half eggplant, or add mushrooms or beans. any way you take, it will lead someplace delicious.

Monday, June 7, 2010

how to make your own rose water

in a pinch i suppose you could pour hot water over petals, let it infuse, then strain it, and there. you will get rose water, but you'll also get a coloration ranging from pretty pink to murky yuck. it also goes bad very fast, within a few days. the alternative is a bit more elaborate, but totally doable. and it yields a clear liquid, perfumed with all the promise a rose carries, and a floral-sweet taste. while not shelf stable, it will keep in the fridge for about a month.
first get out the tallest stockpot you have. then put in a tall heatproof dish, like a ramekin or a souffle dish. put the rose petals all around it. you want 6-7 cups, they'll come higher up than the ramekin, so press them down gently. then start adding water, until the petals are loosely packed in it. you don't want them floating atop an ocean. the water must not be higher up than three quarters of the height of the ramekin. set the pot over medium heat. then get a glass bowl that will fit snugly on top of your stockpot, so you'll have a double boiler. no steam must escape. the bottom of the bowl must not touch the rim of the dish inside. fill the bowl halfway with ice. place it on top of the stockpot: you've created a still. bring the heat to medium high and watch how all the condensed rose water will drip back in the ramekin. don't remove bowl to see how much you have. don't let it boil more than 45 minutes to 1 hour, you'll only dilute the stuff. let cool, pour into clean bottles and refrigerate. if anyone knows of a non-chemical way to make it shelf stable, i'd appreciate the heads up.

if this post is alambicated, please leave a comment and i'll try to offer a clearer explanation.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

berry cherry rose crostata

these are my favorite fruits, all on one pie. maybe cherries would not be quite so special if they had a longer season. things being what they are, as soon as they appear i eat giant heaps, fresh, every day. only towards the end of the season i get around to cooking them. this year i finally beat the odds. though they're featured with strawberries and raspberries, it's a start. a very delicious, tart-sweet start. zhara, still in love with everything lemon, and very much into cherries and berries, was over the moon for this. this dessert just flies off the plate, so i always make two. for a single pie halve the ingredients, but the pastry freezes nicely, so you might as well.

first you make the pastry:
3 cups or 420 gr all-purpose flour
4 tb or 60 gr granulated sugar
2 1/2 sticks or 282 gr unsalted butter, very cold, cut in small pieces
5-6 tb rose water, recipe follows
1/2 ts salt 

mix the flour with the salt and sugar in your food processor. add the butter, a couple pieces at a time, and pulse until you have that wet sand look. add the rose water, one tb at a time. you may need less, depending on your butter and the weather. you want to stop when you have moist clumps forming. form a mass with your hands, divide it in two, gather each into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour. it's best to be a bit compulsive about these things and weigh your pieces to make sure they're equal.

for the fruit you need:
4 cups/about 375 gr  fresh strawberries, cherries and raspberries
1 tb cornstarch
1/2 cup rose jam + 2 tb for glazing
4 tb lemon curd
egg wash

preheat the oven to 375F. wash, hull/pit and slice your fruit. sift the cornstarch over it and toss gently to combine. let sit while you roll out the dough. i recommend you do that directly on a sheet of parchment paper, as it's a delicate pastry and will most likely tear when you try to transfer it. if you roll it out directly on parchment it's easy to slide it on a cookie sheet. i use my biggest one, and a big sheet of parchment so i can bake both crostatas at the same time. once you have the dough rolled out into 10-inch circles, transfer them to the baking sheet and begin assembly: smear 2 tb lemon curd on each. then gently toss the fruit with the rose jam, taking care not to crush it. divide equally between the two crostatas. spread the fruit leaving a 1-inch border. turn the edges over the filling, pleating and pinching any cracks. paint the border with egg wash and bake in the middle of the oven for 25-30 minutes, until the pastry is nicely golden. when it's almost done, take them out and paint a thin layer of jam over the fruit. only one is glazed in the second pic, see the difference?  let bake 2 minutes more. remove from heat and let cool on baking sheet.
this is a very fragrant dessert. it's floral, but with a pronounced lemon backbone, a nice play on the sweet/tart combo. you could always sprinkle some demerara sugar on top before baking. adding sugar to the fruit will only cause more juice that's likely to spill out.
as far as the rose water is concerned, i feel this post is long enough, so we'll talk about it in the next one. it's not that i don't want to tell you now, but i have one last piece of this crostata in the fridge, and i take that very seriously. seriously wrong. needs to be that reminds me: serve it with strawberry ice cream or lemon gelato. yum.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

candied rose petals

if you're anything like me, your cakes don't look exactly like those on tv. ok, nothing like those. when zhara turned two and asked for a spongebob cake i wanted to try a 3D thing, with figurines made out of fondant and all that glee, but what resulted was a flat sheet cake, covered in fondant, made into spongebob's face, with only his nose sticking up. i'm not saying candied rose petals would help us out of that lurch, but: those of you whose daughters are into the whole princess scene, you're golden. you can just smear pink frosting on a yellow cake, scatter a few of these, and done. high tea fancy.
you won't believe how easy it is. i always imagined making candied roses or violets is some painstaking horror trial. all you need is patience. the smaller the flower, the more patience you need. large petals are a breeze, but i wouldn't want them on a cupcake. smaller petals are required for such treats.
anyhoo, the process is the same no matter what type of flower you're setting out to crystallize. all you need is an egg white, some caster sugar, a pinch of food coloring and a small paint brush. you want to color the caster sugar to match as closely as possible the color of the flowers. you could use white sugar, but the finished petal will not look quite as pretty. beat the egg white a few times with a fork. you don't want foam. you just want the albumen to relax a bit. older eggs work better than very fresh ones. then you brush each petal with a very thin layer or egg white, and you dredge through the sugar, taking care to shake off any excess. lay the petals to dry on waxed paper. turn them a few times in the first three hours to ensure even drying on both sides. leave to dry for a couple days. keep air-tight forever. or until princess cakes are needed.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

minted rose jam

apparently i'm on some kind of flower jam bender. after all the fun with lilac, and with the collaboration of my garden, ta-da. rose jam. (if i wasn't so very tired, i'd put a few exclamation points after that ta-da, but in my current state the sight of a cold cosmo appearing out of thin air couldn't provoke a tingle of excitement, and that's all i have to look forward to momentarily). of course the most fragrant of them, the red, velvet ones died away as i was looking for recipes. and while we're here, let me tell you: i couldn't find one i liked. this jam is a dessert in itself, the old-fashioned preserves served with a tall frosty glass of water. i want jam. jam i can spread on toast on copious amounts, that won't make my teeth fall out the next day. that won't make me feel there's not enough water in the world to quench my thirst. those preserves - together with the green walnut preserves - were a thrill when i was six. now, not so much. so i've pretty much had to wing it.

don't ask what kind of roses i used. i'll say pink. i'm as clueless as they come, i have no idea about species. i used some orange and red ones that were very fragrant. but i didn't have a lot of those, so i bulked it up with some pink ones. thankfully you don't need their latin names to make them into jam.


one important thing is to use flowers that have not been sprayed. you also need to cut the lower white part of each petal, as it can render your jam bitter. you can snip the whole flower with scissors, you don't have to do it petal by petal. (i only thought of it rather accidentally, towards the end. sigh.) that's why it's not recommended to work with white roses - you'll never know where the white spots begins. 
as i wanted something that's not terribly sweet, i used the zest of two lemons, in addition to the juice. it's not tart, but it has a nice acidity to it, and the zest only enhances the fragrance. i also added some mint, not enough to make a statement, just enough to bring another note, to make you wonder. i considered adding a few white peppercorns to the mix, but look at it. it's the uber princess treat. no way my daughter would not pierce my eardrums if she couldn't have it.


so here's how you get four 10 oz jars of this amazing jam. get 5 cups, packed, of petals into a pot, and pour 5 cups of water over them. then add 2 cups of sugar, the juice of a lemon, the zest of 2, finely grated, and a ts of vanilla extract and stir. bring to boil and then simmer for 20 minutes. add 4 sprigs of spearmint. simmer 10 minutes more. remove mint and discard. add 2 pouches liquid pectin while stirring constantly. bring to a rolling boil - one that no amount of stirring can simmer down - and cook one minute, stirring the whole time. remove from heat and pour into clean, hot jars. sterilize or keep refrigerated.
as it often happens with me, as it was time to add the pectin i find there's not enough powdered stuff, and not enough fluid stuff either. so i used 1 liquid pouch, and 1 tb powdered, dissolved in the juice of a small lemon. probably 2 tb should suffice, if you're using dry pectin. if you're very cool, you can make your own like celia, and never have to use cheap tricks like that. you can also put the petals with the sugar and a bit of water in the food processor before cooking. but you should know the petals melt down and add nice texture, so it's entirely not necessary.
those petals strewn about? we'll talk about them tomorrow.

p.s.: that label on the jar, that looks like it might've been made by a blind bat (which i am, but nevermind)? actually made by my daughter. pretty cool, huh. not bad cursive for 2 1/2. of course, by 'made' i mean she was having a taste test right next to me while i realized i didn't have my glasses on, immediately after sticking it on the jar.

Monday, May 24, 2010

strawberry apricot cake with lemon lilac mousse

last night hubs and i were talking about our favorite dishes. his are etched in stone. mine change with the seasons, with the discovery of new ingredients. he's got one breakfast, a couple soups, a couple mains, and one dessert. i could stand here all day and prattle on about mine. then we got to talking about the ultimate meal. the one you ordered if you knew you were going to die. his last bite on earth is one of his predictible favorites. beans and sausage. beef soup. corned beef hash and eggs. apple pastries. i will never be able to pick a definite, durable winner. but this cake is as good as anything, today.
after all the fuss with the lilac jelly i had to come up with stuff to use it in, other than eating it out of the jar with a spoon, at 11pm, when i went to the fridge to get 'water'. mousse was the first thing that crossed my mind. but there's something you should know about this cake: its name is albie and it's a frequent visitor. it's got a picture on the wall, like any dear relative. i make it all the time, year-round, with all sorts of fruit, fresh or frozen, and we have it with just a sprinkling of powdered sugar. it's awesome on its own. when you add that mousse you're just going overboard. in a really good way, that will never attract the dissaprovement of the clan.

for the cake:
4 eggs, separated
1 scant cup or 215gr granulated sugar
1/2 cup or 113gr unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 tb or 60gr walnut oil
3/4 cup or 185ml milk
1 3/4 cups or 240gr all-purpose flour
1 1/2 ts baking powder
1/2 ts vanilla extract
2 cups chopped strawberries and apricots, about 325gr

sift the flour with the baking powder and a pinch of salt and set aside. beat the 4 yolks with the sugar and the butter. then add the oil and the vanilla. (if you don't have walnut oil, which is wonderful and you really should try it, you can use all butter or canola oil). alternate the flour and the milk in two additions. with clean beaters, beat the whites to stiff but not dry peaks. gently fold the whites in the batter and pour in a 13x9 pan lined with parchment. toss the fruit with 2 ts flour and place evenly over the batter. bake at 350F about 35-40 minutes. let cool in pan a few minutes, then turn unto rack and peel off parchment.

for the mousse:
1 cup prepared lilac jelly
1 oz or 28 gr gelatine
2 cups heavy cream
3 tb lemon juice
3 tb powdered sugar
pinch purple coloring, optional
2 oz chocolate, shaved, on top

sprinkle the gelatine over the lemon juice and let sit to soften. gently heat up the jelly on low heat. right below boiling, when you see little bubbles forming on the sides of the pan, add the lemon juice with the gelatine and stirr constantly until dissolved. remove from heat and let cool, stirring occasionally. you don't want to let it jell, it will be hard to work with. beat the cream to soft peaks. add the powdered sugar and continue beating until stiff. gently fold in the cooled jelly. the mixture will be soft. add the food coloring if desired and mix well.

line the same pan with plastic wrap. put the cake back in it and pour the filling over it. smooth the top and refrigerate for at least a couple hours, up to overnight. before serving top with chocolate shavings. bittersweet works best. it really does add one more dimension, don't skip it.

the picture above is the shining example of 'do what i say, not what i do'. i am gluttonous and impatient, and that's why this cake here isn't as fluffy as usual. i made the mousse while the cake cooled, then assemble it right away. this does not work. you must allow the cake to be completely cool, at least 4 hours, before you pour the mousse. also: this will be quite a lemony mousse, which i thought ideal in the 86F we had yeasterday. it was very refreshing! but taste as you go, and either sub some of the juice with water, or add more sugar...

what's your last bite on earth?