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?

Friday, May 21, 2010

la-la-la... lilac jelly

it will make you sing, too. next year it will, unless you're very lucky. lilac season is over and i feel criminally neglijent posting this now, but i discovered this little miracle very late myself. a facebook friend pointed me to makka's kitchen, and as soon as i read it, i marched in the back yard, just in time to pick the last viable flowers. they were right at the top, and i had to pull at the branches like a savage, much to my daughter's delight. the bush was wet after the rain, but it was all worth it. the never ending plucking of tiny stems. worth it. next year said daughter will be doing the grunt work, nothing like little fingers for this job, if you ask me.

4 cups lilac flowers
3 cups water, boiling
1/2 ts vanilla extract
1 scant tb or 12,5 gr pectin
4 tb lemon juice
1 cup sugar

first take a deep breath and pluck all flowers clean off the stem. they come off easily, but you must be patient because there are so many. absolutely no green parts. reject any blemished or discolored flowers. then put them in a big jar and pour the hot water over them. cover and let it infuse 6 hours.
strain the infusion. press the flowers to be sure you get every drop. discard the flowers. put the infusion in a stainless pot, and add the lemon juice and vanilla. mix the pectin in the sugar and then add this mixture to the infusion, mixing constantly. bring to a rolling boil and cook 2 minutes. turn off the heat. lilac can turn bitter very easily, do not overcook. skim the surface and pour into little jars.
beside those two 8 oz jars i got a bit over 1/3 cup which dissapeared immediately.
this recipe is shown as featured on makka's blog. i had a bit of a problem: the jelly did not jell properly. some take longer than others, so i patiently waited a few days, but there was no improvement. the way to fix a stubborn jelly is this: pour it back in the pan and add 1 1/2 tb sugar per cup of jelly. heat it up. in a small pan mix 1 tb water/cup with 1 ts lemon juice/cup with 1 1/2 ts pectin/cup and bring to boil. pour this mixture in the hot jelly and bring to a rolling boil. cook 30 seconds. remove from heat and pour in clean jars.
even though it's not a big deal to fix, i don't really know why it refused to jell, and i think next year i'll just use the entire packet of pectin to avoid this situation.
as for the taste: if you ever had rose jam, or any flower jam, you know that delicious, incredible perfume they carry. it really does taste as i imagined a thousand times while smelling the flowers. i always thought, oh, if only i could eat them! it's floral, and sweet, with a lemon note at the end. absolutely delectable!
stay tuned for its first application. well, the second, if you count all the buttered lilac toast we've eaten.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

hazelnut butter cookies

or, the easiest, speediest, tastiest 4-ingredient cookie ever.
a lot of people i know don't like making cookies. it's not because they're difficult to make. they're not. but they are time-consumming, and messy, if they're the kind you roll out. what drives me up the wall is the way a cookie dough will turn into unworkable mush the second it detects the smallest amount of warmth. then you gotta chill it, and then it's hard to work with because it's cold. within a second it's mush again. make up your mind, cookie! what do you want to be?!
well this cookie wants to be a pillow. a pillow of buttery, feathery awesomness. i think they actually floated out of the oven, they're so light. you can't touch them at all those first few minutes. one finger poke and they disintegrate, like a dream you can't hold on to when you wake up.

you do need a food processor to make these, or something to grind up the hazelnuts. although i guess if you had to mix them by hand, they wouldn't be quite so easy peasy.

hazelnut butter cookies
recipe from

1 cup or 150 gr hazelnuts
1/2 cup or 110 gr granulated sugar
1 1/2cups or 210 gr all-purpose flour
2 sticks or 226 gr butter, cold and cut in pieces
a couple squares of chocolate, melted, optional

preheat oven to 350F or 170C. toast the hazelnuts 6-7 minutes, until frangrant and golden. let them cool a minute, then put them in a kitchen towel and rub the skins off. pulse the nuts with the sugar in the food processor until finely ground, don't let them go to paste. then add the flour with a pinch of salt (no sifting needed, thank you very much) and pulse to mix well. add the butter, all at once, and pulse a few times, until you get that wet sand look. pinch it with two fingers - if it stays clumped you're good to go. gather into a ball and turn onto a floured surface. split the dough in two equal pieces and roll into logs about 1 inch thick. wrap in plastic. chill at least one hour, up to overnight. or place in the freezer for 10 minutes, if you can't wait. or chill one and freeze the other. anyhoo, when you're ready simply slice crosswise into 1/3 inch or 1 cm thick slices. it's a good idea to put your baking sheet in the freezer for 5 minutes. then line it with parchment, and slice directly on the sheet. arrange cookies 1 inch apart and bake about 15 minutes. oven temperatures vary, be sure to watch them 8-10 minutes in. the edges will be barely golden. the middle will look just set, but not wet. do not touch - your imprint will stay there. let cool a few minutes on the sheet, then pull the entire parchment onto the rack. they're very delicate while they're still hot. when they're cool you can drizzle chocolate on top.

there are two things i messed with. first, i doubled the recipe right off the bat. that part was a bit compulsive. then, the recipe instructs you to wait 2 minutes after taking them out of the oven, and dip tops in sugar. this i find uninteresting and somewhat unappetizing, not to mention completely impossible to do. these things crumble if you frown in their direction. i drizzled some milk chocolate instead - would've gone with dark, but that's not in my toddler's top 10. delicious the first day, even better the second. one log yields 16 cookies.

Friday, May 14, 2010

asparagus beef roll-ups

hello. my name is dana and i'm an addict.

some while back i noticed a cookbook called 'vegetables for vitality' on a friend's shelf. i thumbed through it, all the while telling my friend how my vegetables are so lame, how my range is so limited because with us it's always about the protein, veggies are most often side dishes, stuff i don't pay much attention to. i decide then and there i must cook more vegetables. i must try new stuff. i must make more salads. she very kindly lends me the book, to assist me in my new resolution. i promise to return it soon. i'm pretty sure that was happening almost a year ago. i cannot return books. that's why i seldom borrow them from the library, it's always so hard to give them back. i love the content, sure, but i also love the book itself, the idea of the book. and cookbooks are a great weakness of mine. i love the new, glossy one with pretty pictures, just as much as i cherish julia child's black-and-white, or my grandma's old notebook. so i guess what i'm trying to say, dear friend, is that i'll keep dodging you until you forget it's me you lent it to. (and don't think you can hold the rushdie i gave you hostage because seriously i will climb up your balcony at night and break it free).

in my defense, i have been cooking quite a lot from it. i have eaten more vegetables. in fact, this whole week i've been perfectly content with tomatoes and feta as dinner, or radishes and cucumbers with goat cheese. not even a dressing on them. really. and after a row of simple snacks like that, this thing tasted like ambrosia.
with some prep work done ahead of time, this plate can hit the table in ten minutes. plenty to get addicted to.

asparagus beef roll-ups
adapted from vegetables for vitality, the reader's digest, 2004

1 lb sirloin steak, thinly sliced
1 bunch asparagus
1 bunch scallions
1 tb olive oil
3 tb teriyaki sauce
1 tb sesame seeds, lighlty toasted

cut the beef so you have rectangles 1 inch wide and 3 inches long. pound them so they're very thin, about 1/8 inch. season with salt and pepper. cut the asparagus in 3 inch long pieces. i like to use only the tips for this. reserve the rest for another use. trim the green part of the scallions to the same size. reserve the white part for another use. blanch the asparagus for one minute. meaning, throw them in boiling water, and after one minute drain and plunge into an ice bath to stop cooking. do not overcook. take 3 asparagus tips and 1 scallion piece and form a bundle. roll beef around middle of veggies. at this point you can refrigerate the whole deal for a couple hours, but be sure to let it come back to room temp before cooking.

heat the oil and sear the beef on all sides, on high heat, about 3-4 minutes. add the teriyaki sauce, lower the heat to medium, and cook 2 more minutes, shaking the pan to get everything glazed. plate and sprinkle with sesame seeds. (this is also when you'd sprinkle some chopped cilantro, if you were so inclined). spoon pan juices all over.
in case anybody cares, the stuff underneath is lemon thyme orzo, which also cooks up in ten minutes and goes with it like a baby with his mama. it has a subtle flavor, with no acidic background because only the zest is used. there's also a bit of parmesan added at the end, which makes it creamy and risotto-like. it soaks up the pan juices and becomes an impossibly delicious sidekick. that's all, folks. eat asparagus roll-ups and don't lend me your books.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

cheesy bacon tomato strata

my friends - real life and virtual - who have kids have been taunting me with stories of breakfasts in bed, of coffee drunk while taking in the bacon smells filling the house, of kiddies invading the bed while their husbands presented them with flowers. it's not that my bed doesn't get invaded. it does, whether i want it or not. but my husband is as ineffectual in the kithchen as the proverbial elephant. he doesn't even like to reheat leftovers, let alone cook from scratch. the only way i'll ever eat breakfast in bed is if i cook it in my sleep. so cook it in my sleep i did.

stratas are very smart dishes, very easy to prepare and so tasty. even people who don't really like eggs enjoy them. plus, the strata is infinetely variable. it's a great way to clean out the fridge. it's slices of bread, layered with meat and/or veggies, then drenched in a milk and eggs mixture, and baked. the trick is you can prepare it the night before and let it sit overnight. the bread will soak up the liquid and bake up wonderfully moist and fluffy. (in a hurry, it still must rest one hour).

4 big slices of bread, or 8 square sandwich slices, day old
4 eggs
1 cup milk
2 tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 slices munchee, or provolone, or swiss
5 oz feta, crumbled
4 slices turkey breast, or ham, or salami
1 ts dried oregano
4 slices turkey bacon
salt, pepper

in an 8 inch square dish place two slices of bread - or as many it takes for the bottom of the dish to be completely covered. trim to size if needed. then layer two slices of turkey, two of munchee, half the feta. then arrange one sliced tomato on top and repeat. only this time finish with the munchee on top. beat the eggs with a pinch of salt and pepper. mix in the milk and the oregano. pour over the layers. now cover the dish with some aluminum foil, placing it directly on the cheese, and put some weight on it - a pan with a big can or jar, something to keep it pressed. refrigerate overnight.

in the morning, fake a bout of somnambulism and preheat the oven to 350F. uncover the strata, put it in the oven and sneak back to bed. or make coffee and set the table, i'm not forcing you to sleep. after 30 minutes remove from the oven and place the bacon on top, and bake until it's nice and crispy, about 10 minutes more. i did not have turkey bacon, and i had to blot out a lot of excess fat. entirely not recommended before the second coffee cup. so use the turkey bacon and save yourselves the trouble.
do you see how moist it is? it was incredible, light and fluffy, but very, very filling. we had a late breakfast and didn't need anything until dinner. we spent the day working in the garden, mowing and pulling weeds. it's too cold to plant! my tomatoes are ready to go outside, but the outside is not ready for the tomatoes. how lamentable. the best part of it was that zhara kept yelling 'happy mother's day!' because she saw i was getting a kick out of it. that, and all the hugs and kisses.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

laura's orange poppyseed cake

and happy mother's day, too! i made this cake yesterday, after seeing it on laura's blog - boy, i'll never say i don't believe in love at first sight anymore! - and it'll be the stand-in for the usual mother's day cake, which this year will not be happening, as the husband is dieting. i'm not dieting (mind you, not cause i wouldn't need it, but i'm simply, completely incapable). either way, who needs to have an entire cake for themselves in the fridge?! especially when there's still two generous slices of this bundle of sunshine in this house.

for the cake:

2 cups or 270 gr all-purpose flour
1 cup packed or 175 gr dark brown sugar
3 eggs
14 tb or 2 sticks minus 1 tb or 200 gr unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup or 185 gr milk
1 1/2 ts baking powder
2 oz or a scant 1/2 cup or 60 gr poppyseeds
1/2 cup or 125 gr orange juice
zest of one orange, finely grated

for the syrup:

1 cup or 250 gr orange juice
1 cup or 235 gr turbinado/white sugar
zest of one orange, pith removed and thinly sliced
1 vanilla bean

 preheat the oven to 325F or 160C. sift the flour with the baking powder and a pinch of salt and set aside. cream the butter with the sugar and zest. when it's fluffy add the eggs, one at a time. mix in the flour, then add the milk, the orange juice and finally the poppyseeds. pour the batter in a buttered and floured 9 inch cake pan, and bake about 50 minutes, unitl it's nicely golden and it's beginning to pull away from the edge.

for the syrup, remove the zest with a potato peeler and julienne it. laura says to blanch it first, but i completely spaced out about it and it was just fine. blanched or not, mix it with the sugar and the juice. split and scrape the seeds out of the vanilla bean and put them in, with the pod. boil gently until syrupy, about 10 to 15 minutes. this happened much faster for me, 5 to 7 minutes. don't let it thicken because it will thicken some once it cools.

when the cake is ready let it rest a few minutes in its pan. invert to plate and pour 1/2 the syrup all over. serve with extra syrup on each plate.

i love poppyseeds, and i'll always leap at a chance to use them that doesn't involve a yeasted dough that takes several hours to make. this cake is sweet, sweeter than i generally like my desserts, but somehow i found myself wanting a second slice. i think it's the candied orange that did the trick - it balances the syrup, giving it the faintest bitter atfertaste, a whisper, really, but that's all that's needed. loved it, thank you laura!

and, happy mother's day to you all. zhara and i picked these lilly-of-the-valley from the spread alongside the garage. their perfume is intoxicating, right now they're my favorite flowers.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

green goddess salad

before you all gang up on me and tell me this is not how green goddess is done: i know. this is my green goddess. i don't like anchovies, especially not without the pretense of having cooked them. so there are none of those in this dressing. but you might like the rest...

green goddess is one of my favorite dressings. it occured to me it has no standing salad recipe. so why should cesar feel so superiour? especially when it's spring, and there's bountiful asparagus, and bright radishes and yay, spring mix that actually tastes like it should.

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut in inch pieces
1 cucumber, peeled and cut
1/2 zucchini, cut
5 red radishes, thinly sliced
4 scallions, white and green part separated
3 handfuls spring mix
4 oz feta cheese, preferably an aged one, crumbled
sliced almonds, toasted
1 tb sesame seeds, toasted

to trim the asparagus you hold each end in one hand and you bend it. it'll snap, and that's where you cut the rest of your bunch. save the trimmings for soup or stock. blanch it and set it in a strainer. cut the cucumber and the zucchini to the same rough size as the asparagus. thinly slice the radishes. cut the green part of scallions to size. mix all the veggies and the cheese with the spring mix. if you're reluctant to use raw zucchini, you can always blanch it with the asparagus, or you can roast both at 400F for 15 minutes.

now for the dressing:

1/2 cup sour cream
1/3 cup mayo, preferably homemade
3 tb lemon juice
1 tb fresh tarragon, finely chopped
1 tb fresh parsley, finely chopped
4 scallions, white part only
1 tb tahini
1 tb extra-virgin olive oil
salt, pepper to taste

put everything in a blender and give it a whirr. if you have to do it by hand, be sure to mince everything!
you won't need all of it for a single salad. put the rest in a lidded container and keep for a week in the fridge.
when you've tossed the salad with the dressing, toast some almonds and some sesame seeds and sprinkle them on top. serve at once.

i absolutely love the asparagus - sesame seed flavor combo. nut on nut, like tone-sur-tone of the same color. after i took this photo i actually went back and sprinkled twice as much on. please, believe me: homemade mayo tastes nothing like the stuff you buy jarred. all it takes is one sampling to know the difference. it's easy to make, and maybe it's a minor detail, but if you have food on the brain, it will rock your world. go see what posessed nancy of roving lemon's big adventure to make her own. there's reasons beside taste to make mayo at home. (but if you do it just for taste, that's ok too.)

p.s.: this is the first salad i've included on this blog. part of it is, i don't think we really need recipes for salad. part is, salad is not my thing. i don't fawn over salad. it doesn't stay on my mind for days. i don't quiver with anticipation of the first bite. this, however, got me pretty excited. i'd been thinking about it the entire afternoon. in the 2 minutes between putting down my daughter for the night and grey's anatomy starting on tv, i assembled it, top speed and fork in hand i got to the table as my show started. it really was everything i had hoped. and then enters the patient. if tonight's episode didn't spoil my appetite, nothing will. i think maybe i would have stopped eating if i wasn't enjoying it so much. besides, i grew up with my cousins, all boys, and i think i've seen far more disgusting things at the table. anyhoo, long live salad! and spring!

Monday, May 3, 2010

peaches'n'cream lemon braid

i spotted this little wonder on the king arthur flour site. all i did was add peaches to the mix, i found a bag in the back of my freezer while the dough was rising and i couldn't resist. these are best served the same day. if you must store them keep them on the counter, covered with a kitchen towel. do not wrap in plastic. don't refrigerate, and only sprinkle confectioner's sugar the day you serve them. oh, and i also added citrus zest to the dough. one lemon and one orange. i honestly don't think the lemon would have come through without it. and i mixed the lemon curd in the cream cheese filling, i was pressed for time and did not need two separate layers. and i used sourcream instead of yoghurt, you know how i get if i have to go to the store for a single ingredient. and i sprinkled some sliced almonds on top. other than that, i followed te recipe to the letter and it was very good, especially with fruit. went great with coffee. zhara loved this one!