Last year, just before Father’s Day, I made homemade gluten-free graham crackers. My plan was to make my Dad this pie. But, my little sister was graduating, and Father’s Day sort of got lost in the shuffle. We stored the graham crackers in the freezer, but they were so good, I kept sneaking them. There might still be a few hanging out in my parents’ freezer, but I doubt it. Needless to say, my dad never got his pie last year. So this year, while he was visiting, I decided to make it up to him. Luckily, I have since found a great replacement crust for the old graham cracker standby. This cookie crust cuts down immensely on the work and tastes like shortbread. It works very well with the vanilla pudding and the banana.
May 30, 2008
May 28, 2008
This cake almost killed me. Or, at least, the buttercream almost did. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a more frustrating sojourn in the kitchen, and I definitely have new respect for the “daring” portion of the name “daring bakers.” Of course, it was largely my fault. For the record, you absolutely cannot use salted butter in buttercream frosting. Also, it is not a good ideas to add a sugar syrup that has crystallized, unless you want chunks of sugar in your buttercream. If you use a crystallized sugar syrup and salted butter together, I guarantee you, you will be dumping your buttercream down the drain.
Which explains why there had to be a second attempt at the buttercream. On the second attempt, I decided to throw caution to the wind, and make a honey syrup instead of a sugar syrup (it was actually part honey, part sugar), but it wouldn’t get up to 225 degrees. I used it anyway. I ended up with liquid buttercream. Apparently, if I had stuck part of the frosting in the freezer and the rest in the fridge and tried beating again, I might have been able to rescue it. I didn’t know that at the time, down the drain it went.
Which explains why there was a third attempt at buttercream, with my last two sticks of butter. I almost followed the recipe the third time. But, I cut down the sugar, so there would be room for the sweetness of the honey. After some frantic whipping, and a moment of panic when this buttercream too seemed headed for soup, the buttercream pulled together beautiful. Still, exhausted and cranky, I vowed I would never make an Italian buttercream again.
Until, I tasted this cake. It was wonderful, restaurant-worthy, wedding-cake-worthy, cure me of my baklava cravings-worthy. I had worried that the cake would be too sweet, with honey flavoring so many layers. I had also worried that the pistachio flavor wouldn’t come through. But mostly, I worried that the entire cake would end up in the trash, inedible. But instead, I couldn’t have been happier with the results. I would make this cake again, and not change anything. Each layer of this cake really does sound a distinctive note, and they blend together in beautiful harmony. The joconde is light and airy, with a hint of cardamom and a strong pistachio flavor. The buttercream is creamy, and tastes of honey, but the flavor is muted, almost subtle. The syrup adds hints of lemon and cinnamon and a rich jolt of honey that plays off the mellowness of the buttercream. With a rich taste of pistachio and a creamy decadent texture, the mousse was my favorite layer, and would make an excellent dessert by itself. Finally,the glaze, which I almost couldn’t bring myself to add, cuts the richness of the mousse, picks up the lemon notes of the syrup and gives the cake balance.
I know this recipe looks intimidating. But if you want an adventure in the kitchen, and a rich reward at the end, give it a try. This was my first Daring Bakers’ challenge, and I look forward to many more
May 23, 2008
Life has been very busy lately, and I haven’t found a lot of time to be in the kitchen. This morning I was, but only as an onlooker. My Dad is down visiting me from Virginia, and he cooked me breakfast “New Jersey Farm Boy Style.” When he was young he had a job with New Jersey Department of Agriculture, which involved going to the Vineland farm auction and monitoring market trends. His favorite part of the job was grabbing a broccoli rabe and egg sandwich, and now that sandwich has become one of his own specialties. Since I can’t eat Italian Kaiser Rolls, today we ate broccoli rabe and egg with sausage. My Dad likes his with ketchup and Tabasco, but I was happy with just a little extra salt.
Broccoli Rabe and Egg (serves 3)
1/2 a bunch of Broccoli Rabe (also known as rappini) trimmed of the long stems (about 1 cup of leafy greens)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon garlic salt
6 eggs (or 2 eggs per person)
3 Tablespoons milk
1. Fill a medium saucepan with water and add the salt. Bring to a boil.
2. Add the Broccoli Rabe and simmer until the leaves are tender (10-15 minutes)
3. Add the garlic salt. Drain thoroughly, pushing on the leaves in the collander to get all the moisture out. Chop mixture into small pieces.
4. In a mixing bowl combine eggs and milk, whisking until eggs are frothy. Add broccoli rabe and stir to combine.
5. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt a 1/2 tablespoon of butter, swirl to coat pan.
6. Add egg mixture and fry, when the egg mixture first starts to set, start scraping the bottom of the pan (scrambling the eggs). Continue until eggs are cooked through. Serve (with or without a bun, Tabasco sauce, and ketchup).
May 20, 2008
When I made this chicken, for yet another mini dinner party, I was a little bit disappointed. The chicken was moist and flavorful, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed it, but the jerk seasoning wasn’t very present. It was a good roast chicken, with some subtle interesting hints of the jerk rub. So, I decided to try it again. I still had some jerk rub in the fridge, I bought a whole chicken breast instead of a whole chicken, and after giving the chicken a good solid rub-down, I let it sit overnight. I came home from an eight mile hike, threw it on the grill for about 25 minutes (turning it 4 times), and devoured it. I swear that it might be the best chicken I’ve ever eaten, but I also admit that hunger might be coloring my judgment…slightly. It is very, very good chicken. So good, that when my Dad comes down next weekend, I think I might make it for him.
May 16, 2008
I love hosting dinner parties. Small ones, big ones, I like them all. But my favorite part is planning the menu. For me it is an agonizing artistic event. Sometimes it takes days, sometimes only hours, but it is a process that can’t be rushed. Occasionally, I am helped along by a menu from an entertaining cookbook. But often I build the menu around a dish that I’ve been wanting to make, or I start flipping through cookbooks looking for that dish around which I can construct a menu. I know this doesn’t sound like it should take hours, or even days, but I’m a little bit insane. I almost never want to make something I’ve made before, and I often want to make something that is either ridiculously expensive, or ridiculously involved, or both. So, I tell myself that I have to simplify, and I make compromises. If, for example, I feel I have to make an exquisite dessert, I try to find an entree that is both tasty and easy. I still often need help editing my exuberance, and a phone call to Shannen quite often does the trick. For example, she talked me out of making homemade ravioli for a dinner party in May, reminding me that ravioli is heavy, and not exactly the easiest thing to pull together. Instead, I ended up with this:
homemade salsa fresca with tortilla chips
sauteed bok choy
corn on the cob
polenta corn cakes
grilled salmon with roasted poblano lime butter
I forgot to take pictures, but it was a great meal. Even though the polenta cakes didn’t want to cohere, and the shortcake recipe was not quite right. The company was great, the wine was plentiful, and the salmon was spectacular. Since you can’t enjoy the company or the wine, I thought I’d share the salmon.
May 15, 2008
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Last night, I threw together another quinoa salad. I needed some comforting, and I knew a quinoa salad would do it. This time, I roasted an eggplant and a couple of tomatoes, tossed in some basil and diced spring onions, and served it up with a creamy lemon dressing. It was good, both warm and cold, but especially warm, I think the cold version could have used some baby spinach tossed in for good measure. It was comforting, but I did still resort to ice cream and hot fudge later in the evening… and then nachos and a hard cider even later… not really the way to look good in a bathing suit this summer.
The quinoa salad I made had lots of flavor, which was not true, sadly, of the Lucky Green Tea Quinoa bowl that I had at R. Thomas’ Deluxe Grill the other day. A friend and I decided to check out R. Thomas’ because they have a fairly extensive range of gluten-free options and their chef really pays attention to his ingredients. The first thing I noticed about R. Thomas’ is that this is not the typical Buckhead restaurant. The side of the building is lined with birds in cages, happily singing away, and the whole restaurant seems to have been beamed in from a different planet, or maybe just Berkeley in the seventies. The menu is vegetarian and vegan friendly, but there are also plenty of free-range meat options. I immediately zeroed in on the quinoa bowls (hello, my name is Lynn, and I’m a quinoa-holic).
I had heard that the Thai Quinoa bowl was amazing, but since they let the local paper print that recipe, I plan on making it soon and wanted something different. I decided on the Lucky Green Tea bowl because it sounded interesting and flavorful. The vegetables were fresh and tasty, the quinoa was good, but I couldn’t taste the green tea or the miso. There was also supposedly some wasabi in the bowl, but I couldn’t taste even a hint of it. I mixed in a purple relish that was hanging out on the side of the plate, and that kicked up the flavor a bit, but at almost $12, I was disappointed. Still, I bet there are some real winners on their menu. My friend’s burger was very good, and so was her Raw Spicy Gingerade. Next time, I’m trying the Down Home.
R. Thomas’ Deluxe Grill
1812 Peachtree St. NW
Atlanta, GA 30309
For a gluten free menu, look here. This menu is not available in the restaurant, so print it out and take it with you. I forgot to do this, but my server was quite comfortable helping me figure out what I could eat (it helps that 70% of their menu is okay… even the chicken piccatta)
May 14, 2008
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Deb from Smitten Kitchen did me in again. I now have in my freezer six generously sized homemade ice cream sandwiches…. and they are good…the cookies especially. I skimped on the ice cream, it isn’t homemade or even premium, and I certainly can taste the difference (but my wallet objected to spending the extra, and tonight the wallet won…) Still, these ice cream sandwiches were never really about the ice cream. No, they were about the brownie roll-out cookies, which I wanted the second I saw them. I managed to put it off for a week or so, but when five o’clock rolled around, and I knew that I had nothing to make for dinner that was worthy of posting on the blog, I couldn’t resist any longer. I did manage to show some restraint… I cut the recipe in half (which yielded 16 large round cookies… and yes, if you do the math, that means two of the resultant ice cream sandwiches are not in the freezer, but only one of those is in my stomach… thank God for roommates).