11.28.2014

Cranberry Port Gelée. A.T.

The older I get, the less consistently I floss.  I also worry less about butter than about sinking coastlines and the state of honeybee hives.  So much of our future is unknown.  All of it, in fact. 

So you might as well eat happily.  And this includes bringing the cranberry sauce. Life is too short to eat something congealed from a can. 

Especially if you live in New England.  And have twenty minutes to spare.

The recipe is a Canal House classic.  Mix in a few arguably unusual ingredients.  Juniper berries.  Black peppercorns.  Fortified wine.  Then cook down some native fruit and strain and chill.  And, ta da, you have a new standby.  Plus an excuse to open a bottle of port. 

So please forgive the inappropriate timing.  Quite the nerve coming to you the morning after Thanksgiving, I know.  But there was a turkey to cook. And flossing to neglect. And—as my brother and I established with our oven timeline yesterday—there’s a clear linear delineation of B.T. and A.T. 

Before Turkey.  And After Turkey.

This means Before Turkey is behind us. But we have a whole world of After Turkey yet to discover.  And in this time I suggest, at some point, you make cranberry gelée.  It’s intriguingly floral and yet not too much of a departure for the traditionalists. 

Because cranberries can exist more than once a year.   And you just might need something for your turkey sandwich today.

Cranberry Port Gelée
Adapted by Food52 and the Canal House

Ingredients:

1 cup port
1 cup sugar
1 tbsp juniper berries
10 black peppercorns
pinch of salt
1-12 ounce bag of cranberries

Instructions:

In a medium saucepan, place the port, sugar, juniper, peppercorns and salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the cranberries and return to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer until the berries burst and soften (about 10 to 15 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Using a wire mesh sieve, strain the solids into a bowl. With a rubber spatula, press to extract as much of the liquid as possible. Towards the end the liquid will get thicker.  Stir the extracted thin and thick solids together.

Pour into a serving dish and cover with plastic wrap.  Chill until firm and ready to serve (at least a few hours or overnight).

Makes between 1 to 2 cups (depending on how long the cranberries are cooked)

Notes:

-Red wine could also be employed in place of the port.

11.01.2014

Buttermilk Buckwheat Beet Crepes: A Brief Tutorial

Here is what I know about about crepe making.  Do not attempt them under the following circumstances:

If you do not have a sturdy sauté pan.  (It does not have to be non-stick, but you cannot be evangelically opposed to butter.)

If you have had more than two cocktails.

If you have had any cocktail named as follows: the Boilermaker (postmodern hipster version: Dad’s Manhattan and a Rolling Rock); Wrath; Sheena Easton; anything that comes in a Scorpion Bowl.

If you are down to a single pair of knee-high orange stripped socks and are procrastinating the laundry.

If you have said, “I don’t know why I’m crying,” in the past twenty-four hours.

If you are ovulating.

If you are someone who angers easily about ovulation jokes.

If you are over thirty and have recently been asked why you aren’t married.  Give yourself two points if it was a relative.

If you have just listened to Seger’s “Turn the Page,” as covered by Metallica.

The point is crepes require your full attention.  Distractions will only complicate matters.  You must have your mental prowess. You must not be easily shaken by emotional shrapnel, housekeeping interference, or more than two fingers of whiskey.  For at least a good 30 minutes.

I know this because the day I finally nailed this recipe, I was as calm as the ocean is blue.  It took a few attempts to work out the kinks.  But it certainly didn’t help that prior efforts were on less than six hours of sleep, with laundry piling, and a plague of circling fruit flies with aspirations of biblical proportions.

Crepes can sense these sorts of things.  I swear they collapse on purpose.

But they are worth making.  For one, the recipe is vetted.  It involved a weird two weeks during which I ate beets daily.  We won’t talk about the aftereffects.  The dedication was apparent.

But these are simply beautiful.  They are fuchsia-colored with black buckwheat specks.  They don’t taste particularly beet-y, but they have a slight lingering earthiness and resilient chew. The buttermilk lends its tang and all of this taken together nearly threatens sensory overload, until you remember that you are eating a crepe.

Never mind the pink. Actually, totally mind the pink.  The pink is the point. Never mind everything else.

Buttermilk Buckwheat Beet Crepes

Ingredients:

1 medium-large beet (about 3-inches), cooked and peeled
1 cup buttermilk (have extra around if your batter needs a little thinning, see below)
1/3 cup buckwheat flour, sifted
2/3 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
2 tsp sugar
4 eggs
2 tbsp butter, melted and slightly cooled, plus more for greasing the pan
scant ½ tsp kosher salt

Instructions:

Puree the beet in food processor, thinning it out with a little water (about ¼ cup) until the mixture starts to loosen slightly.  Using a wire mesh strainer, separate out the pulp; reserve the solids for another use.  You should get about 1/3 cup of liquid.  Pour the beet juice into a measuring cup.  If it’s just a little shy of 1/3 cup, simply add a bit more buttermilk than called for: you’ll need 1-1/3 cups total liquid between the juice and the buttermilk.

In a medium bowl, combine the liquid with the flours, sugar, eggs, melted butter, and salt; whisk together.  Let the batter sit for an hour (this is important).

When you are ready to prepare the crepes, heat a 9-inch sauté pan on medium-high heat. Butter the pan, discarding any pooling fat.  Pick the pan up and pour 1/3 cup of crepe batter in the center of the pan and quickly swirl it with your wrist to evenly distribute the batter.  This will probably take a few crepes to get the hang of it. 

The crepe will cook for about 30 to 60 seconds (until it starts to look dry to the touch on the top side).  Using a rubber spatula, gently flip the crepe and cook for another 15 to 30 seconds.

Re-butter the pan, as needed (I did about every other crepe, wiping out the excess butter). Repeat until the batter is gone. 

Makes about 10 crepes

Notes:
-Buttermilk provides a nice tang but it is a bit tricky to work with because brands have varying consistencies and some can make the batter a little thick.  If you want to avoid this altogether, just use milk. Ultimately, your crepe batter should be the texture of cream.  (I’ve thinned it out with a little water in a pinch, but it should also settle as it sits.)  Which reminds me: don’t neglect letting the batter sit, the crepes are easier to handle and hold together much better after resting. And hang tight, the first few crepes are typically troublemakers. 

-The crepes will last about four days in the fridge.  Or you can freeze them between pieces of parchment or wax paper for longer.


-To cook beets, I roast them in foil with some olive oil and salt at 425 degrees until they’re knife-tender.

10.10.2014

Spiced Candied Pumpkin Seeds, a Trilogy

I recently heard someone say: pick three things you can do really well each day and then let the rest go.  I like making lists and fall comfortably into self-loathing, so I thought now was as good a time as any to focus on the power of three and put some inner monologues to bed.

It turns out this is a lot like trying to rationalize naptime with a toddler.  There are a lot of things I can do terribly.  My subconscious is a genius at it.

I’m not good at staying in touch with anyone outside a five-mile radius.  My small talk skills fall somewhere along the autism spectrum.  I’m not patient.  I have no idea how to use a crockpot.  I’m also pretty bad at adhering to positivity trilogies. 

But it’s an admirable exercise and so today I’m sharing a recent success.  Which involves not giving up.  And pumpkin. If nothing else I’m stubborn and seasonably appropriate.

The first time I made these seeds they were not worthy of mention.  Their flavor was fine, if you don’t mind eating gloppy, thick-skinned ovals tasting faintly of sweetened curry.  Experience tells red kuri squash seeds are not the appropriate vehicle for this recipe. 

You also need to have enough time and patience to appropriately cook and cool everything. So if you have less than an hour, or are feeling foolhardy, and are not in possession of a pumpkin, these seeds are probably not in your future today.  Otherwise, proceed.

They toast up warm and fragrant and crisp, shellacked with a smooth, sweet glaze.  Their spice is balanced by briny fleur de sel and caramelized maple paired with bits of crunchy crystalized sugar.   They engage all the senses and the result is really something to be proud of.  It also solves the problem of what to do with the guts from your carving pumpkin.

I created the recipe for my Wine Bottega friends.  The final incarnation was worthy of a feature on their October newsletter.  (If the idea of monthly wine appeals to you, you should think about joining their Farm to Glass program.) The seeds pair brilliantly with anything from the era of Harry Craddock and would work with a rebellion of liquid bubbles, a Gewürztraminer, or lower tannin red like a Cabernet Franc. 

So pumpkin, persistence, and a subsidiary of booze, it is.  I can think of worse places to start.

Spiced Candied Pumpkin Seeds

Ingredients:

seeds from one small to medium-sized pumpkin (about ¾ to 1 cup)
2¼ tsp demerara or turbinado sugar (i.e. “raw” sugar with a larger granule)
¾ tsp fine sea salt (e.g. fleur de sel)
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper or piment d’espelette
1/8 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp maple syrup
¾ tsp canola oil

Instructions:

You’ll need to reserve the seeds from a carving or sugar pumpkin for this recipe.  To prepare the seeds, scoop them out from the fleshy inside of a pumpkin and place in a colander.  Rinse under running water to help separate any pulp still attached.   Pat them dry as best you can with a paper towel and proceed with the recipe or refrigerate until ready to make (a day or two is fine).

Set the oven to 300 degrees. Spread the pumpkin seeds on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes, gently tossing halfway through.  They should become dry and slightly fragrant.

While the seeds are toasting, combine the sugar, salt, and spices in a small bowl; stir to mix.  When the seeds are done, place them in a medium bowl; add the maple syrup and oil and stir to combine.  Add the spice mix and toss until the seeds are evenly coated.

Line the baking sheet with parchment paper and pour the prepared seeds on top, gently spreading them.  Place in the oven and turn the heat down to 275 degrees.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the mixture becomes caramelized and fragrant.  (Rotate the pan halfway through to ensure even cooking.) To test for doneness, take out a couple seeds and let cool.  They are done when dry to the touch.

Cool completely and store in an airtight container.  They should keep for about a week.

Makes about 1 cup


Notes: The unsalted, shelled pepitas in the supermarket might be worth a try if you are pumpkin deprived. 

9.21.2014

Dark and Stormy Triple-Layer Birthday Cake in the Dust of this Planet

A few days ago I was listening to a podcast about a man who wrote a book called In the Dust of this Planet. The joke was that he writes books for no one.  Part of his interview went like this:

   “Are you a pessimist?”
   “On my better days.”
   “Are you a nihilist?”
   “Not as much as I should be.”

A part of my soul—which can get a bit dingy from time to time—exhaled.  Sometimes it can be really tough to be a human.  Recognizing some self in someone else makes it a little easier to breathe.

It inspired me to write down a few notes.  For myself, mostly. About getting older and how to reconcile that with things around you.

This may not interest you.  There’s dessert at the end.  So feel free to skip ahead.  If you aren’t a nihilist sympathizer, you may very well be someone who likes cake.

It so happens I’m both.  I made the cake for my brother’s birthday last weekend.  If we are talking in binary terms, he is a Dust person.  He likes skulls, hates birthdays, and is partial to dark spirits, particularly if they are named after an old man.  But more on all that in a bit.

   Dear human,

What you should first recognize is that you are aging, minute by minute. One of life’s only certainties.  This means you are still among the living for the time being.  And so allow me to offer a few words of advice. 

You may very well experience crow’s feet and pimples at the same time.  And they really don’t have a proper cream for this.  Also, you’re probably going to develop some back or knee pain, so enjoy unencumbered sex, or squats, or both, while you can.

If you live alone, you will—at some point—worry about choking on your dinner and recognize things could end very badly, and swiftly for you at the hand of, say, a poorly groomed salmon.  If you are someone who has never lived alone, you might think this sort of thing is silly.  Or dramatic. Or neurotic.  It’s not, so don’t be an asshole.

You’ll probably need to learn to love something a little less along the way too.  It might be gin martinis, or a man, or money, or cheeseburgers.  These things can be vampires under the right circumstances.

A sense of humor is indispensible.  Knowing someone with a boat is helpful too, but it may require wearing horizontal stripes. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons.

If you eat meat, you should know how to roast a chicken.  It’s generally cheap, easy to learn, and a reminder that your food came from something with legs and, formerly, a neck.

Breathe.

If you are on the sidewalk, don’t take up the whole space. If you are on the metro, don’t usurp the subway pole.  If you are on a bike in the city, stop at red lights.  And if you are in a car, remember, we can still see you.

It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” Context is everything.  And try not to lie, you’ll have less to remember.

Celebrate your birthday.  You only get so many.  And, whenever possible, make cake.  For you and for those you love.  You never know when it could be the last slice.

Now, for the cake.  It starts with lime curd.  Proceeds with a ginger beer syrup that could probably get coaxed into jelly with the right amount of gelatin.  Finishes with salty peanuts and crystalized ginger topped by meringue buttercream with five shots of Island rum forced in. There’s also three layers of vanilla cake infiltrated with crunchy buttered nuts to contend with.

I call it a barstool cake.  Which, if I’m honest, you might need after you’re done with the recipe. It took me over four goddamned hours to make start to finish. But it’s worth it.  Why are nuts included?  Because bar nuts are awesome, silly.

The cake was wholeheartedly inspired by a Dark and Stormy cocktail.  It has notes of spice and strength.  It’s not overly sweet, but it’s no diet dessert to be certain.  And it’s just salty enough to keep things interesting.

My birthday-hating brother had a whole piece.  And said it was good. Also, my friend David volunteered to eat it with his hands.  It didn’t work out that way, but this sort of behavior wouldn’t have been prohibited.

Both life and cake are fleeting, enjoy them as much as you can.

Dark and Stormy Triple-Layer Birthday Cake

Ingredients:

for the lime curd
Adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties! by Ina Garten

2 limes
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup unsalted butter
2 eggs, room temperature
pinch of kosher salt

for the ginger beer syrup

12 ounces ginger beer (I prefer Maine Root ginger brew)
3 nobs of ginger (each about thumb-sized), peeled and chopped in half
3 tbsp sugar
juice of 1 lime
pinch of kosher salt
½ tsp powdered gelatin (see note)

for the vanilla nut cake
Adapted from Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi

230 g (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
500 g (2½ cups) sugar
120 g (½ cup) muscovado or dark brown sugar, packed
6 eggs
220 g (1 cup) buttermilk
150 g (1 cup) canola oil
25 g (2 tbsp) vanilla extract
370 g (3 cups) cake flour (see note)
8 g (2 tsp) baking powder
8 g (2 tsp) kosher salt
1 cup buttered or toffee or spiced nuts, roughly chopped (if you’d like to make them try this)

for the rum meringue buttercream
Adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston’s Flour Bakery + Café by Joanne Chang

1½ cups sugar
6 egg whites
1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature and cut into 2-inch chunks
1 tsp vanilla extract
¼ tsp kosher salt
8 ounces dark rum

additional ingredients
½ cup salted peanuts
½ cup finely chopped crystalized ginger, plus more for garnish if desired
fresh mint (optional garnish)

Instructions:

for the lime curd

Using a peeler or sharp knife, remove the zest from the limes, shaving off any residual white pith with a knife; slice the zest into strips and roughly chop and then place in a food processor with the sugar.  Pulse until the zest is very finely minced, fragrant, and well incorporated.  Squeeze the limes (you should get ¼ cup juice). 

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter with the paddle attachment; beat in the lime sugar.  Add the eggs one at a time, then the juice, and salt.  Mix until well combined.

In a medium saucepan, cook the mixture on low heat, stirring regularly with a rubber spatula, until thickened.  The curd is ready when it coats the back of a spoon (this will take about 10 minutes).  Take care not to overcook or the curd will curdle.  Remove from heat and refrigerate. (You should have about 1½ cups of curd.)

for the ginger beer syrup

In a medium saucepan, place the ginger beer, peeled ginger, sugar, lime, and salt; cook on medium high and adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a robust simmer.  Cook for about 15 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by about two-thirds (you should end up with roughly a scant cup of syrup). 

Add gelatin, stir, and refrigerate.

for the vanilla nut cake

Set the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter, line with parchment paper, and butter again three 9-inch cake pans.  In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugars with the paddle attachment on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula and with the mixer running on low add the eggs one at a time.  Beat on medium-high for another 2 to 3 minutes.  Scrape down the sides.

On low speed, slowly pour in the milk, oil, and vanilla. Mix for 4 to 6 minutes on medium-high until the batter becomes white and almost doubles in volume.  Don’t skimp on time here.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. On low speed, add in the flour mixture until the batter just comes together.  Scrape down the sides and mix with the rubber spatula to ensure all the flour has been incorporated. 

Divide the batter among your three prepared pans.  Give each a quick whap on the countertop to help disperse the batter.  Divide your nuts evenly among the top of the pans and push down gently with a rubber spatula so they are mostly covered with batter.  Bake for about 30 minutes or until the cake tops turn golden and their middles no longer jiggle (the edges should spring back slightly when gently poked). 

Cool completely on a wire rack.  Loosen each cake by running a knife along the edges and gently tapping the bottoms on the counter.  Gently invert the layers and store in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap until ready to use. (They can be made up to 5 days in advance.)

for the meringue buttercream and final assembly

Place a medium saucepan with a few inches of water on medium heat and allow to come to a simmer. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the sugar and egg whites.  Place the bowl over the simmering water and whisk for 6 to 8 minutes or until the mixture gets hot to the touch and very foamy.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the heated foam mixture and whip on medium high with the whisk attachment for 6 to 8 more minutes or until the mixture becomes a light, white meringue consistency and is cool to the touch.

Turn the mixer speed to low and slowly add the butter chunks one at a time (it may initially look curdled; mix for about 2 minutes).  Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat for 2 to 3 minutes more; it should start to look like buttercream at this point and should be smooth.  Add in the vanilla and salt and about half the rum and whip until everything combines.  Then slowly drizzle in the remaining rum, about 1 tablespoon at a time, waiting until it incorporates fully before adding more.

To assemble the cake, place three small pieces of parchment paper on top of a cake plate or serving platter; they should overlap slightly (you’ll remove them after you frost the cake; they are there to help reduce your mess).  Select which cake layer you want for your bottom layer (reserve your best layer for the top) and invert so that the top of the cake is turned over on the parchment paper and the flat smooth bottom layer is facing up. 

Using a pastry brush, spread about ½ the ginger syrup over the bottom layer and gently brush down the sides.  The liquid will seep into the cake (unless you’ve opted for more gelatin, in which case you probably won’t want to put it on the sides and it shouldn’t seep into the cake).   Top with half the curd.  Sprinkle half the peanuts and minced ginger over the top.  Then spread one-third of the buttercream on top.

Place the second cake layer on top of the frosting, again inverted so the smooth bottom is facing up.  Spread the remaining syrup on top and down the sides.  Spread on the remaining curd.  Sprinkle with the rest of the peanuts and ginger and top with more buttercream, reserving enough to frost the last layer.  Top with remaining cake (this can either be inverted or with the top facing right side up, your preference; inverted will be flat and smooth while the top facing up will yield a slightly more rustic effect).

Using an offset spatula, frost the top with the remaining buttercream. (Dip the offset spatula occasionally in hot water to help ensure the top gets smooth.)  You can fill in the side crevices with any leftover frosting, if you see fit, smoothing as you go.  Garnish with additional crystalized ginger and mint, if desired.

Remove the parchment paper and transfer the cake to the freezer for at least an hour or so (long enough so the layers will set).  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to five days (or store for up to 2 weeks in the freezer).  Let the cake warm up at least an hour before serving.

Serves 12 to 16 people

Notes:

-I’d suggest making the curd, syrup, and perhaps even the vanilla cake the day before you plan to assemble everything.

-I think the syrup would be even more interesting as a jelly.  Next time, I plan to double the gelatin (at least).  If you do this, let me know how it turns out.

-If you don’t have cake flour you can use 2 cups plus ½ cup plus 2 tbsp all-purpose flour and ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp cornstarch.  (The ratio is 2 tbsp cornstarch for every 1 cup flour, replacing 2 tbsp flour.)


-About the rum, I used Old Man Guavaberry rum from a recent family trip to Sint Maarten.