29 April 2011

God Save the Cake!

You may not know it yet, but I lovelovelove weddings!  I have to admit that my own wedding was probably the best one ever, but any and all weddings are pretty darn awesome.  Today, there happens to be a wedding taking place that's kind of a big deal.  Unfortunately, it's not that big of a deal on this side of the pond.   We don't get an extra day off of work and we have to wake up extra early if we want to even watch it.  But that's no excuse to be sour!  Love is in the air and I plan on adding the smell of fresh baked goodness to it.  Put on your tiaras and sip a spot of tea, it's wedding cake time!

The idea was put into my head by a couple of bonnie lasses at school who are eagerly awaiting the (very) early morning nuptials.  I wanted to share in their excitement so, I decided to bake a traditional tea time cake popularized by one of my favorite monarchs - the utterly romantic and fabulous Queen Victoria.  As a twist on the recipes I kept coming across, I wanteto add a bit of lemon to the traditional Queen Victoria cake because I always fancy a bit of tart with my sweet.  What better way, and appropriately English, than to use lemon curd!  I also wanted to make a Devonshire cream instead of whipped cream and found a simple recipe using Mascarpone.  I was lucky to find some on sale andidn't need to hock any royal jewels or blow my weekly food budget.  All the recipes for a Queen Victoria cake are pretty much the same and it's quite a simple cake to prepare.  To make it look lovely and worthy of Her Majesty?  That's an entirely different story.  Without further ado, here's the recipe and my valiant effort to be among the best of the Brits on this jolly day!

four berries & lemon
a cake fit for a princess (I haven't come up with a proper name for this cake and am open to suggestions!)
3⁄4 lb (plus 1 tbsp for greasing the pans) fancy, European-style high-fat butter, salted & softened
3 c (plus 1 tbsp for dusting the pans) self-rising cake flour

1 1⁄2 c sugar
2 1/2 tsp lemon curd
1/2 tsp fresh lemon zest
4 eggs
really good jam or preserves (I like mixed berry)
1. Preheat the oven to 360. Grease two 9" round cake pans with a good amount of butter and dust with flour.  Set aside until the batter is ready.
2. Beat butter in your mixer on a high speed for about 5 minutes.  Add the sugar, lemon curd & lemon zest and beat until it becomes light and fluffy. 

3. In another bowl, whisk together eggs and 6 tbsp warm water.  Add half the egg mixture and half the flour to butter & sugar mixture.  Beat well for about 2 minutes before adding remaining egg mixture and flour.  Mix the batter for about 5 minutes.
4. Divide the batter between your two prepared pans.  Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Invert the cakes onto a rack, remove pans, and let cool completely.  If desired, when cooled, cut the brown edges off of the cake.
5. Put one cake layer on a cake plate, spread the top with half the jam, then cover the jam with half the cream. Spread jam on top of the other cake layer and very carefully flip it, jam side down, on top of the cream.  Spread the rest of the cream on top of the two layers and decorate with blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries.

devonshire cream
1 c heavy whipping cream
4 oz mascarpone
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 tbsp confectioner's sugar
1. Using a hand mixer, blend all ingredients together until they thicken with stuff peaks.  Chill until ready to use.

As if it were fairy tale magic, I transformed this drab looking cake...

beautiful peonies from my hubby!
into this beautiful confection!  Yum doesn't even begin to describe this.  It's probably the prettiest cake I've ever made.  The berries on top are supposed to be a Union Jack, in case you couldn't tell.

can you see what I was going for?
Thanks to my awesome coworker Alex for bringing me the souvenir tea tin!  Can you believe he didn't stick around jolly London-town for the big event?! Crazy.

Now if only I had this adorable plate from the gals at The House That Lars Built.  Wouldn't that be extra sweet and special?  Instead, my cake sits atop the absolutely perfect plate that we used on our wedding day.  

Even though I wasn't invited, I hope the lovebirds somehow sense my well-wishes and have a wonderful wedding day and a very happy happily ever after!  Congrats from this Yankee gal and always remember the immortal words of the four wise men... all you need is love.

24 April 2011

take a peep at this

Holiday time is here again... Happy Easter!  I was tempted to fix up another feast, Greek or Southern Easter fare, but since I'm still trying to come up with recipes to use up all the Passover matzo I bought, I figured that my house would be better off without a second week of festive leftovers.  That doesn't mean we won't be celebrating at the Sweet Spot.  The Easter Bunny came early for us when the mail carrier dropped off this amazing, treat filled "basket" from Grandma Joan -

I squealed with delight when I opened it.  It was almost as exciting as a visit from the Peep Mobile!  Seriously, when I was younger I once saw the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile and the excitement I had at that moment could only be topped by a Peep Mobile sighting.  Even though they now make Peeps for just about every holiday, the original little yellow marshmallows they make every Spring are one of my yearly highlights.  Them, and Cadbury Cream Eggs.  And the Mini Eggs.  Oh the candy consumption is almost too much!

But I'm an adult now and Easter candy for breakfast is not part of my well-balanced diet.  However, hot cross buns are.  Especially when they're loaded with currants, cranberries, orange peel, lemon zest and yellow raisins!  Mmmm mmm.  Spiral ham isn't the only thing that says Easter goodness.  This was my first time making hot cross buns so I might tweak the recipe a bit if I decide to add them to my annual menu.  These were a little more dense and spicier (I mean full of more spices, not hot and spicy) than the ones I've bought at the bakery, but they were pretty darn delicious.  So, based on the version from Joy of Baking, here's a preliminary version of my recipe:

hot cross buns
3/4 c milk
1 package (1/4 oz) active dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
4 c all-purpose flour
1/4 c light brown sugar
1 tsp fresh cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp  fresh nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 c unsalted butter, room temp
2 large eggs
1/4 c dried currants
1/4 c yellow raisins
1/4 c dried cranberries
1/2 tsp mixed, fresh lemon & orange zest
egg wash
1 large egg
1 tbsp milk
1 c confectioner's sugar
2 tbsp milk
1. In a small saucepan, heat milk until it's lukewarm.  Add the yeast and white sugar, stirring to combine.  When well mixed, remove from heat and let sit for about 10 minutes, until foamy and active.  
2.  In the meantime, mix flour, spices and brown sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer.  When the yeast and milk is ready, mix in and beat to combine with dry ingredients.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well.  Lastly, add the butter and mix until well combined.  
3. With the dough attachment (or your hands if you don't own the awesomeness of a mixer) knead the dough until it's elastic-y and smooth.  This will take at least 5 min.  Transfer the dough to a floured surface.  Kneed the dried fruits and zest into the dough with your hands.  Place dough into a lightly greased bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel letting it rise in a warm, dry place until it has doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. When dough is ready, punch it down and split up into 12 equal pieces and place onto a parchment lined baking sheet.  Brush each bun with the egg wash (egg & milk whisked together.)  Cover again with a clean towel and let rise again for about 30-45 min until it's again doubled in size.  
5. While dough is rising a second time, preheat over to 400 degrees.  With a sharp greased knife, cut a cross onto the top of each bun.  Brush the buns once more with the egg wash and bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes or until they are lightly browned and a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool completely on a wire rack.
6.  Mix confectioner's sugar and milk until it becomes a thick glaze then place in a plastic back with a cut tip.  Squeeze the icing into the cut cross and serve.  The inside should still be warm and toasty, delish!

not too shabby for a first try

Oh, I love Easter.  I only wish I had an old-school answering machine that I could load up with the cassette of me and my kid sister singing "Here Comes Peter Cottontail."  But a note to all mothers out there: recordings of your kids singing Easter songs should only be used as an outgoing message during the appropriate season.  If you don't pay attention, the message could end up causing very embarrassing phone message moments when your children are grown and their friends call (remember that, Tricia?)

With that, I wish everyone a happy Easter with friends, family, tasty treats, and a crapload of plastic eggs filled with candy!

my post-easter, morning commute

18 April 2011


balabusta: (noun)  a Yiddish expression describing a good, praiseworthy homemaker.  The word derives from the Hebrew word ba'alat-habayit meaning 'master of the house'.  The word has purely positive connotations.
Let me start this by letting you know that I am not Jewish, so please don't be offended if I've taken a few liberties with tradition.  I just truly enjoy celebrating Passover.  What can I say?  I love matzo!  Thankfully I have found many homes to celebrate the Seder, from my high school years with the Rothsteins to Baltimore with the Babus family and back to Jersey with Lady Baty.  Usually I merely play the role of confused guest, mumbling poorly accented Hebrew blessings, searching for matzo, fearing plagues and hoping that my efforts would be sufficient enough to score me some brisket and maybe a macaroon.  I enjoy the festivity of the holiday, the gathering of family and friends, but most of all the collective cooking that goes on.  Like any holiday, Passover is a time to gather up the recipes that have been handed down from one generation to another, enjoy a hot and crowded kitchen, and savor the feast that so many help to put together.

This year, though, I'm doing it on my own.  Refusing to play the role of Gentile bystander, I'm slapping on the apron, throwing out the chametz, and embracing my inner balabusta to create a Passover supper worthy of your Bubbe.  I've done my research by getting in touch with some friends, asking them to pass along recipes, and searching online and in cookbooks for some that I could test out and adjust for my own celebration.  Though this undertaking seemed a bit overwhelming at first, the required four cups of wine led to some cooking under the influence and a successful Pesach!  Here's the menu -

Salmon and Whitefish Cakes with Cucumber & Horseradish Sauce
Brisket with Rosemary & Thyme
Veggie Kugel
Oven-bakeApple Cinnamon Matzo Kugel
Coconut Almond Macaroons

While searching the web for some interesting takes on the traditional Passover fare, I found a delicious little appetizer from Bon Appetit.  Unfortunately, like many of their beautifully presented dishes, this one was well out of my penny-pinching price range.  But I looked it over, made a few adjustments, and came up with my own take.  The creamy horseradish was a delicious discovery from my vacation to Switzerland.  It comes in a tube and can be found in the international section of the grocery store.  The fresh chives are thanks to Nabisco because they were handing out little pots of grow-your-own chives last week.  Thanks Nabisco!

salmon and whitefish cakes with cucumber & horseradish sauce
1 c finely chopped English cucumber
1/2 c mayonnaise
4 tbsp creamy horseradish
2 tbsp finely chopped curly parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped chives
fish cakes
1 7oz can pink salmon
1 24oz jar whitefish, removed from jelly
3 tbsp veggie oil
1/2 c shredded carrots
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 large eggs
5 tbsp matzo meal
1 3/4 course Kosher salt
3/4 fresh ground white pepper
1. Stir all ingredients together and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Chill until ready to use.
fish cakes
1. In a large skillet, heat 1 tbsp oil and briefly cook carrots and onion until tender but not brown.  Let cool in the skillet.
2. In a large bowl, beat together eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper.  Stir in carrots and onions.  Stir in whitefish and salmon until well blended.  
3. In same skillet as before, heat enough oil to fill the bottom of the pan.  Mold fish mixture into patties in the palm of your hand, the mix should yield 8-12 depending on how big your hands are.  When the oil is very hot, add patties and saute until golden brown and heated through flipping once, about 3 minutes on each side.  When cooked, place on paper towel to remove excess oil.
4. Serve warm with lemon wedges and chilled sauce.

perfect Passover appy

I didn't have or get a recipe for the traditional brisket, so I figured I'd just wing it.  One tip, make sure you buy regular old brisket and not corned beef brisket; this isn't St. Patty's day and it could turn out gross.  Thankfully my mom helped me to avoid that mistake during a confused phone call while on line at the butcher.  After browsing around through a few online recipes and seeing what the usual ingredients were, I settled on a not measured recipe that kind of went like this:

baby j's brisket with rosemary & thyme
1 2-3lb beef brisket, trimmed of almost all the fat
3 c Kosher wine (I used a pretty tasty one from Israel, but any will do)
3 medium onions, chopped into large pieces
2 bay leaves 
1 c water
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp oil
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Heat 1 tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions and bay leaf and let cook until tender and starting to become translucent, about 15 minutes.  Add wine and turn heat down to low, letting simmer.
2. Place a large dutch oven over medium heat to warm up.  Season brisket with remaining oil, salt and pepper.  Place brisket in dutch oven and allow to quickly brown on each side, only about a minute or two on each side.  When the meat has been browned, add the wine and onion mix, water, rosemary and thyme.  Add more water if necessary to cover the brisket completely.  Bring liquid to a simmer before covering the pot tightly and placing it in the oven.
3. Let brisket cook for 3 hours or until tender.  Check on it a few times and add more water if you need to so that the meat doesn't dry out.  When the meat has cooked completely, remove from pot and wrap tightly in foil, letting stand for 30 minutes before slicing.
4. With the remaining liquid, make a gravy by adding some water and whisking in tiny bit of very very fine matzo meal to thicken it up.

My meal was starting to come together when I realized I didn't have any veggies.  That's no good.  So another made up recipe turned into a vegetable matzo kugel.  I suppose you could whatever vegetables you want.  I grabbed what happened to be in the fridge which was: carrots, potatoes, chives, mushrooms, zucchini, and parsley.

veggie matzo kugel
3-5 tbsp matzo meal (depends on how much you like or want)
5 c thinly sliced veggies 
3 eggs, well beaten
salt and pepper to taste
1. In a large bowl, mix matzo meal and eggs well.  Stir in veggies, salt and pepper.  Put mix in a small, greased casserole dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 30-40 minutes.  Serve.

pretty easy, huh?

Finally, a recipe passedown through the ages... at least that's what we're pretending.  My lovely college pal Michelle sent me this absolutely fantastic recipe for a Matzo Apple Kugel.  It calls for three large apples so, me being me, decided to shake it up a bit and use three different types of apples - Rome, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith.  The varying sweetness, tartness and crispness really made this dish sing.  Oh, and I used fresh ground cinnamon because really, nothing is better than fresh ground cinnamon.  This kind of makes me think of an oven-baked matzo brei or a Jewish apple pie.  Whatever you want to call it, it's super delicious!  Thanks Michelle for the fab addition to my Passover plate!

matzo apple kugel from the kitchen of Michelle Kessler
5 matzohs
3 large apples
1/4 cup raisins
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp salt
4 tbsp melted butter
3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
6 eggs, well beaten
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Run matzohs under warm water until soft, about 1 minute.  Press out as much water as possible and break into medium sized pieces. Place matzoh in mixing bowl and add raisins, cinnamon, salt, sugar and melted better to mix.  Add beaten eggs, mixing thoroughly.
2. Pour half of mixture into greased 9x9 casserole dish.  Layer thinly sliced apples.  Pour remaining half of mixture over apple layer.  Top kugel mixture with remaining apples.  Sprinkle cinnamon and brown sugar. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until apples are tender.

Michelle is going to make a great balabusta soon enough!
After hours of slaving away in the kitchen and getting pretty tipsy (I was two cups deep at this point,) my Seder meal was complete.  And boy was it delicious!  I added some butter lettuce and chopped beets to add some color to the beigeness of all that matzo and to get my suggestedaily serving of veggies in.  Mmmm mmm.  You'd be crazy meshugeneh not to love this kind of home-cooked goodness.  

But wait, we can't forget the dessert.  How about adding the nutty goodness of almonds to a traditional coconut macaroon?  Sounds good to me!  I found the recipe on Martha Stewart's site but went a little overboard when "chopping" the almonds in my coffee grinder so they became more of an almondust.  I also used bourbon vanilla instead of regular, so the recipe became my own!

almond coconut macaroons
2 eggs whites
2/3 c sugar
2 c unsweetened coconut
1/2 c whole almonds, finely ground
1 tsp bourbon vanilla
pinch of salt
1. Preheat oven to 350.  In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together egg whites and sugar.  When well mixed, stir in the rest of the ingredients.  
2. Using your hands, form about 2 heaping tablespoons dough into mounds, about 12.  Place 2" apart on a greased baking sheet.  Bake until golden brown and toasted all over, about 15 minutes.  Let cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes until transferring to a cooling rack for about 10 more minutes.

Quite a feast!  The sun is down and my belly is full.  A very happy Passover to all of my friends, Jew and Gentile!  I hope you all have a wonderful holiday, eat well, and surround yourself with those you love.

14 April 2011

pot luck thursday

For dinner last night I made a bit of Southern country goodness - fried chicken, collared greens, corn bread and potato salad.  While prepping the potato salad, the eggs rattled around in the pot and I got to thinking.  I quickly realized that this was the first time I had ever hard boiled eggs.  Can you believe it?!  I love egg salad but the smell grosses me out so I only go out and get it once in a blue moon (on a toasted everything bagel, yum) and straight up hard boiled eggs are icky; I never even think about having them around.  It turns out I've never had any reason to make hard boiled eggs on my own.  Well I have now put eggs in bubbling water and I managed to not screw it up... hubby even thought the potato salad was delish!

Speaking of salads I thought I'd share my two secrets to perfect chicken salad:
1. Always use a rotisserie chicken!  They are so juicy and tender and delicious.  Toss the skin and tear into the bird, shredding it by hand into bite sized pieces.  It's really better than any other kind of chicken.
2. Edmond Fallot Tarragon Dijon Mustard.  The dijon adds a tiny bit of spicy bite while tarragon compliments the chicken like no other herb can.  I mix a heaping spoonful of it right in with the mayo, salt & pepper, celery and fresh parsley.  Sometimes I even add another smear to the bread.
Pile it all on warm wheat toast and slap on a slice of swiss.  Perfect sandwich every time!

But you'd better think twice if you plan on packing that sandwich for lunch.  At least if you live in Chicago and go to this school.  I work at a school that takes pride in the healthy, balanced and creative lunches they serve the students and faculty members.  But last time I checked, most schools I've been to didn't put as much thought into their lunch service.  Would Jaime Oliver have to do this if they did -

Well would he?  Those in favor of the plan to ban brown bagging argue that they've seen too many students bring junk food like sodas and chips with their field trip lunches.  I don't know about you, but I always got special treats in my field trip lunches.  A Twinkie at the Museum of Natural History or Funny Bones at the Franklin Institute made a good day even better.  And that was the only time I got special snacks like that because everyday lunches were just that - bland everyday lunches.  Should kids have to suffer through cafeteria slop because they get a treat every now and then?  Opinions, please!

While on a health note, I was browsing through the news blogs while on a break and came across this little bit of information.  Cherries to cure headaches?  I almost wish I had more headaches.  Not really, but I do wish those beautiful blossoms would fall and bring an abundance of the sweet and tart fruit our way.  Oh how I love cherries!  I wonder if the healing properties of the super fruit are as effective when baked into a pie...

But I'll be a good girl and pick the healthier option.  My mother has discovered a new yogurt.  Liberte is super rich and creamy but still thick like the Greek yogurts I love.  So far I've only tasted coconut and lemon flavors.  They taste like cream pies so they can be your not-so-guilty pleasure.  Let me know if you spot them in Brooklyn.

And now some food for thought.  Swing by Desirous of Everything and join Sarah in a celebration of Teen Lit Day.  It's simple: just print out the book plate and slap it into a YA book before leaving it in a public place for another reader to find.  I'm definitely joining in on the fun, will you?

Plus, women who whiskey?  Count me in!