Arsip Bulanan: Januari 2024

peach and crème fraîche pie – smitten kitchen

Inadvertently, Martha has become my girl this week as I’ve been floundering around trying to figure out what to do with my seasonal produce that a) I haven’t done before and b) doesn’t require any great amount of fussing. Or work. Or adherence to recipes. (Okay, that last part may be more of a Deb than a Martha thing, but you won’t tell her, right?) The arugula, potato and green bean salad was good and well enough for a Wednesday night, but did little to help me turn last week’s languishing South Jersey peaches into something better. (Who forgets they have almost two pounds of farm fresh peaches in their fridge? Guilty as charged.)

south jersey peaches

I’ve already cobbler-ed, baited, dumpling-ed and shortcaked this summer, with a little extra hand pie thrown in on July 4th, and I wanted something new when Martha swept in, saving the day, with a pie that looked so ridiculously simple but curiously original, it had to be mine. Er, ours.

making the pie crustquartered and pitted peachespeaches, maceratingpeaches, creme fraiche, half-streuseled

There are only four things going on here: a single pie crust, some streusel, hunks of quartered peaches and crème fraîche but when they’re baked together, the crust becomes a shell that decks your plate with pastry flecks and flakes and the filling bakes itself into something more like a tangy custard and less like a traditionally sweet slumpy pie. This is a peach pie for grownups, almost excessively so: I always wish desserts were a little less sweet and still felt this pie would benefit from additional sugar (I present that option below).

peach creme fraiche pie

But mostly, we just loved this. It comes together so quickly and has a richness that most baked fruit desserts lack — it must be all that double cream — and if you already have a pie crust on hand, you won’t believe how fast you can churn this out. Or how fast it might disappear.

peach and creme fraiche pie

Two years ago: Double Chocolate Layer Cake

Peach and Crème Fraîche Pie
Adapted really loosely from Martha Stewart Living

1/2 recipe All-Butter, Really Flaky Pie Dough, chilled for at least an hour in the fridge

Streusel
1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
3 to 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I needed the latter amount to get this into a crumble)
1/4 cup cold (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Filling
1 1/2 pounds ripe (4 to 5 medium) yellow peaches, pitted and quartered
2 to 4 tablespoons granulated sugar
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons crème fraîche*

Prepare pie dough: Roll out pie dough (look!: a tutorial) to about 1/8-inch thick and fit into a regular (not deep dish) pie plate, 9 1/2 to 10 inches in diameter. Trim edge to 1/2 inch; fold under and crimp as desired. Pierce bottom of dough all over with a fork. Transfer to freezer for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400°F right before you take it out.

Make streusel: Stir confectioners’ sugar, baking powder, salt and three tablespoons flour together in a small bowl. Add bits of cold butter, and either using a fork, pastry blender or your fingertips, work them into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add additional flour as needed; I needed to almost double it to get the mixture crumbly, but my kitchen is excessively warm and the butter wanted to melt. Set aside.

Par-bake crust: Tightly press a piece of aluminum foil against frozen pie crust. From here, you ought to fill the shell with pie weights or dried beans, or you can wing it like certainly lazy people we know, hoping the foil will be enough to keep the crust shape in place. Bake for 10 minutes, then remove carefully remove foil and any weights you have used, press any bubbled-up spots in with the back of a spoon, and return the crust to the oven for another 5 to 8 minutes, or until it is lightly golden brown. Transfer to a wire rack to cool slightly. Reduce oven temperature to 375°F.

[P.S. If you’re not overly-concerned about “soggy bottoms” (in the words of Julia Child) you can save time by skipping the par-baking step. Given the light nature of the filling, odds are good that it would not become excessively damp even without the parbake.]

Make the filling: Sprinkle quartered peaches with sugar (two tablespoons will make a just-barely-sweeteened pie; add the other two for a still not overly-sweet but sweeter pie) and salt. Let sit for 10 minutes. Spread two tablespoons crème fraîche in bottom of par-baked pie shell, sprinkle with one-third of the streusel and fan the peach quarters decoratively on top. Dot the remaining three tablespoons of crème fraîche on the peaches and sprinkle with remaining streusel.

Bake the pie: Until the crème fraîche is bubble and the streusel is golden brown, about 50 minutes. Cover edge of crust with a strip of foil if it browns too quickly. Let cool on a wire rack at least 15 minutes before serving.

I stored this in the fridge, due to the crème fraîche, and found that I liked it even better cold, with the flavors better married.

* Make your own crème fraîche: It’s true! You can make a version of it at home, using these instructions.

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asparagus with chorizo and croutons – smitten kitchen

I have been thinking a lot in the last couple of weeks about what it means to cook when you’re pressed for time. I’ve always had the luxury of time. Even when I juggled a full-time job and a site, the sum of my evening tasks were still only to make whatever I felt like making for dinner, and if dinner was done at 10 p.m. instead of 7:30 p.m., we just shrugged it off.

asparagus

Alas, as you other mamas out there know, the third trimester is all about waking up one day in a frenetic frenzy, as I did out of the blue yesterday morning. If we’re about to go into lockdown for a couple months, there is so much we have left to do: the upholstery needs to be steam-cleaned! The baby’s room needs a dimmer switch! The printer cartridges are, like, totally out of ink! And I haven’t yet learned to cook respectable meals in a minimum of time.

croutons

“Respectable” is a bigger deal than it may sound. There are no shortage of shortcuts for busy meal-preparers these days; in fact there’s an entire segment of the food industry (or dare I say, most of it) that exists to ensure that you won’t actually have to spend any time in your kitchen. But what about people like me? I love to spend time in my kitchen; I just need to become someone who knows how to do more with less of it. Or at least until That Thing That Kicks Me Nightly In The Ribs learns to peel carrots and shell peas.

speckled pink cranberry beans

I turned to an article I read almost five years ago for inspiration, one written by William Grimes, a former New York Times restaurant critic. Grimes found that in his retirement from food criticism, he’d never stopped critiquing the food in front of him, most recently his own. He’d lost interest in avant-garde experimentations, all-day home cooking projects and takeout pizza; his new, nonnegotiable demand was that he had solid one-star dining in his home, every night, and that he didn’t have to spend a lot of time preparing it. Grimes sifted through 30 Minute Meals, Everyday Food and Betty Crocker’s Quick and Easy Cookbook in search of what he considered “good” fast food: no canned green beans or canned onion rings. And he found some gems, such as this six-minute sauté from Jacques Pepin, which “takes almost no time to prepare, but the result looks more impressive than a lot of dishes requiring triple the time and effort”. We auditioned it tonight for dinner and give it four stars.

asparagus with chorizo and croutons

One year ago: Sautéed Radishes and Sugar Snaps with Dill
Two years ago: Red Pepper Soup

Asparagus with Chorizo and Croutons
Adapted from Jacques Pépin

First of all, some confessions: This may be a six-minute meal for you, but some of us still had to be pains in the tuchus’ about it. I ordered a par-baked country loaf from Fresh Direct that first needed to be baked and cooled, before it could be rendered into croutons. (Could I be more ridiculous?) Then I fell all gaga over some cranberry beans at the Greenmarket yesterday, so I had to shell and pre-boil them before adding them to the dish. (Though canned and drained beans, or skipping the beans entirely, would also do.) And yes, I know asparagus season has really passed but that off-season stuff isn’t a quarter bad.

And now, some cooking notes: The asparagus will be very al dente, cooked in this method. We love it that way, but if you like yours with more give, you can start it a couple minutes earlier in pan or steam it for a minute or two before you add it. Marcona almods are fantastic if you can find them, but because I couldn’t, I used slivered almonds which burned easily — not recommended; use the whole ones. The beans are optional and not part of the original recipe, but we liked them in there a lot.

Serves 4

1 pound large, thick, firm asparagus, lower third of the stalks peeled with a vegetable peeler or snapped off
1/4 cup good olive oil
4 ounces Spanish chorizo (but Portuguese chouriço will work as well), cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups 3/4-inch bread cubes (croutons), preferably from a baguette or country bread loaf
1/4 cup whole almonds
1 cup cooked beans (optional; I used 3/4 pound fresh cranberry beans, shelled then boiled for 20 minutes in lightly salted water)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make this right as you are ready to eat. Cut each asparagus stalk into 3 or 4 pieces. Heat the oil in a large skillet until very hot. Add all the ingredients except the beans, if using, and salt and pepper. Cover and sauté over high heat for 5 to 6 minutes (thinner asparagus might be done sooner), tossing or stirring the mixture a few times, so it browns and cooks on all sides. Add the beans, if using, and salt and pepper, toss again, and serve.

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sour cherry slab pie – smitten kitchen

Continuing my summer fascination with any and all fruit desserts with goofy names, not two minutes after I discovered the existence of slab pie, I was fixing to make it. Why? Because it looks like a giant Pop Tart, and surely you don’t think a woman in her third trimester needs a single other reason to bake something.

sour cherries
pits!

But even though I just discovered this whole “slab pie” thing, I’m quite taken with it already — and not just the ungraceful name. It is, frankly, brilliant, more rustic than a pretty little crimped-edge 9-inch round and flakier too: the large swaths of dough manage show off their layers better than they do in smaller quantities, landing shatters and flecks like confetti all over your plate. Slab pie squares, especially the edges and corners, are more portable than wedges from a traditional round — how convenient for picnics and pot lucks — and if you’ve ever wanted to make a pie but known you had more than eight people to serve, this is your answer: pie for dozens. That is, if the baker is the generous sort.

slab pie, almost lidded

slab pie, ready to bake

I went with the sour cherry filling because I’m still making up for long time with them; growing up, I ignored the sour cherry tree in our backyard because it was bleh, sour! and most kids — except this vinegar-loving Russkie I married — are repelled by sour foods. Once I fell good and hard for them, my parents informed me the tree had become diseased and had to go, leaving me with a lifetime of checking farm stands incessantly from June to July, hoping to grab some overpriced sour cherries during their exceedingly narrow ripe season. What, do I sound bummed about this or something?

slab pie, glazed

Nevertheless, there’s no reason you can’t fill this with whatever berries or mix of fruits you like, or even make smaller slabs if you’re intimidated by the prospect of a square foot of pie. Me? I’m already plotting my next one.

sour cherry slab pie

One year ago: Nectarine, Mascarpone and Gingersnap Tart (only 8 minutes of oven time! you’re welcome.)
Two years ago: Pearl Couscous with Olives and Roasted Tomatoes

Sour Cherry Slab Pie
Adapted from Martha Stewart

I’ve already sung the praises of the the slab pie (above) but let me also mention this: I’m generally repelled by white sugar glazes on pastries. They seem to add sweetness, but not much else. Yet on this slab pie, with its lightly sweetened, tart cherry filling between two layers of barely-sweetened pie dough, it works so well. It is absolutely meant to be.

Yield: Varies, but I cut mine into 20 2 1/2-inch by 3-inch pieces

1 1/2 All Butter, Really Flaky Pie Doughs, divided, patted into thick rectangles, wrapped in plastic and chilled for at least an hour in the fridge

6 cups sour cherries, pitted (fresh or frozen will work; if frozen, defrost and drain first)
3/4 to 1 1/4 cups of sugar*
1/4 cup cornstarch
Juice of half a lemon
Pinch or two of salt
2 tablespoons heavy cream or one egg, beaten with a tablespoon of water

Glaze:
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons milk or water or 1 tablespoon water plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice (I did this to make the glaze more interesting)

Preheat oven to 375°. In a large bowl, combine cherries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and salt. Stir to combine; set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the larger piece of dough into an 18-by-12-inch rectangle. I won’t lie: this can be kind of a pain because it is so large. Do your best to work quickly, keeping the dough as cold as possible (and tossing it in the freezer for a couple minutes if it softens too quickly; it is summer afterall) and using enough flour that it doesn’t stick to the counter. [See more of my pie-rolling tips here.]

Transfer to a 15-by-10-by-1-inch rimmed baking sheet, (pastry will hang over sides of pan). I went ahead and lined mine with parchment, just to ensure I’d be able to easily lift it out. Pour cherry mixture into lined baking sheet; set aside.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out remaining piece of dough into a 16-by-11-inch rectangle. Drape over filling. Bring bottom pastry up and over top pastry. Pinch edges to seal. Using a fork, prick top crust all over. Brush with heavy cream or egg wash.

Bake until crust is golden and filling is bubbling, 40 to 55 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack until just warm to the touch, about 45 minutes.

In a medium bowl, stir together confectioners’ sugar and milk, water or lemon juice (or combination thereof) until desired glaze consistency is achieved. Use a spoon to drizzle over top. Serve warm or room temperature.

* Martha had suggested 1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar for 6 cups of sour cherries. I balked, imagining my beautiful Jersey cherries drowning a syrupy death, and used 3/4 cup, which yielded a lightly-sweetened pie with the tartness of the cherries still coming through, just as we like. Please adjust this to your tastes, and according to the tartness of the cherries you brought home.

Some tips for replacing the sour cherries with other fruit: This pie is roughly 100% of a regular pie filling with 150% percent of the crust. Thus, if you’re looking to use something besides sour cherries, you can swap in 6 cups of any other fruit. Adjust the sugar accordingly — you’ll probably want less sugar with peaches or berries than you would with very sour cherries, or the same amount, if you like your pies on the sweeter side. (Remember, I kept this one very lightly sweetened.) Adjust the cornstarch accordingly too — peaches and berries usually let off more liquid than apples, but only slightly more than cherries.

One other route you can take is to use the filling part of your favorite pie recipe, as most standard fruit pies contain 6 cups of berries or chopped fruit. This way you’ll already know what spices, if any, you want to add and that the amount of sweetener and/or cornstarch/thickener is already spot-on.

And do share your tweaks in the comments: I am sure that others would love to benefit from your experimentation!

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cantaloupe salsa – smitten kitchen

I wish I could tell you that I’m putting my time into more exciting things* but fact is, it’s nothing but boring stuff keeping me out of the kitchen this week: a new oven that needed installing, pipe work shutting off the water in our apartment today, more doctors appointments than any healthy person should ever require, long classes to teach us the proper diapering of a tiny baby butt, and the kind of steamy heat outside that would make it absurd to turn on the oven anyway (though I should, you know, confirm that it works, right?). Banal, right?

cantaloupe
cantaloupe cubes

But as usual, this has not kept me from bringing home gobs of produce each week. I can’t help it: everything is just too pretty and tasty. Fortunately, you don’t actually have to cook peak-summer produce to make it taste good. Heck, the hardest thing is not eating it straight even after you’ve set your mind to rendering it into something else.

salsa ingredients

Mango salsa is nothing new, heck, I’d say two years ago when everyone in the world seemed to simultaneously discover it, you could barely find a quesadilla that didn’t come with a little pile of it on the side. But in these non-tropical parts, I have yet to find a mango at my local markets, but they’re rolling in melons right now. I’ve long suspected they’d make a great swap with mangoes — I like the idea of pairing them with something bolder, like proscuitto, ham or even just straight salting them, as a lot of the world does — and my hunch was duly rewarded this afternoon. Bonus points: It required no cooking, heating up the apartment, running water or frankly any great effort to throw together. Everything should be this easy when you’re eight million months pregnant.

cantaloupe salsa

* Actually, we did get back to the North Fork this weekend, thanks to generous friends with lovely homes, and it was wonderfully relaxing despite the fact that wineries can be cruel teases of places for the temporarily booze-free. But wow, is our wine rack well-stocked for One Day in September. All that’s left is to choose which one to pop open in the recovery room!

paumanokblackberries, flysoon!baydoes not like to sharelenz winery

One year ago: Herbed Summer Squash and Potato Torte, Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti and Garlic-Glazed Mustard Skewers
Two years ago: Zucchini Bread

Cantaloupe Salsa
Adapted from Gourmet

Makes about 2 cups of salsa

This would be great over grilled fish or chicken, not that ours ever got that far. It is equally good with tortilla chips.

It occured to me after the fact that this would be fun with a mix of honeydew and cantaloupe, for color and a bigger range of flavors.

2 cups diced (1/4 inch) cantaloupe (from a 2 1/4-lb piece)
1/4 cup diced (1/4 inch) sweet onion (such as Vidalia) or red onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or cilantro
1 (2-inch-long) fresh hot red or green chile (skip the seeds if you want to dim the heat), minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix everything and eat immediately.

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plum kuchen – smitten kitchen

I’ve been curious to make a yeasted coffee cake for years, but every time I got close to making one, I decided against it. Would it be dry or overly-firm? Would it taste too much like bread? How would I know a good one if I’ve probably never had an authentic German kuchen — a general name for a type of sweet, yeasted cake, usually served with coffee — one? I’ve said this before but it bears repeating: I’m a master at talking myself out of things.

glossy yeasted cake batter
doughy batter

But then I saw a plum kuchen in this month’s Gourmet magazine and I couldn’t get it out of my head. It called for whole milk yogurt, we had whole milk yogurt in the fridge. It called for plums, we’ve been buying them in multi-pound increments. It called for one and a quarter sticks of butter and like magic, I had exactly one a quarter sticks of butter left, and seriously, not a smidge more. I had run out of excuses.

plum armadillos
butter sugar and plum slices

[This does not, however, mean that I approached this recipe with even a modicum of common sense. After this weeks annoying interruptions I was bent on making this yesterday afternoon, despite the fact that I’d picked the wrong day and wrong time. “Pshah, it’ll all work out fine” I told myself, leaving a 1.5 hour rise to go to a meeting that ended up running about 2 hours, panicking, frantically trying to hail a cab back at exactly 5 p.m. when, apparently, every taxi in NYC goes off-duty, in 90-thousand degree drenching humidity, visions of warm, overrisen dough spilling out over the pan, my counter and onto the floor agonizing in my head. A cabbie finally took pity on The Mega-Preggo in a Purple Dress, but spent the ride insisting that I was actually due in two weeks and not, say, the eight my doctor has estimated, gah, justshootmenow. Alas, I have digressed mightily again.]

concave plum kuchen

I returned home to a cake that had not committed some sort of batter hara kiri, and I was so relieved, I wanted to kiss it. Instead, however, I cranked up the new oven, and baked the heck out of it. And then, then I really wanted to kiss it because this kuchen is kitchen heaven. It is not dry. It is not dense. It does not taste like bread. And I have no idea if it is authentic, but I barely care: I cannot wait to wield this cake recipe to my next baking whim.

plum kuchen

One year ago: Blueberry Pancakes + Pancakes 101 and Huevos Rancheros

Plums, previously: Dimply Plum Cake

Plum Kuchen
Adapted, barely, from Gourmet

This yeasted cake is unbelievable: moist, light and with a complexity to its sweetness that most standard coffee cakes don’t have. Mine dipped a little when it baked, no doubt because it was left to rise almost an hour too long. That said, don’t skimp on the rising times — you want to get all of the lightness and height possible out of your dough.

Gourmet notes that this can be made with any stone fruit and that it tastes the best the first day. I don’t know, though, I had some that had been wrapped in foil in the fridge overnight and couldn’t find a thing not to like. Two days, however, might be pushing it.

Gourmet says it serves 8, but I cut mine into 16 squares

2 1/4 teaspoons or 1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (105–110°F)
2 cups (267 grams) plus 2 tablespoons (18 grams) all-purpose flour, divided
1 cup sugar (220 grams), divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt (124 grams) (preferably Greek-style, but I used regular yogurt and it worked just fine) at room temperature
1 large egg, warmed in shell in warm water five minutes
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 sticks (5 ounces or 142 grams) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened, divided
3/4 pound firm-ripe plums (about 4 small), halved and pitted

Stir together yeast and warm water in mixer bowl and let stand until foamy, about five minutes. (If mixture doesn’t foam, start over with new yeast.)

Add two cups flour, 2/3 cup sugar, salt, yogurt, egg, zest, and vanilla to yeast mixture and mix at medium-low speed 1 minute. Beat in one stick of the butter, one tablespoon at a time, until incorporated. Beat at medium speed until dough is smooth and shiny, about five minutes. (Dough will be very sticky.) Scrape down side of bowl and sprinkle dough with remaining two tablespoons flour. Cover bowl loosely with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Spread remaining two tablespoons butter in bottom of an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan and sprinkle with remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Cut each plum half into five or six slices and arrange in one layer in pan. (I had quite a bit of extra plum slices to snack on, but my plums were also giants.)

Stir dough until flour is incorporated, then spread evenly over plums. Loosely cover with buttered plastic wrap, then kitchen towel. Let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until almost doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F with rack in middle. Bake until kuchen is golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 30 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan five minutes, then invert and unmold onto a rack to cool completely.

Serve with additional yogurt, lightly sweetened, or sweetened crème fraîche.

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roasted carrot and avocado salad – smitten kitchen

[Note: This recipe was updated in a larger format with more nuanced seasoning in 2016. You can check it out right here.]

As it turns out, it has been nearly two years since I attempted to recreate a carrot salad I’d had at The Spotted Pig, completely lost interest in it halfway through the cooking process, burned dinner and went out for a fairly forgettable dish at a nearby restaurant instead. What a shame, right? This salad deserves better than to be passive-aggressively swapped out for noodles and left to collect dust for years.

spectral carrots
rainbow carrots

So let’s try this again, because it couldn’t be simpler. You roast carrots with olive oil, salt, pepper and a smidgen of cumin. When they’re done, you top them with slices of fresh avocado, some squeezes of lemon juice and fresh seasoning. And that’s it. But this is so much more fun that your standard roasted carrots, ubiquitous alongside every winter roast. I mean, it’s 85 degrees out, I don’t need a side of mashed potatoes. No, these are summer roasted carrots, straight from the market, contrasted with fresh ingredients.

avocado slices

ready to roast

And of course, finding some rainbow carrots at the Greenmarket is not a prerequisite for this dish. But if you do find them, it’s nice to know a way to cook them that will only show off how pretty they are — unlike the time I made an ill-advised purple/yellow/orange carrot cake, which is I think all we need to say about that.

roasted carrot and avocado salad

More carrots: Well, Carrot Cake, of course, but also Pickled Carrot Sticks and my favorite carrot salad that is not this, David Lebovitz’s Salad de Carrottes Râpées (Shredded Carrot Salad)

One year ago: Blueberry Crumb Bars
Two years ago: Quick Zucchini Sauté

Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad
Inspired by The Spotted Pig

[Note: This recipe was updated in a larger format with more nuanced seasoning in 2016. You can check it out right here.]

1 pound carrots, scrubbed or peeled and cut into two-inch segments (angled if you’re feeling fancy)
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 an avocado, pitted and sliced (we had a mega-‘cado and only used 1/4 of it)
Juice of half a lemon

Roast the carrots: Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Toss the carrot chunks in a medium bowl with two tablespoons of the olive oil, cumin and as generous of a helping of salt and pepper as you like. (We like a lot. Especially with sweet things like carrots.)

Spread them on a roasting sheet (I lined ours with foil because despite having a dishwasher these days, old must-create-fewer-dishes-at-all-times habits die hard) and roast for about 20 minutes, or until tender and browned. Of course, roasting time will vary depending on the thickness of your carrots. Our heftier chunks took over 30.

Finish the salad: Once the carrots are roasted, arrange them on a serving platter with slices of avocado on top. Drizzle the salad with the last tablespoons of olive oil, lemon juice and extra salt and pepper, if it needs it. Eat immediately.

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lighter, airy pound cake – smitten kitchen

Old-school pound cakes come with their own easily-remembered formula (a pound of butter to a pound of sugar, eggs and flour) with leavening only coming from the air one whips into the batter. But just because it’s the classic way to do it, doesn’t mean mean I don’t think most pound cakes need a little extra creativity to keep them from becoming foamy, forgettable bricks. You can swap out some of the butter for cream cheese, as I do in my favorite non-traditional pound cake recipe, you can add loads of lemon, baking powder, baking soda and buttermilk, rendering something that is impossibly delicious but really, a pound cake in name only, or you can do as James Beard does, and apply smart cake-baking techniques to improve the predictable.

sifting sifting sifting
sifted sifted

What drew me to this version from Beard that I’d bookmarked some time back was the subtle tweaks he’d made to the classic recipe: a little bit of baking powder, slightly less sugar and the real stroke of smarty-pants insight, separated eggs with the whites whipped so that they can add a volume and lightness old-school pound cakes lack. (What’s good for pancakes is even better for cakes.) Oh, and the fact that he flavors it not with vanilla extract, as most American chefs would, but with a shot of cognac and some lemon zest, my my. I had to find out.

whipping egg whites

ready to bake

As should go without saying, that Beard guy really knows how to cook. This is a great riff on the standard pound cake, and for me, it could not be more timely. Pound cakes are ideal summer food: they sop up berry coulis and fruit compotes, they make excellent bookends for a slab of ice cream and even better beds for brown sugar-topped grilled peach halves or rum-doused pineapple slices. Fact is, with a few pieces of whatever fruit is looking good that week and one of these tightly-wrapped in your freezer, you’ll always be able to throw together dessert quickly.

[And should the head cold terrible I woke up with this morning — or what feels cruelty beyond compare when one is already hosting a five-pound “condition” that precludes the use of sweet, sinus-clearing drugs — choose to beat a hasty retreat, I hope to have a new fun pound cake thing to share with you before the weekend is out.]

pound cake

One year ago: Napa Cabbage Salad with Buttermilk Dressing. My mother told me yesterday she’d picked up a napa cabbage at the market and I was all “you must make this salad! Must! Immediately! Gosh, I’m hungry again.” You see, I feel very strongly about this salad.

Two year ago: Summer Berry Pudding

Lighter, Airy Pound Cake
Adapted from James Beard’s Beard on Food

The brilliance of this pound cake is all of the things that have been done to make it airier than a standard pound cake: the repeated sifting, the whipped egg whites and a little extra help from baking powder. Oh, and the cognac-lemon combination? Delightful. You’ve got to try it.

The original recipe is double this size, and can be baked in a buttered and floured tube or bundt pan; it should bake for about an hour. I added the weights of most of the ingredients, something I am trying to remember to do more often.

Makes one loaf cake

1/2 pound (2 sticks or 8 ounces or 226 grams) butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
1 1/2 cups (200 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
1/2 teaspoon (3 grams) baking powder
Salt
4 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (186 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon Cognac [brandy works as well, as does rum, as would one teaspoon of an extract of your choice]
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest.

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a loaf pan. Sift the flour onto waxed paper and then spoon it gently back into the sifter, adding the baking powder and a good pinch of salt. Sift the mixture twice more, each time spooning it lightly into the sifter. [I know what you must be thinking: Beard expect me to sift my dry ingredients three times? But oh, it lends to the most delicate, light crumb and texture. Don’t skimp!]

2. Using an electric mixer, whip the egg whites until they hold soft peaks and then gradually beat in 1/2 cup (100 grams) of the sugar, two tablespoons at a time. Transfer to a bowl.

3. Fit the electric mixer with a paddle attachment and cream the butter until light and fluffy. Beat in the remaining six tablespoons (86 grams) of sugar until fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks until light and lemon-colored and then add the Cognac and zest.

4. Gradually fold the sifted flour mixture into the butter-egg mixture. Fold in the beaten egg whites just until the batter is smooth. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake in the oven for 35 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick pierced in the center comes up clean. Cool in pan ten minutes on a rack, then cool the rest of the way out of the pan.

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summer pea and roasted red pepper pasta salad – smitten kitchen

I’ve spent way too much time this summer trying to dream up a pasta salad that wasn’t boring, or predictable, or well, you know, the kind of familiar pasta salad territory you don’t need me to go over for you. Because I love a good pasta salad, I just don’t find them often. Usually, they’re missing the freshness you’d expect from something you eat in the summer, when the markets are bursting at the seams with peak-season produce. Often the dressing is a throw-away, either a too-plain vinaigrette or heaps of mayonnaise, lending itself to more of a mass than a salad. So I knew what I didn’t want, I just hadn’t figured out what I did.

fresh peas in pods

Not for the first time, the inspiration came from a little French restaurant in our neighborhood, which along with the usual deliciousness — roasted chicken, steak frites, mussels, yes please — always tucks some sort of straight-from-the-market freshness on the specials. It said “Five Bean Salad” but what arrived was a plate, no, platter of al dente shell peas and snow peas and skinny green beans and fat yellow beans and sugar snaps and cranberry beans and favas, tossed in a roasted red pepper sauce with little bits of chevre tucked within. It was like a plate of summer, and even though I am so not the finish-your-plate-even-if-you’re-full-type the thought of letting even one fresh pea go to waste felt even more wrong and so I ate the whole thing and look at that folks! I guess preggo finally has her appetite back. Or was emphatically craving green vegetables.

snow peas

shells

Needless to say, that dish went right into this salad, though I skimped on the beans because I lack a sous chef and no pasta salad should take hours to prepare. And you can get to the pasta and whatever peas or beans you have on hand and just stop there, or you can continue with a vinaigrette that might be my new favorite. Make extra, I think you’ll be glad you did.

peas nested in shells

One year ago: Key Lime Meltaways
Two years ago: Mixed Bean Salad

Summer Pea and Roasted Red Pepper Pasta Salad

This salad would also be fantastic finished with some slivered herbs, like basil, bits of soft goat cheese or crumbled feta or grated Parmesan, but really, it doesn’t need any of that to taste great. Promise.

1 pound of small pasta (I used shells because I imagined the peas would nest in there and gah, such cuteness)
1/4 pound snow pea pods, ends trimmed
1/2 pound fresh summer peas, which yielded about 1 cup once shelled
3/4 to 1 cup Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette (recipe below)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare a small ice water bath. Boil the snow pea pods for about two minutes, or until just barely cooked but still crisp. Scoop them out with a large slotted spoon and drop them in the ice water bath. Cook the peas for about 10 minutes (once again, this will be al dente, you can cook them longer if you prefer them softer), scoop them out with a large slotted spoon and plunge them into the ice water bath as well. Drain both peas. Cut the snow peas into thin slivers.

Add the pasta into the boiling water and cook it according to package instructions. Drain and let cool, then toss in a large bowl with peas and Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette, seasoning to taste.

Roasted Red Pepper Vinaigrette

Please don’t limit your use of this to just pasta salad, though, I can say with absolutely no bias that it is awesome in it, but that’s no reason not to toss this with white beans for a quick bean salad or what your choice mix of greens are.

I like to slow-roast bell peppers in the oven at 350 for one hour, giving them a quarter turn with tongs every fifteen minutes so they get evenly blistered — then letting them cool and peeling them. I know it’s faster to blacken them over a gas flame, but the pepper never gets as supple and sweet as I want it to, but hey, that’s just personal preference. You know, in case you wanted to know.

Makes about one cup of dressing

1 red bell pepper, roasted, skinned and seeded or the equivalent from a jar, drained
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (and up to 2 tablespoons more if you, like us, like that extra bite in your dressing)
1 tablespoon chopped shallot (about 1 small)
1/2 teaspoon salt
Several grinds of black pepper

Puree the red bell pepper in a food processor or blender as much as possible, then add the remaining ingredients and running the machine until the dressing is silky smooth. Adjust the vinegar level and seasonings to taste.

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lobster rolls – smitten kitchen

Alex and I have kind of a thing for Maine, after going to Portland a few years ago and becoming instantly smitten: the weathered barns, the hand-painted signs, wild blueberries and, well, you know the lobster aplenty.

claws and tails
lobster meat, chunked

And so, with our anniversary approaching and the looming deadline of babybabybaby, we decided to head back to Kennebunkport for a long weekend later this month. Except, somewhere along the way I got really, really pregnant (funny how those things happen!), I mean like super-pregs, I mean staggering bursts of productivity (the doorways have been detailed) followed by four-hour recovery periods (this whole upright thing is exhausting) and suddenly the thought of a six-hour drive each way a mere three weeks before a due date I’m not buying seemed… ill-planned. Thus, we’ve decided to postpone our trip until a hopefully less waddlesome time.

pearl oyster bar's lobster salad

lobster salad

But I promise, this wasn’t supposed to be a bummer of a story. To celebrate Old Man Alex’s 35th birthday, it seemed only fitting that if we couldn’t bring ourselves to Maine, we’d simply lure it back here. I turned to Rebecca Charles’ — she of the Pearl Oyster Bar in the Village — Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie for inspiration and oh, this is a great one for people who share our Maine crush. In it, Charles recounts her family’s summer trips to New England, the roots of her obsession with their summery fare (and, of course, Tartar Slaw). And she bares the secret to her lobster rolls, the ones that put them on the New York map: heaps the freshest shellfish and barely any clutter from extra ingredients, all on a buttery, toasted bun.

blueberry slab piewheels of cornpotato saladsummer pea and roasted red pepper pasta salad

Along with a blueberry slab pie, pasta salad, potato salad, wheels of buttered bi-color corn and enough delicious beer to make this temporarily sober girl weep with envy, we couldn’t put out these miniature lobster rolls fast enough at Alex’s birthday party over the weekend. And can I heartily recommend you have your own Maine party this summer? It was so much more fun than gathering in a bar or poorly lit restaurant, and wasn’t a half-bad consolation prize for missing out on the real deal this summer.

lobster roll

Lobster Rolls
Adapted from Lobster Rolls and Blueberry Pie

The secret to this lobster salad roll is the lack of clutter — just a smidgen of of lemon, celery, chives and mayo to heaps of fresh chunked lobster meat. This is also what makes it such a hit: once you’ve gone through all of that effort and/or expense to get good lobsters, why hide their taste?

Yield: At the Pearl Oyster Bar, they use this recipe to make two lobster rolls, which are served on toasted hot dog buns. We used it to make 64 miniature rolls, from a double batch of Light Brioche Burger Buns (each bun can be made from just about an ounce of dough; buns will be a quarter the size of the regular recipe).

2 pounds cooked lobster meat*, chopped roughly into 1/2 and 3/4-inch pieces
1 small celery rib, finely chopped
1/4 cup mayonnaise (Charles insists on Hellman’s; I didn’t argue)
Squeeze or two of lemon juice
Pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 top-loading hot dog buns or 64 miniature burger buns (described above) or small dinner rolls
Unsalted butter
Snipped fresh chives for garnish (though we mixed ours right into the salad, for convenience)

In a large bowl, combine the lobster meat, celery, mayonnaise, lemon and salt and pepper and mix thoroughly. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Do ahead: Cover the mixture and store it in the refrigerator until ready to serve. It will last for up to two days.

How they prepare the buns at the restaurant: In a small sauté pan over low to medium heat, melt two teaspoons of butter. Place the hot dog buns on their sides in the butter. Flip the buns a couple of times so that both sides soak up an equal amount of butter and brown evenly. Remove the buns from the pan and place them on a large plate. Fill the toasted buns with lobster salad.

How we prepared our miniature rolls: On large roasting pans, we split each of our rolls and lightly toasted them, open side up, before quickly slathering both sides with butter and filling each with a generous tablespoon of lobster salad.

Sprinkle your rolls with chives and serve with a salad, slaw or shoestring fries.

* We bought our lobster meat, cooked that morning and shelled, from The Lobster Place, for those of you who were going to ask. However, not all markets are as trustworthy when it comes to lobster meat that they label “fresh” — it is often overcooked and not as recently-rendered as they promise. If you’re up for it, cooking and cracking your own will ensure freshness while reducing your grocery tab. About 20 percent of the weight of a lobster is its meat, so you would need, for example, five one-pound lobsters to get one pound of meat. Don’t panic — as I did — when you see how tiny the mass of two pounds of lobster meat might look. Once diced, our salad nearly filled a six-cup bowl.

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espresso chiffon cake with fudge frosting – smitten kitchen

Of course, there was also cake. I mean, you didn’t think I’d let my better half’s 35th birthday go by without some homemade, stacked and butter-laden goodness, did you? Right, I didn’t think so.

egg whites, soft peaksfrothy cappucino-like batterespresso chiffon cakes, coolingbrushing the cake with more espresso

Now, no introduction to a birthday cake for Alex would be complete without a brief tour of the cakes from years past, when there has been an Icebox Cake, a Chocolate Caramel Cheesecake, a Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake and the cake that you all liked so much, it broke the server’s back for a harrowing day or two last year, the Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake. Did you sense a theme or something? There Will Be Chocolate, Like You Even Needed To Ask.

instant fudge frosting

Alas, after throwing a self-catered party on Saturday night, my cake-baking ambition for Monday was just slightly diminished, not that this cake was any kind of cop-out, just perhaps not the Smith Island Cake riff (like this stunner, but with crushed peanut butter cups between the layers; yes for real) I’d been threatening for months. Besides, we’d already hit most of Alex’s favorite food groups in years past — Oreos, cheesecake and peanut butter — it was time to move onto another: coffee, and lots of it. But I didn’t want to make a mocha cake; in those, it always feels like something gets lost in them, like there’s never enough coffee or chocolate flavor. Instead, I wanted to separate the flavors out: an intensely coffee-soaked layer cake and a dark, fudgy frosting…

Did you hear me tell you that the cake was drenched in a boozy espresso syrup? How about the part with the deep chocolate frosting that comes together in ten seconds? No really, why are you still reading? If you had this in your fridge, you’d be halfway to the kitchen right now to get another slice. I know I am.

espresso-soaked chiffon cake with fudge frosting

Layer Cake Tips: New to celebration cakes? Daunted by all of those layers and steps? Check out my layer cake tips post for a round-up of all of the tricks I’ve picked up over the years.

Espresso Chiffon Cake
Adapted from (what else?) Sky High: Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

Despite picking one, I actually have all sorts of biases against chiffon cakes; mostly, that they’re lovely and fluffy but dry, namely because they have just smidgens of oil or butter in them. But this one called to me. I was hoping that the lightness of the chiffon cake layers would allow the strong espresso taste to come through, and that it did, though it didn’t hurt that it was brushed with a 1:1:1 ratio syrup of sugar, rum and straight espresso [or in other words, I think I briefly forgot that I was pregnant or something. Officially the most caffeine and booze I’ve had in 34 weeks and completely worth it.] that made the cake so ridiculously moist, I will never talk smack about chiffon cakes again.

Makes an 8- or 9-inch triple-layer cake

1/4 cup (60 ml) neutral vegetable oil, such as soybean, canola or vegetable blend
6 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons (90 ml) freshly brewed espresso, cooled to room temperature (Huntsman recommends freshly-brewed over hydrating espresso powder, which she feels can be too bitter)
2 teaspoons (10 ml) vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups (170 grams) cake flour
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottoms of three 8- or 9-inch round cake pans with rounds of parchment or waxed paper, but do not grease.

In a medium bowl, combine the oil, egg yolks, espresso and vanilla; whisk lightly to blend. In a large mixing bowl, sift together the flour, 1 cup of the sugar, the baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set the dry ingredients aside.

In a large mixer bowl with an electric mixture, whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar on medium-low speed until frothy. Raising the mixer speed to medium-high and gradually add the remaining half cup of sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form; do not whip until stiff or the cake will shirk excessively upon cooling.

Add the espresso-egg yolk mixture to the dry ingredients and fold together just enough to combine. Add one-fourth of the beaten egg whites and fold them in to lighten the batter. Fold in the remainder of the whites just until no streaks remain. Divide the batter among the three prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for about 18 minutes each, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow to cool completely in the pans. When cooled, run a blunt knife around the edge of the pans to release the cakes. Invert onto wire racks and remove the paper liners.

To assemble the cake, place one layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Soak the cake with 1/3 cup of the Espresso Syrup (below). Spread about 1 1/3 cups of the Instant Fudge Frosting (below) evenly over the top of the layer. Repeat with the next layer, more syrup and more frosting. Finally, top with the third layer. Soak it with the remaining syrup and frost the tops and sides with the remaining frosting.

Espresso Syrup

Makes one cup

1/3 cup hot, freshly brewed espresso
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup dark rum, such as Meyer’s

In a bowl, stir together the espresso and sugar until the sugar dissolves. Add the rum and let cool to room temperature.

Don’t want to use rum? (I know someone will ask.) I’d swap it with water, perhaps flavored with some vanilla extract. Worried about the caffeine? Use decaf espresso.

Instant Fudge Frosting
Adapted, barely, from a Sky High recipe

Now, this is, to be honest, a fancy name for a quick buttercream but it’s got two things going for it that are worth mentioning: One, the frosting isn’t flavored with cocoa (too mild) or even good semisweet chocolate, but unsweetened chocolate. Brilliant, I tell you. I find most quick buttercreams way too sweet, and although this one still is quite sugary, the super-bitter chocolate goes a long way to mitigating it. The second thing worth mentioning is this: Did you know you can make quick buttercreams in the food processor? I had no idea, I hadn’t even considered it before. But there I was whirling everything together in ten seconds flat and I will make it no other way from now on.

Makes about 5 cups

6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
4 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar (no need to sift)
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 tablespoons half-and-half or whole milk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Place all of the ingredients in a food processor and pulse to incorporate, then process until the frosting is smooth.

Frosting tip: If your kitchen is as hot and sticky as mine is in the summer, you’ll want to watch a frosting like this carefully to make sure it doesn’t get too melty and soft. If it does, periodically put the bowl of frosting and your partially frosting cake back in the fridge to let it firm up and cool down again, then resume where you left off.

Planning to write on your cake? Whirl all of the frosting ingredients except the melted chocolate in the food processor until smooth. Set aside a half-cup of the white frosting for tinting and writing, then add the chocolate to finish making the frosting.

Cappuccino Chiffon Cake, a variation: Now, if you were with me on the espresso cake but lost interest when I got to the fudge frosting, good news! The original cake I recipe I borrowed from was actually a Cappucino Chiffon Cake — filled and frosted with whipped cream (3 cups heavy cream to 1 cup 1/3 cup sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla, whipped until stiff peaks form) and dusted with cocoa and/or cinnamon, just like a frothy cappucino. Frankly, it sounds amazing as the light, almost foamy qualities of the chiffon cake would be matched by the almost weightless frosting and I imagine a bite on your fork would be like diving into a cappucino cloud and hey, do you think someone around here misses coffee or something?

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