Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Jumbled Together (Russian Tea Cakes)

Russian Tea Cakes may be my very favorite variety of cookie. Also known as Italian wedding cakes, Mexican wedding cakes, Flexicans, polvorones, butterballs, and snowballs, you may know them best just as those buttery little spheres coated in powdered sugar, studded with finely ground nuts, and flavored with a variety of subtle seasonings. With their snowy white coats and elegant proportions, they make the perfect cookie to serve throughout the winter, arrayed on plates with doilies or tucked into gift bags. They're innocently sweet, utterly inoffensive, and melt on the tongue beautifully. Russian tea cakes, as the name suggests,  are the ideal pairing for strong tea served with lemon or cream and sugar. Less traditionally, but just as deliciously, I encourage the adoption of the "Russian coffee cake" and also offering coffee or cappuccino as accompaniment.

Cake: it's what's for dinner

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Good Gravy (Bacon Shallot Herb Gravy)

Thanksgiving is all about tradition, but it's also nice to change things up. Since the stakes are too high to chance an untried recipe, however, my friends and I have taken to a pre-Thanksgiving tradition: hosting a small dinner party to vet new entries to the menu before they have a chance to end in tears. I headed to our test kitchen last week, camera in-hand, to pick the best recipe for this month's article, and this bacon shallot herb gravy was the undisputed star of the evening. I think gravy is an unsung hero on the Thanksgiving table. Certainly most people have a favored recipe, (I have very fond memories of my aunt always making ours with the turkey drippings in the roasting pan, itself), but it's a humble condiment. I'm not sure anyone would cite it as their favorite thing on the table. I aim to change that with this recipe, a simple but stunning offering adapted from Justin Chapple that should please even the most discriminating gourmand. Conversely, if you're the type of person to always prepare gravy from a can, jar, or (God bless you) packet, you need to knock that off immediately and try this recipe, instead.

All aboard the gravy train

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Season of Squash (Spanish Pumpkin Stew)

Winter is coming. And I'm not just saying that as a Game of Thrones fan. With the early sunsets and icy breezes, winter is always a great time for soup, but soup is unfortunately not typically regarded as haute cuisine. I wanted to try to make a soup that would put some excitement back on the dinner table. People may appreciate chicken noodle, but it doesn't usually elicit oohs and ahsI also wanted to find a way to feature pumpkin, as it's the signature produce of October, without falling prey to the ubiquitous assault of pumpkin spice (insert noun). Eventually, I found my way to a Spanish stew named Berza de Calabaza. Many sources list this as an Andalusian specialty, though the recipe I settled on as a base template employs a Catalan ingredient in picadaan almost pesto-like blend of toasted bread, almonds, and garlic, as a thickener. Between the pumpkin, picada,  and beans, this makes an extremely hearty winter stew to warm the toes, stick to the ribs, and lift the spirit.

Like magic

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Root of the Problem (Roasted Carrots with Orange and Thyme)

The autumn is finally upon us and, as it is the season of the harvest, I've been finding myself increasingly drawn to the farmer's markets throughout Boston, welcome reflections of the Grower's Market back in Williamsport. Far be it for me to cast aspersions on the grocery, but there's an undeniable charm to being able to grab fresh, local produce while on a coffee break or waiting for the train home. While the market stalls still abound with treasures like ripe strawberries and luxuriously leafy kale, it was the humble carrot that most called to me this month; perhaps because a stand of kaleidoscope carrots caught my eye with its vivid contrasts of red, purple, orange, and yellow. It's been pointed out to me that my recipes seem almost single-minded in their focus on dinner and dessert, giving short shrift to the myriad accompaniments that help to make a full meal. This hasn't exactly been a conscious effort on my part, but rather the natural inclination towards the bigger and flashier set pieces that always draw one's attention. This month, I take a happy break from roasts and desserts to correct that oversight, and instead share one of the easiest, yet certainly tastiest little recipes in my repertoire. Roasted carrots with orange and thyme is an effortless creation that adds just the slightest spin to the comfortingly familiar. 

Don't I know you from somewhere?

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Honeyed Words (Honey Cake)

As we head into September, we come ever closer to the celebration of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. While not religious or ethnically Jewish, I was intrigued by the traditional dessert of honey cake, mostly because I was lured in by the name. I like cake and I love honey, surely combining the two should be especially delicious, right? The answer is: absolutely!

Absolute honey

Friday, November 21, 2014

Eggs in a Row (Portuguese Baked Eggs)

Among my friends and I, weekend brunch is one of our most sacred traditions. So it was quite a downer when, after a few visits, it became apparent that the fanciest place for brunch in town didn't approve of our entourage. Maybe it's because we currently max out at two gray hairs per head, maybe it's because we wore t-shirts on our first visit, but the aura of antipathy fast became a palpable presence. Mimosas shouldn't come with a side of sneering. With the only remaining venue for elaborate breakfasts being my own home, it was time to devise something that could combine delicious flavor, elegant presentation, and the ability to be assembled before I open my eyes in the morning. That's how I settled on the idea of baked eggs, and, as a proud Luso-American, when I found a recipe for Portuguese Baked Eggs, I knew we were in business.

The breakfast business

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Berries Jubilee (Shortcakes with Mixed Berry Flambé)

Strawberry shortcake is a classic dessert, and I've been obsessed with it for as long as I can remember. As a child, I'd wait with bated breath for dessert-time, ever irked when my mother insisted it was so-named because the table is "deserted" from having cleaned one's dinner plate and cleared the way. Even when I was little, I knew the difference between a sponge cake and a shortcake and, despite how groceries dutifully place the spongy yellow pucks next to the strawberries every summer, I would accept no substitutions. Proper shortcake should be like a biscuit or a scone. Not spongy, but crumblingly delicious, at once dry and yet delectably saturated with oil; with flaking crumbs that melt away on the tongue and leave nothing but happiness in their wake.

Pictured: happiness