Friday, August 31, 2007

Fine Art Friday

Die Schwarze Pump (The Black Pump)

Check out the Fine Art Festival which will run for at least seven days, which features this artist today.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Crush is On

First, I must say that de-stemming and crushing a bucket of grapes is an absolutely wonderful experience. I sat outside on a stump, pulling clusters from one bucket and plucking them into a second bucket, one after another, just enjoying the solitude and allowing myself to get lost in thought. As I began crushing handfuls of grapes, making sure none of them eluded my fingers, I imagined these grapes as being my own sacrifice offered to God. All my work, all my difficulties, all my life...broken open and poured out, so the Winemaker could use the juice to make something far greater.
So says The Yeoman Farmer who has a number of fascinating reports and ruminations up about grapes, harvesting, and wine. Via Catholicism + Wine.

Cooking for the Beautiful People

Mediterranean Summer: A Season on France's Cote d'Azur and Italy's Costa Bella
by David Shalleck

Somehow David Shalleck pulled off the feat of making his book suspenseful. The difficulty of achieving that is explained when you realize that the book is about cooking for some supremely privileged people aboard their yacht.

Shalleck is trying to find himself as a cook. He has failed what he sees as "tests" from culinary authorities Alice Waters and Nathalie Waag. They understand the essence of cooking and being a chef in a way that he does not even begin to comprehend. In an effort to close the gap, he then embarks on a series of apprenticeships in different Italian kitchens, sponsored by Faith Willinger.

Finally, he becomes the personal chef for a couple we know only as La Signora and il Dottore. He has a series of challenges to overcome. First of all, though the yacht, Serenity, has been completely refitted, no one ever had a cook give the specs for the kitchen so the limited facilities seem extremely daunting. Indeed, at time, such as when a floating party of over 100 people are expecting a many-course meal, one wonders that any chef could overcome such limiting conditions.

The greatest challenge, however, is pleasing his employers who do not want any dish to be repeated, want to experience the atmosphere of their various ports of call along the Mediterranean, and do not give very much feedback, which Shalleck intensely desires. The employers are not made out to be bad people. Quite the opposite, Shalleck has respect and a degree of liking for them. As shown in the book, they become their own personalities, albeit strong ones, and we also can respect their desires. I found myself in suspense after each situation to see if La Signora would give approval to a meal.

As well, we see Shalleck's more limited interaction with the crew, his journeys every morning to the markets where he will get inspiration for meals, and get a bird's eye view toward living aboard a ship as an employee.

If this sort of reading is your cup of tea, as it is obviously mine, you will enjoy this book. Highly recommended.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Chocolate Festival Cake

One person took a bite and said, "Peanut butter! I love chocolate and peanut butter!"

Another sampled his slice and said, "But it isn't just peanut butter and chocolate. There's some other flavor in there."

I told them, "Bananas. It has bananas in it."

Yet a third person said, "Is this technically difficult to make? Because I really want the recipe."

The first two people chorused, "Us too. We want that recipe."

What makes this an unusual conversation is that this was at a birthday party and the speakers were all college sophomores. If you don't have any college aged kids, just think back to your own late teens to realize how unlikely this request for a recipe actually is, to say nothing of the entire conversation. Needless to say, this cake was popular.

Hannah's friend, Jenny, picked out this cake from Maida Heatter's Cakes. I had never seen a cake with such a combination of dominant flavors: chocolate, peanut butter, and bananas. We were all intensely curious to see what it was like.

It is hard to describe the taste, as you really can taste all those dominant ingredients, however, as reported above it was a huge success. Give it a try.

Notes:
Heatter is well known for exhaustive instructions in her recipes. I revised a few of her technique notes for simplicity's sake ... and have adapted the recipe below to reflect those changes.

The icing contains a raw egg which would have worried me about salmonella if all I listened to were the sound bytes of major media. Here is a link which talks about food risks and raw eggs, which are much slighter than you would know from the way it is generally presented.

Serves 24

For the cake:
Step 1:
3 cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350. Prepare 10 x 4" tube pan by buttering pan and then dusting all over with unsweetened cocoa powder. Tap excess cocoa out of pan and set aside.

Combine above dry ingredients and set aside.

Step 2:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup smooth peanut butter
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 pound (2-1/4 cups, packed) dark brown sugar
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
1 cup (about 2) finely mashed, fully ripened bananas
6 eggs
1 cup strained unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-process)

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter until soft. Beat in the peanut butter and vanilla, then the sugar, scraping bowl as necessary with a rubber spatula. Next, mix in melted chocolate, then bananas, and then the eggs, one at a time, beating until incorporated after each addition. On lowest speed, add cocoa, still scraping bowl as necessary, and beat until smooth.

Step 3:
1-1/4 cups milk

On low speed, beating until smooth after each addition, gradually add about a third of sifted dry ingredients, the half of milk, then another third of dry ingredients, then remaining milk, and then remaining dry ingredients.

Turn mixture into prepared pan. Briskly rotate the pan a bit, first in one direction, then another, to smooth the top.

Bake for 1 hour, then cover the top loosely with foil to prevent overbrowning, and continue to bake for an additional 25 -30 minutes until a cake tester gently inserted into the cake comes out clean (total baking time 1 hour, 25-30 minutes). The top of the cake will crack during baking.

Cool in the pan on a rack for 20 minutes. Then cover with another rack, turn the pan and rack over, remove the pan and let the cake cool upside down on the rack.

For the icing:
16 ounces milk chocolate, broken up
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped coarsely
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" pieces
1 egg
12 ounces (1-1/2 cups) smooth peanut butter

Melt both chocolates. Add butter a few pieces at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon until smooth.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat the egg just to mix, then add the peanut butter and the chocolate mixture (which can be warm or cool) and beat until very smooth. As this mixture cools it will thicken; you might want to chill it quickly by putting it in the freezer or by placing the bowl in a larger bowl of ice and water. Or just let it stand a while. When it is thick enough to hold its shape beat it again for a moment.

This is a lot of icing and makes a thick layer. Spread it first on the sides and then on the top of the cake. With a long, narrow metal spatula, smooth the sides first and then the top.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Coming Soon ...

The cake that made three college students ask for the recipe. And if you know college students, then you know how rare that is.

Now I just have to find the time to type in the recipe, amidst prepping for Hannah's birthday celebration en famille tonight and last minute purchases to prep her for going back to college tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Nut Museum

"In the outside world, nutcrackers are the nuts' mortal enemy," she explains. "Here, nuts and nutcrackers can be friends."
I am so sorry that the Nut Lady died before we got a chance to visit her museum. She really sounds like she had a great sense of humor. Though her museum is closed, the virtual museum lives on on the internet. Check it out.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Delightful Sampler of Recipes from Around the World

STREET FOOD by Tom Kime

This cookbook is a charming if quick look at the recipes of street vendors all over the world. Laid out with DK Publishing's customary focus on photography and clean style, the recipes and prose are highlighted in a way that literally made my mouth water (and that is not enviable when one is reading at 11:00 at night with no way to get Spiced Grilled Chicken with Coconut Cream!).

Author Tom Kime had the enviable task of traveling the world to choose the best of the best, eating his way through the streets of India, Sri Lanka, the Caribbean and more. The result is a collection of recipes are that are both savory and simple. I especially enjoyed the Indian and Southeastern Asian recipes, but my mouth is wired that way. I have the Potato and Cumin Curry and Crispy Paratha (stuffed with scallions, ginger, cilantro, and jalapeno) marked to try. Even though the Southern Europe recipe selection was not what I usually think of (showing just how varied the recipes are), the Pan Fried Red mullet with Preserved Lemon, olives, and Parsley also is marked as a must try. Of the recipes that were of sorts that I already have made from other sources, most notably the Vietnamese and Thai selections, Kime's recipes looked not only authentic but streamlined enough to make me contemplate them for the near future. He accompanies these recipes with journal entries that put the recipe in context of his travels. I could have done with more of this but I love to read about travel as much as food so that is a personal inclination more than a criticism.

Two features I really liked in this book were the Recipe Navigator, which helps sort our unfamiliar foods in categories such as "Best in a bowl," "Finger food," A meal in itself," and the extensive menu ideas in such categories as Barbecue, Leisurely Lunch, or Cozy Night In.

Brunswick Stew

I have meant to share this recipe with y'all so many times. However, the cookbook (my beloved The New Doubleday Cookbook) is huge and the idea of lugging it to the office (yes, I do too much blogging at work!) stopped me until this time.

Today I am at home waiting for the oven repairman to come (scheduled time between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ... and you thought that cable companies were bad about making people wait upon their convenience) and so have remembered to type this in.

This is a family favorite. My own family made it often in the sumer as I was growing up, although not from this recipe. It always was one of those "no recipe" dishes as I recall. When I came across this recipe it added just enough "umph" to make it even more savory and tooth licking (the addition of tomatoes and a bit of sugar to the broth are the essentials of what is different). I always make a half recipe because that makes plenty for a meal and gives us half left for the freezer.

Serve it with biscuits, preferably those dead easy Cream Biscuits or Skillet Cornbread ... both are so delicious with honey.

1 (6-pound) stewing hen, cleaned and dressed
1 gallon cold water
2 stalks celery (include tops)
1 tablespoon sugar
5 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/2" cubes
3 medium-size yellow onions, peeled and coarsely chopped (I leave the onion whole and put it in at the beginning to flavor the broth, then discard it afterward)
6 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, cored, seeded and coarsely chopped (I substitute two 14-ounce cans of diced tomatoes, drained)
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen baby lima beans (do not thaw)
1 (10-ounce) packages frozen whole kernel corn (do not thaw)
1 medium-size sweet green pepper, cored and cut in short, thin slivers (I don't use this)
2 tablespoons salt (I use 1 to 1-1/2 tablespoons)
1/4 teaspoon pepper (I use more)

Remove fat from body cavity of bird, then place gird and giblets in a very large kettle. Add water and celery, cover, and simmer 1-2 hours until just tender. Remove bird and giblets from broth and cool. Strain broth and skim off fat. Rinse kettle, pour in broth, add sugar, all vegetables but corn and green pepper, cover, and simmer 1 hour. Meanwhile, skin chicken, cut meat in 1" chunks and dice giblets. Return chicken and giblets to kettle, add remaining ingredients, cover, and simmer 40-45 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste for salt, adding more if needed. Serve piping hot in soup bowls as a main dish. particularly good with coleslaw and Hushpuppies or crisp corn sticks.