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Hello all!  Darby O'Shea has moved on to prettier pastures!  Find us (as always) by typing www.darbyoshea.com or by going to www.darbyoshea.wordpress.com.  There you'll find new RSS links and an email subscription option! 


Late to the party: Garlic Scape Pesto

Hey there.  It's Ms. Late to the Party telling you to do That Thing Everyone Else Was Already Doing Anyway.
But seriously, on the off chance that one of my fair readers hasn't heard of garlic scapes yet (despite their recent media saturation), go forth and find some!  They're just going out of season now (in New England) but if you can still find some at the markets, they're quite surprising and delicious!

What to do with them: apparently you can use them anytime you would normally use a green onion, or you can saute them like asparagus, throw them in a stir fry (this would be delish), or just eat them in a salad.  The most popular choice, though: make pesto.

Here's what I did:

I roughly chopped the scapes and threw them into the food processor.  Then I threw in a hunk of pecorino romano and a few leaves of basil (not many).  Then I processed until that was all looking sort of chunky and happy.  Then I slowly poured in olive oil until I liked the consistency.  (I used a half pound of scapes, probably a quarter pound of cheese, and a half cup or so of olive oil.   But I didn't measure and neither should you.)  This pesto is delicious over pasta and I think it would be be a nice topping for some roasted chicken (or fish, maybe?) and it's tasty spread on bread.
I also had some leftover homemade ricotta, so, after I filled an ice cube tray with the fresh pesto, I left a half cup or so in the food processor bowl and dumped in about a half cup of ricotta and buzzed it up.  This made a delicious, creamy, immensely spreadable cheesy garlicky deliciousness.  Slathered on fresh focaccia (with grape tomato halves nestled in) it was exceptionally delicious.

Also, if you didn't notice, I mentioned freezing this stuff.  It's a good idea and you should try it.  This stuff will keep for a while if frozen and if you squish it into icecube trays, you have the perfect dose for a bowl of pasta.


New camera!

You may know that I'm teaching this summer.  To reward myself for being so productive I've been planning for months to buy myself my very first Digital SLR.  I love shooting film and this won't be the end of that habit, but it'll be nice to add some slightly better photos to the blog. 
And one can't underestimate the power of instant gratification, which one gets less of with film.  (In fact, the class I'm teaching is kind of the instant gratification version of beginning German, so it's an appropriate self-bribe.)
These are just a few samples from my first twenty-four hours with the new camera and I must say I'm pleased.  Obviously I don't know her yet and she doesn't know me yet, but we'll get there.   These represent the three most important food groups of my typical photo-taking: random texture and plant and food shots, dogs in motion, and silly bar and/or cafe photos.

Oh, and your food tip of the day: throw some golden raspberries on top of some yogurt and drizzle with local honey.  Then thank me.


Faber: The Secretary - a collaboration

In which the talented Mr. takes a photo of mine and writes a bit of story to go with it.  This week’s post is part of a larger story, previous chapters of which you can read here and here. Faber is in Germany investigating the final years in the life of Charles D. Thornton, an American ex-pat detective author.
*        *        *

He moved slowly along the cobbled street. The scrap of paper in his satchel bore an address printed in the Poet‘s neat handwriting, an address that Faber had been hoping to uncover since his arrival in Germany.
The small apartment was situated in the so-called Karoviertel of Hamburg and occupied the third floor of a large square cement building on Falkenstrasse. It was the last known residence of Helga Schnatterer, Thornton’s private secretary for nearly twenty years and the only living person to have spent any significant time with the ex-pat writer during his final years in Berlin.
Brown paint accented the windows of every building on the street, the identical and finely adorned houses speaking to the difference between Berlin and Hamburg. The latter, a uniformly prosperous north German city, seemed to Faber foreign by comparison to the patchwork aesthetic of the country’s capital. He almost missed the haphazard arrangement of Kreuzberg and Neukoelln, the miniature diasporas within each community. Eventually he came to a door, indistinguishable from all the others on the street except for a tall 23 painted above it.

A thin, wispy cloud of rain hung in the air, the nucleus of each drop surrounded by a ball of humidity. North German summer. He scanned the buzzers on the right hand side of the door looking for the name Schnatterer, but it wasn’t there. From top to bottom, the four buttons read:

W. Schneider
Theodor Hasse


His eyes stumbled over the English name several times. He backed out of the doorway, looked up at the windows enclosed by brown parentheses. Finally, he stepped back in and pressed the fourth buzzer.

A moment passed in silence, then static hiss accompanied a distinctly male voice: “Ja, hallo?”

“Guten morgen,” Faber choked. “Ich suche… Frau Helga Schnatterer.”

He considered formulating a second sentence, but was interrupted. “Are you American?”

“Oh. No, I’m English. I…”

“Helga is my wife. What do you want?” The accent was mid-Atlantic, stern. For a moment, Faber imagined Thornton, decrepit with age, standing at the buzzer three stories above.

“I have some questions for Mrs. Schnatterer. About Charles Thornton.”

A sigh, then: “Come in.” The door hummed against its hinges, and Faber stepped truculently through.

*        *        *
The narrow hallway had given way to an apartment that, if not palatial, was at the very least prosperous. The Poet had told him that Thornton’s inheritance had been significant, and Faber wondered whether, unlike the Poet, Helga had been lucky enough to make it into Thornton’s will.

“Good morning, Mr….?”

“Faber.” The man was eying Faber cautiously.

“Mr. Faber,” he said. “I’m Lionel Watson, Helga’s husband.” He held out his hand and Faber completed the handshake. Watson was not as old as he had expected, though he did have powder-white hair that was strangely offset by deep, suntanned grooves in his forehead.

“Is Mrs. Schnatterer here?”

“She’s Mrs. Watson these days,” the man said. “And no, she’s at work.” Watson gestured Faber into the apartment, and offered him a seat on a sofa opposite the entrance. Watson reclined in a leather chair across from Faber and crossed one leg over the other. “So what do you want to know about the venerable Charles DeForest Thornton?”

Faber explained why he was in Germany, why he had felt that Helga might be the only connection left to Thornton and the only person who could shed some light on why the author had moved to Berlin in the late ’50s.  When he finished, Watson chuckled and said: “Good Lord. You have an academic interested in Thornton?”

The sarcasm rang loud. “You think academics are interested in genre literature? I thought I was way off the beaten track with this little… search of mine.” He laughed awkwardly.

“Maybe in England. Here it’s de rigeur to write a master’s thesis on Charles’ books.” He leaned forward in the chair and a smile forced deeper grooves into his face. “I suppose I should explain. I’m a lecturer at the university here. Hamburg is an Americophile city, and they’re badly in need of washed up academics like myself to teach American Studies.”

Faber considered asking how he and Helga had met. The pairing did seem unlikely. “In any case, Helga might be an eyewitness, but I don’t think she will be of much help,” Watson continued. He rose and walked through into the kitchen, Faber trailing behind and trying to instill some confidence into his voice.

“She’s the best person to go to,” he said. Watson poured two glasses of water, placed one on the granite counter top and handed the other to his visitor.

“Maybe. But we’ve been married for nearly eight years and she’s mentioned Thornton a half dozen times at most.” Why did you marry her? Faber thought. The personal unknowns would, he supposed, have to remain unknown for now.

They parted having made dinner plans, Watson promising nothing more than an informal meeting with his wife under the pretense of her charming a visiting colleague over sushi and sake. Faber doubted that Helga would be any more forthcoming than she had been with her husband of eight years.

Exiting Falkenstrasse and walking in the direction of the Sternschanze train station, the air around him was lighter, the humidity having abated a little. Rain still soaked lifelessly into the pavements, while drops speckled each bicycle that Faber passed, their wheels or frames chained to lampposts or street signs. Pulling out an mp3 player, he unwound the earphones – picturing simultaneously the reels of magnetic tape that lay in his apartment back in Berlin – and plugged the buds into his ears. Scrolling through the Thornton recordings, he found the tape that he had last been listening to, labelled Apr. 94 and pressed play.
My dear Hans,

Firstly, and in response to your eruditely-composed English question: No. [A cough sputtered into the Dictaphone] I no longer think of any individual location, its inhabitants, topography, and cultural artifice, as home. Patriotism is at home neither in my bones nor in my heart. Neither, I believe (not that you asked), is it in Mr. Delaney’s character.  In his latest excuse for an adventure, the intrigue comes in large part due to his surrounding himself with foreignness. The book will be set here in Berlin. (You and your promotional people will, I’m sure, be glad to hear this. The cultural translation will be so much easier).
Cars skated past Faber and the recording gave way to static. The gentle rush of rainfall against tyres complemented the hiss of dead air around Charles Thornton.
*        *        *
Watson and Helga stood as Faber reached their table. Helga was in her late fifties, but like so many German women she possessed the air of someone much younger. Her hair was carefully bobbed and dyed a deep red, her skin pale and flat. In many ways a negative image of Lionel Watson, though Faber.

She shook his hand, smiling and squinting her eyes as she did so. Her clothes were overly elegant, making Faber self-conscious in his plain black t-shirt.

As they sat, she said: “You are here to research with Lionel, yes?” The two men exchanged glances and Faber nodded.

“Yes, I’m a postgrad at Warwickshire University. I’m studying American literature, and Lionel -” he stumbled over the name. “Lionel offered his help.”

“What do you research?” Helga said.

“Well, my thesis work is on detective literature.” She stiffened a little, leaned back as a waitress placed a glass of sake in front of her. Faber had come this far. He took his chance and, while she was distracted, said: “on Charles Thornton, specifically.”

A pause fell across the room like a smothering pillow.

“Mr. Faber,” she said as the server withdrew. “Charles died eleven years ago, and though he did teach me some wonderful turns of phrase, and saw fit to pay me rather too much for my services as a secretary, I really have nothing more that I can give to the academic community or to his supposed estate in America that I haven’t already given.”

Faber nodded and tried to appear contrite. “I have no letters or manuscripts, no amazing revelations about his life in Berlin. I’m sorry.”

“But he was working on another novel, wasn’t he?”

“Look, Mr. Faber,” Watson interrupted. “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”

Helga raised a hand. “Yes, he was. But I don’t have a copy of it. He only had one copy, and that had been sent to Lichttrager, his publisher, several weeks before he died.”

Faber knew that the publisher would never give him access to the manuscript. Helga was his only chance. “The last Ray Delaney novel, Mrs. Watson. Even a glimpse at it would help me more than you could imagine. Maybe a phone call from Helga Schnatterer would help to loosen Lichttrager’s filing cabinets?”

“A brand new turn of phrase.” Helga looked rueful. She asked: “How long are you going to be in Hamburg?”



Banana Cupcakes

It's a little late in the month, I know, but it's time for our June Cake Craze. 

If you're my Facebook friend (or real life friend, for that matter), you know that my mom and dad have gone into business baking and selling cupcakes at a couple of local farmers' markets (in Indiana, alas, or I would be getting in on that action).  Anyway, seeing the gorgeous things they've been turning out has been really inspiring, so I thought I'd make a batch of cupcakes instead of a big cake for this month's cake feature. 

While Dan and I were home earlier this month (picking up our puppy!),Wh my mom made some incredible banana cupcakes with peanut butter icing and I really wanted to have about six dozen of them while we were there.  I did a little googling around and found that Martha Stewart has a banana cupcake recipe online, and isn't she supposed to be the authority on all things sweet and cute and cupcake-shaped?  Dan isn't a big peanut butter fan, so I was thrilled to try out the suggested Honey-Cinnamon Frosting.  So very delicious!

I don't have a great many photos of these things because I ate them far too quickly.  I also attempted to make my own tulip cupcake cups, but that was only marginally successful.  I suggest buying them, if you're into that sort of thing.  Oh, also, I didn't change the recipe at all, except to add a little more vanilla extract, so just click on over and use Martha's instructions.  They work like a charm.


Strawberry and buttermilk tart

I'm terribly afraid that we're nearing the end of strawberry season around here and I'm still hoping to find myself a cheap and tasty flat of berries out of which to make preserves, but just in case, here's what happened at the beginning of strawberry season.

When I high-tailed it to the first farmers markets of the season a few weeks ago and saw beautiful strawberries mounded up and just begging to be bought, I thought briefly about making another brown butter tart or maybe learning how to make classic pastry cream for a traditional tart, but when I looked in the fridge, I didn't have anything useful at all. 

I did, however, have some buttermilk leftover from yet another loaf of brown bread and thought I should google around for something resembling a fruit tart that involved buttermilk instead of cream or milk.  I landed on this website (which is a little odd, for sure, but the recipe sounded good).

I was more than a little skeptical when I put this tart in the oven.  I didn't quite believe that the very, very liquidy filling could possibly firm up in the oven (though with a whopping 3 TABLESPOONS of cornstarch, I should have had faith) and the texture was deeply strange.  When I pulled it out of the oven, though, it looked like angel food cake, but had a lighter texture and more delicate taste.  Its subtle sweetness coupled with the tart fruitiness of the berries was simply delicious.  We ate the tart at room temperature at first, but when I went back for seconds (and thirds) after it had been refrigerated, the texture had improved and the tastes had married. 

Also, a note on the crust:  this is a really, really special crust.  It resembles nothing as much as a buttermilk biscuit, but the compression and long baking makes it get all crispy and delicious.  Any other crust would work (regular 3-2-1 pie crust or store-bought), but you should give this one a try.  It's sensational.  Oh, and in case the strawberries are already all gone where you live, I think this would be delicious with blueberries or blackberries or (if you must) raspberries.

The recipe was a little more complex than I thought at first, so I'll give you this bit of advice: be sure you read the whole thing and prep everything in advance or you might get a little muddled or behind.  I did tweak a little, here and there, as is traditional.

Heavenly Strawberry Buttermilk Tart
adapted from The LoveBite

For the crust:
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 6 oz cold butter (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 4 T sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t baking powder
  • 2 T buttermilk
For the filling:
  • 2 c buttermilk
  • 1 c milk
  • 3 oz butter (3/4 stick or 6 T)
  • 3 eggs, separated (reserve the yolks, whip the whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form)
  • 3 T corn starch / cornflour
  • 3 oz sugar
  • 1 t vanilla
  • pinch salt
  • zest of 1 lemon, grated
  • piles of fresh strawberries (I used 1 qt)
  1. To simplify matters, use the food processor to make the crust.  
  2. Combine flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder and pulse to mix well.  Cut cold butter into cubes and add one at a time while processing until everything looks like sand. 
  3. Add the egg and buttermilk. Pulse a few times until the pastry forms a ball.  At this point you can either chill the dough for 30 minutes and then roll it out before fitting it to the spring-form pan OR you can do what I did and simply push it into the pan, patting and squishing it until it's evenly smooshed into the pan.  Then cover it and stick it in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  4. Pre heat the oven to 350.  Line the crust with parchment and fill with dried beans or pie weights and then blind bake for 20 minutes. 
  5. Pull the crust out of the oven and remove the parchment and weights.  Use a fork to punch holes in the bottom of the crust to deflate.  Bake for an additional 10 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, make the buttermilk filling.
  7. Combine the milk and butter in a saucepan on low heat until the butter melts.  Do not let it boil.  Remove from heat when the butter has melted.  While this is happening, beat the egg yolks, cornstarch, sugar, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl.
  8. While whisking constantly (and rather aggressively), pour the hot milk in a slow and steady stream into the egg yolk mixture. 
  9. Whisk the buttermilk into the milk/yolk mixture. Add the lemon zest. 
  10. Spoon about 1/4 of the egg white mix and fold it into the yolk mix by strirring from the bottom and up and over in a circular motion. Add the rest of the egg whites.  Do not beat the batter.  You want to retain the air in the meringue as it will make the filling very fluffy and light.  This is the point at which the filling looks really really weird.  Fear not.
  11. Pour the batter into the tart shell and sprinkle some brown sugar on top. 
  12. Bake about 45 minutes at 350 or until golden on top.  The custard will still jiggle a little and be just barely set in the center.
  13. Top with fresh sliced strawberries and enjoy!


Saturday Clip Show

Just a few photos today from another cross-processed roll. 
Fig. 1. Lilies of the Valley.
Fig. 2. Dress form.
Fig. 3. Bar Stool.


Welcome home, baby boy!

Apparently I've been on hiatus for a while.  That was unintentional.  Anyway I'm back now and have a little news!

As you know, I'm pretty crazy about dogs, especially a little fluffy white one named Lucy.  She's been the pride and joy of my little domestic sphere since she joined my family in December of 2006.  Now she's getting ready to turn four and acting more like an adult dog than a puppy and Dan and I have been thinking about adding to our brood.  Maybe it's because I miss the puppy stage or maybe it's because EVERYONE I know has had a baby lately, but I wanted to do a little nurturing of my own and I thought that a puppy would be a good idea to help keep Lucy spry (she does love playing with other dogs).

Anyway, this is all a roundabout way of introducing the new member of our household!  Meet Calvin:
He looks a little droopy here, but it's very difficult to get an un-blurry photo of a twelve week old puppy unless he's sleepy.  And it turns out that when he's sleepy (or sleeping) is when he's cutest anyway.  When he conks out (my family always called that 'pulling a Lucy') he goes completely, utterly limp and snores these tiny little snores through his big schnoz.  He's pretty cute.  I might gush if I continue. 

Anyway, we've all been occupied non-stop with taking Calvin out for walks every hour, constantly reminding him to chew on bones instead of laptop cables, and keeping him from biting Lucy's ears and vice versa.  So far, everything's going pretty well, despite Lucy developing an upset stomach and a little case of envy, but it has been busy.

To welcome the little guy into the family and to remind Lucy that she's still top dog, I baked up some treats.  I found this recipe over at Simmer Till Done a few months ago and thought this was a good chance to give it a try.  We didn't have any brown rice flour, so I improvised and just used white rice flour.  It worked fine.
Oh, and both Lucy and Calvin LOVE them.  On a whim, we also tried them out on my parents' puppies, one of whom is the world's PICKIEST eater, but even she gobbled these things down.

Very impressive recipe, indeed.

Cleo’s (and Lucy and Calvin's) Pumpkin Dog Biscuits 

adapted from Simmer Till Done
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c canned pumpkin
  • 2 T dry milk
  • 1/4 t kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 c brown rice flour *
  1. Pre-heat oven to 350.
  2. Whisk together eggs and pumpkin.  
  3. Stir in dry milk and kosher salt.  
  4. Add white rice flour gradually, stirring at first with spatula then with hands to form a stiff, dry dough. 
  5. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and if dough is still rough, briefly knead and press to combine.
  6. Roll dough to 1/4" thick and use biscuit or other shape cutter to punch shapes, gathering and re-rolling scraps as you go. 
  7. Place shapes on cookie sheet, no greasing or paper necessary. If desired, press fork pattern on biscuits before baking, a quick up-and-down movement with fork, lightly pressing down halfway through dough. 
  8. Bake 20 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully turn biscuits over, then bake additional 20 minutes. Allow to cool completely on rack before feeding to dog.


Standing By The Wall

In which the talented Mr. writes a brief story based on one of my photos.  This week’s story is taken from the diaries of Charles D. Thornton, American expat detective author living in Berlin.

I first met Albert ten years ago. His shop was on Oranienstrasse, a street which at that time was little more than a Turkish residential neighbourhood with the occasional bar full of artistically attired waifs. Bars that are now hip hangouts for the urbane urbanites of Berlin. You can’t argue with gentrification. Even in 1998, Oranienstrasse – the main vein running through the part of town that I live in – was a place that any guide book cautioned against.
Antique shop (Kenmare, Co. Kerry, Ireland)


Great egg-spectations .... har har.

Most mornings I wake up with fuzzy eyes and a slightly aching head, both of which nasty symptoms disappear within about a half hour of my first cup of coffee.  Needless to say, I don't accomplish much in that first, oh, forty-five minutes of the day.  Some mornings, though, I wake up hungry but patient and a little inspired.
Such was the case on one of the early brilliant spring mornings a few weeks ago, when I woke with an appetite and an idea.  Last summer, on our anniversary, my sister made Dan and me a tortilla espanola - eggs gently hugging delicious potatoes with a little oniony bite.  While I was in Germany, all those many years ago, one of the reliably affordable and filling menu options on brunch and bar menus all over the place was a Bauernfrühstück - eggs scrambled with potatoes (Bratkartoffel) and, basically, whatever was handy.  And then there's the frittata I used to order when visiting my sister on Beacon Hill.

All of these things represent the egg dishes that are un-eggy enough that I can eat a lot of them without wanting to ralph.  (I have a thing about eggs.  You will not see me waxing poetic about the perfect poached egg and I will not be topping my bowl of greens with a fried egg, even though abstractly these ideas have a strong appeal.)


In fact, it occurs to me that I've only ever eaten a whole fried egg once - and that was in the service of a near-fatal crush on a cruelly imperceptive man-child.  Otherwise do you think I would have eaten this?  I shudder to remember it.


Anyway, this one morning I woke up with a craving for something a little heartier and more toothsome than the oatmeal to which I've become so accustomed.

So I peeled some potatoes and cut them into chunks and set them to cooking.  When they were done, I threw some sausage (plain ol', ordinary ol' Jimmy Dean) into a pan with some roughly chopped garlic and let them go to town.  I then removed the sausage and garlic, leaving the fat in the pan.
Into the pan then went the potatoes (drained), some mushrooms (quartered), and some salt and pepper.  When those were all brown and beginning to crisp, I threw the sausage and garlic back in, then poured in three eggs beaten with a smidgen of milk.  I cooked that until the bottom was stable (i.e. I could slide it back and forth in the pan in one big chunk.), but the top was still liquidy, then I popped it into the oven at about 375 for about 15 minutes.
Once it was baked, I topped the whole thing with a heavy grating of parmesan and some roughly chopped thyme.

The eggs puffed up, the tastes all went together and the result was delicious.  The eggs bound all the other morsels together without tasting too much like eggs and the chunks of sausage and potato and mushroom solved the egg-texture-conundrum.  Sure, the end product of all this early-morning dithering wasn't really a frittata or a tortilla or a Bauernfrühstück, but it was damn tasty and I recommend you give it a try.
Obviously, if you like eggs, you should add a couple more.  And, you should throw in whatever's handy and tasty.  If you don't have mushrooms, don't use them.  Now that there are fresh veggies coming in, add those!  Asparagus would be delicious, as would peppers.  Basically anything.

So, you see, there's no real recipe this time around.  Consider this a mad-libs style recipe, maybe.

1. Cook potatoes.
2. Add [meat].
3. Add [something oniony/garlicky].
4. Add [any number of veggies].
5. Add [desired number of] eggs.
6. Top with [cheese].
7. Enjoy.


If you'll permit me...

It's summer and the weather makes me feel disinclined to cook or write or do anything of use.  So today I'll give you a self-indulgent photo post.  These are from a trip I took with the Whole Family back in 2006.  We were on a cruise and spent a day in Barbados, which I found poetic.  Hope you enjoy.  Back soon with food.
Fig. 1. Ragged Point Light.

Fig. 2. Doorways and windows, Ragged Point Light.

Fig. 3. St. James Parish Church.

Fig. 4. Vegetation.
Fig. 5. Cemetery at St. James Parish Church.

Fig. 6. Harbor.
Fig. 7. Beach walking.


Thanks to my colleagues ... Chocolate Custard Pie

As you may know, I'm a grad student at a large university in the Boston Area (names obscured to protect the innocent and guilty).  As such, my income comes from teaching an array of classes, some language classes, some literature classes.

This past semester I was the head teaching assistant for a very large class about Childhood Literature.  My responsibilities in this role involved wrangling the other five teaching assistants, making sure the professor leading the course had everything she needed (and that we needed!), teaching a couple discussion sections, and doing general admin work.  In short, this job came with major potential for ass-pain and irritation.  Going into the semester I had no idea what to expect.  Luckily, I managed to keep it together and keep our almost-200 students relatively happy (You'll be hearing more soon about how my fellow teachers and I threw a party for all of our students!), keep the other teachers mostly prepared and satisfied, and keep any major deadlines from slipping past us unnoticed (the ones that flew by were noticed, if not adhered to).

As much as I'd like to take all the credit, that would be dishonest at best and cruel at worst.  This post, you see, and the contents of it are meant as a tribute to the lovely teachers who made my semester so much nicer and more pleasant than it could have been with less willing and able help.

To thank these lovely ladies and one gentleman I invited them over for dinner a couple weeks ago.  Despite my purely last-minute preparation and pronounced indecisiveness about the menu, I pulled together a meal that I think was worthy of their good humor and help and we all passed a lovely evening together.

The Menu:
  • Simple Green Salad dressed with grated romano, olive oil, and good balsamic
  • Brie-stuffed, prociutto-wrapped chicken breasts
  • served with Asparagus Hash
  • Two desserts: 
  • Fresh strawberry shortcakes made with homemade buttermilk biscuits (pictured below)
  • Chocolate Custard Pie

It all turned out to be quite delicious (I will permit myself to brag about dinner) and the evening was filled with good gossip, hearty laughs, and a rather good time, I thought.

The most interesting part of the dinner prep was the pie.  It was a new recipe for me and that always gives me butterflies.  Moreover, I picked the recipe at the very last possible second, which left no margin for error.  Luckily, a few messy mistakes aside (I accidentally jiggled about a third of the filling out of the crust and into the bottom of my oven, causing a major cloud of chocolate scented smoke and a greasy black spot that I haven't yet dealt with), the pie emerged, gloriously caramelized, perfectly browned, and oh-so-custardy and all were satisfied.  The charming thing about this pie is that it separates into three beautiful layers while it bakes - a crispy caramelized chocolatey crust, a caramelly custard, and a flaky, tender crust.  It looks like WAY more work than it is in reality.  With no further ado, I give you the recipe.  Make this for someone you love (or appreciate, or owe a semester's worth of work to).  I think it would be delicious with some sort of berry sauce.  Or alone.  For breakfast.

Chocolate Custard Pie
adapted from cooks.com
  • 6 oz flour
  • 4 oz (1 stick) cold butter 
  • 2 oz (approx 3 T) ice water pinch salt
  • 2  oz bittersweet chocolate
  • 1/2 c (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 c brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla
  • 1/2 c whole milk
  1. Make crust: I used a very basic 3-2-1 pie crust.  
  2. Preheat oven to 350.
  3. Pulse the flour and salt together in a food processor, then add the butter, 1/2 T at a time.  Pulse until the mixture resembles meal.  
  4. Add water, 1 T at a time until the dough comes together into a rough mass.
  5. If you have a two-piece fluted tart pan, that will make things very easy - simply press the dough into the pan until it's roughly even, then use the bottom of a glass to smooth it out.  Place in fridge to chill.
  6. Meanwhile, make the filing: Melt chocolate in a heavy saucepan, the set aside to cool.
  7. In a medium bowl, with mixer on medium, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. 
  8. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. 
  9. Beat in vanilla, whole milk and melted chocolate.
  10. Pour into unbaked pie shell and bake about 50 minutes or until a knife inserted in center comes out clean.
(The original recipe suggests covering the whole thing with sweetened whipped cream and garnishing with chocolate shavings, but I really think the pie speaks for itself.  Of course, it's up to you.)


Bourbon Tasting Goodies: Braided Chocolate Sweet Bread

Last weekend we were invited to a bourbon tasting at our friends Sam and Andrea's house.  We're in a bit of a bourbon phase - delicious stuff, that - so we were really excited to go.  When I asked Andrea (that's her below, with all those little cups of bourbon) what I should bring, she requested something bready and filling to sop up some of the four different bourbons we tried that night.  I had just read a new post over at Smitten Kitchen and the recipe sounded awfully delicious and filling, so I plunged in.

I won't lie - I had issues with this recipe. I'm blaming the first (failed) attempt on dead yeast. Seems likely, in my kitchen. I may have overshot on the do-over, but so far, so good. Deb's suggestion on avoiding a sticky situation was well-conceived and, after seeing how tender and sticky this dough is, I give her full credit for saving me a vale of tears spilt over a ruined masterpiece.

I'll note the changes I made to the recipe after the first failed attempt, so you know how to go with me or go with the original, whichever you prefer.  My version will be in [brackets].  The instructions are based on Smitten Kitchen's, but I've heavily tweaked them.
Braided Chocolate Sweet Bread  
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from King Arthur

  • 6 T (3 oz) warm water
  • 1 t sugar [2 t sugar]
  • 1 1/2 t instant yeast [after my yeast failed, I threw in a whole packet, so 2 1/4 t]
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Sponge (above)
  • 6 T (3 oz) sour cream or yogurt [3 T sour cream AND 3 T plain, fat-free yogurt]
  • 1/4 c (4 T or 2 oz) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large eggs (beat one for the dough, reserve the other for brushing the dough)
  • 1/4 c (1 3/4 oz) sugar
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 1/2 t vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2 c (10 5/8 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour [plus up to 1/2 c more, depending on humidity]
  • [white sanding sugar for sprinkling]
Make Dough
  1. Make sponge: Whisk together flour, water, and sugar.  Add yeast and stir gently to combine.  Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to proof for 15 minutes. 
  2. I made my dough in a stand mixer (*I'm told it can be done without! See below.): Beat together sour cream, yogurt, butter, egg, sugar, salt and vanilla until well blended.  
  3. Add the sponge and mix until well incorporated.  
  4. Add the flour 1/2 c at a time and mix with the paddle until the dough is rough, but the flour is incorporated.  
  5. Knead with the dough hook until a soft, smooth dough forms, about 5 minutes.  The dough should clear the sides of the bowl, but stick a little to the center of the bottom.  If your dough is too wet (i.e. doesn't clear the sides of the bowl, extremely sticky to the touch) add flour a couple of tablespoons at a time until the dough is cohesive.
  6. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set somewhere warm to rise for 90 minutes or until roughly doubled (or maybe a little less).
  7. While the dough rises, make the filling.
Sweet Cream Cheese & Chocolate filling
  • 2/3 c (5 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 T(5/8 oz) sugar
  • 2 T (1 oz) sour cream
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 2 T (1/2 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 4 oz bittersweet chocolate
  1. Chop the chocolate finely and set aside (not someplace too warm - i.e. away from your oven).
  2. Combine cream cheese, sugar, sour cream, vanilla, and flour in a small bowl and mix until smooth.  For this to work, your cream cheese and sour cream should both be room temperature.  
  3. Set aside and check on your dough.
Assemble the beast
  1. Deflate the dough and roll it out on a generously floured counter to a 10″ x 15″ rectangle. Transfer rectangle to a large piece of parchment paper.  You may need help with this - have someone slide the parchment under the dough rectangle as you gingerly lift it.  If you don't have a spare set of hands around, I don't know why you couldn't just roll the thing out ON parchment.  
  2. Use a dough cutter or butter knife to mark two lines down the center of the dough, dividing it into three equal columns. Spread the cream cheese filling down the center section, leaving the top and bottom two inches free of filling. Sprinkle the chopped chocolate on top of the cream cheese filling.
  3.  To form the mock braid, cut horizontal strips (i.e. perpendicular to your filling) about an inch wide down the length of the outer columns of you dough (the parts without filling). Make sure you have an equal number of strips down the right and left sides. Use the dough scraper or butter knife to do this.  Don't cut the parchment paper.  
  4. To “braid”, begin by folding in the top and bottom strips, then folding the top flap down and bottom flap up over the filling. Lift the next dough strip and gently bring it diagonally across the filling. Be careful not to stretch the strips too much, as they will quickly become too thin and too long to do any good!  Repeat on the right side, and continue down the entire braid, alternating left and right strips until you are out. It should look roughly like a braid or a laced-up shoe.  
  5. Tuck any remaining ends under and call it a day.  It does not have to be perfect.  It will be impressive any way you do it.
  6. SLOWLY and carefully transfer the dough and the parchment paper to a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic and set it aside to rise for 45 minutes, until quite puffy.
  7. While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375°F. 
  8. After the rising is done, brush the loaf with egg wash, and sprinkle with sanding sugar. 
  9. Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown. Depending on the depth of your oven, you may want to turn it midway through baking to ensure even browning. 
  10. Remove from the oven and cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
*Make dough by hand: Whisk together sour cream, butter, egg, sugar and vanilla in a large, wide bowl. Stir in sponge. Add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon as best as you can; you may need to get your hands in there to form it into a shaggy ball. Turn ball of dough and any incorporated scraps onto a counter and knead until a smooth, soft dough forms, about 5 to 10 minutes. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until quite puffy and nearly doubled.


Things that are making me happy these days

Fig 1.  Strawberry season.  In this case, strawberries with piping hot oatmeal and brown sugar.

Fig 2.  Bright bright bright morning sun.

Back soon with many many new recipes.


Freezer-clearing: Grape Sorbet

Last fall, as you know, I picked a bumper crop of Concord Grapes (with my friend Christine's help) from my back yard.  We made a big big batch of grape jelly out of about 1/3 of that crop and I stuck the rest of them in the freezer.  Last week, I started getting fed up with having the freezer full of grapes and so I decided to make some grape sorbet.

It turns out it was really really easy to do and the taste is sensational.  The intensity of the purple and the grapeyness of the flavor transported me back to when I was a kid and we would drive through at Lic's (the Diamond Avenue location) and I would get a Kiddie Cone with grape sherbert.  (Kiddie Cone meant they nestled a gummy worm on top - my favorite combination was grape sherbert and a green and yellow worm.)  Of course, it's no surprise that I like ice cream.

Anyway, this is something I'll be making repeatedly until my frozen grape stores are all used up and until new ones turn up in the fall.  If you have some grapes hanging around and don't know what to do with them, try this!

Concord Grape Sorbet
  • 1 1/2 lb concord grapes
  • 2/3 c simple syrup
  • 1/4 c water
  1. Make simple syrup: combine 1 c sugar and 1 c water in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil and boil until sugar is completely dissolved and liquid stays clear.  
  2. Place grapes (washed and stemmed) in a large saucepan with the water.
  3. Bring to a boil and cook until grapes burst and release their juices.
  4. Put the grapes through a food mill or a fine mesh sieve.  Discard solids.
  5. Stir in simple syrup and set mixture aside to cool completely.  If you want to accelerate this process (which I did) you can place the bowl of grape juice in an ice water bath.
  6. Once grape juice is completely cool, freeze according to instructions on your ice cream maker.
  7. IF YOU DON'T HAVE AN ICE CREAM MAKER, don't give up.  Freeze your juice in ice cube trays and then process it in a blender or food processor, then refreeze.  
  8. If your sorbet ends up too icy or solid, process it in a blender or food processor with a little milk or cream or almond milk, then refreeze.


Public Service Announcement: Banana Soda Bread

I'm not much of a bread baker.  Not for lack of interest or desire, but because of an insurmountable laziness (I know the 5-minute books are meant to be great, but really?  Five minutes a day?).  It seems like I would have to really overcome inertia to get some starter started.  And I'm probably never going to get it together enough to get up in the morning and bake the bread I started the night before.  And otherwise it's pretty much an all day project, right?

It's only a matter of time, really, until I get over it and start kneading and proofing and all that goodness.  I mean, one of my first jobs was at an artisanal European-style bakery.  Alas, I was too young to work as a baker (I begged, but strictly no under-18s allowed), but I caught the bread bug.  Add to that the time I have spent in Germany, where the bread is really divine.  I know - French breads and Italian breads are also great, but the graininess and heartiness and heft of German breads speaks to me.

In the meantime, however, I'm all about quick breads.  I haven't blogged about it, but I love making banana bread and fully intend to make some zucchini bread this summer.  And you all know, of course, about the recent Soda Bread Phenomenon.

A couple weeks ago, I was about to whip up some soda bread when I caught a whiff of overripe bananas and thought, why not?  And so my bananas and my Soda Bread (or Sweet Amandine's Soda Bread, actually) got together and made sweet, sweet love in my oven.  The result was staggering.  Divine.  Moist, yet hefty.  Grainy and crunchy on the outside, but a little fruity on the inside.  Oh, and I don't know exactly why, (perhaps the extra moisture?), but this soda bread rose so much higher than my other efforts!  No more flat, tough soda bread for me!  Spectacular.  Try it, friends.

Banana Soda Bread
recipe verry loosely adapted from Sweet Amandine
  • 1 3/4 c all purpose flour
  • 2 c  whole wheat flour
  • 3 T instant oats
  • 3 T packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 t baking soda
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t vanilla extract
  • 2 T (1/4 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 c buttermilk
  • 2 bananas

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. 
  2. Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to mix well.
  3. In another bowl, mash the bananas (I like a potato masher for this job) and whisk together with vanilla and buttermilk. 
  4. Cut the butter into the dry ingredients, until the mixture resembles a fine meal. 
  5. Add the buttermilk/banana mixture to the dry ingredients, and stir to combine. 
  6. Squish the dough into the prepared loaf pan, and bake until the bread is golden brown, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. It should take between 35 and 40 minutes. 
  7. Slice, toast, and slather with butter to serve.