Luisa Weiss's Blog
December 8, 2014
Good morning, everyone! Ooh, this week is starting off well. The sun is shining, I'm about to turn a pound of butter and an equal amount of raisins into Stollen for the book, and I have a cake discovery for you, a wondrous, light, delicious cake discovery. I am so, so excited for you!
Friday evening was the first time in ages that I'd some time to myself in the kitchen. Hugo was asleep, Max was out with a friend, and I was finally - finally!!! - all on my own with nothing to do. I roasted a squash, I boiled broccoli rabe, I cooked fish for dinner. It was quiet, it was heaven. And when the squash was roasted and beaten to a purée, I set to making this cake. This wonderful, tender darling of a cake that I plan to make again today and then again mid-week, since that seems to be about the pace that we are consuming it at. (It is marvelous for breakfast.)
I first spotted the recipe on Megan's blog in early November. She got the recipe from Alice Medrich's newest book, Flavor Flours, a baking book that happens to be gluten-free but is really more focused on the tastes and textures that different flours bring to the table. The original recipe is made with buckwheat and rice flour, regular sugar, pumpkin purée and raisins (or currants). But when Megan made it, she swapped in dark brown sugar for the regular sugar, added chocolate chips instead of raisins and topped the loaf with pumpkin seeds. And when I saw the recipe, I knew instantly I'd fold in frozen cranberries instead of raisins or chocolate, use butternut squash purée instead of pumpkin, and leave off the pumpkin seeds, but keep Megan's brilliant muscovado sugar swap.
Without further ado, I'd like to present to you the newly-christened Buckwheat Squash Loaf with Cranberries.
(NB: No matter what it's called, I LOVE IT SO MUCH I CAN'T WRITE THIS POST FAST ENOUGH.)
If you are a fan of buckwheat flour - and you know who you are - then I practically guarantee that you'll love this cake. Its strange and stony flavor is one of my very favorites. I used a medium-grind buckwheat flour that I had in the pantry, which resulted in a cake that crunched ever-so-subtly in my mouth. But the cake crumb is so velvety and fine that it practically quivers. It's quite something. I pulled the cake out of the oven right before bedtime and let it cool in the pan overnight. Early Saturday morning, the first fat slices I cut for myself were just on the right side of damp. The dark brown sugar brings moisture and depth to the cake and those sour, brilliantly pink pockets of cranberry against the velvety, spicy crumb were exactly right.
I know these kinds of superlatives can be so annoying, but I just scrolled through all my posts from 2014 and must tell you that it is my favorite cake of the year. I love this cake. I love it so much. I hope you do too!
Buckwheat Squash Loaf with Cranberries
Makes one 9-inch loaf
Adapted from Alice Medrich's Flavor Flours
8 tablespoons (1 stick/115g) unsalted butter, melted
1 cup (190g) muscovado (dark brown) sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup (120g) white rice flour
1/3 cup (40g) buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup (170g) squash puree
1/2 cup (55g) fresh cranberries
1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper.
2. Combine the butter, sugar, and eggs in the bowl of the stand mixer and beat on medium speed with the paddle attachment until lighter in color, about 2 minutes. Alternatively, use a handheld mixer and beat for 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the rice and buckwheat flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pumpkin puree and beat on low speed until smooth. Fold in the cranberries.
4. Bake the loaf for 45 -50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the loaf in the pan for 30 minutes before using the parchment as a sling to unmold the cake and let cool completely on a rack. The cake keeps for several days on the counter, wrapped loosely in parchment or plastic wrap.
December 5, 2014
I will be real honest with you: I am glad to see the end of 2014. It's actually been a pretty good year personally - there's been lots of fun and challenging work, we finally (after four years of hunting!) bought our first apartment and our little kook of a child is thriving and happy - but I can't shake this awful, dark feeling of dread that has crept in. Mostly because of the state of the world? Feel free to roll your eyes at me. I probably deserve it. And yet I can't quite shake it off. It's been such a bad year for humanity and a lot of the badness is stuff that zips right past my almost nonexistant filter and lodges itself in a spot where it harasses me almost daily. Add that to the whole life-is-fleeting epiphany that happens when you have a kid and you get a sense of how loony I've been feeling. Gah.
Work is doing a pretty good job of distracting me, for which I am grateful, and when things get too bad, I try to focus on beautiful things, like this song that we sang with hundreds of our neighbors on St. Martin's Day at the beginning of November, gathered together on Charlottenburg's palace square with flickering torches lighting our faces in the darkness.
Or the 100-year-old tiles in the kitchen of our new apartment. Aren't they neat? The rest of the kitchen is empty and dingy and we don't have much money left, but I hope we manage to make something nice out of it. As soon as we have keys, I will take lots more pictures and share here. And if any of you are IKEA kitchen experts or have strong opinions about kitchen renovations, feel free to comment away!
I filmed a whole bunch of cooking videos for the German recipe website Chefkoch over the past six weeks. The first ones are up today and I find them difficult to watch (sort of how you hate hearing the sound of your voice?) - I look so serious! - but there will be more to come in the next few months in which I loosen up considerably. And Hugo is in them! He totally steals the show, my darling blue-eyed boy. Here's a snapshot of the sweet makeup artist doing her magic the other day. (She used to work for the ex-girlfriend of a famous movie star whose name rhymes with Forge Rooney, eee!)
And now, some thoughts on gifts:
Diana Henry's A Change of Appetite was one of my favorite cookbooks of the year. I haven't had a chance to write about it yet, but I keep it by my bedside and leaf through it all the time. It's so handsome visually, but also beautiful in tone and spirit, as all Diana's books are. Plus, most importantly, the recipes are just exactly what I (and I suspect you?) want to cook and eat right now.
I read a lot of good books this year, but Kate Atkinson's excellent Life After Life stood out (so did Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being, which stretched my brain indescribably). I'll be giving it to at least three dear women in my life this Christmas. If you haven't yet read it, DO.
Are you as allergic to appliances as I am? I love the old-fashioned feel of this stovetop Belgian waffle maker.
Hedwig Bollhagen is a household name here, a Bauhaus-inspired ceramicist who founded her workshop in 1934 and created everyday objects with indelible style, but she's less well-known in the US. From starkly graphic vases to homey blue-and-white tea sets, Bollhagen pieces are endlessly covetable (and relatively affordable).
And finally, if any of you are local, the wonderful kitchenware store Kochtail on Invalidenstraße is selling signed copies of my book (both the US and German editions). If you want a personalized copy, stop in the store before Christmas to order it. (Kochtail is owned by my friend Joe, also a former Bostonian-New Yorker, who has excellent taste in kitchenware. If I could, I would do all my Christmas shopping in his shop alone.)
November 17, 2014
On Friday afternoon, Hugo and I were hanging out at home when talk turned, as it so often has lately, to cake. "CAAAAYKE, mama, ja?" So I said something responsible and mom-like, like, "well, it's dinnertime soon, so there's no cake today. But tomorrow is Saturday! So we can make a cake tomorrow." To which Hugo responded, "Ja! But no baby cake, mama. BIG CAAAAYKE."
(NEVER GROW UP, HUGO, PLEASE AND I PROMISE I WILL MAKE YOU BIG CAAAAAYKES FOREVER AND EVER AMEN.)
Luckily for us, we were invited to a friend's surprise birthday party the next day and I'd volunteered to make the birthday cake anyway. Ever since receiving Jane Hornby's cookbook, I'd been itching to make her malted chocolate birthday cake. Finally, I had the chance.
The cake itself was nice and simple to put together; actually, it just the thing to do with a child whose skillset just about encompasses whisking. And the cake baked up perfectly, moist and fragrant. As Hornby promises, it's not too rich but still pleasingly chocolatey. The malt flavor is very subtle, giving the cake and the icing only the faintest toasty flavor. If you didn't know what to taste for, you might not even taste it. But for malt-lovers among us, it's a lovely hint of a thing to taste and gives the whole cake a slight lift out of the dark depths of chocolatiness.
But the real reason this cake was a total home run and up on this blog now for posterity is the icing. The gorgeous, silky, dark and lovely icing that I literally licked off every single part of the whisk and then the spatula and then the bowl. (For your information, I do not normally lick anything related to baking, ever. I don't know why, I just don't. It sort of grosses me out. BUT NOT THIS TIME OH NO SIRREE BOB.)
First of all, what I loved about it is that it's not a buttercream. Too buttery, too rich, too slick and oily in my mouth, buttercream is just not my thing. (I recently discovered the beauty of Swiss buttercream, when I wrote a piece in the September issue of Harper's Bazaar Germany about fancy cakes, but unless I'm making the kind of cake that's supposed to look better than it tastes, I steer clear of buttercream.) This icing is more of a butter-enriched ganache, but lightened with milk, so it's spreadable and swishable and doesn't land in your belly like a 10-pound bag of bricks.
Plus, it's cinch to make - you make a milk, malt and cocoa paste, then beat in soft butter and confectioners' sugar before beating in melted chocolate. The icing is silky-smooth and a little runny as long as it's still hot, but as it cools, it gets firmer and swoopier. It's lovely.
I can see it swirled onto cupcakes and smoothed onto vanilla cake, even possibly used as a sandwich cookie filler. You can play a little with the proportions (less sugar, vanilla or peppermint flavoring instead of malt, more cocoa solids in your chocolate or less) or leave it just as is. I used less sugar than the original and a higher percentage of cocoa solids in the chocolate and got a slightly grown-up icing that all the adults at the party swooned over. (Hugo ate his piece happily enough, but was totally distracted by the discovery of blue M&M's on his piece. He ate them with much the same expression on his face as a roomful of scientists witnessing the Mars landing.) At first I thought that the yield of the icing was too much for the panful of cake, but I piled it all on anyway, and I'm glad I did.
In other news, I'm so honored to be giving an hourlong talk at the Apple Store in Berlin this Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm. I'm going to be talking about how I started my blog and what it was like when I was blogging anonymously at the beginning, how I found my voice and then an audience, how the blog grew over the years, and how I've stayed inspired. There will also be an audience Q&A. Click here to register (filter for "events" and you'll see mine). Hope to see you there!
Jane Hornby's Malted Chocolate Birthday Cake
Adapted from What to Bake and How to Bake It
Makes one 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33cm) cake
Note: The recipe below reflects a few changes I made to the original recipe. I reduced the sugar in both the cake and the icing slightly and I upped the percentage of cocoa solids for the chocolate in the icing a little bit too. If I were making this for a children's birthday party, I'd use the original amounts of sugar (300 grams in the cake and 250 grams in the icing) as well as a milkier chocolate (50% instead of 60%). You will notice I did not include the conversions to imperial; I just don't have the time at the moment. My apologies. A kitchen scale will set you back between $10 and $30, or else the internet can help you out with the conversions.
For the cake
140 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
350 grams all-purpose flour
25 grams cocoa powder
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
275 grams light brown sugar
300 ml milk
150 ml vegetable oil
1 teaspon vanilla extract
For the icing
200 grams dark chocolate, about 60% cocoa
120 ml milk
25 grams cocoa powder
2 tablespoons malted milk powder
140 grams soft butter
200 grams confectioners' sugar
A handful of M&Ms, optional
1. Heat the oven to 180°C (350 F). Line a 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) cake pan with a piece of parchment paper. Melt the butter in a pan and set aside to cool slightly.
2. Mix the flour, cocoa, malted milk powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Add the sugar and break up any lumps with your fingers. Make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients. Whisk the milk, oil and vanilla into the melted butter and pour this mixture into the well.
3. Using the whisk, mix the wet and dry ingredients together slowly. Once combined, give the batter a good beating until smooth and evenly blended. Pour into the prepared pan.
4. Bake for 30 minutes, until the cake has risen, is firm and slightly shrunken from the sides. A skewer inserted into the center should come out clean. Leave in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.
5. For the icing, break the chocolate into a heatproof bowl and place it over a pan of barely simmering water, making sure the bowl doesn't touch the water. Let the chocolate melt, stirring once or twice until smooth. Alternatively, microwave in 20-second bursts, stirring each time. Leave to cool a little.
6. Heat the milk in a small saucepan or the microwave until steaming hot. Sift the cocoa and malted milk powder into a large bowl, then slowly stir in the hot milk to make a smooth paste. Leave to cool for a few minutes.
7. Now add the butter to the paste, sift in the confectioners' sugar, and beat together with an electric mixer until very creamy. Follow with the melted, cool chocolate, and beat to make a silky, soft icing.
8. Decorate the cake with the M&Ms, if using. The cake can be made up to 2 days ahead and kept in a cool place, well wrapped or, if frosted, loosely covered on its board.
November 7, 2014
Berlin is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Wall this weekend and the main event, a wall of 8,000 illuminated balloons that traces where the real Wall stood, was inaugurated last night. (If you can read German, this is an interesting article on the production of those balloons.) Whenever I see pictures of it, it gives me goosebumps, sort of like the Tribute of Light does. This aerial shot in particular. For those of you wondering what life in West Berlin with a Wall was like, these photos are just wonderful, especially the ones from Kreuzberg. I've written about this in my book - though it is so incredible to see it in black-and-white (or color, as the case may be) - but it really was as normal and almost banal as it seems in those pictures with kids playing ball and people sunning themselves. It was just part of the (totally surreal) landscape. (On our side, obviously.) Anyway, after a summer of miserable, horrible, no-good news from all over the world (not a small part of the reason I'm struggling with general anxiety and insomnia, I think), it just feels so good to relive all those special moments that led up to Wall falling. What a happy, special, incredible time that was. Also, this collection of memories from that time is a must-read.
Ha, I can hear Hugo chatting from the next room over, so I've got to get going now, but before I do, a few links for your weekend. I really miss doing these round-ups (this one was started and abandoned back in June, just as things started getting crazy). There's just so much good stuff out there. I'll try to be better about getting regular. (The last link below has obviously inspired me!)
Cheesy popcorn for dinner.
Caribbean hot chocolate for dessert.
This summer, the Baked guys were interviewed by Grace Bonney about growing their brand and it was absolutely fascinating to listen to all their stories about Baked's humble beginnings, their Oprah moment and their plans for the future. A must-listen for anyone running, opening or dreaming of owning a food business.
I have been craving stuffed cabbage something fierce lately. You too? Here you go. (That blog's beauty is something else.)
This piece, on creating community through meatballs, made the rounds in August, but it so touched and inspired me, I have to mention it here. Like so many others, I'm sure, I now desperately want my own Friday night meatball party tradition.
I can't get over the look of these striped, rippled meringues.
My lovely, glamorous friend Aparna just opened a South Indian street food restaurant called Chutnify in Berlin, where she's serving crisp, buttery dosas, a slew of housemade chutneys and many other delicious Indian dishes, as well as thoughtful, well-made cocktails. For a city long-deprived of good Indian food, this is totally revolutionary and deeply delicious. So proud of her.
Next August, I'll have been writing this blog for 10 years. WHAT. Heidi's latest post is all about the art of long-term blogging. It's so thoughtful and interesting to get insight into how she works and why. She's such a pro.
Much love, take care, be well. xo
November 6, 2014
It's 6:50 am. Max has been gone for over half an hour already, off on his daily commute that lasts nearly two hours each way. Hugo's still sleeping, thank goodness; the hallway from our bedroom to the living room goes directly past his bedroom and for many months (let's call it a year?), the slightest noise from the floorboards at 5:30 am, when Max would try to creep down the hallway soundlessly, would wake him up. But for a few weeks now, Hugo's been sleeping until 6:30 or 7:00, every day. I'm almost afraid to put it down in writing.
I had another sleepless night; I've been struggling with a mean case of insomnia for the past several months. I've never been a good sleeper, but this is different - on most nights since early this summer I haven't slept more than a few hours, if that. It feels like most nights I just lie awake and wait for morning to come. I've had this before and I know it will pass and I also know that I'm not taking great care of myself at the moment and that I'm eaten up with stress and that it's all pretty normal, but still, you know, at 3:00 in the morning, after you've lain awake quietly since going to bed at 10:00, it's a little frustrating.
Anyway, I crept down the hallway myself just now and made myself a cup of tea and turned the oven on to defrost a couple of Ina Garten's blueberry bran muffins that I made a while ago (muffins made with wheat bran that I later abandoned in the cupboards and which turned out to have been the vector for a recent infestation of moths in our kitchen, shudder) and stashed in the freezer for mornings like this one, when I'm so tired that it hurts to have my eyes open.
A few minutes of quiet, a few moments to myself when I'm not the mother or the wife or the freelance writer/editor/whatever. Part of me just wants to sit in a chair with a cup of tea in my hands, close my eyes and breathe until I feel some calm, real peace, steal over me. The other part of me is already off to the races: Hugo's breakfast, folding the laundry, the manuscript I'm copy-editing, a blog post for this neglected, beloved place, the grocery list for later, for tomorrow, and next week, the doctors' bills, the raw chicken sitting in the fridge, the column for Bazaar, the shoot next week. And then there's everything else that's taken a back seat lately, a low hum of reproach running underneath all the to-do lists and anxiety: exercise, friends, answering emails, vacuuming, you know the drill.
But we got away by ourselves to Vienna last weekend. We left Hugo with three of his grandparents and flew to Vienna to see friends and eat incredible food (every single meal was good, can you believe it?) and just be together for a little while without our mommy-papa hats on. It was lovely, of course, and funny and nice and sometimes I really miss our old life and I think it's important to admit it without telling myself that I'm a terrible, no-good mother for thinking it, because even though I love that little boy so much, of course I do, sometimes I just want someone else to be in charge.
Thank you so much for all your interesting, thoughtful comments on my last post. I loved reading them. It was one of those times when I wished I could have gathered you all in my house and fed you deviled eggs and cheese puffs and just talked, late into the night, about all of this stuff. You are all lovely people, you really are.
The sky's turning light now and the muffins smell good and the tea in my cup has already lost its first curl of steam. I'm feeling better, too, a little more awake, a little more ready to face the day and my to-do lists and that useless, silly, stubborn undercurrent of anxiety about everything and nothing. It's going to be a long day and a busy weekend and a gnarly work week awaits me again next week, so I don't know when I'll be back here, but I hope it's soon, even if it's just for a little update like this one.
I hope you know that I'm not complaining, not about anything on my plate (well, except for maybe the insomnia and also my husband's commute) - it's just that putting it down in words sometimes helps it feel more manageable, less all-consuming and overwhelming. Things are good: there is work, after all, and a happy, healthy child and a nice husband, daycare that's a 5-minute walk away, grandparents who are there to help out, weekends away. I am counting my blessings. I am also very tired.
By the way, Hugo helped me make these muffins, whisking the batter, sneaking blueberries, asking a million questions, only half of of which I understood. And last night, he pushed his chair up against the counter and watched me make dinner: frozen cod slipped into a panful of tomato sauce, brown rice in the rice cooker, steamed zucchini. ("Kini, mama? Kini?" I dress them with olive oil, salt and snipped basil leaves and he gobbles them before even touching anything else.) It was one of those perfect moments when being a mother felt good and natural and full.
Happy Friday, you all. xo
Ina Garten's Blueberry Bran Muffins
Makes 12 muffins
These are very nice, very simple yogurt-based muffins that freeze and defrost well. The original recipe uses twice as much honey and sugar, but I like the less-sweet version below. Tastes less like cake and more like breakfast. I also added half an apple, diced very finely, to the batter, but just because it was lying around and I didn't want to waste it. It adds a little more moisture and a few more pockets of sweet-sour flavor.
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
7 ounces Greek yogurt (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 ½ cups wheat bran
1½ cups fresh blueberries (8 ounces)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the top of a muffin pan with vegetable oil and line it with 12 paper liners.
Stir together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon in a medium bowl.
In large bowl, whisk together the yogurt, sugar, ½ cup vegetable oil, honey, eggs, and vanilla until combined. Add the dry ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon, just until incorporated. Gently stir in the wheat bran until incorporated. Add the blueberries and stir until evenly distributed.
Scoop the batter into the muffin cups. Bake for 22 to 30 minutes, until the tops are a golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature. Fully cooled, they can be frozen for several months.
October 10, 2014
My darling child, who, given the choice, would rather eat raisins than anything I cook for him.
I read this sensitive, intelligent piece last week by a woman who doesn't like to cook or, perhaps more accurately, doesn't like how cooking makes her feel, and it really stuck with me. What she wrote was funny and touching and and interesting, because it made me really stop and think about how I feel about cooking and specifically how I feel about cooking for other people like my husband, my child or my friends these days. Like most of us here, I imagine, cooking is a pleasure for me, not a chore, so I feel differently than she does on a lot of the points. (As far as I understand, she doesn't have children to cook for, so writes more about her memories as the child of a mother who felt obligated to cook and slightly oppressed by it.) But the truth is that in my current role as the resident cook for a picky toddler and a man who really doesn't have the time to share the chore, I have recently found myself having more moments of resentment about cooking each week and it was sort of eye-opening to read a daughter's perspective on the whole thing.
And because it seems to be in the zeitgeist right now, along came Virginia Heffernan's caustic piece on a similar subject, namely what to do if, in this day and age where the family dinner is held up as a glowing signpost of successful motherhood, you simply hate to cook. I say caustic because it felt sort of gratuitously cruel towards the writers and books it was skewering, as if it was easier for her to accuse these women of sanctimony instead of just accepting that she just doesn't dig the same things they do and that that's okay. I found myself rolling my eyes at her, even though the previous article really touched me, and I guess I wonder what that's about. Why did one piece strike such a chord with me and the other piece seem so curmudgeonly? She does also make some good points and, as the comments show, her feelings really resonate with a lot of people.
Have you read the pieces? Did you have a strong reaction to either? I would absolutely love to know what you think, not just on the pieces, but on the subject of the duty of cooking in general, especially if you happen to be the cook in the family.
Happily, I'm abandoning my cooking duties this weekend and spending a few days with a couple of my best friends in town for the book fair. Oh man, girlfriends make the world go round. I can't wait.
But before I go, one more thing. Max introduced me to the band London Grammar a couple weeks ago (Max is my music guru - if I lived alone I'd just listen to the same three classical CDs plus The Weavers because Pete Seeger's voice completes me) and I kind of can't get enough of it, especially this song:
I hope you have a great weekend, folks.
October 8, 2014
My favorite kind of pancakes are buckwheat pancakes; my dad used to make them for us when I was little and I've loved their haunting, stoney flavor ever since. I introduced Max to them several years ago. He fell instantly and madly in love, and of course Hugo likes them, too, but my suspicion is that Hugo would eat most anything in pancake form as long as it held the promise of a drizzle of maple syrup. ("May-ah, mama, may-ah?")
But last weekend we were out of buckwheat flour, so I got to wondering if rye pancakes would be any good seeing as I had just a little bit of rye flour leftover from some long-ago experiments in German bread (no, the experiments did not go well, sigh, gnash, etc.). I used equal amounts of rye and white flour in a pretty standard pancake batter and lo, it was a huge success! The pancakes were fat and puffy, glorious to behold, and the rye flavor was delicious - wholesome and nutty and very, very nice paired with the maple syrup. I don't usually put butter on top of my pancakes when I serve them, but in this case I did, because the pancakes were so thick and fluffy that they needed some moistening. Now I think the butter is essential. It melts and combines with the maple syrup and soaks the pancakes just right.
So, the recipe is as follows: Whisk together 3/4 cup white flour, 3/4 cup rye flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1-2 tablespoons sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together an egg and 3/4 cup of milk. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ones and mix until combined; try not to overmix. The batter will be relatively stiff. Fry as usual in a buttered pan and serve with a pat of butter on top and maple syrup.
Amelia recently raved about meatless eggplant-porcini meatballs that sounded (and looked!) so delicious that I had to try them. And, woah, yes, they are pretty glorious - richly flavored, with a wonderfully springy, chewy texture. They are more than a bit of work (you have to roast eggplant, soak porcini, make breadcrumbs, fry the polpette (I can't call them meatballs!) and make tomato sauce to cook them in), but I still managed to get all of this done on a weeknight, so go figure. As Amelia says, it's pretty much all enjoyable kitchen work and I sort of squeezed it in and around Hugo's dinner, bathtime and then that quiet, wonderful stretch just after he fell asleep, when the evening still felt new and full of promise.
The recipe is here. It's a keeper.
On book-testing days, I'm always in a bit of a scramble to think of something light and vegetable-based for our lunch. We just need a little something savory in our bellies to be able to evaluate the cakes without feeling ill and it needs to be quick and easy to put together since we need to be mostly focused on measuring and converting and baking and cleaning. I've been loving the challenge; it's made me more creative than I'd usually be on my own. (Oh helloooo, cheese sandwich, you again?) Liana Krissoff's dead-simple, nearly instantaneous tomato soup was a recent hit, but the other day I made a sort of ersatz creamed spinach on toast and ooh, that was very nice, too.
I fried a diced onion in some olive oil (or was it butter?) until it was fragrant and translucent, then dumped in a whole bunch (3/4 pound?) of chopped fresh spinach and let it wilt down. I added salt and hot pepper and then cooked the spinach until it was silky and most of the liquid had boiled off. At that point, I added just a few spoonfuls of crème fraîche and let them melt and mix in with the spinach. You could hardly tell that there was anything creamy in the spinach, but it added some welcome body and richness. I toasted two slices of white bread (peasant would have been even nicer), then piled a fat amount of spinach on each piece of toast. A few microplanes of Parmesan cheese on top and that was that.
Nothing more than a silly little fridge-cleaner, but it hit the spot.
Finally, dessert. I apologize for the photo, which looks a bit picked-over, right? I have a good excuse: namely, those very squares. So irresistible, I couldn't even get out my camera in time before a bunch of marauding dinner guests fell on the pan and made quick work of it. What you're looking at is a batch of Jane Hornby's salted caramel shortbread bites (also known as millionaire's shortbread, but doctored with flaky sea salt on top). The recipe comes from Hornby's latest book, What to Bake and How to Bake It. Millionaire's shortbread is insanely good, sort of like a very fancy Kit-Kat bar, but even better? (Way better, says Max.) Imagine: a vanilla-flavored shortbread base, baked until crisp, a thick, salted butter caramel poured on top and finally a dark chocolate layer sprinkled wth a few flakes of salt to offset all the sugar and butter. In the immortal words of Osgood Fielding III, zowie!
With no further ado, the recipe (I didn't have time to convert it to US measurements, apologies to those without a scale. You should be able to do all of the conversions using Google):
Jane Hornby's Salted Caramel Shortbread Bites
Makes one 8-inch pan
For the shortbread:
110 grams unsalted butter
50 grams sugar
Pinch of flaky salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
140 grams all-purpose flour
For the caramel:
110 grams unsalted butter
200 grams dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons golden syrup (or corn syrup)
1/2 teaspoon flaky salt
400 gram can of unsweetened condensed milk
For the topping:
200 grams dark (70%) chocolate
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon flaky salt
1. Line an 8-inch square pan with parchment paper; set aside. Beat the butter until creamy and very pale. Add the sugar, salt and vanilla and beat until very well-combined. Sift the flour over the butter mixture and gently work into the butter until you have an even dough that clumps together.
2. Press the dough into the prepared pan (you may have to flour your hands for this part) until it's level. Prick it all over with a fork, then chill for 10 minutes. Heat the oven to 160 C. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the shortbread is golden all over. Let cool completely.
3. Melt the butter, sugar, syrup and salt together in a saucepan, then stir in the condensed milk. Bring the mixture to a simmer and let cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens. This will take about 20 minutes, give or take a bit. Don't let the caramel burn. At the end, it should be thick enough for the spoon to leave a trail in the caramel for a few seconds. Pour the caramel over the shortbread and let cool completely.
4. Melt the chocolate in a microwave or double boiler, then stir in the oil and pour the chocolate evenly over the caramel. Use a spatula to smooth out the chocolate. Sprinkle with the salt and let cool completely, either at room temperature or in the fridge. When the chocolate has just set, mark it into squares, then chill until completely firm. Cut into squares to serve. For a very clean finish, wipe your knife blade with a damp towel between each slice. The squares keep for three days in an airtight container.
September 27, 2014
Imagine, if you will, your heroine (may I be so bold?) going on the 10th day of a sinus infection that surely originated in the nether regions of hell. Her husband and young son have decamped to the family seat in the east of the country to allow her to recover in peace. She wanders from room to room in search of a clean tissue, forgetting the ones stuffed into her pyjama pockets and sweater sleeves earlier, and burning her tongue repeatedly on hot herbal tea (for everyone from the doctor to her husband has impressed upon her the importance of the tea being HOT HOT HOT if it is going to do ANYTHING at ALL to relieve her symptoms). Bathing has become, in the parlance of the day, optional. Her mind is a foggy swamp. Her blog, a neglected lot overgrown with kudzu.
However! There are a few things of note.
1. The baking book is coming along swimmingly (more photographic evidence of such available on Instagram), although the author is very happy indeed that plum season in Germany is over because one more Pflaumenkuchen and she was going to throw the damn thing straight out the window.
2. If you are in need of a delicious hors d'oeuvres that does not involve bread of some kind (toasted, dipped, spread, etc), Marcella Hazan's "Hard-Boiled Eggs with Green Sauce" (on page 52 of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, if you own it) are very fine indeed. You boil, cool, shell and halve six eggs, then mash the yolks with an approximated salsa verde (2-3 tbsp olive oil, 1/2 tbsp capers, 1 tbsp minced parsley, 3 anchovies fillets, 1/4 tsp chopped garlic, 1/4 tsp mustard and some salt) and spoon this savory, salty, creamy mess back into the halved egg whites. One would not be remiss in renaming these Italian Deviled Eggs, but one should do as one pleases.
3. Jim Lahey's (he of no-knead fame) pizza topped with an unorthodox mix of spinach, garlic, Gruyère, pecorino and mozzarella cheese, also called the Popeye Pie, is probably the best way to use up that bag of spinach currently rotting in your crisper. It shall be noted that the pizza, reheated, also makes an excellent breakfast in a pinch, even if you are not usually the type to eat pizza for breakfast and in fact find it slightly barbaric.
What else? A jumble of disparate thoughts and anxieties and to-do lists, stacks of cookbooks to work through, invoices to send, a little boy's toys to put away, a rumpled bed calling seductively, ten more gallons of herbal tea to burn a mouth on. For now, though, nothing more than that bed, some silence, a good book and rest.
September 10, 2014
Have you noticed how many good cookbooks are out this year? It feels like a bumper crop, an absolute bounty of fascinating, good-looking, delicious books, and I can't get enough. I have a backlog of cookbooks I have been itching to tell you about and thought about bundling them all into one post, but that felt like I'd be shorting both you and the books, so I'm going to take my time and tell you about my favorites, one by one.
First up is Liana Krissoff's Vegetarian for a New Generation, which is the loveliest vegetarian cookbook to cross my doorstep in quite some time. Liana, as you may recall, is a onetime author of mine (I acquired and edited Canning for a New Generation). Her next book in the "series", Whole Grains for a New Generation, was nominated for an IACP award last year. And in April of this year, the third book in the series was published. Incidentally, all the recipes in Vegetarian for a New Generation happen to be gluten-free, not because of a particular motivation on Liana's part, but because she realized halfway through the writing process that the recipes she'd worked on up until that point were naturally so, so she kept up the momentum with the entire collection.
Liana's talent as a cookbook author lies not only in her uncanny ability to find and create interesting, delicious and - yes - new recipes in a field that has been mined many, many times over, but also in her writing, which is wry and funny, understated and just so sharp. I like to take to my bed with Liana's cookbooks and hunker down just to read the headnotes, which never fail to delight. Liana's a very smart writer: well-informed, helpful, realistic. Her aim is to hand-hold without condescension, to explain clearly, to motivate, to whet your appetite. She succeeds on every level.
I especially love that I can always count on Liana to open my eyes to new ways of eating. Only she could get me enthusiastic about a bowlful of Indian poha (flattened rice) fried with onions, spices, eggs, chiles and greens for breakfast. Her "fun" smoothies are actually fun: have you ever had a green pea smoothie? Her sense of adventure in eating is fearless and addicting. She waxes rhapsodic about preserved garlic and Indian chaat mix, and puts delicious twists in everything from roasted potatoes (with butter and tamari!) to roasted eggplant (stuffed with a spicy coconut filling!). But even though Liana's tastes are eclectic, her recipes always feel simple and comforting. She writes so beautifully for home cooks because she truly is one herself.
We made Liana's chipotle potato tacos for dinner the other night: imagine a panful of crisped-up potato chunks, spiced with chopped chipotles in adobo, cumin and oregano, then piled into corn tortillas (Berliners, we bought ours at Chaparro in Kreuzberg) and topped with cubed cherry tomatoes, fresh cilantro and crumbled feta. It was, as Liana promised, the pinnacle of comfort food and almost painfully delicious. We were too busy eating to take a photo.
I made her slow-fried sweet potatoes a few days earlier. The technique, popularized by Joël Robuchon, is an old one, I'm assuming for regular French fries. But Liana uses sweet potatoes and holds your hand in the process, especially valuable for fry-phobics like me. Her headnote is cookbook-gold:
The fries turned out just as Liana said they would: crisp on the outside, meltingly tender on the outside, greaseless and wonderful. We made a meal out of them along with both ketchup and aïoli for dunking and a big green salad to balance things out.
And now it's on for the rest of the book. I bought romaine lettuce yesterday so I can make her recipe for stir-fried lettuce with chiles, rice stick noodles and sprouts (the irony is not lost on me that the recipe is actually meant for wilting lettuce languishing in your fridge, not a fresh bag); I can't wait to try all three of the kohlrabi recipes in the book (shaved, with lemon and mustard; cubed, with yogurt-tahini sauce and sesame and cumin seeds; cooked, with raisins and paprika) and Liana's recipe for Mexican salsa de semillas, discovered at a taqueria in Los Angeles, sounds nothing short of addictive:
"Crunchy and nutty, smoky, full of deep chile flavor but not very spicy, a crumbly paste of oil-seared and ground up dried chiles, toasty seeds, and nuts. Make a nice big batch, keep it in the freezer, and you'll find dozens of uses for it. Two favorites so far are as a topping for perfect black bean soup (page 216) and tossed into a hot pan with dark sautéed mushrooms (page 205) destined for tacos—spoon in another fresh salsa, like the creamy and crisp tomato and avocado one on page 71, for a meal you won't forget."
No, I don't imagine I would. Much like the rest of the book, which has instantly shot to the top of my favorite cookbooks. What an absolute home run.
Liana Krissoff's Slow-Fried Sweet Potato Fries
Serves 4 to 6 as a side
4 sweet potatoes
About 4 cups (1 liter) canola or other neutral vegetable oil
Salt and seasonings
1. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and set a cooling rack upside down on top so that the wire rungs are in contact with the paper.
2. Cut the sweet ootatoes into French-fry-size pieces, about 3-6 mm thick. (Liana peels her, I don't.) Put them in a wide, heavy pot and add enough oil just to cover them. Set the pot over medium heat. When the oil starts to bubble gently all over the surface, lower to the heat to medium-low—it will continue to bubble—and cook for 45 minutes, occasionally nudging the fries gently with tongs. The sweet potatoes should be very limp and soft. Raise the heat to medium or medium-high, so the oil bubbles more vigorously, and cook until the fries are golden brown and stiffer. This can take anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, depending on your stove. Keep in mind that the fries will crisp up more after they're pulled from the oil.
3. Transfer the fries to the prepared rack. While they're hot, season them with salt or and other seasonings and eat. (Liana's genius seasoning ideas include her own kale furikake or shichimi togarashi mixes in the book.)
August 25, 2014
I don't remember exactly how I stumbled on this recipe, I'm remembering vaguely that I had too many zucchini knocking around in the fridge and a can of chickpeas gathering dust (by the way, Hugo doesn't like beans, what is up with that?) and I probably did a search for a recipe that would use them up together, but the point is that by some stroke of internet luck, I happened on quick-dinner-gold that you need to know about, especially now with end-of-summer zucchini flooding markets. (Those of you with access to fresh, sweet, lovely, tender, beautiful, local corn, ENJOY IT YOU LUCKY DOGS YOU WHILE THE REST OF US MAKE DO WITH CANS SOB).
While I love the concept of vegetable fritters, I often find that in reality they aren't substantial enough for a dinner and they're too fussy for me to make as part of a larger meal. (I still think back almost weekly on the celestial tomato fritters that Max and I ate almost every night of our honeymoon in Greece, but refuse to attempt them at home because sometimes a memory has to be enough, you know?)
But these fritters, thrillingly, are hefty enough to be the whole dinner. The base is made up of chopped chickpeas, milk and flour. Baking powder gives the fritters some lift. To this you add a grated zucchini, a can of corn, some fresh herbs (I liked a mix of mint, basil and parsley) and sliced scallions. Then you dollop little portions in an oil-slicked pan and cook the patties until golden-brown and fragrant and irresistible on both sides.
You could serve these with garlic-spiked yogurt, but we ate them with hot sauce - Sriracha preferably, the sweet-hot-sour flavor livens up the fritters just perfectly. And to go out onto a limb, I imagine that a more bean-interested child would probably be happy to gobble these up unadorned, making this family-dinner material (wouldn't you say, Jenny?)
Now I need to go contemplate what other vegetables one could stuff into these things successfully and craft plans to get Hugo to eat even just one chickpea. One! Could it be that hard?
Corn, Zucchini and Chickpea Fritters
Serves 3 to 4
Note: The original recipe is Australian, hence the metric measurements. A 310-gram can of corn is approximately 11 ounces, so I'd suggest using 3/4 of a 15-ounce can of corn. You can of course use fresh or frozen corn instead.
1 400-gram (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained, rinsed
1/2 cup milk
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 large zucchini, grated
1 310-gram can corn kernels, drained
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
1 tablespoon chopped basil leaves
3 sprigs chopped flat-leaf parsley
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Sriracha sauce or other hot sauce for serving
1. Process chickpeas until roughly chopped.
2. Whisk milk and eggs in a measuring cup. Place flour in a bowl. Gradually add milk mixture to flour, whisking until smooth. Stir in chickpeas, zucchini, corn, herbs and scallions.
3. Cover a large frying pan with a thin film of oil. Heat over medium-high heat. Add 1/4 cup mixture to pan. Spread slightly with a spatula. Repeat to make 3 more fritters. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes each side or until golden and cooked through. Transfer to a plate. Cover to keep warm. Repeat with remaining mixture to make 12 fritters, replenishing the pan with oil between batches, if necessary. Serve with hot sauce.