Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Louse-y Day

My cliche-loving husband repeats himself a lot.  Let me repeat that.  He repeats himself a lot. Especially when it comes to cliches.  I've heard countless times his pronouncement that "no good deed goes unpunished."  Really, Henry?

I myself am not that jaded.  I am much more trusting, believing that it all works out in the end.  Every once in awhile though, this comes back to kick me in the you-know-what.  Like it did recently.

A friend (we'll call him Mike) who was moving, needed a place to stay for a couple of days until his new apartment was ready.  I offered up our terrace level (which is a nice way of saying "basement").  Since he was bringing his two childen (ages 19 months and 9 years) I figured there was plenty of room down there for all of them.  It has a lovely large bedroom, a nice bathroom, a television room, a pool table and lots of room for running around.  Besides, it meant I got to spend time with the kids, both of whom I like a lot (uh-oh, here comes that grandparent thing again).

They showed up on a Sunday afternoon, the day before what was going to be a crazy Monday for me.  I had a doctor's appointment in the morning, Atlanta Magazine was showing up in the afternoon (more about that later) and  friends were coming for dinner that night, meaning a lot of cooking had to happen.  No problem.  Superwoman Liz can do anything!

Until I got a call from Mike around 1pm to tell me his 9-year-old son had to leave school early BECAUSE THEY DISCOVERED HE HAD HEAD LICE!!!!! 

Now if you have kids, you've probably experienced this lovely event at some point in time.  I'll refrain from the graphic details but suffice it to say you have to pretty much tear your house apart and vacuum or launder everything the kid came in contact with.  Remember my telling you in the last post how I have tons and tons of decorative pillows piled on all the beds in this place?  That did not serve me well in this instance.

So I canceled dinner with our friends (Emily, Tristin and Charlene, I owe you one) and set upon the cleaning task at hand.  At the end of it, I decided I should reward myself with either a cocktail or chocolate.  Oh screw that.  I had both!

CHOCOLATE MADELEINES   (From Gale Gand's Chocolate and Vanilla)

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 4 tablespoons, softened for buttering the madeleine molds
3 eggs (I used extra-large)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons packed dark brown sugar
1 cup cake flour
1/4 cup good cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed (I used Valhrona)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

(Note:  you will need a madeleine pan for this recipe.  If you don't have said pan, just suck it up and go out and buy one.  This is worth it).

Preheat oven to 325-degrees.  Brush the madeleine pan well with the 4 tablespoons of softened butter and place in the refrigerator for 10 minutes.

In a small, heavy saucepan, melt the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter over medium heat.  Cook until the butter turns golden brown, being careful not to let it burn.  Remove from heat, strain into a small bowl and set aside.

In an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the eggs with both sugars until mixture is light and thickened, about 10 minutes, scraping down bowl occasionally.  Add the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt and stir on low speed until just combined.  Add the vanilla and browned butter and mix until just blended.

Insert a large (1/2-inch) plain tip into a pastry bag and fill it with batter (alternatively, you can spoon it into a Zip-Loc bag and cut a small piece off one of the corners).  Pipe mounds of batter into the prepared pans to fill the molds, mounding the batter in the center of the molds but not filling to the edge. 

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until the madeleines are firm and a little mound is puffed up in the middle.  Remove from oven and cool slightly, then remove madeleines to a baking rack to cool completely.  Sprinkle with powdered sugar, if desired.

Yield:  2 dozen  (if you only have 1 madeleine pan, bake off one batch, then re-butter pan and bake second batch).

Alright, so now I have a few comments.....

Have you ever baked a dessert, sprinkled it with powdered sugar, only to find that in an hour or so, the sugar has totally dissolved and become invisible?  (Think lemon bars).  Here's the solution:  non-melting sugar.  You sprinkle it on and it lasts and lasts and lasts.  I buy mine from King Arthur.  Here's the link:

I don't know who created this stuff, but I am eternally grateful.  Once you use it, you will never look back!

Another note - as far as I am concerned, madeleines are like little miniature pound cakes.  That means they are good for dessert, an afternoon snack with a cup of tea (or a cocktail!) or a sneak-in-the-pantry late night splurge.  Your choice.

Oh, and take the time to brown the butter for this recipe.  It makes a big difference and gives it a much greater depth and layer of flavor.

And finally, here's a question.  Do you live in Atlanta?  Do you have pets?  If so, you need to know about Dr. Leslie Neely.  She is an amazing veterinarian who practices both eastern and western medicine and SHE COMES TO YOUR HOUSE.  For me, with five dogs, that is a godsend.  It's much more than the convenience, though.  She really gets it, she cares beyond belief and she inspires absolute trust that your pets are getting the best care possible.  Haha, even Elton John entrusts his pets to her!  Anyway, Atlanta Magazine decided to feature her in an article, so they followed her around for a day as she visited clients.  We were happy to be asked to participate.  In spite of the lice!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Flash-in-the-Pan Cupcakes

Henry and I are grandparents waiting to happen.  We're of the age where some of our friends are experiencing the joys of "grandparenthood" and frankly, we're jealous.  We are so looking forward to spending time with our grandchildren, being the good guys by spoiling them, giving them chocolate, cookies or anything else that will induce a catastrophic sugar high, then giving them back to their poor, unsuspecting parents.

Oh, but wait.  We're not even close.  Not. Even.

Of course, given the above comment, should either one of our kids ever have children, they will probably hide that fact from us until we are too old to care.

So in the interim, we console ourselves by opening up our house (and kitchen) to some of the kids who live on our street.  Gray and Sidney, you know who you are!

Actually, they are two of the cutest and most entertaining little girls you will ever meet.  The first time they visited our house, they were enthralled with all of the beds (because I believe more is better when it comes to piles of pillows, shams, down comforters and the like).  Suffice it to say that the beds in our house are really inviting.  Those girls ended up jumping on every bed in the place and no one enjoyed it more than I did.  If my kids ever read this, I know they will think, "Who is this woman?  That didn't happen when we lived there!"


The girls showed up last week, late on a Saturday afternoon because their dad and I are working on a project (that would be a photo show about the plight of children in Cambodia - stay tuned).   Henry was charged with the job of entertaining them.  Since he had to give up his Saturday afternoon nap to do it, I decided to give him a break and provide an activity he could supervise.  I figured decorating cupcakes would do the trick.

Good thing I have a ton of decorating supplies in my arsenal!

Problem was, I hit upon this strategy at the last minute, which left me about 10 minutes to get cupcakes in the oven before the girls showed up.  No problem.  I turned to my tried and true recipe for chocolate cupcakes.  It's easy.  It's a cinch.  It can be mixed up in seconds.  It's even vegan so you can make it for your friends who follow that persuasion.  It's the recipe we used when I worked at Star Provisions and it's delicious!


2 cups granulated sugar
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder (I used Droste)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups water
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
3 tablespoons white vinegar
2/3 cup vegetable or canola oil

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Grease cupcake tins or line with paper baking cups.

In a large bowl, combine sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Use a whisk to blend well.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk together water, vanilla extract, vinegar and vegetable oil.  Add to flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Use an ice cream scoop to fill prepared tins.  Fill each one about 3/4's, as these do not rise too much.  Bake at 350-degrees for 14 to 16 minutes (depending on your oven) or until just firm on top.  Cool briefly, then remove to a baking rack to cool completely before frosting as desired.

Yield:  2 dozen

At the restaurant, we would remove the tops, scoop out the centers and fill them with vanilla buttercream.  We would then replace the tops, dip in ganache and decorate with a white squiggly line on top - our very own version of  Hostess Cupcakes!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Final Farewell

I'm not referring to anything serious here.  Lucy is still okay as are all my dogs and all the people in my life.  Believe me, I count my blessings every day ....

No, this is about Durham.  One more time.  You may remember my post about the place and about Watts Grocery a few months ago.

I still love Watts Grocery.  But we had a memorable "last supper" at Vin Rouge and I would be remiss if I didn't tell you about it.

A French bistro in Durham?  Yup, and a damn good one.  This was not our first meal there; indeed it was usually on our list of favorite places everytime we visited, but this meal was particularly wonderful.

It started with our server, Jason.  He is what every server (even the ones at the French Laundry and Per Se) should aspire to.  Professional yet personable.  REALLY knowledgeable about the menu and the wine.  When it came time for dessert, we were too satiated, but Henry lamented the fact that chocolate mousse was on the menu.  Several minutes later, Jason quietly slipped a mini-serving in front of him and we never saw it on our check at the end of the evening.  Now that's what I call exemplary service.

When it came time to order a bottle of wine (de rigueur at every meal for us, duh, no wonder we aren't skinny), General Manager Michael Maller showed up to help.  He and Henry had a spirited discussion about French reds at which point Michael said, "Wait, I'll be right back.  You have to try this."  THIS turned out to be a taste of - you won't believe it - wine FROM A BOX!  Surprisingly enough, it was really good!

It came from St. Joseph in the northern Rhone valley of France.  It is made by Eric Texier who is Michael's favorite producer.  Apparently he only made two barrels of it in the 2008 vintage and all of it came to Durham.  Vin Rouge is the only restaurant in the world to have it in the boxes.  What fun!

I was smart enough to order the Dijon mussels, which were fabulous.  Even more fabulous though, was the bowl they came in.  It was cast iron, slightly tilted and had a grate along the side which allowed for the Dijon butter sauce to flow out unimpeded so you could dip both mussels and bread into it.  Brilliant!  Check it out:

The chef at Vin Rouge is Matt Kelly.  I don't know him personally, but I can attest to the fact that he knows his way around a kitchen.

My favorite salad at Vin Rouge involves Bibb lettuce, haricot vert, radishes and Dijon vinaigrette.  Here's my take on it.

BIBB LETTUCE SALAD  (in the style of Vin Rouge)

Bibb lettuce leaves, washed and dried
Haricot vert (French green beans), trimmed and blanched
Radishes, thinly sliced

Dijon Vinaigrette:
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of granulated sugar
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive (I like Olio Santo)

Place Dijon mustard, vinegar, salt, pepper and sugar in a bowl and whisk together.  Add olive oil in a think stream and whisk to emulsify.  Taste to adjust seasonings.

*the above is the classic way to make a vinaigrette.  If you want my down and dirty way, just put everything in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and shake well to blend.  I'm just sayin'.

Place lettuce leaves in a bowl with blanched haricot verts and radishes.  Add a minimal amount of dressing (less is more) and toss gently.  Plate and serve immediately.

Note:  in the interest of full disclosure, I couldn't find haricot vert at Whole Paycheck Foods, so I had to settle for locally grown green beans.  Fair enough.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Cake and Eggs

We were fortunate to belong to a CSA (Community-Supported Agriculture) group last year.  You know, when you receive a bunch of locally grown fruits and vegetables every week then go into Iron Chef mode to figure out what to do with it all.  I loved that little mini-battle each week, but in this economic climate, it was too expensive to continue.  I miss you, Farmer Neil!

What I really miss are the farm fresh eggs that were delivered each week.  If you've never had the pleasure, let me tell you that farm fresh eggs bear no resemblance whatsover to what you find in your local chain grocery store.  Farm fresh egg yolks are bright yellow and they "stand up" much higher than their supermarket counterparts.  They taste better, too.  Much better.  Cleaner, brighter and (strangely enough) less odorous.  I can get a little creeped out by that eggy smell, but it doesn't happen with farm fresh eggs.

So when Henry came home recently with a dozen fresh eggs from a co-worker who has a farm, I was ecstatic.  Scrambled eggs, welcome back!

This same co-worker has also provided us with squash and zucchini over the past few weeks.  (Good thing, since the stuff I planted wilted and died).  I decided it was time for some reciprocity.

I figured a homemade cake was in order.  If I didn't have a blog, I would have made my favorite pound cake.  However, since I already posted that recipe (link below), I decided to be self-serving and bake up something I could blog about.  Thank you for pushing me outside  my box!

MARBLE VELVET CAKE  (adapted from "Rose's Heavenly Cakes" by Rose Levy Beranbaum)

3 oz. bittersweet chocolate (60% - 62% cacao), chopped
6 egg yolks, room temperature
1 cup sour cream, divided
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (I used vanilla paste)
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
9 oz. unsalted butter, softened

For the glaze: (optional)
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted with 4 tablespoons heavy cream
2 oz. milk chocolate, melted with 4 tablespoons heavy cream
2 oz. white chocolate, melted with 4 tablespoons heavy cream

Preheat oven to 350-degrees and set oven rack in the lower third of the oven.  Grease a 10-cup fluted pan (I used a silicone pan which made it a breeze to turn out the cake after baking and cooling). 

Place the chocolate into a small saucepan over low heat, stirring with a silicone spatula every 15 seconds or so until just melted.  Remove from heat to melt completely and cool slightly.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks, 1/4 cup of the sour cream and the vanilla until just combined.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt on low speed for 30 seconds.  Add the butter and remaining sour cream and mix on low speed until dry ingredients are moistened.  Increase speed to medium and beat for 1 1/2 minutes then scrape down sides of bowl.

Reduce speed to medium-low and gradually add egg mixture in three parts, beating on medium speed for 20 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Remove 1/3 of the batter (1 1/2 cups) to another bowl and stir in the melted chocolate until well-blended and no streaks remain.

Spoon 1/3 of the remaining (vanilla) batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly.  Top with dollops of half the chocolate batter and spread gently but evenly.  Top with another third of the plain batter, then with dollops of the remaining chocolate batter,  Spread evenly and top with the remaining third of the  plain batter, spreading it evenly over the top.

Use a regular tablespoon to marbelize the batter lightly.  Dip the spoon in, without touching the bottom or sides and lift up and over in a folding motion (like the roll of a wave) six to eight times, going all around the pan.  Smooth the top.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean and the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center.  Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes then invert it onto a wire rack.  Let cool completely.

When cake is cool, drizzle with the three melted chocolates, allowing it to drip down the sides.  Transfer to a cake stand or serving platter. 

Serves 12 to 14

Wish I could post a photo of the cake after it was cut but I thought it might be a little tacky to give someone a cake with a slice missing!

Monday, August 9, 2010


Until recently, I knew very little about Pennsylvania (including whether or not I could spell it correctly).  You may remember I am currently stuck in Philadelphia, waiting for those damn movers.  I've spent the last couple of days walking, walking and walking.  There isn't much I haven't seen (including the Museum of Art, thanks Dick).  But I found my nirvana when I visited the Reading Terminal Market.

Oh, what a place!  You want it?  They got it.  Anything from local produce to seafood to locally raised poultry.  We won't even talk about the pork options.  Lamb ribs?  Veal ribs?  No prob.  Cookbooks, jams and jellies, local dairy products, raw milk, farm fresh eggs - and a million other options if you want to sit down and eat right then and there.  And it was punctuated with the resounding sounds of  two local opera singers.  It bears repeating - oh, what a place!

I may be visiting Eric more often than he might wish...

What really started this Pennsylvania interest was a visit we made to Pittsburgh several weeks ago for a wedding.  At the rehearsal dinner, much was made by the bride's mother (whom we had not met before) about how she and a group of family and friends had spent the afternoon traying cookies.  "Traying cookies?" I wondered silently.  "Huh?  Is that a new baking method I don't know about?"

Well, no.  Turns out it was exactly as stated.  Traying cookies.  As in putting them on trays.  DUH.

And that, my friends, is where the story begins.  It is apparently unthinkable to have a wedding in Pittsburgh without setting out multiple trays of cookies, baked or procured by family, neighbors and friends.  It is a long-standing tradition that has its roots in the Depression, when people couldn't afford a big wedding cake. 

I was captivated by this information.  It's the Pittsburgh equivalent of southern hospitality.  Is there anything better than family, friends and neighbors coming together to bake for a wedding?

Even the New York Times saw fit to write about it:

Post wedding, I emailed the bride's mom to ask a few more questions.  She was beyond gracious in giving me information and shared the fact that 200 dozen cookies had been baked for this event.

200 DOZEN COOKIES  =  2,400!!!  Yikes!  No wonder they spent an entire day "traying cookies."

I asked her if there were specific kinds of cookies that were required.  "No," she replied casually, "but I hope you didn't miss the Lady Locks."

I hadn't.  But I did not know the back story behind them.  They are sometimes referred to as "Cream Horns."  More interestingly, they are also known as "Closepin Cookies."   That's because in Depression days, the dough was rolled around closepins - not the spring-loaded version we know today, but the wooden ones with the straight sides and the "pin head."  Unfortunately (sigh), I am old enough to remember them.

I couldn't stand it.  I had to try my hand at making them.  I cheated by using frozen puff pastry and I recoiled at the use of shortening and marshmallow creme, but I persevered anyway.  They were gorgeous.  They were delicious.  I would make them again.

I also didn't have any straight-sided closepins on hand.  Well, who would?  So it meant a trip to the hardware store to buy a wooden dowel, which Henry graciously hacked into 3-inch lengths for me.

The dowel - striaght from the hardware store - lengths courtesy of Henry


1 pkg. frozen puff pastry
3-inch dowel lengths or cornet molds
1 egg, beaten with 1 T. milk or half-and-half
1/2 cup butter, room temperature
1/4 cup shortening, room temperature
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/2 cup half-and-half
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (or vanilla paste)
6 tablespoons marshmallow creme

Defrost pastry in refrigerator for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375-degrees.

Wrap dowel sticks in non-stick foil (or spray each one with cooking spray).  Unwrap 1 section of the pastry and cut width-wise into 3/4-inch strips.  Roll each strip around a prepared stick, then brush with egg wash and place on baking sheet.  Continue with second pastry sheet.

Bake until just golden brown, about 15 minutes.  Cool for 10 minutes, then carefullly remove pastry from dowel sticks.  Place on a baking rack to cool completely.

Beat butter and shortening.  Add confectioner's sugar and milk.  Beat in vanilla and marshmallow creme.

Place filling in a pastry bag fitted with a star tip.  Pipe into cooled pastry shells, filling from both ends.

Yield:  about 3 dozen

I love the history and the tradition that is interlocked in this recipe.  Everything old becomes new again, right?

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Henry's Birthday, Part Two

To Henry's great credit, he's pretty low maintenance.  Especially when compared to me (I won't tell you about the time I pitched an entire quart of water at him - and then he just calmly toweled himself off and asked me if I was done yet, haha).  

He's generally pretty easy-going about most things (with the exception of work, but we're not going to talk about that either) and he doesn't even complain when I feed him grass and trees (his expression) most nights in an attempt to limit the carbs and ramp up the veggies.  If you meet him at a party, he will introduce himself as "Mr. Liz" and he will be the first to tell you that he lives in the best restaurant in town.

How lucky am I, anyway?

Tragically, we both love to eat and drink too much, which is why we aren't skinny.  One of the things we like the most is dining at home on a Saturday evening as I mentioned in an earlier post:

So it only made sense to celebrate his birthday yet again on the Saturday night following his actual birth date.  Dinner at the best restaurant in Atlanta (yeah, right!)  Two of his favorite foods were involved:  corn (usually off the menu due to its sugar/carb content) and fresh figs (I'm not a huge fan). 

Here's to you, Henry.   It is one of the greatest pleasures in my life to cook for you!

CORN PUDDING (adapted from Scott Peacock's and Edna Lewis' "The Gift of Southern Cooking")

4 ears of fresh corn, shucked and cut off the cob
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon all-purpose, unbleached flour
2 extra-large eggs
1 cup milk (I used 1% because that's what I had on hand; whole milk would be better)
1 cup half-and-half (the recipe calls for cream, but I couldn't quite go there)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 35-degrees.  Butter a 6-cup baking dish.  Place corn kernels in a bowl and sprinkle with the sugar, salt, pepper and flour.  Stir to combine.  In a separate bowl, beat together the eggs, milk, half-and-half (or cream), butter and nutmeg.  Pour over the corn mixture and blend well.

Place into the buttered baking dish and bake for 35 to 40 minutes until just done (it should still be slightly wobbly in the middle).  Serve immediately and prepare for major accolades.

Serves:  6 - 8

Note:  freshly grated nutmeg is crucial to this recipe.  Just do it.


(A note here:  I'm not giving you a specific recipe, just a basic idea and method.  Tweak it as you see fit).

Fresh figs, halved
Proscuitto, cut into 1/2-inch strips
Fresh rosemary sprigs
Extra-virgin olive oil
Unsalted butter
Fresh goat cheese  for serving (or any cheese of choice; Parmigiano Reggiano would work as well)

Wrap fig halves with strips of proscuitto and secure with rosemary sprigs.

In a saute pan, heat equal amounts of olive oil and butter.  Add figs until cook over medium-high heat until proscuitto crisps.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.  Serve with crusty bread and soft, fresh goat cheese.

Note:  I may not be a fig afficionado, but even I will eat these!