Monthly Archives: April 2011

It’s a little bit funny

What do you do when you’re supposed to go to the gym and have risen at a reasonable hour, with every ambitious intention to do so but it is pouring rain outside and you are afraid the sheer gusto of the crazy wind will blow you away?  You sit in bed, curled up with a nervous nellie puppy dog, eat Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies and do research for your August trip to Europe!  (Naturally).

You heard it here first, my 3 year separation from Europe is about to end, come the end of July and early August and I am so thrilled.  My mom and I will spend 10 days there, in Amsterdam, Belgium, Paris, Switzerland and Aix-en Provence and being the obsessive foodies we are (my eyes are full of sparkle at the mere thought of a visit to Laudree and basically any notable bistro and boulangerie I’ve read about), it is without question I will have to institute a food deprivation operation before we go.  I’m afraid just 3 days in Paris will add on an unwanted 5 lbs. and I know every single one of them will be worth it, but between now and then, I am going to have to develop a closer relationship with kale, raw veggies, smoothies and the like and take a vacation from my beloved sweets.  This of course creates a dilemma since I tend to get antsy and crazy if I haven’t baked in awhile and I have an aversion to baked goods containing ingredients like spelt, wheat germ, agave and flax.  Don’t get me wrong, I just had a super protein bowl of oatmeal with almonds and two tablespoons of ground flax (that will counter out the Milanos, right?), but oatmeal is supposed to be healthy, not cakes and cookies.  I am not diabetic, nor have I been cursed with a gluten allergy and I am not a vegan, so basically my mantra is keep that healthy away from my desserts, thank you.

I am having a ball perusing through David Lebovitz’s blog, attaining tips and advice for the French/Swiss part of our journey and have also consulted a wonderful Swiss born and regular patron of the bakery, named Reto.  He has the accent straight out of one of the Pink Panther movies and orders rolls for his catered meals shop.  Sherry and I love to make him say “almond horn” upon his every entrance to the bakery, which he pronounces as “almund urn” and it makes us giggle every time.  He has given me some great advice and I am also going to contact a another Swiss native I met by happenstance at a trip to the grocery store a few months back – (she happens to be a travel agent too).

I am enjoying spring and all of the afternoon rainstorms that have come with it, save for all of the horrible damage and destruction that’s ensued from the tornadoes that have spun from them.  Luckily, we have been spared, as has the majority of Greensboro.  The only thing I haven’t enjoyed is contesting with the recent muggy high temperatures.  For God’s sake, it’s not quite May yet, what gives?!  Anything above 75 degrees is just uncomfortable for me, especially if I’m not by a pool or the ocean.  Dear weather, this is my plea, quit spurring tornadoes and let’s get the temp back down to a pleasant 65-70 degrees, eh?

Here are some photos I took, capturing North Carolina’s beautiful spring…

Lately there’s been Indian take out with thunderstorms and heavenly homemade vanilla bean rice pudding, wild flower picking, fresh strawberries in salads and some seriously good chicken pot pie...see?

I had the pleasure of seeing Jane Eyre recently and all 115 minutes of it was like living in a painting.  There were so many dismally beautiful,  Andrew Wyeth like shots throughout the film and it was punctuated by a climactic score by Dario Marianelli.  It was suspenseful, intense, disturbing, haunting and stunning in so many ways and Michael Fassbender made my heart flutter.  Definitely recommended.

Also, it’s a little bit funny how obsessed I am with this Ellie Gould cover of Elton John’s “Your Song.”  It’s stunning, the piano is my favorite and her voice is like a British doll’s.

Easter brought morning rhymes and sneaky finds and we had a Southern-Russian fusion.  We started out at Jay’s mom’s house in Carrboro and ate some delicious homemade barbeque Jay made, on fresh hamburger rolls from the bakery and it was a lot of fun.  We then made it back to Greensboro and visited some friends – Masha and Aaron were hosting a Russian Easter (Masha’s from Moscow) and everything was so unique and authentically delicious!  There was lamb, some potatoes in pickled beet juice with dill and walnut, pierogis, kielbasa and borsch – (which was my favorite, soooo good)!  I loved talking with Masha and learning about the process of making all of this food, especially the Russian cheesecake – crixa, which she and Aaron went great lengths through to make.  There was also a special Russian Easter cake that was similar to a panettone – both were yummy.  We started our meal off with a shot of special vodka that was basically our initiation into the meal and it was quite a party – one of the best Easters I’ve had.  I also made an Easter cake – a very humble recipe that my mom has used for or around Easter for quite some time.  It’s something I hadn’t had in awhile and I wanted to try and tweak it a little so that it would be slightly more “gourmet.”

Easter Cake  (adapted)

  • Yellow cake  (the original recipe calls for a boxed yellow cake mix but I decided to try this recipe from Real Simple Magazine since I wanted to go homemade, and it worked just fine.  You make the cake exactly as the recipe calls, except you add 2 small cans of mandarin oranges (drained) to the cake batter.  (I forgot this step and just put them in between the cake layers, which ended up being just as good, so either method will do).
  • 2 small cans of mandarin oranges (drained)
  • 1 large can of crushed pineapple (drained but juice reserved)
  • 8 ounces of heavy cream
  • about 1 teaspoon of powdered sugar
  • 1 large box of instant vanilla pudding mix
  • 1/2 cup of sweetened shredded coconut
Icing:
  1. Pour the heavy cream in a large mixing bowl, add the powdered sugar and beat  in a mixer with a whisk attachment until stiff peaks form.
  2. Gently fold in the vanilla pudding mix and the can of crushed (drained) pineapple and fold until everything is combined evenly.
Assembly:
  1. Spread the coconut out evenly in a thin layer on a baking sheet and toast it at 300 degrees for about 20 minutes.
  2. After you’ve made the cake and both rounds have cooled, take a toothpick and poke little holes over the bottom layer, then brush some of the pineapple juice over.  Put about 1 1/2 cans of the mandarin oranges on top and then spread some of the icing over that first layer.
  3. Place the second layer on top, poking holes in it just like before and then brushing it with pineapple juice.  Ice the rest of the cake, evenly and use the remaining mandarin oranges to decorate the top however you like.
  4. Take the toasted coconut and sprinkle on the top and sides of the cake.
  5. Serve chilled.
This cake is so moist, light and refreshing and I’m glad I decided to add the toasted coconut because it gave just the right amount of tropical flare to the cake and was a great accompaniment to the fruit.  There’s nothing gourmet or fancy about it but it’s delicious and a great cake to bring to a spring or summer dinner and especially for Easter.
Enjoy!
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Sweet Dreams are Made of Peas

A couple weeks ago, the fickle Spring weather seemed determined to let March exit with one last cold and rainy hurrah…a final withering retaliation of bitter winter.  One day in particular was grey,  cold and misty, a mist that suspended in the air throughout the day and hovered over the lush green landscape.  It was the kind of weather that made me miss England and holding a Cadbury’s Twirl over my little tea-stained mug of boiled water, waiting patiently for it to get all melty.

But as March bid farewell, so did the cold and I’ve seen daffodils, dandelions and wild African violet colored flowers appearing all over the place, providing lovely pops of color that inform us spring is not teasing us anymore.  I’ve been enjoying the smell of the fresh air drifting through open windows, pinning stray wildflowers behind my ear, afternoon thunderstorms and fresh peas.


Last weekend, we had a couple friends over and we made a southern spring meal, inspired by Edna Lewis, which all started with her excerpt on green peas in cream, from The Taste of Country Cooking – a seasonally structured collection of food-related anecdotes from her childhood in the south,  simple but beautifully written.  I love creamed corn, I like peas and my mom used to make creamed peas, so reading this got me inspired and stirred something in me.  I decided to make these peas in cream for dinner, along with a roast chicken, buttermilk mashed potatoes, a spring salad of radishes, watercress and goat cheese, cream biscuits and raspberry cream brown betty for dessert.

We ended up doing buttermilk fried chicken instead and were dying to try the recipe in the Clinton Street Baking Company Cookbook, which also provided a sweet and savory sauce accompaniment – a tabasco-honey sauce that accentuated the flavor of the juicy fried chicken.  I picked up some freshly shelled green peas from a little farmer’s market (the first time I’ve ever had fresh peas!), some watercress (or pea tendrils – they looked like they could be passed off as either one and I just couldn’t distinguish), and some snap peas in their pods.  This was also the first time I’ve done anything with watercress/pea tendrils and rinsing off the rutty dirt and weed remnants in the colander made me glad because I knew they came straight from the earth, to a truck and right to the market and into my hands.  I tossed the greens with some mache and a sherry-dijon-honey vinaigrette and then topped the salads with little dollops of goat cheese, thinly sliced radishes and the pea pods.  The result was a freshly crisp spring salad that was just what I was aiming for, save for the pea pods which I apparently didn’t boil long enough because they were a little al dente.

The chicken was all Jay’s and they tangoed marvelously, especially after the chicken’s generous and indulgent bath overnight in the buttermilk and herb mixture.  Though their appearance seemed homely and weathered, the cream biscuits were a wonderful surprise,  rich and tender and perfect with a drizzle of honey (or with raspberry jam for breakfast the next morning).  As an added bonus, they were really unfussy and easy to make (although I can only take credit for suggesting the recipe, since Jay made them).  Mashed potatoes are kind of self-explanatory, I whip them to a frenzy, alternating with gradually adding buttermilk, butter and finally some salt and pepper.  Dessert was a disappointment to me, especially since I had been looking forward to it all week.  It was more like a soupy bread pudding with its excessive amount of liquid, since the “cream” part wasn’t quite a custard.  It lacked thickness and was too sweet, more like a creme anglaise, but we all ate it nonetheless.  It would be a great shame to let fresh vanilla bean, challah and raspberries go to waste!  I’m definitely the most self-critical about my desserts.  I know they all can’t be home runs and the flops and failures help me learn, but it still drives me crazy when my hopes are high and the dessert doesn’t measure up.  However, I do see a favorite, fool-proof banana pudding in the very near future ; )

 

Now, lastly, let’s finally talk about these peas.  You boil them for a few minutes, drain them, set them aside and bring some cream to a boil for just a minute or two.  Then you cover the peas in the hot cream, add some butter and give them a gentle “swish,” as Lewis says.  She says to serve them with some fresh chervil sprinkled on top but I didn’t have any.  I also added about a tablespoon of flour which really isn’t necessary but I just wanted to thicken the mixture a little.   Either way, they are exquisite and will absolutely change the way you think of peas, especially if you’re a skeptic or one of those who is still traumatized by childhood memories of being forced to shovel heaping spoonfuls of  mushy canned/frozen peas before being excused from the dinner table.  Luckily, this never happened to me and I’ve never had any wrinkled up nose reactions to the delicate little vegetable.  Just trust Edna on this one, it’s simple, clean, decadent and will totally make you forget you’re eating vegetables, let alone peas (again, if you’re typically not a fan).

 

Green Peas in Cream

By:  Edna Lewis

 

-4 cups of cold water

-3 cups of shelled tender peas

-1 TBSP sugar

-1 scant tsp salt

-1 cup of heavy cream

-2 TBSP of butter

-1/2 TBSP of fresh, finely cut chervil (optional)

*Optional: 1 TBSP of flour

*I STRONGLY recommend using fresh peas for this recipe, as the freshness is evident and makes a huge difference, but if you don’t use fresh peas, keep in mind they will probably take about 25 min. to cook instead of 10.*

  1. In a 2-quart saucepan bring 4 cups of water to a boil and drop in the peas, a few at a time, then add the sugar and salt.  Boil for about 10 minutes or so, until peas are tender but not mushy.
  2. Drain the liquid and set the peas aside.  Pour the cream into a 9-inch skillet and bring to a boil for 1-2 minutes.  Then poor the boiling cream over the peas, add the butter and swish around in the pan.  Keep them hot before serving but do not cook them any longer.  Sprinkle with fresh chervil if desired.

Eat them all up and if your dessert failed like mine did, have some more of these peas because they’re just as sinful as some chocolate mousse…in a different kind of way of course.  Then boast to your mom that you ate all your greens ; )

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sadly there are no fried chicken, mashed potatoes or creamed pea pictures but the above photo captures the delectable cream biscuits, happily devoured the next morning, alongside some fresh basil, tomato, mozzarella scramble and some crack bacon.  Okay, so it’s not called “crack” bacon, it’s Clinton Street’s sugar-cured bacon that was basically like bacon cotton candy except for the texture.  We used HALF the amount of sugar it called for and it was still so rich and sugary, it was too much like candy and I could barely make it through half of my piece.  It was still fun though.

 

Now go forth and make peas in cream!

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