July 11, 2011

summer cakes

I got lucky. I did not know what to do with our strawberries and I did not know what to do while L was nursing so I just mindlessly clicked online while she was nursing. I saw a Strawberry Summer Cake recipe posted not too long ago on Smitten Kitchen (yes, the one you want to live in), and I thought, "Wow, this looks easy and pretty and scrumptious! I think I am going to have to make this!"

Strawberry Summer Cake
And so I made the cake. So simple and easy, with glorious results. I would agree with Deb, the sugar in the batter can easily be scaled back by 2 tablespoons without hurting the flavor of the cake at all. It is such a moist, lovely cake with depth in flavor, and the juicy berries in every bite just adds to its decadence. The bright yellow color of the cake makes you think you are biting into lovely sunshine. We served it with whipped cream (but of course! A German afternoon tea/coffee is never without a bowl of freshly whipped cream, either to go with cakes, scones or into the coffee, and I will always follow my mother-in-law's good example!) and devoured the cake with three lusty groans per bite. It took every ounce of discipline to not eat the entire cake at one go.

And as we enjoyed the cake, I told R, "I am sure this cake will be as wonderful with sour cherries." He agreed. In fact, I think it will go well with all summer berries and could not wait to go berry-picking. (And finally, after having read Jamberry with all my children so many million times, I could finally appreciate the exuberant joy of picking your own berries!) I can imagine making a blueberry summer cake with this, adding some lemon zest into the batter, and maybe even making some lemon sugar to sprinkle over the blueberries.  In the mean time, I got a jar of sour cherries from Trader Joe's and baked a sour cherry summer cake.

I did not get the cherries lined up real neat but it does not matter, as some sunk and some not during baking. Nobody will really care!
I brought the cake for the local moms group potluck picnic and saw a 5-year-old little girl gobble up three pieces of the cake. She was a sight to behold, and I just enjoyed watching her eat the cake with such relish: she cupped her little hands around the piece of cake then sunk her face into it, aiming first at the cherries. Then, when she had lifted her face from the cake and saw that all the cherries were gone, she pressed her palms together and squished the remaining cake crumbs and inhaled the rest of the cake. I wish I had taken a video. It was so fun and I think nothing warms a cook's heart than to watch someone enjoy the results of her labor.

I doubled the original recipe to make this in an 8 by 12 pan, and will highly recommend you do the same. This cake is worth a second, even third helping and you would love being able to share the joy of it.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted from Martha Stewart
Makes one 8 by 12 cake

  • 12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar, plus 3 Tbsp for sprinkling
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 24-oz jar pitted sour cherries, drained
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Butter an 8 by 12 cake pan.
  2. Whisk flour together with baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.
  3. In a stand mixer beat butter with sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, milk and vanilla and mix until just combined (start low so you won't have everything splattering into your face). Add flour mixture gradually, mixing until just smooth.
  4. Pour batter into cake pan. Arrange sour cherries whichever way you like on top of the batter. Sprinkle the 3 Tbsp of sugar over the cherries.
  5. Bake cake for 10 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 325F and bake for another 45-55 minutes until golden brown, delicious wafts of sunshine fill the kitchen and a tester comes out of the cake dry.
  6. Cool on a rack. Serve with lightly whipped cream. 
  7. Due to the high moisture content, I will not recommend keeping it for more than a day (eat more or invite people over for tea).

July 1, 2011

got rosemary? got scones?

I think it's time to get back on track! The recipes are piling up and every day for the past two weeks I had started my day thinking, "Today I am going to get on my recipe blog and start updating the recipes."

And then someone pushed "fast forward" on my day and the day is gone and I went to bed, belly full, but my poor recipe blog neglected yet again. Today this shall change. It is July first. Half of the year officially gone by and milestones like this lights a match under my butt. After the strawberry harvest two weeks ago I had made two batches of strawberry sauce that went really well with a golden vanilla cake (our summer solstice dessert), strawberry-banana muffins, strawberry cream scones and a strawberry summer cake that had also been adapted into a sour cherry yummy cake. Yesterday I made a batch of scones that totally embarrassed me later (hang on for that story, it comes with a recipe!), chocolate coconut scones and gluten-free brownies from a box (review to come later). In-between I found a new salmon recipe that we loved, and also the rosemary-rubbed pork chops that were simply divine. All recipes shall be posted within this month.

I said it. I said it!! Now I am going to do it.

So I have been making scones. I don't even know why. I do not own a scone pan, and scones are not my favorite recipe. But I had rosemary. They looked so good at the local co-op I bought more than I intended to (for the pork chop recipe, which will be posted later) so I was left with extra rosemary. I think some mysterious divine energy wanted me to make these most scrumptious rosemary-carrot scones in the world, because my mouse clicked on this recipe over at Patent and the Pantry. And while a recipe search often ends up with me sending myself a dozen or more recipes to pick from, that fateful day I picked this one, and this one only.

And it embarrassed me.

I made them yesterday, and realized they only made a dozen. I took them to the local moms group annual potluck picnic anyways. I was the newbie and I wasn't going to show up empty-handed. 

Minutes into the picnic one mom walked to the middle of the ramada with my container raised high and asked loudly, "Who made these?!"

I was afraid she found some dead flies in there but I raised my hand, because honesty was the best policy. She looked at me and then announced, "These were AMAZING! They were FANTASTIC!! You need to give us the recipe!" And then she turned to the rest and said, "There is only one left." and then with that one scone in hand she marched to her seat, unapologetic that she had chosen not to share. This morning she emailed me and asked for the recipe again. These are good signs, calling the very following day and I hope you agree.

Gosh I was glad she enjoyed those scones! But I also did not expect that reaction and I felt my ears burning. People turned and smiled and I heard my name repeated a few times but I just lowered my head and focused on tearing apart the chicken drumstick for my girls. Inside though, my heart was grinning itself silly, and I already made plans to get more rosemary and make more scones.

Ready to take a bite into a most delicious rosemary-carrot scone? I hope so!
As I said, I found this recipe on Patent and the Pantry, who adapted this recipe from Chocolate and Zucchini. I prefer the former's version, her no-fuss approach to cooking is what I love. I modified a tiny bit, adding a tad more garlic, which I feel marries with the aroma of the rosemary most beautifully, and I also decided to add 3/4 cup finely grated pecorino which I had found at a local Italian bakery called Perreca's. Fine-grated is the key, to keep the texture of the scones tender and fluffy. Your kitchen will smell heavenly (and deliciously garlicky, laced with the aroma of rosemary) while these scones bake. Prepare napkins to wipe your drool. I did not have any cutters whatsoever with me and used a drinking glass as Gwendolyn did and I think that worked well, but pull out your fancy cutters if you wish! Rosemary is the herb that represents remembrance. If you make these and bring them to a potluck, you will be remembered.

Coarse-grated carrots, and rosemary also coarsely chopped

Makes 12 scones. I made a small one from the scraps, so I could sample
Rosemary-carrot Scones
Recipe adapted from Patent and the Pantry
 Makes about 12 scones (depending on size), doubling recipe recommended
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 9 tbsp. chilled, unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
  • 1 1/2 cups grated carrots (about 2 medium carrots)
  • 2 tbsp. fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced (I did add one more clove, I could not resist!)
  • 2 tbsp. Dijon mustard
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 3/4 cup fine-grated pecorino 
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Place rack in middle of oven. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Add the butter and rub it into the flour mixture with your fingers or using a pastry blender. It should resemble coarse crumbs when it’s blended enough. Add the carrots, rosemary and cheese.
  2. Mix together the mustard, cream and garlic and then add to the dry ingredients. Mix together gently until the dough comes together and then empty out onto floured counter. Pat together into a ball and then roll out until the dough is about a half-inch thick. Cut out using biscuit cutter or whatever is handy. 
  3. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes until nice and golden. Cool on a rack.


June 11, 2011

home-cooked is the best

This evening I cooked again in a long time... I cannot really remember when was the last time I cooked before we moved across the country. All I remember was a lot of optimism and over-estimation of my capabilities, and then, faced with a fridge and pantry full of food, asking myself in exasperation: What in the world was I thinking?!

I did not even have time to heat up the oven to throw in a frozen pizza. It was that insane. Actually, it is still pretty insane and at times I am beginning to suspect I am supposed to be insane and life must be crazy all the time or it must not be life.

So tonight I cooked up some salmon, some broccoli and served it with rice sprinkled with furikake. Everyone licked their plates and V kept batting her eyelids, moaning and saying, "Mmmmmm, food. Ooooooh, foooood. oh, salmon, Oh, furikake! Mom, this is food!!"

Which is a bit funny. We have been eating all these last crazy weeks. Sometimes better than others. We've had big burritos, pizza (cannot look at another one till next year), Pan.da Express, similar versions of Pan.da Express, delicious home-cooked meals from friends; we've eaten in better restaurants and we've grabbed whatever's on the run.

But truly, nothing compares to home-cooked. Even if just simple food. It just sits in your belly better, and it feels good to finally sit down at our own dining table (surrounded by opened boxes and relying on one standing lamp that is moved wherever it is needed) and just eat at leisure. No need to worry about the glasses of water being knocked over or poured down your lap (as L has done a few times), and no need to wave aside concerns about what went into that incredibly good ranch dressing. I know I used but butter, good olive oil from that Italian bakery, wild-caught salmon (on sale for crazy $4.99/lb at the local grocery store, I plan to go back and clear out their stock tomorrow), broccoli, and rice that I bought in Lee Lee's a month ago. I used sea salt, some seasoning I made up months ago, and not very much more. Tonight Lyra was not making a "piano" with packs of Splenda and Sweet-N-Low, and she was not stacking up tiny containers of ultra-pasteurized half-and-half and pretending to blow them out like candles (yes, we have eaten out so often the last two weeks she has found ways to entertain herself while waiting for food to arrive, in-between pouring water onto the floor).

It feels like in spite of the million things we still need to deal with, and despite the months before we will feel settled in, everything will be ok. Because finally, I am able to cook again. I will be grumbling about the cabinets and the sink that faces the corner of the walls and a ton of other things, and I will complain about having to clean and wash up after meals. but thank goodness, I can cook again. I thought I would forget how to cook after these weeks, but I think  still remember.

Thank goodness, because nothing beats home-made.