Thursday, September 27, 2007

Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter

"We worked long and hard to get this loaf as moist and as lemony as it is."

I'll admit I snickered at the introduction to the recipe for Lemon-Poppy Seed Tea Loaves from Once Upon a Tart. I read it out loud to Fork and he responded, "Oh, baby, talk dirty to me!" But I'm a sucker for the classic lemon-poppy combination (Dorie Greenspan's muffins are fabulous), and I was in the mood to bake something but struck out with attempts to make Pear-Ginger-Raisin Muffins (the pears were very unripe) and Apple-Cranberry Muffins (the crummy supermarket downstairs didn't have any cranberries).

So lemon-poppy it was, and I'm happy to report the authors' long and hard efforts to get these loaves moist paid off. I made the cakes tonight in my mini loaf pans, and they came out wonderfully. Tangy, light and smooth on the inside, golden and a little crusty on the outside (thanks to a 400-degree oven), they're snazzy little pound cakes. And so cute you just want to pinch 'em! --S

Lemon-Poppy Seed Tea Loaves

makes two 5-by-9-inch loaves*

1/2 lb (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened; plus more for smearing in loaf pans
2 c unbleached all-purpose flour; plus more for dusting loaf pans
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t salt
2 T poppy seeds
1 1/2 c sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 T grated lemon zest
1/4 c freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 c cold milk

1. Position your oven racks so that one is in the center, and preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Smear two 5-by-9-inch loaf pans with butter, and dust them lightly with flour.
2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, and poppy seeds together in a medium-size bowl.
3. In a separate, big bowl, cream the butter and sugar together, using the whisk attachment of a standing or handheld electric mixer on high speed (or a sturdy wire whisk), until they are fluffy and light lemon-yellow in color. With the mixer speed low, beat in the eggs, continuing with the lemon zest and juice. Don't worry if the batter looks lumpy, like there's cottage cheese in it; the lemon juice causes the batter to "break."
4. Using the paddle attachment of your mixer (or a wooden spoon), stir half the milk into the wet ingredients. Stir in half the flour. Stir in the remaining milk. Add the remaining flour, and stir until no flour is visible.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pans with a rubber spatula. Make sure to divide batter evenly between the two pans, so that they require the same baking time.
6. Place the loaves side by side on the center rack in the oven, and bake them for 55 minutes to 1 hour, or until the tops are a very light golden brown and a toothpick or small knife inserted deep into the center of each loaf comes out clean.
7. Remove the loaves from the oven, and set them on a wire rack for a few minutes, until loaves are cool enough to touch. To remove a loaf from its pan, place the rack over the top of the pan, and quickly flip the pan so the loaf falls out onto the rack. Allow the loaves to cool a bit before slicing. Serve at room temperature.

*I used four mini-loaf pans and one 8-by-5-inch loaf pan. The cooking time for the mini loaves was about 25 minutes; for the large loaf, about 30 minutes. I also lowered the oven to 350 for the last five minutes of the large loaf's baking time, since it was looking a little dark.

Recipe courtesy of Once Upon a Tart

Saturday, September 22, 2007

On the Lemongrass Trail

I first tried Lemongrass Tea in Martinique a few months ago. I ordered it after every meal, and it came in its own little teapot, not really tea per se, but an infusion of lemongrass leaves and boiling water. It didn't need sugar, honey or milk--it was just so delicate and delicious on its own. At one meal, the waitress walked out to the garden next to the patio where we were seated and cut off some leaves from the bushy lemongrass plant growing right near our table. If that's not eating local, I don't know what is.

Back in New York, I sought out lemongrass, but Whole Foods and Garden of Eden only had brownish, wilted stalky things that didn't even smell like lemon. But then Lucy's Greenmarket Report said a farm at the Union Square Greenmarket was carrying lemongrass in huge, bright green bunches.

It's like I'm back in Martinique, minus the tropical breezes and French accents. The soothing tea is marvelous. And the smell--why can't I post some sort of scent clip on this blog? You'll just have to make some yourself.--S

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sweet Tart

Once Upon a Tart: Soups, Salads, Muffins, and More from New York City's Favorite Bakeshop and Cafe, named after the Soho establishment, was published way back in 2003. But it wasn't until last week that I finally got my hands on a copy. I was working on a story that featured a prominent editor who counted editing this book among his accomplishments, and I figured I should take a look.

Tart has already found its way onto the "frequent use" cookbook shelf in my kitchen. It's a restaurant book that I will actually use, unlike some beautiful but impractical tomes. This is because Tart is comprised of recipes for dishes I make very often: soups, sandwiches, salads, quick breads, cookies... and tarts. Never mind that until last week I'd never made a tart in my life. I've lots of experience with quiches, and after my first dip into tartdom (sounds saucy!), I may be convinced to change my savory pie tune.

I made the Provencal Tart with Gruyere and Herbes de Provence, a tasty tart with oozy tomatoes, a little bang from the sharp cheese, and a perfectly crunchy crust. I made numerous amendments to the recipe: cornmeal instead of semolina flour in the crust, sliced tomatoes instead of cored sliced tomatoes, heavy cream instead of light cream, and I skipped one refrigeration step with the dough. It still turned out great. My parents and I enjoyed it with a bibb lettuce salad and some crusty bread from across the street.

What should I make next? Maybe the Sauteed Spinach-and-Mushroom Tart with Ricotta Cheese, with its pretty lattice crust? Or the Caramelized-Leek-and-Celery Tart, which the authors promise melts in your mouth? Or I could go sweet: Jerome's Mother's Famous Apricot Tart looks awfully good, with burnt-at-the-edges apricots atop apple butter. So does the Alsatian Apple Tart, with its perfectly thin slices of apple looking just gorgeous. Guess I know what I'm doing this weekend.--S

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Tongue and Chic

60 East 65th St.
NY, NY 10065
Tel 212.288.0033


Thirty-one may not be a landmark birthday for most, but for me, it’s going down as the most special, over-the-top, delicious kickoff to a new year I’ve ever had. Fork took me to the four-star Daniel, which consistently competes with Jean Georges for honors as New York's best restaurant. Over the course of three and a half hours, we were coddled, fed, indulged and served by a legion of French waiters.

We began with a birthday toast in the bar, sipping the restaurant's own Cuvee Daniel. Now, you don't go to a place like Daniel and not go for the full experience. So we opted for the six-course seasonal tasting menu. Since there were two menus we had both, a full 12 courses. “Excellent," the waiter said, taking our order. "So you are in our hands." We opted not to go with wine pairings, instead having the sommelier select for us a delicious, dry, yet full-bodied Mersault, great with fish, and yet hearty enough to "stand up to the meat."

We were seated side-by-side in a banquette in the corner of the room, looking out on the spectacle that is Daniel's main dining room, a palazzo with archways and palms, dramatic curtains and glowing red lampshades on the tables that stretched into the mirrored distance. It was lively, but hushed. "Can you believe this room!" I gushed.

"It's OK, I guess," Fork said.

The first courses arrived in short order: Duck Foie Gras Terrine with Bing Cherries, Fresh Almonds & Celery Heart Salad and a Pate of Quail and Foie Gras “aux Raisins” with Verjus Pickled Basil Seeds, Walnut Pistou & Watercress. Fork said he wanted to send his back. "Tell the kitchen I had liverwurst for lunch," he said. "Very good, sir," said the waiter. "More wine," he chided...

The second course consisted of Maine Peekytoe Crab Salad with Hawaiian Hearts of Palm with Bibb Lettuce & Lemon-Lovage Vinaigrette and “Four Winds” Louisiana Gulf Shrimp with Shaved Crudites, Cocktail Sauce Granite & Basil Oil. It was divine, a perfect combination of textures and flavors. Fork spit his into his napkin. He said there was a hair in it.

The meal really ramped up with the the third course: Sweet Corn Tortellini with Maine Lobster, Piquillo Pepper, Espelette Oil & “Sauce Americaine” and Caramelized Sea Scallops with Summer Truffle, Crispy Potatoes, Satur Farms Beans & Arugula Puree. These dishes really showed off the chefs' chops. The Tortellini were creamy and delicate and the flavor of the fresh local corn was remarkable. The slice of truffle on the scallop was the largest serving of truffle we'd ever been served. Fork was disappointed. "What the hell is American Sauce?"

The fourth course was stunning: Pancetta Wrapped Yellowfin Tuna with Heirloom Tomatoes, Creamy Polenta & Balsamic Bordelaise and Pan Seared Swordfish “en Matelote” with Red Wine Braised Trumpet Royale & Crispy Pork Belly. The combination of the fish and pork flavors were magnificent. The swordfish was the best I've ever had. Fork offered his praise, something about "the power of bacon..."

The fifth course was the meat course: Duo of Dry Aged Beef: Red Wine Braised Short Ribs, Young Carrot Fricasee, Taggiasche Olives, Seared Rib Eye with Allumette Potato and a Trio of Colorado Lamb: Roasted Chop with Garbanzo-Fava Beans Croquettes; Fig Leaf Shoulder Papillotte; Tenderloin with Fennel Confit. The waiter took great care to unwrap the fig-leaf papillote tableside, revealing a little spice-flecked quenelle-like mound of lamb. "They should have wrapped it in a diaper," Fork said, "because it looks like crap."

After nearly three hours, it was time for me to excuse myself. Fork pulled me aside. "It would be funny if you goose-stepped to the bathroom," he whispered. "Yes, I said, that would be funny, but I declined. While I was away, Fork engaged the captain. "Why do you guys like Jerry Lewis so much?" he asked. "He's not funny in America."

At last, dessert: Vanilla Poached Peach with Almond Biscuit, Fresh Peach-Saffron Gelee & Melon Sorbet; Bittersweet Chocolate-Praline Cremeux, Amer Cocoa Biscuit & Dark Chocolate Ice Cream. Decadent. The waitstaff, aware that it was my birthday also brought a bowl of fresh, sugared berries with a strawberry milkshake in a tiny glass and a candle stuck into a gumdrop. “Happy Birthday” was written in chocolate. Fork said it was "a little too Chucky Cheese" for his taste, and was disappointed the waiters didn't sing. He kept trying to call them over but they seemed to avoid eye contact.

As we sat enjoying the room, the buzz from a truly four-star meal and a plate of the most adorable petit-fours, the man himself, Daniel Boulud arrived at our table and personally wished Spoon a happy birthday. It was a lovely gesture. He then sat and signed books for the drunken fools sitting at a table that was housed within a tent to our left.

All night Fork and I had been amused by the tipsy woman who would emerge from the tent and head for the restroom, seemingly after every course. "It's like she's on a fishing trip with her buddies," Fork observed. She was wearing a peasant dress that looked like a sequin-strewn trashbag. As she got more drunk, her high heels forced her to hunch over when she walked, like she was hiking up a hill. "They'll let anybody in here," Fork sniffed.

OK, so maybe we took a few liberties with our review. But what can one say about Daniel that hasn't been said? I think really this says it all: over twelve courses and three-an-a-half hours we ate: beef, lamb, tuna, swordfish, scallop, lobster, crab, shrimp, pancetta, pork belly, duck foie gras, quail pate, truffle and a tortellini.

We left the restaurant well after midnight, and prepared for our seventh course: four days on the beach in Montauk. Details to come.-S&F

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Melted: The Summer '07 Ice Cream Challenge Rundown

This summer I balanced an ambitious ice cream-making project with marathon training. I think I fared alright in both, though I'm kind of off ice cream for awhile, and I've got two purple toenails.

As I tore through dozens of eggs, countless quarts of heavy cream and more cups of sugar than I care to tally, here is what I learned:

1. Experimentation is good, though the results may not be.
2. Plan ahead; ice cream takes time, unless you want to sip it through a straw.
3. You can't really go wrong on a French-style ice cream. Heavy cream + milk + eggs = deliciousness, no matter the flavor.

Now, a look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

Mint Chip. I came out of the gate with an iconic flavor that lived up to its reputation, and then flew past that reputation. Real mint chip ice cream is not green. It looks more like vanilla than anything minty. Cool and crunchy, not overly minty, but surely refreshing.

Sour Cream Ice Cream with Brown Sugar Strawberry Swirl. There's a nice tang from the sour cream, and folding the strawberries in by hand produces a very pretty ice cream, with pink swirls throughout. Book club declared it delicious.

Blackberry Sorbet. Made from greenmarket blackberries, this sorbet had that perfect sweet-tart combination that I love in frozen desserts.

Orange Szechuan Peppercorn Ice Cream. One of the most interesting flavors of the summer, this ice cream was creamy and citrus-y, with just a hint of heat that you feel on the roof of your mouth after you've swallowed the ice cream.

Peach Ice Cream. A yummy swirl of peaches and cream. Mom & I used a cookie scoop to serve the ice cream in tiny pastry cups she found at a gourmet store.

The Freaking Awesome

Butterscotch Pecan. A "home run" French-style ice cream that includes a tablespoon of Dewar's and chopped buttered pecans.

Coconut Cornstarch Ice Cream. Despite the unappetizing name, this ice cream is fabulous. Cornstarch prevents crystal formation--which results in that grainy texture--by soaking up water, so there's less water present to make big crystals. The addition of some toasted coconut at the end of the churning added a pleasant crunch.

Toasted Almond Gelato. My one foray into the world of gelato yielded a rich and delicious ice cream that was so good I made a second batch the next day.

The Bad

Blueberry Ice Cream. I diplomatically wrote, "I give this ice cream points for uniqueness" and commended its Violet Beauregard-esque color. I was being nice. I didn't really care for this weird flavor.

Chocolate Gooseberry Ice Cream. At the end of the summer, one container of ice cream remains in my freezer. It's this one. And I plan on giving it the heave-ho tonight. Something about this flavor combo was just wrong. This is an example of experimentation gone badly; the recipe called for raspberry, but the market was out of them, so I stupidly opted for gooseberry, the "it" fruit of the summer. Mistake.

The "Eh"

Chocolate Espresso Sorbet. The folks at my cocktail party lapped this up, but I prefer my sorbets fruity.

People keep reminding me summer's not officially over until September 23, so in that spirit, I agreed to make a last flavor. The results of the survey in which I asked readers to vote for the flavor are in, and the winner is... Ginger, with 45% of the vote. Mint Chip came in second, with 27%, and I'm sorry to say Turd Berry only garnered one vote (gee, who could it be?).

Thank you to all who participated in the grueling challenge of sampling all these homemade ice creams. With a site like this out there, I know you can go elsewhere for your cravings, but I'm glad you stuck it out with me. Much love!--S