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Sugar and Sweets

23 Jun

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In my formative years as a budding chef and food writer, I did an unusual thing and read the mammoth Larousse Gastronomique, all 1,168 pages with its thousands of entries, cover to cover – or shall I say, from abaisse (a term used in French cookery for a sheet of rolled-out pastry) to zuppa inglese (a Neapolitan pudding). The first English edition appeared in 1971, when I was 17 and already a bartender mixing Negronis in Queens, New York. (For those who might remember, it was the Olde London Fishery on Union Turnpike.)

This memory was triggered when a voluminous book, The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets (Oxford University Press, 2015) about the size of a three-pound box of Godiva chocolates, appeared on my desk last week. With more than 850 pages and 600 articles about the arresting history of sugar and sweets, I have decided to repeat my own history and take this encyclopedic work to bed with a cup of tea or a pony of alkermes. Poignantly, this book, too, ends with an entry about zuppa inglese (written by author Clifford A. Wright) with an interesting debate over the dessert’s true origin (is it from Naples as friend and food writer Arthur Schwartz insists, or Lazio, or Tuscany, as others suggest?)

The book begins, not with abaisse but with another nod to the French, a la mode – followed by a three-page entry about sugar addiction, contributed by Ashley Gearhardt. Such is the width and breadth of this alluring new tome. Under the brilliant baton of food writer and historian Darra Goldstein, 265 experts in the culinary world have weighed in with well-researched commentaries about an irresistible subject. A la mode, by the way, translates to “in the current fashion.” According to contributor Carolin Young, “In France a la mode refers to a traditional recipe for braised beef, which at one time was considered a new fashion,” whereas in America the phrase refers to a scoop of vanilla ice cream served with a slice of pie.

Evocatively, the first line of the book’s foreword begins: “I can remember easily the first time I stood deep in a field of sugarcane in full bloom, a field already marked for harvesting. It was spring of 1948, and I had just begun fieldwork in Puerto Rico.” Written by Sidney Mintz (who is 92 and considered “the godfather of food studies”), this triggered another profound memory. The year was 1962 and I was standing deep in a field of sugarcane when I was eight years old. The location was Belle Glade, Florida, where my cousins ran a plantation and owned the local movie theater. I will never forget the sickeningly sweet smell of extracted molasses wafting through the wet heat of the day from the factory nearby. It made me woozy. Which, of course, is what sugar does, and accounts for, in part, why we love it and sometimes loathe it.

The history of sugar is not all sweet. There is much suffering in the quest for this cherished foodstuff. Our hunger for sugar fed the institution of slavery, led to ugly legacies of racism, to the invasion of weaker nations by stronger ones to manipulate sugar prices, and to the exploitation of children and minorities who worked the fields. Bravo to the book’s editors for not sugar-coating the more painful aspects of its past.

Whereas this is an encyclopedia, meant to be dipped in and out of at leisure, it is unlike any other I’ve seen. There are hundreds of illustrations including mouthwatering paintings by Wayne Thiebaud (a personal favorite), Andy Warhol, and Will Cotton, a handful of historical recipes, and more than 600 erudite essays by pastry chefs, neuroscientists, food historians, and chemists, about what has become a grand metaphor for human pleasure. Equally satisfying are the book’s comprehensive appendices – anthologies of films, songs, outstanding pastry shops, and museums around the world, dedicated to our universal, and historical, predilection for sugar and sweets, first evidenced by Eve and an apple.

I’m not sure if I’m more excited learning about wasanbon (the most famous sugar used in traditional Japanese confectionery), or sitophilia (which describes sexual arousal involving food), but lurking between the candy-coated endpapers of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, is something gratifying for everyone.

Chocolate + Tahini

6 Feb
Photo by: Jonelle Weaver

Photo by: Jonelle Weaver

I was among the first to make ganache from chocolate and tahini (instead of cream) and invented a recipe in 1999 for a Gourmet magazine cover story.  I created a chocolate petits fours for a kosher-style meal where the mixing of meat and dairy was not allowed.  This idea is now a hot new trend and lots of chefs are exploiting tahini (sesame seed paste) to the max.  Here’s my recipe from Gourmet for Chocolate-Tahini Cups.  They are radically simple to make and taste like a sophisticated Chunky bar.  A great idea for Valentine’s Day.

Chocolate-Tahini Cups
1/2 cup dried currants
1 cup boiling-hot water
8 ounces best quality semi-sweet chocolate (like Valrhona)
3-1/2 tablespoons tahini (Middle Eastern sesame seed paste)
vegetable cooking spray
18 – 1-inch candy papers/liners

Soak currants in hot water for 5 minutes.  Drain and pat dry with paper towels.  Melt chocolate with 3 tablespoon tahini in a metal bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring until smooth, and stir in currants.  Lightly spray liners with cooking spray and spoon chocolate mixture into candy paper liners.  Cool 5 minutes. Decorate candies by dipping tip of a skewer or toothpick into remaining 1/2 tablespoon tahini and swirling over tops.  Chill until set.  Makes 18.  Will keep, covered and chilled, for 1 week. 

Oscar Gold: Red Carpet Recipes

1 Mar

Whether you are hosting an Oscar party tomorrow night or simply want to make yourself a festive feast, here are some recipes that I put together for Lenox that are sure to delight.

tumblr_mhv3ppzdQt1rsdtszo1_1280SMOKED SALMON HORS D’OEUVRES

Here, three simple ingredients become bite-size luxuries: smoked salmon rosettes and smoked salmon pinwheels. Festive and sophisticated, these are the perfect match, in flavor and color!

ROSETTES

– 1 hothouse cucumber
– 8 ounces best-quality, thinly sliced smoked salmon
– 1/2 cup whipped cream cheese

Wash cucumber but do not peel; slice into 1/4-inch thick rounds, about 24. Slice the smoked salmon into 24 strips that are 1-inch wide by 3-inches long. Roll each piece loosely. Curl back the edges and flatten slightly so that it begins to look like a rose. Spread about 1 teaspoon of cream cheese on each cucumber slice and place rosette on top. Arrange on a platter.

MAKES 24

PINWHEELS

– 8 ounces best-quality, thinly sliced smoked salmon
– 8 ounces cream cheese
– 4 kirby cucumbers, sliced 1/4-inch thick

Put 2 slices of smoked salmon slightly overlapping. Spread with a thin layer of cream cheese to cover completely. Roll up like a jelly roll (beginning with short edge) and place in a piece of plastic wrap. Twist the edges so that you have a small tight sausage shape. Chill well. Slice thinly and place a slice on a cucumber round.

MAKES 24

SEARED SCALLOPS ON SWEET PEA PUREEtumblr_mhv48ztfEe1rsdtszo1_1280

This is great any time of the year as frozen peas are always available. Trendy pea shoots can be found at this time of the year in many farmers markets. You can make the pea puree ahead of time and reheat while you’re cooking the scallops.

– 2 10-ounce packages of frozen petits pois
– 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
– 18 very large sea scallops
– 6 tablespoons dry vermouth
– Handful of pea shoots or microgreens

Put the peas in a saucepan with salted water to just cover. Boil 2 minutes. Drain well and save 3/4 cup cooking liquid in a blender. Process until very smooth and thick (adding more liquid if necessary.) Add salt and pepper and return to saucepan.

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large frying pan. Season scallops with salt and pepper and sear over high heat for 2 minutes per side, until golden and cooked through. Reheat pea puree until hot; spoon a mound onto each of 6 warm plates. Arrange 3 scallops on puree.

Add the vermouth and the remaining 2 tablespoons butter to the pan. cook 30 seconds over high heat until syrupy. Pour over scallops and top with pea shoots.

SERVES 6

tumblr_mhv5pluiI81rsdtszo1_1280FILET OF BEEF WITH WASABI-GARLIC CREAM

Kiss your butcher and ask him (or her) to cut you a nice 3-pound filet of beef and tie it like a roast. You can buy wasabi paste in a tube in most supermarkets and Asian food stores.

Serve with black rice tossed with a bit of grated ginger and your favorite vegetable: I’ve chosen diced carrots sauteed in sweet butter with fresh thyme.

– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 3-pound filet of beef, tied
– 1 tablespoon sugar
– 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
– 2 very large garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
– 1 tablespoon prepared wasabi

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Drizzle the oil on a rimmed baking sheet and toll the beef in the oil. Combine the sugar and 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Rub into the top and sides of the filet (but not the bottom or it will burn.) Roast 25 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer reaches 125 degrees for rare. Meanwhile, bring the cream and garlic to a boil in a saucepan. Reduce the heat and cook stirring until reduced to 1 cup, about 15 minutes. Push the softened garlic through a press; whisk back into the sauce. Add the wasabi, cook 1 minute, and remove from the heat. Add salt. Transfer the beef to a cutting board. Let rest 10 minutes. Gently reheat the sauce. Remove the strings from the beef and thickly slice.

Serve with the sauce.

SERVES 6

AWARD-WINNING CHOCOLATE MOUSSE CAKEtumblr_mhv7mjvQM21rsdtszo1_1280

This is the world’s simplest and moistest cake: just be sure to remove it from the oven while the center is still quite soft. Edible gold leaf is available in food stores specializing in Indian food products and in specialty baking shops.

– 10 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
– 5 extra-large eggs
– 16 ounces best-quality semi-sweet chocolate
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, espresso powder, or fresh orange zest
– 2 pints fresh raspberries, washed and dried
– A few sheets of edible gold leaf, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with parchment paper. butter the sides of the pan with 1/2 tablespoon butter. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs with a pinch of salt until tripled in volume, about 8 minutes. Melt the chocolate with the remaining 10 tablespoons butter slowly over low heat in a medium saucepan; stir until smooth. Fold the chocolate mixture into te egg mixture with a flexible rubber spatula until completely incorporated. Add the vanilla (espresso or orange zest). Pour into the pan. Bake 18 minutes; the center will be quite soft. Let cool. Arrange the raspberries side by side on top of the cake. Top with gold leaf, if using.

SERVES 8

No Longer a Rookie Cookie

24 Mar

I love to get gifts of food, and every now and again someone sends me something. There is the yearly arrival of luscious honeybell oranges from Florida sent by a close friend; around the holidays, a large tin of Middle Eastern pastries arrive from a bakery in Dearborn, Michigan, (a tradition started by my father and continued by my husband), and recently I received a fabulous package of artisan food products from Spain — including an unusual semi-soft chorizo known as sobrasada Mallorquina from my sister-in-law when she finally exhausted her gift ideas. And just the other day, a box of delectable cookies and one-bite mignardises, arrived safely from Culver City, Calif. Not only was I impressed with the originality and quality of the brown butter, dark chocolate & smoked salt cookies, the delicacy of the lemon pieters, made with a bit of lemon oil and lemon sugar, and the addictive platino — an elegant version of an Oreo, I wondered how a business that deals with high-cost ingredients and lots of labor, manages to thrive. Especially when much of its business is coast-to-coast.

Many people have fantasies about food and opening food businesses. Some succeed; but most of them fail, with dashed bank accounts and broken dreams as the payoff. But Jamie Cantor, the owner of Platine Cookies, in Culver City, Calif., located east of Santa Monica and south of Beverly Hills, has been in business for more than 10 years and had her largest order — 3,500 dozen… that’s 42,000 cookies to roll out, bake, and package, in a rather small space — just last month. Whether it’s “Android” cookies for Google, “engagement ring” cookies and miniature Ho-Ho’s for the local Bloomingdales, or gift boxes for corporate clients, Ms. Cantor has beat the odds in an industry where small entrepreneurs are notorious for abruptly disappearing.

Lucky for her, Jamie Cantor chose to make sweet things, which, despite our national obsession with obesity, are today all the rage. Just think of the cupcake madness around the country, with endless lines for Magnolia Bakery’s products, and with Sprinkles, a California-based company, fitting out some of their stores with 24-hour cupcake ATMs for those clamoring for a sugar fix at midnight. Even McDonald’s just last week announced that it would be selling baked goods all day long, hoping to snare some “treats” business from the likes of Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks. New business hopefuls are trying their hands at artisan gelato, which looks like a precarious trendlet to me. And chain restaurants are following the lead of Darden’s Seasons 52 with socially-responsible mini-dessert options.

Jamie’s dream of opening a cookie store (not unlike that of cookbook author Dorie Greenspan who opens “pop up” cookie stores all over New York), began when her father bought her a copy of Rose Levy Beranbaum’s Christmas Cookie Book when she was a young girl. Combine that yearning with the creative precision of her mother who was an architect, and you have the stuff dreams are made of. Jamie enrolled in the CIA in Hyde Park, New York, and received the 1998 Women Chefs & Restaurateurs Scholarship to study in the Napa Valley campus where she earned a degree in Bakery & Pastry Arts. She landed an internship at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, and then, after graduating, worked as Chef de Partie in the pastry department under the tutelage of pastry chef Stephen Durfee and Keller, himself, who she describes as impressive, smart and fastidious. It was there that Jamie honed her perfectionism and her desire to infiltrate a world smitten by cupcakes with her own, more upscale, petit pastry and cookie offerings. More Francois Payard than Sandra Lee, Jamie headed south to Los Angeles, bought some flour, and started a company.

Her first items? Jamie created the platino (a cakey-chocolate cookie sandwich filled with voluptuous white “cream”) and the camee — which is an all-white vanilla version. These continue to be her best sellers among a comprehensive list of brownies, lemon meringue grahams, and more. What I find compelling is that her cookies have a home-made quality about them rather than appear like (well) cookie-cutter products from an industrial manufacturer. And for the last few years she has two dynamite offerings for Passover — traditional coconut macaroons and the less-traditional chocolate flourless “baby cakes.” Others swear by the caramel-topped brownie and the chocolate pots de creme with black lava salt: Return the little cup and you receive 10 cents — Jamie’s nod to ecology. I, for one, am enamored with Jamie’s exquisite balance of salt and sugar in her recipes.

Discovered by the Food Network in 2004, Platine has also received raves from Japanese Vogue, People magazine and the Los Angeles Times. While her biggest issue continues to be delivering a hand-made high quality product at a reasonable price, her dream is to turn Platine into a nationwide brand. In the meantime, she just developed a new cookie in honor of her niece “the Cho-la-la” — a chocolate thumbprint cookie filled with gianduja and sprinkled with Hawaiian pink salt. Next, will be an homage, no doubt, to her son Jackson, who is just one year old. Lucky kid.

And now that Thomas Keller has opened Bouchon Bakery in Beverly Hills, Jamie Cantor has become a friendly competitor to her beloved former boss.

www.platinecookies.com

French Meal as National Treasure

16 Sep

Something’s in the air. Perhaps a whiff of French cooking. This month’s issue of Food & Wine magazine is devoted to the new French Classics and the New York Times‘ food section featured the cookbook “La Cuisine de la Republique” with recipes from members of the French National Assembly. The book, authored by deputy Francoise Branget from the center-right of Sarkozy’s party, was the finishing touch, or celebration really, of her campaign to unite the Left and Right in a national cause:  the promotion of French gastronomy.  And I quote (from the article by Elaine Sciolino), “Food is so much a part of France’s identity that the government led a successful campaign last year to win United Nations recognition of the French meal as a national treasure.”  Can Italy be far behind?

That said, many years ago I wrote an article called “So What’s a French Restaurant, Anyway” for the Daily News.  I will try to locate it but I remember how the semaphores of French cuisine were slowly vaporizing like the molecules of a slowly simmering stock. And yet today, there is a trickle of French-i-ness afoot. The prototypical La Mangeoire, under the direction of 4-star cooking maestro Christian Delouvrier has just received a face lift, as has the four-star Le Bernardin, now designed by Bentel & Bentel. The original look by uber-designer Phil George, certainly stood the test of time and helped create the ambiance that became part of the restaurant’s gestalt. I understand Mr. George just dined at Le Bernardin and gave a nod of approval to the new surroundings. He also said the food was very, very good, indeed.

Not long ago, we had the pleasure of dining at La Mangeoire and were greeted by a gentler, happier chef who no longer had to live up the exalted expectations of four-star dining.  We were so pleased to eat mussels, great frites, and calves liver and be enchanted by chocolate mousse. Nowadays, I see the “comeback crepe,” and on a bus, just today, passed by the ancient Les Sans Culottes from New York’s theatre district, now on the East side. I never imagined the simple French concept could sustain itself all these years.

Although the “La Cuisine de la Republique” features some pretty remote recipes from little-known regions and lesser-known food stuffs (hare, pork head, and potatoes on a slice of pig skin), the sentiment that should unite our countries is sound.  “It is our national responsibility to cook and to eat well.”  Viva la France.

To that end, I suggest you try my Almost-Confit Chicken from Radically Simple, or this radically simple cake “Gateau Creusois” from the New York Times.  I will be making it this weekend.  Might be nice with a pile of fresh raspberries or thinly sliced plums or peaches from the farmer’s market. Not bad with a glass of cassis. Bon chance and bon appetit.

Gateau Creusois (adapted from Jean Auclais’ in “La Cusine de la Republique and from the New York Times, 9/14/11)

1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for flouring pan
1/2 cup confectioners sugar, plus more as needed
pinch of salt
1/3 cup finely ground hazelnuts
3 large egg whites
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled
oil for greasing pan

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Oil an 8-inch cake pan and dust with flour.  In a medium bowl, sift together 1/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup confectioners sugar and salt. Add hazelnuts and mix well. Using a mixer, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks; do not overbeat. Pour the sifted mixture evenly over the egg whites. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold together once or twice.  Add the butter and continue to fold until just blended.  Scrape into the cake pan and smooth the surface. Bake until light golden, about 18 to 20 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool 10 minutes, then transfer cake from pan to a rack to finish cooling.  Before serving, sift confectioners sugar on top.  Serves 6

Watermelon Seeds

11 Aug

So, what does Italy have that America doesn’t? Watermelon seeds! For years now, I’ve been in search of scarlet watermelon studded with the black seeds that informed my youth. They were the polka dots on white fabric, the visual cue of summer, the pop art work of nature. They have simply gone missing. Whereas seedless grapes were a welcome idea, seedless watermelon is not. Today’s watermelon looks toothless and dull, lacking a certain life force. In short, it is without whimsy and sense of purpose. A picnic table lacking black seeds on red-stained paper plates is almost un-American. Still-life masters of fruit bowls would look sickly without the majesty of these ebony seeds.

In Italy, on the other hand, watermelons have black seeds. It doesn’t hit you right away, but it accounts for a good measure of drama at fruit stands and makes the ending of a summer meal feel complete. I can’t imagine how unsatisfying it would have been to gaze upon slices of seedless watermelon on the tables of Ravello or Atrani, Naples, or Rome. Black seeds are the visual reward of the watermelon experience. Why would anyone want to take that away?  Black watermelon seeds are nature’s beauty marks, like the tiny adorable black dots that made us fall in love with kiwi; some things should be as they are.

In some parts of the world, watermelon seeds are “food.” They are eaten in China and made into soup in Nigeria. In other parts of the world, like in America, spitting out watermelon seeds is a sport. Like so many other questionable ideas, the proliferation of seedless watermelons is about convenience.  People here mostly eat watermelon cut-up in fruit salads.  In Italy, they still eat it out of hand.

That said, here is a recipe for delicious, refreshing, “Watermelon Ices with “Seeds.”   The seeds may be chocolate, but they make you smile, and remember.

Watermelon Ices with Chocolate “Seeds”  (adapted from Kids Cook 1-2-3)
The riper the watermelon, the more delicious this tastes.  Watermelon and chocolate taste great together.

4 heaping cups diced ripe watermelon
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup miniature chocolate chips

Remove any white (or black!) seeds from watermelon. Put watermelon in a food processor and process until very smooth.  Add the sugar and a pinch of salt and continue to process until sugar is dissolved.   Transfer mixture to a metal pie pan and place in the freezer.  After 30 minutes, break up ice crystals with a fork so that they are of uniform size.  Continue to break up ice crystals every hour until the mixture is frozen, about 3 hours.  When ready to serve, chill the bowl and blade of food processor.  Put frozen slush into processor and process until very smooth.   Conversely, the mixture can be chilled and made in an ice cream maker. Spoon into chilled glasses or dessert dishes and top with chocolate chips.  Serves 4

Technicolor Ice Pops

15 Jul

I was reminded of how much I loved ice pops as a kid the other day when I saw the cover of the magazine “Where” New York.  On it was a plate of frosty-looking, colorful ice pops, beckoning me on a very hot day in the city.  The image also reminded me of an article I did for Bon Appetit years ago, secreted in a computer folder called Old Docs (documents).  The recipes were devised for the “new” Williams-Sonoma ice pop molds.  But when I was a kid, we made ice pops in 3-ounce Dixie cups.  But I do love the molded forms you can buy (some classic, some torpedo-like) and dare say you can add some booze and serve them to adults at a midsummer night’s dinner.

There are ten amazing flavors from which to choose and a startling array of hues to match.  Not quite the color palate of the rainbow, but close.  You will want to make a different version every week to last way into Indian summer.  If you add liquor of any kind, the ice pops will take longer to freeze.  Don’t add too much — but a hint of peach schnapps or rum or bourbon will add untold megabites of pleasure.

If you’re using ice pop molds, the rule of thumb is that in order to fill 8 molds, you will need 2 cups of mixture.  If using Dixie cups, put 2 ounces of any mixture into each cup; cover with foil; make a small slit in center of foil and insert wooden stick.  Another tip for either procedure is to freeze the mixture 30 to 60 minutes before inserting sticks.

Frosty Lemon-Mint
Color:  bright green

2 large lemons
2 tablespoons green crème de menthe
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
1-1/2 cups water

Grate the rinds of lemons to get 1 tablespoon zest.  Squeeze lemons to get 6 tablespoons juice. Whisk all ingredients together until sugar dissolves.  Pour mixture into molds.  Freeze 3 to 4 hours. Makes 8 ice pops.

Summer Sunrise
Color:  two-tone orange and coral

2 cups orange-peach-mango juice
¼ cup corn syrup
3 tablespoons grenadine

Put juice and corn syrup in a bowl. Stir until dissolved. Pour half of the mixture into 8 ice pop molds.  Freeze 1 hour.  Insert sticks.  Freeze until mixture is frozen.  Add grenadine to remaining mixture and pour this into molds.  Freeze 3 hours longer.  Makes 8 pops.

Royal Blueberry
Color:  Purple-blue

1 pint fresh blueberries
8-ounces blueberry yogurt
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup water

Wash blueberries and put in food processor. Add remaining ingredients and process until very smooth. Pour mixture into ice molds.  Freeze 3 to 4 hours. Makes 8 ice pops.

Tropicali
Color:  light orange with green flecks

12 ounces mango nectar
1 cup cream of coconut
2 large limes

Place nectar and cream of coconut in bowl.  Whisk until smooth.  Grate rind of limes to get 1 tablespoon zest.  Squeeze to get 3 tablespoons juice.  Add zest and juice to mixture.

Stir.  Pour into ice pop molds. Freeze 4 hours.  Makes 8 ice pops.

Strawberry Blast
Color:  bright red

6 ounces strawberry daiquiri mix
12 ounces pineapple juice
3 tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon rum extract

Place ingredients in a bowl. Whisk until smooth.  Pour mixture into ice pop molds.  Freeze 3 to 4 hours.

Lemon-Buttermilk (“tastes like cheesecake”)
Color: white (with yellow flecks)

2 large lemons
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1-2/3 cups buttermilk
pinch of salt

Grate rind of lemons to get 2 tablespoons zest.  Squeeze lemons to get 5 tablespoons juice.  Put zest and juice in a bowl.  Add sugar and salt. Stir to dissolve. Add buttermilk and stir until smooth. Pour mixture into ice pop molds. Freeze 4 hours. Makes 8 ice pops.

Watermelon Lemonade
Color: pale red

2 packed cups finely diced ripe watermelon
6-ounces frozen lemonade concentrate
3 tablespoons superfine sugar
pinch of salt

Place ingredients in bowl of food processor and process until very smooth. Pour mixture into ice pop molds. Freeze 3 to 4 hours.  Makes 8 ice pops.

Honeydew Kiwi
Color:  jade green with little black seeds

2 packed cups finely diced ripe honeydew
2 medium kiwi, peeled and diced
1/2 cup corn syrup
2 tablespoons lime juice

Place ingredients in bowl of food processor and process until very smooth.  Pour mixture into ice pop molds.  Freeze 3 to 4 hours.  Makes 8 ice pops.

Fudgy Ice Pops
Color: chocolate-y brown

8 ounces vanilla yogurt
½ cup corn syrup
2 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, melted
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
½ cup water

Place all ingredients in bowl of food processor and process until very smooth.  Pour mixture into ice pop molds. Freeze 4 hours.  Makes 8 ice pops.

Cranberry “Tea-sicle”
Color: clear dark ruby

2 Red Zinger tea bags
3 tablespoons sugar
6 ounces frozen cranberry concentrate
optional: 1-2 tablespoons red wine

Boil 1-1/2 cups water and put in bowl.  Add tea bags and let steep 5 minutes.  Remove tea bags.  Stir in sugar to dissolve.  Add cranberry concentrate and wine.  Stir.  Pour mixture into ice pop molds.  Freeze 4 hours.  Makes 8 ice pops.

Papaya Queen

8 Jun

You are all, no doubt, familiar with Papaya King — the famous stand-up dive known for questionable papaya drinks and hot dogs and such.  Do I sometimes go there? Yes.  Maybe even today as the temperature soars to above 90 degrees.  I am reminded of the place because of an article sent to me from an Israeli newspaper (Ha’aretz) by a friend.  The title?  The Power of Papaya.  The friend?  Gerd Stern.  A renaissance kind of artist-poet-foodie-past President of the American Cheese Society, who is currently finishing an opera and is “artist-in-residence” somewhere in the world as I write this.  The author of the piece, Rachel Talshir, writes that “it is reasonable to assume that people who say they hate papaya just ran into a bad one the first time around.”   While I am a huge lover of mangoes (really one of my favorite treats), I do not, as a rule, covet papaya.  Perhaps I ran into a bad one as a kid.  Whereas, my grandparents had a gorgeous old mango tree in their backyard in West Palm Beach (I can still remember the taste from 50 years ago! — I was very young), papayas were scarce and just not around.  No one talked about them much.  There are several varieties of papaya and they are nutritional powerhouses containing an abundance of vitamin A, B and C, calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium and folic acid.  Perhaps we should all take another look.

Almost ten years ago, in my book Desserts 1-2-3, I created my first recipe using papaya:  Coconut-Glazed Papaya with Papaya-Lime Cream.  And all this using only three ingredients.  As it was written in the headnote, “There are many varieties of papaya available today, but the sexiest and most perfumed is one known as strawberry papaya. Graceful and tapered, about 1 foot long, its meaty flesh is bright reddish-orange.  Cream of coconut is used as a glaze — which not only sweetens the fruit but blackens a bit under the broiler, imparting a curious flavor note.  It is also used to make the lime-kissed cream.  And if you like the notion of exploiting an ingredient to the max, as I often do, then make a coconut sorbet to top off the whole thing:  mix an additional 1/2 cup cream of coconut with several tablespoons of lime juice and 1/2 cup water and freeze in an ice cream maker.”  Recipe below.  In the Israeli newspaper, other ideas using papaya were offered — as a carpaccio with pistachios, grated hard cheese, lemon and olive oil; as a salsa mixed with pineapple, red onion and red pepper, as a shake (with frozen bananas and cashews) and even as a soup.   I have even toasted the seeds until dry and then pulverized them to use as a “spice” over other tropical fruits.  Crazy, great.

As Ms. Talshir goes on to say, “Papaya’s basic influence and its ability to balance the body’s acidity noticeably enhance the wakefulness of those who eat it.”  An irresistible notion, for sure.

Coconut-Glazed Papaya, Papaya-Lime Cream (from Desserts 1-2-3)

1 large ripe strawberry papaya, about 3-1/2 pounds
1/2 cup cream of coconut
5 large limes

Cut papaya lengthwise into 5 wedges.  Remove seeds and discard.  Remove flesh from one of the wedges and cut into large pieces.  Place in the bowl of a food processor with 1/4 cup cream of coconut.  Great the rind of 2 limes to get zest and add to processor.  Cut limes in half and squeeze to get 6 tablespoons juice.  Add to processor with a pinch of salt.  Process several minutes until very smooth.  Cover and refrigerate until cold.  Preheat broiler:  Pour 1 tablespoon cream of coconut over each papaya wedge to coat completely.  Add a few drops of lime juice.  Slash each across the width into sections, about 1-1/2 inches apart.  Place on a broiler pan and broil several minutes until papaya is glazed and blackened in some spots.  Let cool.  Serve with chilled papaya cream and slices of remaining lime.  Serves 4

Cannoli on the Move

27 May

Photo Credit: Jeremy Whiteman

Straight from the lens of my son’s camera in San Bruno, California are two winning photos with the caption:  SO BAD, BUT SO GOOD!  Clearly, this is the latest in food truck rage — not yet seen on the East Coast to my knowledge.  Cannoli!  Specialty filled cannoli to rival the niche marketing of tacos, botanical ice creams, yeasty waffles, summer slushes, and hummus with hubris (the Taim Mobile), for our daily affections.  But the Roamin’ Cannoli truck wins my heart. Whereas, cannolo is the correct terminology for a single pastry, cannoli is the name given to two or more pastries.  In that sense, the spelling on the side of the darling cannoli carriage is correct, as there are THREE varieties to choose from.  You can have any flavor for $4 bucks.  The “Not So Traditional” is filled with sweet mascarpone and goat cheese, orange zest, and TCHO dark chocolate chunks.  The “Lemon Meringue” is filled with smooth lemon cream and dried meringue stars.  The “White Raspberry Brulee” is filled with El Rey white chocolate filling, fresh red raspberries and bruleed sugar edges.  According to the empirical evidence, “meringue stars,” my son, no doubt chose the “Lemon Meringue.”

Photo Credit: Jeremy Whiteman

I am quite certain I would have had the “Not So Traditional.”  And Jeremy’s grandmother, who lived to be 90, loved cannolis but would not have wanted any of these.  Anne Frieda Whiteman would have opted for a cannolo at Ferrara’s in New York’s Little Italy.  I read that they make their cannoli shells with red wine — to impart the requisite hue to the crispy pastry tubes — whereupon they are filled with a sweet ricotta filling and maybe a dash of almond extract, a few mini chocolate bits or some crushed pistachios.  More than the delicious noodle pudding she used to make (written about by award-winning author Arthur Schwartz in his tome “Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited”), this was the ultimate in sweets.  Anne, who never got use to leaving a message on an answering machine (she called it “the monster”), would certainly not cozy up to a dose of goat cheese in her beloved treat.  (But then again she put corn flakes on her noodle pudding.  Risky business in her day.) Boy do we miss her.

In my first 1-2-3 book, Recipes 1-2-3:  Fabulous Food Using Only Three Ingredients, is a curious recipe for “Cannoli Custard.”  I recommend serving it with biscotti for dipping and ice-cold shots of Strega.  Espresso to follow.

Cannoli, by the way, are of Sicilian origin, and in Italy are commonly known as “cannoli Siciliani.”  Someday history may tell us they were invented in San Bruno, California.

Thank you, Jeremy, for the photos and the memories and a brand new trend to add to your father’s list.

Cannoli Custard (from Recipes 1-2-3)

2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese
9 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
3/4 teaspoon rum extract

Gently whip the ricotta, sugar, and rum extract in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Do not over-mix. Divide equally among 4 martini glasses and chill well.  Sprinkle additional confectioners’ sugar, pressed through a sieve, over the top before serving.  Serves 4

The Rhubarb Dish

22 Apr

So here it is, slowly making its way onto supermarket produce aisles and into our local farmer’s markets.  Rhubarb:  It’s easy to love. Extra long rosy stalks of vegetable masquerading as fruit appear just when I covet transition from cold winter days to bright Spring effervescence.  In and of itself, it is a “tonic” food:  Defined as anything that stimulates or invigorates.   It is complete with acidity and antioxidants (anthocyanins) and is a cinch to prepare.  Not long ago, a neighbor told me about a memorable rhubarb dish she was served at a very recent dinner party.  The host of that dinner, David Burrell, kindly shared the recipe that made such an impression on our neighbor, Jerri Mayer (Her husband, a well-known bankruptcy lawyer, is an awesome home cook.)   You can imagine my delight when I found out that the recipe required only two ingredients!  Three, if you serve it hot over vanilla ice cream and consider ice cream an ingredient!  David says “take 6 to 8 stalks of rhubarb and wash them but do not dry.  Cut into pieces between 1 and 2 inches.  Place into a saucepan still wet with only the water they were washed in.  Cover with 1/2 cup of sugar and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally.  Keep an eye on them as it will eventually froth over.  Add sugar to taste. Serve hot over ice cream.”   That’s it!

Rhubarb came to American kitchens in the 1820’s.  Commonly mixed with strawberries in a pie, it came to be known as “pie plant,” famously so, in an early book of Laura Ingalls Wilder.  In the Scandinavian countries, tender stalks of rhubarb would be dipped into sugar as an inexpensive treat for children.  Rhubarb generally appears in the market minus its wide green leaves which contain high amounts of oxalic acid.  Do not consume:  A lot of it will kill you.  But as charmingly put by “The City Cook” website, “With its big personality, rhubarb has been used medicinally, to color hair (brewed as a tea to add golden highlights), as a natural and non-toxic scrub to clean pots and pans, and by gardeners as a safe-to-humans insecticide.  All this — and it can be dessert!”

I say, serve it for breakfast!  Try my Warm Rhubarb Compote with Walnut-Coconut Crunch.  Radically delicious, this complex-sounding fruit-and-yogurt dish is ready to eat in 15 minutes.  It can either begin or end a special weekend brunch and would be delightful this Easter Sunday.

Warm Rhubarb Compote with Walnut-Coconut Crunch

4 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/3 cup creme de Cassis or Chambord
1/2 cup walnut pieces
12/ cup unsweetened organic flaked coconut
2/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons wildflower honey

Wash the rhubarb; pat dry.  Place in a medium saucepan with 2/3 cup sugar and the Cassis.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat and cover.  Simmer, stirring often, until soft, 10 minutes.  Place saucepan in the freezer while you prepare the topping.  Combine the walnuts and remaining 3 tablespoons sugar in a medium skillet.  Cook over high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the sugar melts and the nuts are crunchy, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the coconut and cook 30 seconds.  Transfer the rhubarb to 4 glasses.  Dollop with the yogurt and sprinkle with the walnut-coconut mixture.  Drizzle with honey.  Serves 4

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