Introverted, homebody me launched a book club last month. Can you believe it? Rather uncharacteristic, but I’d been considering joining one for a while and couldn’t find any existing one that I liked. With a burst of initiative, I thought, “What the hell,” and decided to create the kind of book club I’d want to join. And, with that, “Literature and Libations” was born. We already have 60 members.
An unexpected side benefit of my book club is that on a grey and chilly day like today, I’m justified in brewing a cup of tea, cutting a big slice of this cardamom rose cake, and curling up with a book for the day, assuring myself that rather than being lazy, I’m industriously handling “club business.”
Now, if I can just find a way to justify my afternoon naps. This month, we’re reading Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.
My local coffee house serves a delicately flavored, slightly sweet cardamom-rose latte that I adore. I’ve captured its exotic flavor in this simple cake, inspired by this recipe.
1 cup almond flour
¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon (scant) salt
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup sugar, plus more for pan
½ cup mild olive oil
2 Tablespoons rose water
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, browned and slightly cooled
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. lightly grease a 10” cast iron skillet and dust with sugar, knocking out excess. Set aside.
In a small bowl, whisk together almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, cardamom and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, using the whisk attachment, beat the eggs and sugar together until very thick and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Combine olive oil and rose water and slowly drizzle into the egg mixture, continuing to whisk as you go. Once combined, reduce speed to low and drizzle in the browned butter. Once combined, gently fold in the dry ingredients, taking care not to deflate the batter. Pour batter into the cast iron skillet.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the cake is golden and a skewer inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs. Let the cake cool. Serve slices slightly warm or room temperature.
These last two weeks, my lovely neighbor has been providing me with a bevy of tangerines from her bountiful tree. I’ve been content to peel and devour most of them “as is,” the exception being their inclusion in this luscious roasted lamb shoulder. A slow braise results in a meltingly tender roast and bright, Mediterranean flavors ensure it’s mouthwateringly tasty. The flavor profile came from this 2013 Bon Apetit recipe, but frankly, I fell in love with the flavor pairing of orange (or in this case tangerine) peel and tomatoes during my culinary school stint…and my cooking method is much simpler, too.
This dish is definitely making a reappearance at my next gathering (Easter, perhaps?) – The brightly colored stuffing makes for a lovely presentation – plus a long braise ensures minimal fuss time for me.
A stuffing of bright Mediterranean flavors and a tomato-y red wine sauce make this meltingly tender roast extra special.
1 3-lb. boneless lamb shoulder
3 garlic cloves, minced
⅓ cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
2 Tablespoons minced fresh sage, plus 8-10 leaves for sauce
1 ½ Tablespoons minced fresh rosemary, plus additional for garnish
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tangerines, unpeeled and thinly sliced, seeds removed
½ bottle pinot noir
28 oz. can tomato puree
Cut lamb horizontally without cutting all the way through so you can open it like a book. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine garlic, olives, minced sage, rosemary and salt. With lamb open, spread 2/3 of olive mixture on left side of lamb. Cover olive mixture with thinly sliced tangerines (you should have 4-6 slices left over) and cover tangerines with remaining 1/3 of olive mixture. Starting from the left side, roll up lamb, tucking in stuffing as needed. Secure roast well with kitchen twine tied at 1” intervals.
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Meanwhile, over a high heat, heat 2 Tablespoons oil until smoking in an ovenproof pot or Dutch oven. Add lamb and brown well on all sides, a few minutes per side. Set lamb aside. Reduce heat to medium and deglaze pot by adding pinot noir to pan and scraping up any browned bits. Add tomato puree and heat until bubbling. Add remaining 4-6 tangerine slices and sage leaves. Return lamb to pot, ensuring liquid reaches halfway up side of roast, cover and place in oven. Roast 3 hours, turning roast over halfway through cooking time.
Transfer lamb to cutting board and let rest for 20 minutes. With lid off, return pot to stovetop. Remove any accumulated fat from cooking liquid, if needed. Boil vigorously until sauce is thickened and reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Strain sauce through a sieve, pressing on solids. Season sauce with salt. To serve, slice roast crosswise, serve with sauce over polenta (optional) and sprinkled with remaining rosemary.
With a natural design esthetic that falls along the line of Egon Schiele and Edvard Munch, it’s challenging to content myself with royal icing roses and buttercream doll cakes. I realize, however, as an utter decorating novice, I’m obliged to acquire the basic skills first. I’ll discover my particular decorating style once I’ve mastered gum paste pigs and delicate string work. Today, I’m struggling to learn a technique called “brush embroidery,” although the final product reminds me of porcelain rather than embroidery. I’ve learned much on my initial flawed attempt.
With my first cakes, I’ve been practicing rolled fondant. While I appreciate the smooth finish fondant delivers, I’m not an admirer of the lackluster, tooth-achingly sweet flavor. When served a slice of fondant-covered cake, I typically peel off the fondant before eating the naked cake. As a counterbalance to fondant’s sweetness, I came up with this minimally sweet walnut cake and tart Morello cherry filling; no fondant peeling needed.
Use your favorite vanilla buttercream recipe with this cake
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups sugar
⅓ cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup vegetable oil
¾ cup buttermilk
½ cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs beaten, room temp
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 jar Morello cherries in light syrup (available at Trader Joe’s), drained and dried on paper towel.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9” round cake pans. Whisk together flour, sugars, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir in the oil, buttermilk, water, vanilla and beaten eggs until no lumps remain (don’t overmix). Stir in walnuts.
Pour batter evenly into pans. Bake for 20-22 minutes or until a few moist crumbs cling to a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake. Cool in pans on wire rack for 15 minutes. Turn cakes onto racks and cool completely.
Fill cake with buttercream and a layer of Morello cherries. Frost top and sides of cake with remaining buttercream. Cover in fondant, if desired.
When someone learns I’m a chef and food blogger, one of the first questions is usually, “What is your specialty?” I’m never quite sure how to respond – Everything edible?
If I’m honest, I should respond that I’m really, really skilled at whipping up a batch of cookies somewhere around midnight because, well, it amounts to the almost nightly use of my oven. One bowl, a handful of ingredients, a sheet pan and, viola, late night sweet treats – to the detriment of my waistline.
Take, for example, these Lemon Verbena Shortbread cookies, last night’s recent addition to my “Cookies at Midnight” series.
He strode over to our brightly lit booth and asked if he could take our photo. He was a photojournalist snapping pics for a book called “A Day in the life of America”. The date was May 2, 1986 – the time, 3:40 a.m. Dressed in black with heavy eyeliner, we would erroneously be called “goth” today, but actually we were paying homage to Steve Strange and bands like Visage. “Of course,” we said. “Who wouldn’t want to take our photo,” we thought. We were young and invincible, a stylish knot of fashionable alternative kids huddled in Canter’s Deli slurping matzo ball soup in the wee hours before dawn. For us, it was truly just another Friday night – a ritual of underground clubs followed by a nosh at Canter’s. At that time of the morning, it was always an eclectic mix in their dining room – clubbers, rockers, blue collar workers, and the local older Jewish community unable to sleep – all there for a bowl of their rich chicken soup surrounding one humongous Jewish dumpling. Comfort in an unbreakable melamine cafeteria bowl.
For me, even 30 years later, matzo ball soup still conjures those early mornings spent at Canter’s. The book came out several months later – our photo disappointingly left on the cutting room floor. This recipe is dedicated to those kids in 1986 – intoxicated by life, in love with late L.A. nights and shimmering with uncontainable youth.
I prefer to make my matzo balls smaller and serve two per bowl rather than the classic single humongous dumpling.
4 large eggs, well beaten
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup chicken stock
2 Tablespoons chopped parsley
½ teaspoon lemon zest
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1 cup matzo meal (such as Manischewitz)
2 carrots, cut into ½” rounds
2 celery ribs, cut ½” thick
1 small onion cut into ½” cubes
2 garlic cloves, smashed
¼ cup chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups shredded chicken
Salt and white pepper to taste
To make matzo balls, beat together eggs, oil, stock, parsley, zest, salt and pepper until combined. Fold in matzo meal and stir until fully combined. Cover and chill mixture.
Meanwhile, in a medium soup pot or Dutch oven (not too big – stock will need to be 4” deep to cook matzo balls), sauté carrot, celery and onion until softened but not brown. Add garlic, parsley, bay leaves, and thyme and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chicken stock and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 10 minutes.
Remove the matzo mixture from the refrigerator. Moisten your hands with cold water and quickly shape the mixture into 8 smooth balls. As you form each ball, drop it into the simmering soup. Cover soup and cook for about 30 minutes longer, turning matzo balls over half-way through cooking. Cook until carrots are tender and matzo balls are fully cooked.
Remove garlic cloves, bay leaves, and thyme sprigs. Add shredded chicken and season well with salt and white pepper. To serve, ladle soup into bowls, divide matzo balls evenly.